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Opinion | Cities are only as strong as their local schools

Craig Ford

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In the military we have a saying: A platoon is only as strong as its weakest soldier. That concept applies to a lot of things in life, and especially to how we as a society treat our public schools.

Public schools are the backbone of any city or town. They train our future workers. They are usually one of, if not the, biggest employers in a county or city. They are one of the first things potential employers look at when deciding whether to build or expand a plant or factory in a community. And for those who go on to college, local schools are the pipeline that gets them there.

Schools also play an important role in our quality of life. From Friday night football games to band competitions and everything in-between, local schools play an important role in both children and adults’ social lives, and add to our sense of community.

Local schools are critical to any city’s success, and for that reason funding for local schools should always be protected. Here in Gadsden, we are fortunate to have a top-notch superintendent and hundreds of outstanding teachers and support staff running our local schools and educating our children. They work hard and do a great job in a profession that is often thankless and underpaid.

In fact, a recent study comparing teacher salaries to test scores on college entrance exams proves that when it comes to education and college preparation, you get what you pay for.

In states where teachers are paid the most, students average a 25.6 out of 36 on the ACT exam. In those states, teachers earned an average of $77,455 a year. But in Alabama, where the average teacher salary is $50,810 a year, the average ACT score was only 19 out of 36.

Teacher salaries aren’t the only reason for the differences in those test scores, of course, but it does a play role for two reasons.

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First, Alabama loses teachers every year to neighboring states because those states pay better. This has created a teacher shortage in Alabama, which means larger class sizes and, therefore, less one-on-one time for students with their teachers. It also has led to some of our best and brightest teachers leaving the state.

Second, teachers are no different from everybody else. We all work hard everyday, but it’s hard to stay motivated if you know you aren’t being paid what you are worth.

How we pay our teachers and fund our schools is directly related to our children’s educational success. And that is just one more reason why no city or county should ever consider cutting funding for local education.

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In education, you get what you pay for. So if a city cuts its education funding, then it will surely see a drop off in the quality of its local schools.

That’s why well-funded school systems in Mountain Brook, Huntsville and Auburn continue to lead the state year after year while schools in cities and counties that can’t or don’t adequately fund education almost always struggle to meet standards and rise above the bottom rankings.

It is crucial that we properly fund our schools at every level of government. We have far too much at stake, whether it’s our children’s future, our ability to recruit or keep jobs in our area, or just improving our local quality of life.

It’s true that you can’t solve problems simply by throwing money at them. But you also can’t solve problems or expect better results if you take money away.

Our cities are only as strong as our local school system, and we can only get out of our local schools what we are willing to put in. Investing in local schools is an investment in a city’s future – both in terms of our children’s education and our ability to recruit jobs and grow our community. Cutting funding for education should simply never be an option.

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Opinion | A lesson in civility

Larry Lee

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As already mentioned here, Sunday afternoon Feb. 9, I participated in a League of Women Voters forum in Dothan to debate the pros and cons of Amendment One.  I opposed the measure.  Senator Greg Albritton from Atmore supported it.

I had done my homework and so had he.  We both spoke with passion and conviction.  There was no doubt we were on opposite sides.

However, we were friends when we got there and we were friends when we left.

I respect Greg and the fact that he was duly elected by the majority of voters in his senate district.  He certainly has a right to his viewpoint and his opinions.  I have no doubt he feels the same about me.

Our exchanges were lively and even interspersed with moments of laughter and good will.

In other words, we were civil.

And as I drove back home to Montgomery, I couldn’t help but think of how what had just played out was in such stark contrast to what we see far too often in politics these days, especially in Washington.  Both civility and respect have become four letter words in the nation’s capital where if someone disagrees with you they are usually ridiculed, berated and the object of insults.

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We are destroying what is most dear to this republic. The presumption that as a whole we are better than the sum of all our parts.  That all citizens should be treated with dignity, not chastised because they don’t think like we do.

