State Senate Tells State School Board And State Superintendent To “Hit The Road Jack.”

In the strongest rebuke possible, the Alabama senate told the state school board and state superintendent Eric Mackey, last week that it is time to have an appointed state board, not an elected one.  The vote was 30-0.  Not a single, solitary soul said they wanted to stick with our present system,  which has been in place about 50 years.

And somewhere in the back of the senate chamber Ray Charles must’ve been humming one of his all-time favori9tes, “Hit the road Jack and don’t you come back no more, no more.”

While some may not have seen this coming, it was only because they didn’t have their finger in the air to check the way the wind was blowing in the statehouse.  I know most of the members of our current state board, some much better than others.  I have been telling them that no one at the statehouse segments members of the board from the state superintendent and everything that goes on at the state department.  Everything is lumped together.  That’s just how things work in politics.

Tommy Bice retired as state superintendent March 31, 2016.  That was just a few days shy of 50 months ago.  It’s been 50 months of turmoil, missteps and uncertainty–just to put it mildly.

Here is what happened in those 50 months: 1) Mike Sentance, 2). Mary Scott Hunter and 3) Eric Mackey.  In a nutshell, this is why any senators who may have once supported the state department changed their minds.  The fact that NO ONE voted against the bill supports this contention for sure.

Sentence, a Boston attorney with no experience as a teacher, principal or local superintendent was a disaster from day one.  He had applied for the Alabama job in 2011 and did not even get an interview.  He applied for jobs in at least nine other states without success.  But we ignored all of this and on a 5-4 vote brought him to Montgomery.  He had no people skills, looked down his nose at Alabama and refused to try and understand why Alabama ain’t Massachusetts.

He was the beginning of the end with the legislature.

Mingled amongst all of this was state board member Mary Scott Hunter from Huntsville,.who was never a team player and will stand trial in Montgomery in August because of her meddling in the selection of Sentance.  A joint Senate-House committee held a number of hearings trying to find out what went awry with the selection process and how info turned up at the Ethics Commission.  Hunter was the primary focus of this inquiry.

Then in April 2018, again on a 5-4 vote, the board chose Mackey over two other finalists, Kathy Murphy superintendent of the Hoover city system and Craig Pouncey, superintendent of the Jefferson County system.  Mackey’s only experience as a superintendent was directing the small (1,700 students ten years ago) Jacksonville city system.

No doubt one of Mackey’s huge missteps was terminating long time education department legislative liaison Tracey Meyer in his first week as superintendent.  He said her position was being eliminated.  No one believed him because it is critical this department works constantly with legislators.  Especially since they handle the Education Trust Fund budget of billions and billions of dollars.

Meyer was in her position for years, was respected by people in the statehouse and had worked with many legislators through a number of sessions.  She had tremendous institutional knowledge.  To many in the statehouse, her dismissal made no sense.

The state board released their first year evaluation of Mackey at their May 9 board meeting.  It left much to be desired.  His composite score was only 3.67 on a 5 point scale.  Especially revealing was the score of Governor Kay Ivey.  Even though she was one of the five votes who picked him to be state superintendent, her composite score for him was only 3.82.  She has been a strong supporter of the legislation to go to an appointed board that will select the state superintendent.

The senate bill now goes to the house.  There is little doubt it will easily pass and go to the governor for her signature.  Since the legislation is a proposed amendment to the state constitution, it will be placed on the ballot for a statewide vote in the March 2020 presidential primary.

Will voters approve it?  While we hear people say they do not want to see a vote taken away from the public, my friend, Tallapoosa County superintendent Joe Windle, makes a valid point.  “If we were telling people in Tallapoosa County they could not vote for school board members we would run into a buzz saw,” says Windle.  “But this is because they have an emotional tie to the local school board and this is not the case with the state board.”

He makes a good point.  Go to the nearest Wal-Mart and ask 100 people who their state school board member is and it is unlikely you would get one correct answer.  Yes, this board is important.  But far removed from the average voter.

The argument for elected vs. appointed can be debated vigorously both ways.. But the mood of the Alabama senate can not be debated.  They are sick and tired of what they have seen for the last four+ years.  And for me, that is not a surprise at all.

