The sun rose on July 25, 2017 with the attention of thousands of K-12 educators focused on Montgomery. They were watching anxiously to see what might transpire at a state school board meeting, as well as at another legislative hearing investigating the never-ending controversy about how Mike Sentance came to be voted in as state superintendent last August.
Many were hoping and praying that the state board would terminate Sentance’s contract. Most educators consider him a pox, a plague and a drought all rolled into one. And they were hoping that legislators might finally turn up a nugget of info that proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that the superintendent selection process last summer was tainted even more than we presently know it to be.
However, when the sun set, Sentance was still superintendent and the legislative committee was still scratching its head.
Let’s begin with the board meeting. In boxing terms, the “under card” was a lengthy discussion about the state’s Every Student Succeeds Act that must go to Washington in a few weeks. Superintendent Mike Sentance, who has got to be one of the most inarticulate adults I have ever seen, seemed even more so today. But knowing that the board was next going to review his job performance, it is understandable that he was probably distracted.
Then came what everyone was waiting for. The state superintendent evaluation.
It didn’t take long for fireworks to break out, primarily between vice-president Stephanie Bell and member Mary Scott Hunter. Bell has been on the board for 22 years and seems to be able to recall the intricacies of everything that has occurred during this time. On the other hand, Hunter loves the sound of her own voice and never passes a chance to interject–or interrupt.
Hunter supports Sentance, even though she couldn’t fill a VW with educators in her district who agree with her in this regard. And she is running for Lt. Governor, having declared that she wants something “bigger” than a state board seat. (Which calls for this question. At present Alabama does not have a Lt. Governor and to my knowledge nothing has ground to a halt. So how is it that a job that no one misses is bigger than being on the state school board?)
It didn’t take Hunter long to declare the evaluation process was “illegitimate.” No surprise here since she recently said other members of the board were being “manipulated.” She was “troubled” that the public could not comment on Sentance’s performance. She was “troubled” that Governor Ivey was excluded from the process.
(By virtue of her office, the governor is president of the state board. But since she just took office three months ago, she had notified Bell that she did not feel she had adequate knowledge of Sentance’s tenure to participate.”
Bell repeatedly used the gavel to keep control and did not hesitate to tell Hunter she was out-of-order at least once.
All board members had gotten an evaluation form agreed upon by the board and Sentance last December. They were instructed to return them to the law office of Lewis Gillis, the attorney the board recently hired. Hunter did not submit an evaluation and did not attend the executive session, saying that he felt the people’s business should be transparent. (Considering that an ALSDE internal report recently said that Hunter and four others colluded last summer to discredit Craig Pouncey.and that she is also facing a civil law suit in this matter, her talk of “transparency” rings a bit hollow.)
After the board returned from executive session, Gillis shared the composite scores with both the board and the public. They were not good.
Sentance was evaluated on 37 factors. A score of one meant “need improvement,” two meant “proficient,” and three meant “exceptional.” Of the 37 scores, only six were two or more. The highest grade was 2.07 for the category, “Write clearly, correctly and coherently.” Lowest was 1.28 for “Ensures that expenditures are within limits approved by the State Board.”
The Gillis report was accepted on a 6-2 vote of the board. It is my understanding that Sentance will now have a chance to answer the concerns expressed in the evaluations by the August 10 board meeting. But no way do I swear on a stack of Bibles that this is 100 percent right. My crystal ball failed long ago trying to predict the twists and turns of all of this.
Senator Gerald Dial’s committee produced no big fireworks, though a couple of fire crackers did show up. One was when Dial asked general counsel Juliana Dean why, after Mike Sentance withdrew his application for superintendent in writing, did she call him and ask him to re-consider.
“Because Mary Scott Hunter asked me to.”
Not that I checked with the ENTIRE board and they wanted me to. But simply, because I was doing the bidding of a single board member.
When Hunter spoke before the committee, state representative Merika Coleman of Birmingham, zeroed in on the same line of thinking. She wanted to know if Hunter considered herself an “agency head.” To which Hunter replied, “No.” Coleman followed up by asking why she had been acting like one last summer. (Hunter gave her copy of the smear sheet to interim superintendent Phillip Cleveland and asked him to get it to Dean. Hunter also called Ethics Commission executive director Tom Allbritton and told him about the anonymous complaint.)
Coleman pointed out that as one of eight elected board members, when Hunter passed the info along to Cleveland, her job was done. It then became the duty of Cleveland to contact Dean and perhaps the Ethics Commission.
Another sad, sad spectacle.