I understand better than most that 2020 is an election year and that in such times, passion often replaces common sense.  But even so, even that does not condone so much of the junk we see on TV and Facebook right now.

It is shameful.

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Of course, I will vote NO on amendment one.  And Greg will vote YES.

But to me, the larger lesson of this forum was not so much about the pros and cons of this legislation as it was that civil discourse and disagreement can–and should–be conducted with civility.

When it is not, we are all diminished.

 

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Opinion | President Trump has the best week of his Administration

Bradley Byrne

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Last week was President Trump’s best since moving into the White House.  After giving a well-received State of the Union address, the President was acquitted by the United States Senate, announced the killing of a major terrorist, and received a great jobs report.  On the other hand, Democrats suffered several significant embarrassments.

It began Monday at the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses.  Despite months of work to manufacture enthusiasm, Democrats experienced extremely low turnout across the state.  Things went from bad to worse as a host of errors prevented the counting and reporting of votes!  Of course, it isn’t hard to see why the people of Iowa were not eager to support Democrat priorities.  Socialist policies like the Green New Deal, Medicare for All, and confiscation of firearms are radical and dangerous, and most Americans reject them.

 In contrast, the very next day, President Trump presented a clear vision for keeping America great in a rousing State of the Union speech.  I left my seat many times to applaud the President and his many guests, each of whom had inspiring stories.  Two of hi s guests were Stephanie Davis and her daughter Janiyah from Pennsylvania.  Janiyah had been on a waitlist of over half a million students to receive a scholarship to go to a better school.  President Trump shocked the crowd by awarding her a scholarship right then and there!

The story of Janiyah was especially important to me because the President called on Congress to pass my bill, the Education Freedom Scholarship and Opportunity Act, so that one million American children could have the same opportunity for a scholarship!  I developed this bill with Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Senator Ted Cruz.  President Trump is right that no parent should be forced to send their child to a failing government school, and I am proud to lead this important Trump administration priority.

The State of the Union ended on an embarrassing note for Democrats as Speaker Pelosi ripped up her copy of the President’s speech.  This petty, undignified tantrum plainly displayed the level of “Trump Derangement Syndrome” that she and her cohorts suffer from.  They simply cannot stand to see President Trump succeed.  They are in crisis after their impeachment plan failed.  In fact, it backfired and lost support as their rigged process was exposed.  Realizing her mistake, Speaker Pelosi appealed to Facebook and Twitter to have videos of her ripping the speech taken down!

I was proud to be a leader in that fight against the sham impeachment.  Thursday, a day after the President was exonerated, I was among a handful of House members invited to the White House to celebrate.  It was an amazing honor and surprise to receive President Trump’s personal thanks for fighting by his side throughout this process.

Later Thursday, the President announced that an American airstrike had killed Qassim al-Rimi, a terrorist and the leader of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in Yemen.  AQAP claimed credit for the December 2019 shooting at the Pensacola Naval Air Station that took the lives of three servicemembers, including Ensign Joshua Watson from Coffee, Alabama.  President Trump has made clear that our enemies will pay for taking American lives, and terrorists across the globe now know that he isn’t messing around.

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Finally, an excellent January jobs report was released.  Employers added 225,000 jobs as the economy continues to strengthen.  Importantly, wages for working Americans are rising.

Put it all together and its obvious why the President’s approval rating is at the highest levels of his administration.  Clearly the Democrats’ misguided prioritization of an unpopular impeachment scheme has them in dire straits.  I vow to keep fighting with the President against radical socialism and to support his America First agenda.

 

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Opinion | Positive results from the Alabama Department of Labor

Fitzgerald Washington

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With the closing of the past decade, and at the beginning of a new one, economic conditions in Alabama couldn’t be much better.  We at the Alabama Department of Labor have been busy wrapping up statistics and facts for 2019, and we’re happy to share those positive results with everyone.

