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Opinion | The Montgomery school board is not the problem

It’s the school board.

That’s the biggest problem with Montgomery’s public school system. The school board members. They’re just the worst.

Or, at least, that’s the story you’re supposed to believe.

And granted, it is an easy story to get your arms around — that constant mismanagement from the school board has led to a dysfunctional and awful school system.

It’s a quick, easy story to tell. And it’s easy enough to support by showing people videos of school board members arguing with one another, because apparently board members aren’t supposed to have opposing views on complicated matters that might adversely affect the citizenry they’re elected to represent.

Oh, what an easy story to tell — that one faction of board members (*whisper* the blacks) is just unreasonable and unruly and ruining our school system.

Solution: #boottheboard.

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Because what complex issue hasn’t been solved with a hashtag and a catchphrase?

But excuse me a moment while I ask a couple of questions.

First, what’s the plan here?

Second, are y’all really this dumb?

I’ll take a stab at the second one first, and say if you blindly follow this … movement? — or whatever it is — and randomly vote against school board members because of this hashtag and idiotic story, you are dumb. As a rock.

Because it makes no sense.

Poor Melissa Snowden has somehow become a target of this group — complete with mailers and hateful rhetoric — and it’s absurd.

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Unlike most of the people trying to tell you who to vote for, I’ve actually been to hundreds of Montgomery County School Board meetings. The mayor hasn’t. The County Commissioners haven’t. The hired political consultants and the overwhelming majority of business owners who are backing this “movement” haven’t.

If you had attended a few meetings, you’d know that Snowden has consistently been a rational, steady voice. She visits her schools. She talks with her constituents and teachers and principals. She studies the issues. And she votes accordingly.

That has left her making votes that have angered people who want her to base her votes on race or politics or some other reason that has nothing to do with what’s best for Montgomery’s schools.

Let me give you an example: Despite Mayor Todd Strange’s heavy criticism, Snowden voted with the majority of the board in 2013 to fire former superintendent Barbara Thompson — the chief who presided over one of the worst grade changing scandals in the country.

Quite a few “business leaders” around Montgomery wanted to keep Thompson around. Because, hey, who cares if kids are getting phony grades so long as you can fool business owners into believing that the schools are OK?

On the other hand, Snowden encouraged the board to work with the Alabama State Department of Education on its intervention, believing that the takeover — as described by then-superintendent Michael Sentance — would be best for MPS.

Similar things could be said about board member Lesa Keith. You might not always agree with Keith, or her methods for breaking down an issue, but there’s no denying that she’s trying to make the best decision possible.

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In fact, I don’t know of a single board member who has failed to put in the time and effort to learn the issues and listen to their constituents.

Now, that doesn’t mean you should vote for Snowden or Keith or any of the incumbents. That’s up to you to decide. Learn their work, listen to their positions on tough issues, vote your best interests.

But don’t fall for this line of blanket BS about the board. The issues of MPS are much more complicated than simply a few bad board members.

Which brings me back to the first question — the plan.

What’s the plan after you get rid of the board members? I’ve heard the candidates speak at various forums and I’ve read stories about their ideas. The Montgomery Advertiser printed submitted pieces from every school board candidate, giving them the opportunity to explain how they would fix the broken school system.

There doesn’t seem to be one. Not a detailed plan anyway.

It was all pie-in-the-sky BS — “oh, I want to bring everyone together and focus on the children first and stop arguments on the board and make our schools great again, amen.”

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I hate to break it to you, but there isn’t a single board member who ever served on the Montgomery County School Board who had different goals. The problem has been execution, and that’s because there’s more than just the willingness to work that broke this system.  

Fixing MPS will require a clear plan. It will be hard. It will be something that a lot of people don’t want to do. And it will require smarts, resolve and flexibility. It will rely on some people sacrificing their money for the good of the people and the good of poor kids.

But there’s a way out of this mess. It involves better funding, better employees, better equipment, better charter schools and overall better people.

It took decades of indifference and hate to create this problem.

It will take a few years of care and love to fix it.


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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