Editor’s note:  Bad, bad timing. The senate vote  was on Thursday, May 16.  And in what can only be called terrible timing, apparently the state department of education had planned for some time to have a western themed party on Friday, May 17 as part of “employee appreciation day.”.  Pictures from the event, including one of Eric Mackey riding an inflatable horse, quickly showed up on the internet.  As one emailer said to me, “Mackey must have been practicing riding off into the sunset.”

 

 

This Is What Education Is REALLY All About

This Is What Education Is REALLY All About

It is far too easy to get all caught up in education “stuff’ that in the long run, doesn’t really matter so much.  (Include me in this group sometimes.)  But we fret about what happens at the state department of education, maybe even in Washington with the U.S. department of education.  We wring our hands about whether we should have an appointed or elected state school board.

However, education is all about what happens between dedicated teachers and their students in thousands of classrooms throughout Alabama.  There are no classrooms at the state department, at the statehouse where the legislature meets or even in the great education bureaucracy in Washington.

Liz Hill is an excellent principal—and a good friend.  She works at Bear Elementary in Montgomery.  A super school.  She recently was on leave for medical reasons and when she came back to school, she found the note above from a fourth-grader.

It is a wonderful reminder of what is really and truly important.  The interaction between students and the adults in their building.

Like all good schools I know, there is a culture of expectations at Bear.  It is a happy place where smiles and laughter are common.  With less than 500 students, it has 800 PTA members who go above and beyond for this faculty and students.

Probably 95 percent of all the educators I know tell me they were “called” to work with children.  As a child they sat their brothers and sisters down and was their teacher.  They arranged their toys on the bed and read to them.

And bless their hearts, they ignore the noise coming from the state department and the legislature and do all they can to better the lives of the young people in their classrooms and schools.

Right now, state superintendent Eric Mackey is promoting another state strategic plan.  But long after it gathers dust in schools and is discarded, notes like the one above will be remembered and cherished.

Which is the way it should be.

 

 

Once Again, Woodland Prep Charter Puts Out Bogus Info

We’ve told you before how Woodland Prep charter supporters (as well as people at the state department of education in Montgomery) have tried to support their case by using numbers that are dead wrong.  Read about this here.

This time it is their high-priced management consultant, Soner Tarim of Sugarland, TX, who is trying to pull the wool over the eyes of people with “data” that no one can verify or substantiate.  Tarim just sent an email to some of the people opposing Woodland Prep in which he cites math proficiency levels for the five high schools in the system.

Just one problem though.  Where the hell did he get them?  They certainly did not come from data kept by the state department of education for the last five years.  For instance, he claims the math proficiency rate at Millry high school is two percent.  This is a far cry from the 40 percent most recently reported by the state.

Tarim claims math proficiency at Washington County high is two percent, Fruitdale high is three percent, McIntosh high is four percent, Millry high is three percent and Leroy high is eight percent.  I checked data from the state going back to the 2014-15 school year.  Tarim’s numbers don’t come close to anything the state shows.

While it’s true math numbers could be higher in all the Washington County high schools (and which school system couldn’t say this?) but what Tarim wants people to believe is a complete and total misrepresentation.  As any good educator will tell you, the true purpose of data is to measure growth over time.  In this regard, Washington County is doing well.  All five high schools had higher scores in 2017-18 than they did in 2014-15.

Most recent data (like real data  (not something conjured up by someone whose ultimate goal is to make money) show Fruitdale at 25 percent, Leroy at 37 percent, McIntosh at 32 percent, Millry at 40 percent and Washington County high at 31 percent.

Academic growth and graduation rates shows Washington County improving steadily.  Growth numbers are: Fruitdale 76 percent, Leroy 86 percent, McIntosh 96 percent, Millry 84 percent and Washington County high 87 percent.  Grad rates range from 88 percent to 97 percent.  All but one of these exceeds the state graduation rate of 89 percent.

By Tarim’s logic, since Nick Saban won seven and lost six games in his first game at the University of Alabama, they should now hire a new coach.  Ignore the national championships since then.

And this is the guy some folks want in total control of charter schools in Washington County and Montgomery?  Someone who is obviously more interested in deception and lining his pockets than anything else.  How did we sink this low?