If you’ve noticed the news reports over the last year, you’ll know that Alabama is currently experiencing a period of record growth and success.  In 2019, we announced brand new economic records nearly every single month. We closed out 2019 with the lowest unemployment rate on record – 2.7 percent! In fact, until last year, Alabama had NEVER experienced an unemployment rate below 3.0 percent. We hit that mark three times last year.  Nationally, our unemployment rate decreased more than any other state (over the year).

With that record low unemployment rate, it’s no surprise that we also have record high employment – meaning more people are working today in the state of Alabama than EVER BEFORE.  In December, more than 2.2 million Alabamians were counted as having a job, representing a yearly increase of nearly 84,000 people.   Every single month in 2019 saw a brand-new record high level of employment.  So did our labor force. That means that more people were in the workforce than ever before.  That’s significant because it shows that people believe there are jobs to be had.  And, #wehavejobs.  We have a lot of jobs.

Last year, our economy supported more jobs than it ever has at any point in time in our history.  Employers reported more than 2.1 million jobs in November and December.  Over-the-year job growth reached record highs, and we met or surpassed the national job growth rate for 11 out of the last 12 months. Alabama employers continue to post jobs on the state’s online jobs database, www.joblink.alabama.gov.  More than 210,000 jobs were posted on the site last year, and nearly 800,000 people visited it.

For four years in a row now, we’ve soundly beaten economists’ job growth projections.  In 2019, economists projected Alabama would gain 22,000 jobs.  We gained 75,000. (Based on year to date growth, January 2019 – December 2019.) For 2020, they’ve projected a gain of 29,000 jobs.  We’re hopeful we can beat those projections for yet another year. By the way, the jobs we’re gaining aren’t just any jobs.  The majority of the growth was in the professional and business services sector, which includes professions like engineers, architects, and computer systems designers.  Wages in this sector reached a record high last year, notching a more than $20 weekly wage increase (over the year).  At least seven sectors and subsectors saw record high weekly wages last year, and overall wages, also at a record high, experienced a nearly $9 increase.

Despite all these positive indicators, we know we still have plenty of work to do. Even with record low unemployment rates, there are still some 60,000 Alabamians who are unemployed.  Our mission is to connect every Alabamian who wants a job, with an employer who needs a worker.  We won’t slack on that mission now.  We know our job will never get easier.  In fact, as the economy improves, our job in some ways becomes harder.  We still have companies locating in Alabama that need workers, and we have an obligation to provide a qualified and trained workforce.  With that in mind, we’re working on the following goals:

  • First, we are committed to helping Governor Kay Ivey realize her goal of adding 500,000 highly-skilled employees to the workforce by 2025.

In order to meet the needs of our employers, we must continue to work hard every day to train and equip our workforce to respond to today’s challenges.  Through the Success Plus initiative, Alabama’s workforce community is committed to add 500,000 credentialed workers by 2025.  This can be accomplished in many ways; either through accreditation programs via Alabama’s Community College System, training from the state’s workforce development agency, AIDT, On-the-Job Training and Apprenticeship programs, and more.  Our 50 Career Centers, located throughout the state, provide access to all of these programs and more.  We are committed to doing our part to ensure the continued success of the state.

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  • We want to increase awareness of the services available to both employers and jobseekers throughout the state.

Through targeted outreach efforts over the past several years, more and more Alabamians are aware of the free, valuable services available to them through our Career Centers.  Not only for the unemployed who are looking for work, we also provide services to those who are looking for a new career.  We can help you get the right training, or the right education, to make those dreams a reality.  For employers, we can help you narrow your search to find the perfect candidates, and even help with wage costs.  There’s truly something for everyone at your local Career Center.   Please take a moment and check us out, we’d love to help you! Find out more at www.labor.alabama.gov.

 

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Opinion | Great examples of poor leadership

Glenn Henry

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Let’s talk about some great examples of poor leadership, unacceptable management, and illogical decision-making, coming from our Montgomery County School Board, Alabama State Department of Education, and the Montgomery City Council. Just a few days ago, the local School Board approved an unrealistic initiative, to increase the millage rates, concerning property taxes, to raise annual fees.

