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Opinion | Legislature ignoring charter school law

Larry Lee

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Our Montgomery lawmakers often labor long and hard at drafting a bill — and then ignoring what they wrote later on. There is no better example of this than the charter school law sponsored by Sen. Del Marsh and passed in 2015.

This law sets up a 10-member charter school commission to govern charter schools. Four members are appointed by the governor, one by the lieutenant governor, three by the speaker of the House and two by the Senate president pro tem. Initial appointments had to be appointed by June 1, 2015. Five of the initial appointments were for one year, and five were for two years. After the initial appointments, all terms are for two years. No one can serve more than six years. Terms are staggered due to the one and two year initial appointments.

However, the law does not give a timeline for appointments beyond 2015. Since the initial appointment deadline was June 1, 2015, and terms are for two years, half of the members have terms that end each May 31. In fact, at present the terms of Charles Jackson, Mac Buttram, Tommy Ledbetter, Melissa McInnis and Henry Nelson expired May 31, 2019.

Yet, they continue to serve beyond their two-year term and apparently will until they are either reappointed or replaced.

The process for appointments is that the official making an appointment sends two names for each position to the state superintendent of education who presents them to a work session of the state school board. The board then picks one of the two nominees at their next month’s regular meeting.

The state board meets July 9. There are no nominations on the work agenda. So at earliest, nominees will be presented at the Aug. 8 state board work session and voted on at the Sept. 12 regular meeting. This means any members who may be replaced will have served for three months beyond two years.

The law should be amended to say that nominating officials should submit names by March 31 of each year. This would allow for new members to be chosen in May and ready to take office June 1.

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Presently, there is a vacancy on the commission because Chad Fincher of Mobile resigned March 27, 2019. The law says, “Whenever a vacancy on the commission exists, the appointing authority, within 60 days after the vacancy occurs, shall appoint a member for the remaining portion of the term.”

The appointment in this case is to be filled by the Senate President Pro Tem. But there has been no action to fill this slot, even though it has been vacant for more than three months.

The law also states: “Membership of the commission shall be inclusive and reflect the racial, gender, geographic, urban/rural, and economic diversity of the state. The appointing authority shall consider the eight State Board of Education districts in determining the geographical diversity of the commission.”

This is not the case. The present commission has four members from Montgomery, two from Madison County, one from Birmingham, one from Auburn and one from Boaz. There is no one from south of Montgomery. And until Allison Haygood from Boaz was appointed in May, no one from a rural area – even though the Census Bureau says 45 percent of Alabama is rural.

In addition, the law says, “One recommended appointee of the President Pro Tempore of the Senate and one recommended appointee of the Speaker of the House of Representatives shall be an appointee recommended by members of the Senate minority party and the members of the House minority party, respectively.”

I can find no evidence that this has been the case. In fact, when I pointed this section of the law out to minority leaders in both the House and Senate, none of them were aware of this provision.

With this kind of gross disregard for how the charter law dictates how the charter commission should be elected, labeling the present board as illegitimate is hardly out of the question at all.

 

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