Time For A Full-Scale Investigation Of The Charter School Commission

If you are an old-timer like me, or maybe just someone who listened while your daddy told you about the “good old days,” you know that Dick Tracy was the square-jawed detective in the comic books and Sergeant Friday was the star of Dragnet back in the days of black and white TV.  Like all good detectives, they always got to the bottom of things.

Which is exactly what we need right now in the case of the state charter school commission.  We need to find out why they have ducked and dodged and failed to look out for the best interests of students and school systems in their unabashed zeal to sprinkle the landscape with charter schools–whether the local community wanted them or not.

Unfortunately, we tend to pass laws in this state and then never look back to see if they are working as we thought they would.  We just create things, forget about them, and have no oversight.

Would we buy a new car and then expect it to run forever without changing the oil from time to time, getting new tires, checking the air filter, getting new brakes and on and on?  Why don’t we treat legislation the same way?

And goodness knows, if we have learned anything from the Washington County charter debacle, it is that we need to ask lots and lots of questions about how the state charter school commission operates.  In other words, is their oil running low?

Either the Senate or the House education policy committee needs to open an investigation and interview all the players from both sides.

Here are some of the questions that need to be asked:

The law says before a charter is approved, the commission will look to see what the current situation is in regards to the quality of local schools.  In this case, Washington County schools got a B on the last state report card.  That is as good as any county system in southwest Alabama and better than several.  In addition, there is not a private school in Washington County, which speaks volumes as to how the local community feels about its public schools.

The law says the commission should determine how much local support there is for a charter school.  One of the ways they do this is by holding community meetings to hear from the pros and cons.  The commission did this.  One of the meetings was at the Chatom library.  I have been told that about 50 people came.  Those who  opposed the charter greatly outnumbered those in support.  A commission staff member videoed the meeting and said she would show the video to commission board members.  Was this done?

This same staff member later said the commission was unaware of opposition.  Yet, prior to the commission taking up this application on May 14, 2018, opponents sent several hundred postcards to commission board members expressing their view.  (And then were rebuked for having done so when they came to the meeting.)

Why did the commission ignore the recommendation of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers to deny the application of Woodland Prep and approve it instead?   NACSA tells me they have reviewed at least 500 charter applications in the past 10 years so it would seem they should know what they are doing.

NACSA was hired by the commission to review applications from the beginning.  Records show the state paid them $113,000 for their work.  However, the commission no longer uses them and instead, uses the Auburn Center for Evaluation.  Try as I might, I can not find out if this group has any experience in evaluating charter applications.

Does the commission do their due diligence on applications?  The were 22 “support” letters submitted with the Woodland Prep application.  But a review  of them calls several things into question.  Why were some not signed?  Is an unsigned letter legitimate?  One of the letters never mentions Woodland Prep, or even charter schools.  How is this a support letter?  At least one of the writers of a letter has documentation that they asked the Woodland Prep folks to not use their letter.  But it was submitted any how.

The application lists someone as a “team partner” without their knowledge.  This was posted on the charter website for a year before this person discovered what was done.  They are beyond irate now.

Since the charter commission is a public body, why are not all their meeting minutes posted on the commission web site?  Minutes from meetings in 2018 and 2019 are posted.  But not ones from 2015, 2016 and 2017.  The commission had held 17 meetings since August 2015.  More than half of them have been teleconferences, including five of the last six?.  How conducive is this to being open to the public?

Where is state superintendent Eric Mackey?  For months now he has said over and over that he is powerless to monitor the state charter commission.  However, on page 25, line 18 of the original charter law it plainly states; “The department shall oversee the performance and effectiveness of all authorizers established under this act.”

I have shown this to a number of lawyers, without fail, each has agreed that it DOES gives the state department jurisdiction over the charter commission.  Yet Mackey’s lawyers can’t seem to figure this out.

State board member Ella Bell, whose district includes Washingt9on County, recently asked the superintendent to give her the status of Washington County.  Here was the written reply she got, done by state department staff members.