I don’t know how much more, of this type assistance, that we can stand. This is not, the type help, we need. The following are reasons that I can’t support this measure.

The city has one of the highest sales taxes in the nation, at ten-cents per dollar. The chairman of the State Legislature Education Trust Fund, has stated numerous times, that most education dollars are generated from sales taxes.

A homeowner who purchases a $150, 000 home, with a 30-year mortgage, will pay over $300,000 for total dollar payoff, due to the interest fees, exceeding the principal, or amount borrowed.

The Montgomery Public School System, is currently under state intervention, and take over status. Their accreditation status, is currently deemed, under review. The MPS has hired an attorney, and they are paying $400 per hour, so that the public is hoodwinked, into believing we need to pay them more money.

According to national data, our State Education system, is dead last in math.

Due to mandatory federal laws, concerning on-base and off-base education, for kids of military families, assigned to military installations; and Department of Defense Education Activity policies; the families assigned to Maxwell-Gunter AFB, are currently attending schools out of district. For instance, in counties such as Autauga, Elmore and Pike Road City Schools. Obviously, these military families and their children, still can’t be properly served under the current low standards, poor academics, and unacceptable conditions, and the present state of the MPS. The federal law clearly states, that sufficient and adequate education, must be provided by the Local Education Agency, which is MPS.

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Many of the parents assigned at Maxwell-Gunter, include our international allies from around the globe, and some of the best and brightest minds on the planet. Some are scientists, astronauts, physicists, top engineers, fighter pilots, top military strategists, professors, and instructors. Some adult military and civilian students, at the base military professional education schools; may be from top leader military families of other countries, and persons; who may be considered royal family members, within their nations. Additionally, our education game, must be raised, due to the new creation of our U.S. Space Force. Many space families from around the globe, will surely be attending schools at Maxwell-Gunter AFB.

While the county school system does have a few magnet schools that are doing well and are suitable for attendance, most are not.

Most of the positive compliments about the school system, are coming from the educators themselves, whom are evaluating themselves. Just a few days ago, State Superintendent Dr. Eric Mackey and MPS superintendent Dr. Anne Moore; were patting themselves on their backs about progress. The Alabama State Department of Education, on their own website, show agencies under their own authority who have been; and they will be evaluating, reporting, and making decisions about themselves. I highly recommend, that a top education agency, from outside our state, not closely tied to ALSDE, and their own websites, conduct a real evaluation, before the MPS is removed from its current intervention status. Public agencies evaluating themselves, are not going to take the proper corrective, nor punitive actions against themselves, and their own entities.

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AdvancEd, now known as Cognia, is under the ALSDE authority, devised a color- coded evaluation system, that gave different factors, and ranges, which no one can calculate. The factors being measured, weights assigned to each factor, formulas, baselines, equations; still can’t be verified for accuracy nor reliability, when tied to the colors. When persons create a system, and they can’t explain it, and the numbers don’t jive, it’s probably not reliable, nor credible.

The Alabama Charter School Commission is also under the authority of the ALSDE. A new charter school in Montgomery, is currently under chaos, facing lawsuits and turmoil. A one -year old Charter School in Mobile is already on the failure list. Now we have, poorly performing schools under the flagship of MPS regular schools, and charter schools. My perception is that, we are being offered more junk—not more quality schools. Someone at the ALSDE, must put a freeze, on placing more poorly performing Charter schools into our communities.

Whites and middle-class blacks, have rightfully left the MPS system, and they have placed their kids in private schools, or they are home schooling their kids. Not long ago, I spoke with a white family with three kids. They were paying $45,000 per year, in costs for private school fees, and other charges. They are tax payers too. I highly recommend, that the State Legislature and Congress pass laws that will provide families, who are placing their kids in private schools; and homeschooling, be provided the per student dollar amounts; to defray some of their costs and fees. Right, now they are receiving nothing for their education tax dollars. They would have more options.

Public entities and taxpayer funded-school agencies, should not be rewarded for poor performances. Money can’t remedy poor leadership, unacceptable management, nor continued illogical decision-making.

