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The true story of the Montgomery school mess, Part I

In 2012, while working for the local newspaper, I broke the story of massive grade changing taking place within the Montgomery County school system.

At the direction of school administrators, who were themselves receiving direction from the central office, students who were failing courses were being shuffled through “credit recovery” courses, where they earned better grades for little or no work. And when that wasn’t enough, some principals were flat changing the grades.

When I broke this story, which quoted dozens of teachers, people were outraged.

But no one was more angry than Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange.

And not because poor, mostly black kids were being denied a decent education by a system that was shuffling them through and out into the streets.

Strange was mad because the story made Montgomery look bad. He demanded that people “shut up” about the scandal and he went to bat repeatedly for then-superintendent Barbara Thompson.

Behind the scenes, Strange was even harder at work. Then-state superintendent Tommy Bice and his team had reviewed my stories and started their own investigation. They quickly found what I did, and Bice wanted to intervene, to take over MPS.

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Several people with direct knowledge of the situation have told me that Strange blocked that decision, telling Bice and local political leaders that a state takeover wouldn’t be good for the city’s image. Without that local support, Bice backed away, opting instead for a half-in, half-out approach — called “interposition” — that resulted in nothing.

If you’re wondering why I’m telling this story now, it’s for this reason: I want you to understand the true motivations behind what’s taking place with Montgomery’s schools right now.

No one actually gives a damn about the undereducated children of Montgomery.

They care about money.

Montgomery is broke, and it can’t attract new, wealthy residents because its school system — which the city’s white, elite business owners have ignored and undermined for decades — thoroughly stinks. It stinks because of things that are not at all hard to pinpoint.

Montgomery is the worst funded system in the state. On top of that, it has a very large number of private schools, most of which started in the late 1950s, early 1960s, which has resulted in the city’s most prosperous families abandoning the public schools. On top of that, MPS has a separate magnet school system which removes the top 25 percent of students, and their super-involved parents, from every school in the district.  

What is left behind are severely underfunded public schools that are 90-plus-percent minority, 100 percent free and reduced lunch, and because magnet schools don’t take special needs students, a crazy high number of special education students.

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Instead of addressing any one of those problems, the plan to “fix the image of MPS” — the plan being championed by Strange — is to replace the school board members and bring in charter schools.

And a bunch of people who I’ve never seen at a school board meeting — and I’ve been to a whole bunch of them — are trying to tell Montgomery voters who to put on the board. It’s absurd.

And a scam.

Here’s how you know it’s a scam: they’re trying like hell to keep Larry Lee off this board.

Lee hasn’t been on the board, he’s running to fill a vacant seat. He’s a Republican who has spent decades following education in this state. He knows every principal and superintendent in most school systems. For fun sometimes, he drops in and talks with teachers about their problems.

And yet, these “boottheboard” folks are so desperate to keep him off the board that they’ve hired law firms and op researchers to dig up anything they can on him. Even employed the services of ALGOP executive committee rental member Perry Hooper to challenge Lee being on the ballot.

Why? Because Lee wouldn’t guarantee that he would be in favor of charter schools.

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Didn’t say he’d be against them. But would only approve them if they were truly in the best interest of Montgomery students. All Montgomery students.

But doing what’s in the best interest of all students isn’t the primary goal of this movement.

Doing what’s in the best interest of money is.


Josh Moon is an investigative reporter and featured columnist at the Alabama Political Reporter with years of political reporting experience in Alabama. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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