An Honest Look At Education Today

Raise Your Hand Texas is a public school advocacy group based in Austin.  Among the many things they are involved in is an on-going effort to tell the story of today’s schools and what teachers are asked to cope with.

As they say: “Being an educator in today’s schools is hard work. Harder than ever. The expectations are high, and rightfully so. The future of Texas is in our public schools – the future of our economy, communities, and citizenry – and so the responsibility of educators to prepare students to be successful after graduation is tremendous.

The work of educators is made more challenging by inadequate funding for public education, a long history of misguided negative rhetoric about our schools, fast-changing student and family demographics, and a shifting accountability landscape. And yet, every day they face these challenges head-on. They dig deep into their own pockets to provide students with classroom essentials. They work diligently to deliver a high-quality education to every student. And they go way beyond their job descriptions to address student needs.

For that, educators deserve our respect and support.

If you know a teacher or school leader who deserves a little thank you, a little appreciation, we hope you’ll share this video with them. And if you’re an educator, this one’s for you. We created this as one small way to show educators that we see all that they do, for every student, and that we honor them for preparing the future.”

Please watch this video of less than two minutes.  And even better, share it with others, especially local elected officials and legislators.  Alabama teachers face the same challenges as their counterparts in Texas.

Honk If You Have Seen Jason Taylor

When then state superintendent Mike Sentence took over the Montgomery County school system early in 2017 one of his first moves was to sign a three-year. no-bid contract for $708,000 to bring Huntsville City school’s Chief Financial Officer, Jason Taylor, to Montgomery.

Actually the contract was with Northbay Strategic Partners LLC, an entity hastily put together by Taylor.

Taylor did begin working on Montgomery’s financials, which were a mess to say the least.  However, from conversations I have had with other CFOs and local superintendents around the state, Taylor many have been better at sleight of hand than anything else.  Those familiar with Taylor’s work in Montgomery were skeptical of how he was shifting funds from one account to another.  They did not agree with his actions.

But we are now months beyond when Taylor entered the picture.  Mike Sentance is long gone and Eric Mackey is now state superintendent.

But where is Jason Taylor?

All we know for sure is that the state is still paying Northbay Strategic Partners $19,250 a month   According to the state open checkbook web site, his last check was Sept. 13.  The first check was May 17, 2017.  We have now paid Northbay $346,875.

Montgomery County has its own CFO these days, Arthur Watts.  He started in late July.

Since being appointed to the Montgomery board Aug. 31, I have asked several other board members if they knew where Taylor is or what he is doing.  None had a clue.

So at the first board meeting I attended on Sept. 11, which was a budget hearing, I asked publicly about Taylor.  Terry Roller is the state’s chief administrative officer for the intervention these days.  He told me Taylor no longer has any duties involving Montgomery.  However, this not what state superintendent Mackey says.

After I inquired about Taylor to a state board member, Mackey said that Taylor is very engaged trying to get Montgomery’s financial house in order. He was also adamant that MPS is not paying any of Taylor’s contract.

I am not the only one curious about what Taylor is doing and where he is.  Josh Moon with Alabama Political Reporter is also asking questions–and coming up as blank as I am.

Of course I am glad MPS is not writing Taylor’s monthly check for $19,250–but that is beside the point.  I also pay state taxes and the fact that the state is paying this much a month and doesn’t appear to know what its for does not sit well with me.

I gave $50 today to a teacher at Ware’s Ferry elementary in Montgomery to buy tables for her classroom.  I did this through the web site.  This is the fifth such donation I’ve made in recent weeks.  At this moment there are 47 projects at 16 Montgomery schools listed on this site.  They need $42,000 to buy cleaning supplies, books, paper, chrome books, etc.

Three checks to Jason Taylor would way more than fund each of these projects.

If Jason Taylor is really doing something worth while for education in Alabama, fine.  But the fact that we don’t seem to know blows my mind.  Maybe if he shows up he will donate some money to MPS schools.



Two Weeks And Counting

It has now been two weeks and two days (August 31) since I was sworn in to serve the remainder of a term on the Montgomery school board.  Of course, the view is always different on the inside looking out than on the outside looking in.  And so it is here.

One of the things I’m trying to do is get a better “feel” for this system and its schools.  For me, that means seeing things with my own eyes and listening to people with my own ears.

To this end I have joined one PTA (at a school where the PTA is apparently on life support), gave $100 to support a school program, attended a pep rally, went to one open house, attended a ceremony recognizing nine National Merit Scholarship semi-finalists and attended a ceremony recognizing those who helped Booker T. Washington high relocate after a recent fire.

I have visited three schools.

Also had two board meetings dealing with the next system budget and spent six hours at the Alabama Association of School Boards in a training session.

During my campaign I said repeatedly that if done properly, service on this school board calls for a much bigger commitment of time than most people realize.  I still think that.  And probably even more so.

As I’ve said before, I think Montgomery has more of a COMMUNITY problem than an EDUCATION problem.  Of course, we have major education issues–but until this community decides to truly become engaged to help schools, until we look at public schools as “OUR” schools, until a lot more citizens ask what can I do to help, meaningful progress will largely be wishful thinking.




Saluting National Merit Scholarship Semi-Finalists

One  of the highest recognitions a high school senior can receive is becoming a National Merit Scholarship semi-finalist.  The current group of Alabama students to gain this honor has just been announced.  There are 215 of them, from both private and public schools. put together a list of all these students.  You can see it here.

I attended the ceremony at Loveless Academic Magnet Program high school here in Montgomery where nine seniors were recognized.  A very, very impressive group.  Congratulations to one and all.


Father Time Taps Auburn Alum On The Shoulder

How many times have I been part of the multitude gathered in Auburn to watch a football game?  No earthy idea.  The first one was in the fall of 1961 back when Shug Jordan was coach and the stadium held about 40,000 people.

No million dollar contracts for coaches, no ESPN, no giant video boards.  If there were RVs and reserved parking I didn’t know about them.

And Saturday night, Sept. 8, as I waited in the stands for the kickoff of Auburn vs. Alabama State I was flooded with memories.  This is where I watched all three of Auburn’s Heisman players perform.  Pat Sullivan and Bo Jackson and Cam Newton.  I saw Auburn beat Alabama in Auburn for the first time ever in 1989.  I saw Auburn come up with miracle finishes to beat Georgia and then Alabama in 2013.

I got season tickets for years and remember Auburn beating LSU in the fourth quarter on pass interceptions run back for touchdowns.  And suffering through too many seasons of Doug Barfield and his woeful teams.

But it was last Saturday when I finally came to know that the thrill of being in the stadium is about gone.  It’s been creeping up on me for several years.  Once the hustle and bustle of being there in person was not given a second thought.  But no more.

Several years ago I started taking the shuttle bus to the stadium.  Which makes far more sense to me than trying to find a parking place that may be way away from the stadium.  The bus lets you off about two blocks from the stadium and takes you back to your car away from traffic jams.  But too many sausage and biscuits and too little exercise have made even this journey on foot more of a march than a walk in the park.  You sweat like someone heading to their cell on death row.

Your steps are much more measured and no guard rail goes unused.  You climb stadium steps more gingerly and pray you don’t stumble.  Other old-timers navigate cautiously and you know deep inside you are their carbon copy.

The calm and cool of your living room, with the big screen TV and 10 steps to the bathroom seems all the more inviting.  Midway through the third quarter you leave.  There is not a dry stitch on you.

You pause and look around just before you enter the exit tunnel and quietly utter, “Thanks for the memories.”

You may some day return–or you may not.  But you know for sure that either way, Father Time has claimed another one.