Most devasting, rather than consolidating, and closing many poorly performing schools, the MPS is adding more poorly performing charter schools, in an attempt to justify a property tax increase. Throughout the state, persons who are supposed to be running the Charter schools have departed in the dead of night; and no one can really nail down who is in charge. In the new, local Montgomery Charter School, many teachers have quit, and many complaints have been surfacing, about 10 bosses walking around; hitching up their pants, claiming that they are in charge.

Now, we all know very well, that is too much leadership and management, within one school building, for only one school, with a principal already on station.

Hopefully, some one within the Montgomery County Commission, and the County Legislative Delegation will stop the initiative to increase millage, based on the aforementioned issues. The one thing that is the biggest issue, and challenge, is the lack of Trust from the public, concerning the MPS and the ALSDE. In the past, the Montgomery County Commission, has strongly supported the millage-rate property tax increase.  I look forward that, they will do the right thing this time.

I hope that our leaders, will begin building an education system based on core values, such as honesty, integrity, trust, accountability, responsibility and prudent decision-making.

I highly recommend, that citizens vote yes on March 3, concerning the Appointed State Education Board Amendment (SB397), legislatively referred constitutional amendment. So that we can begin to build an education system, that all will, of which, be proud.

Another example of poor leadership, is coming from our Montgomery City Council. Concerning the implementation of Occupational Taxes in Montgomery. The following reasons are why I oppose it.

The City has a ten-cent sales tax, which is the highest in the nation. Many other cities, also used the unrealistic logic, that if employees don’t live in the city; and they drive from outside the city, and work here; they should pay because they are using our city services. Every day, people who don’t live in Montgomery shop in our city, and they pay for services, and all applicable taxes just like everyone else.

Montgomery is proposing to initiate, an occupational tax on Everyone who works in the city. Numerous residents are complaining, that if the occupational taxes are imposed, the amount of their annual occupational tax fees would exceed, the cost of their total annual residential property tax bill, of around $700. That would now be $1400 annually, for the property tax bill and the occupational tax fees.

Further, if government continues to take, more and more of employee earnings, we will become slaves. Most revealing, are the reasons most people are travelling, from outside Montgomery, is because of a poorly performing Montgomery County school system.

The travelling employees have the skills, knowledge and abilities to perform in the high skill jobs. Most are well educated, and they have the proper training needed to perform those tasks. They should not be punished for that.

Many city councils, copy what other cities do, and use their poor logic. The problem is, if you copy someone else’s paper, they both receive F’s for their grades.

Montgomery City Council members, local and State School Board members, must do a better job of educating and training its citizens. Additionally, make better original decisions, to really move our city and Great State forward. I thought that with all of the new committees being formed on the local School Board, and new city committees, that new ideas would be presented.

Too many persons are being placed on committees and boards, who are great at parliamentary procedures, and they are earning an A+; although in the wrong area.  We must ask the following persons to resign, from their current positions.  Those who arrive at meetings unprepared; members not providing solutions; those making appearances at meetings with no input; members who have conducted no research; persons who agree with other members when it’s totally wrong; persons making decisions, not in the best interest of our country, state, county and city.

I fully support HB147 which recently passed in the House County Municipal Committee. The Bill would protect all workers from double taxation through occupational taxes.

As a former doctoral-level student in Public Administration, I was taught that a city’s power and authority, are derived from the State Constitution and the State Legislature. Due to the supremacy clause. The Legislature can also change, and take away power from the cities.

In closing, I Love city councilmen Charles Jinright and Glen Pruitt. However, I must disagree with them on these issues, and I must do the right thing by supporting HB147. Respectfully, I’m asking the citizenry, to do the same.


Glenn Henry is retired from the U.S. Air Force. He has been a high school teacher and university adjunct professor. He has earned numerous IT Cisco certifications. He is a Certified Professional Ethical Hacker. He lives in Montgomery with his wife Teresa.

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