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Opinion | Hiring Jason Taylor for MPS was Mike Sentance’s worst decision

Larry Lee

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Of all the blunders former state school superintendent Mike Sentance made (and there were many), none looms any larger than his decision to hire Jason Taylor to “straighten out” finances for the Montgomery school system.

Taylor was the Chief Financial Officer for the Huntsville city school system early in 2017 when Sentance gave him a no-bid, three-year contract for $708,000.  This was part of Sentance’s grand plan to take control of the Montgomery County school system.

Why did Sentance pick Taylor for this job?  I do not know. But I do know that state school board member Mary Scott Hunter has a relationship with Taylor’s father-in-law.  In fact, he was on the host committee when she had her kickoff for Lt. Governor last year.

I also know there is presently a lot of concern in the rocket city about finances for the city schools.  The system recently learned that an accounting error involving $5 million threatens the long-term solvency of the system.  The state department of education has sent staff to Huntsville to investigate. Some board members blame Taylor for the situation they are in.

Early in 2017 Taylor created North Bay Strategic Partners, LLC.  The state signed a contract with them on March 1, 2017.  Taylor resigned from his position with Huntsville April 15.  North Bay got a check from the state for $33,875 on May 17, 2017.  Through Sept. 13, 2018, they have gotten a total of $346,875 from state taxpayers.

But the question remains: where is Jason Taylor and what is he doing to earn $19,250 a month?

I asked the state’s point person for the Montgomery intervention.  He said Taylor is not working for Montgomery Public Schools.  I asked Arthur Watts, who joined MPS in late July as CFO.  He told me he does not know what Taylor is doing.  I asked a state board member who asked state superintendent Eric Mackey.  She was told that Taylor “spends almost all of his time trying to straighten out their (MPS) books”.

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Shortly after this someone else at ALSDE told a Montgomery reporter that Taylor is “still engaged and still consults with CSFO Watts on a regular basis.”  And while he said that Taylor is also doing other work for the state, he did not name any other school systems.

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Apparently, the state does not understand why anyone in Montgomery is concerned about Taylor and what he may, or may not, be doing since he is not being paid by MPS.

Frankly, I don’t care who is writing his checks since I also pay state taxes.  I think I can speak for many other Alabama tax payers who just want some honest answers.

As a school board member, I am in Montgomery schools all the time.  I am acutely aware of the impact of inadequate funding on our classrooms.  If the state wants to write a monthly check for $19,250, I will be glad to give them the names of some principals.

I have a copy of the state’s contract with North Bay. In addition to the contract amount, Taylor receives a travel stipend of $15,000 per year and an accommodations stipend of $5,000 per year.

The state may terminate this contract with 60 days’ notice.  Otherwise, we’re on the hook until Feb 28, 2020.

Unless the state stops playing games about this, termination sounds like a damn good idea.

Larry Lee is a public-school advocate and co-author of the study, Lessons Learned From Rural Schools.  He is a member of the Montgomery County school board.

 

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