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State Board of Education picks Eric Mackey to lead Department of Education

Alabama State Board of Education

In a close vote, the Board of Education decided to hire Eric Mackey, the executive director of the Superintendents Association of Alabama, to fill the state superintendent position.

The State Board of Education voted 5-4 on Friday to hire Mackey.

Mackey’s hiring came as a shock to some as Jefferson County Superintendent Craig Pouncey was considered a favorite for the position.

Here’s what you need to know about his selection:

Pouncey’s lawsuit

Board Member Ella Bell brought up a potential concern with the vote as the body considered the motion.

After state Superintendent Tommy Bice announced his resignation, a new search for state superintendent happened in late 2016. Of the finalist, the board selected Michael Sentance.

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But the selection process has since become a center of controversy.

Pouncey, who was currently a candidate for the position, was an early front runner in the process, but an anonymous ethics complaint derailed his selection.

The complaint alleged that Pouncey had plagiarized his doctoral dissertation, and the complaint attached emails from Pouncey that the complaint said proved the allegation. The anonymous ethics complaint was expedited to the Ethics Commission by a group of individuals within the state Department of Education.

In a subsequent report authored by Attorney Michael Meyer, Board Member Mary Scott Hunter, General Counsel Juliana Dean, Interim Superintendent Phillip Cleveland, and two other attorneys in the department were accused of conspiring against Pouncey. All the alleged conspirators deny they took part in the plot, but the report was forwarded to the Alabama State Bar Association

Pouncey filed a lawsuit against the five conspirators seeking damages. While a judge dismissed three people from the lawsuit, Board Member Mary Scott Hunter stayed on as a defendant.

Bell said that Hunter’s involvement with the lawsuit may preclude Hunter from voting on the next superintendent. If Hunter’s vote is not counted, the Board would have been at a stalemate as Pouncey and Mackey would have ended in a tie.

Rebuilding trust with the public and the Legislature

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While they never passed their committee, several key bills dealing with restructuring the state Department of Education were making their way through the 2018 Legislative Session.

Among them included bills to terminate the state Board of Education, reorganize the Board with non-voting adviser positions, and one that would eliminate the Department of Education entirely.

Sponsoring Legislators have expressed concern that the current framework is no working, and they urged the Board to be rigorous in their search for a new state superintendent.

Mackey, who has appeared before legislators multiple times to pitch legislation, said his already existing relationship with the body would help with BOE-Legislature relations.

The board has faced a lot of scrutiny from the Legislature after a tumultuous period under former state Superintendent Michael Sentence and any on the board were critical of Sentance’s leadership.

Sentance’s departure from the department was characterized with confrontational board meetings that saw board members greatly divided on whether to let him stay. In August, the board members signaled his departure with a sudden evaluation that was premature for Sentance, who had only served in the position for less than 1 year.

Challenges ahead for new superintendent

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Alabama faces numerous challenges as it attempts to reform and improve key institutions within its sphere of influence.

Of particular note, is the Montgomery Public Schools takeover that was the brainchild of former state Superintendent Michael Sentance. The takeover recently announced that it would lay-off more than 200 teachers in a bid to normalize the district’s overinflated budget.

The state Department of Education is facing its own reorganization that recently gained steam under interim state superintendent Ed Richardson.

Currently, the state as a whole is facing a pending budgetary crunch that could leave the state with millions of dollars that could be siphoned from the Education Trust Fund, which is the biggest since the Great Recession.

In a statement after the meeting, Gov. Kay Ivey said she looked forward to working with Mackey.

“During the interview, I was impressed by Dr. Mackey’s embrace of my vision to ensure that our children have a strong start to their educational journey so that they have a strong finish when they enter the workforce,” Ivey said. “That is the kind of forward thinking we need at the helm of the State Board of Education.”

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Written By

DIG DEEPER