“There have been many questions posed regarding the department’s oversight of Woodland Prep in Washington County.  At present, Woodland Prep is not a school, therefore, we have very little oversight nor can we hold them accountable for any action thus far.  Based on our review of its recent actions, Woodland Prep has not violated any of the Charter Commission rules.  A retired superintendent (Dr. Bobby Hathcock) has been contracted to provide assistance to the Washington County School System.”

That’s it.  One paragraph. Four sentences.  Seventy-five words.  How did they reach this conclusion?  Apparently by asking the charter commission.  They certainly did not talk to anyone in Washington County because they have documentation of deadlines missed and other non-compliance issues.  And the mention of Bobby Hathcock is definitely disingenuous because he is working with the county on another matter.  In fact, when someone with the school system there asked him about the charter school he quickly told them that he knew nothing about it.

Yes, we need both Dick Tracy and Sergeant Friday working to get to the bottom of this.  But since they are both now in retirement, we need to ask the legislature to get  involved.  After all, they are the ones who enabled this stuff to all happen.

Both the Senate and House have education policy committees.  This is the logical place for an inquiry to begin.

In the senate Senator Tim Melson  (tim.melson@alsenate.gov) chairs this committee, Senator Donnie Chesteen, a former educator (dchesteen@panhandle.rr.com) is Vice Chair and Senator Vivian Figures (vfigures@gmail.com) is ranking minority member.

In the House, Rep. Terri Collins (Terri@terricollins.org) is chair, Rep. Danny Garrett (dannygarrett44@gmail.com) is Vice Chair and Rep. Rod Scott (rodhscott@gmail.com ) is ranking minority member.

Send them each an email and politely ask them to open an investigation into what the charter commission and the state superintendent are doing–or not doing.  Or just forward this article to them.  Who knows, they may know where to find Dick Tracy.

 

 

 

 

This Is Soner Tarim’s Six-bedroom Home In Texas.  Now Some Folks Want Alabama Taxpayers To Send Him Money.

This Is Soner Tarim’s Six-bedroom Home In Texas. Now Some Folks Want Alabama Taxpayers To Send Him Money.

Soner Tarim created Unity School Services in Sugarland, TX.  This is the company with management agreements with Woodland Prep charter school in Washington County and LEAD Academy in Montgomery.

According to the contract Tarim has with Woodland Prep, he gets 15 percent of ALL the revenue the school gets.  (I have no idea what his contract with LEAD Academy says, but I have a copy of the Woodland Prep contract.)

So, this is how this works in the case of Washington County.  Woodland Prep has told the state charter commission they will open this fall with 260 students.  The most recent numbers from the state department of education show that Washington County spends $8,510 in state and Federal funds for each student.

Since the money follows the child in the case of charters, 260 students times $8,510 equals $2,221,600 lost to the local public school system.  And since Tarim gets 15 percent, this is $331,890.

Which should be enough to make a few payments on a home valued at $650,000

No wonder public school supporters in Washington County object to this charter school.  The financial impact will be devasting.

And compounding the Washington County situation is the fact that Power South will close a generating plant in the county in 2020 which will cost schools $770,000 in revenue.

Editors’ note: Mark Hall is the film maker from Austin, TX who was in Chatom April 29 to show the movie, KILLING ED.  Since then he was in Houston and looked up the offices for Unity School Services.  He told me that while he did find the office, the only thing there was one woman answering the telephone.  No employees, no desks, no filing cabinets, no nothing but the lady.

How can we not have questions about this whole mess?

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this post incorrectly included local funds from Washington County.  This has now been corrected.  However, it should be pointed out that because of the lack of a local tax base, local funding in this system is only $1,010 per student.  This ranks 121 out of 137 Alabama systems.  By comparison, Baldwin County has $2,477 per pupil in local funding and Shelby County has $2,736.  Like Baldwin and Shelby counties, Washington County is a B ranked school system.

There is presently a bill pending in the legislature sponsored by Senator Del Marsh that would also give local funding to charter schools.

State Superintendent Eric Mackey’s First Evaluation Leaves A Lot To Be Desired

Eric Mackey has now been on the job for one year.  Which means it is time to grade his performance.  So the last thing on the agenda at the May 9 state board meeting was giving him and all board members the results of his first evaluation.  There was no discussion.

Trish Crain with AL.com took an extensive look at his scores and how each board member rated Mackey.

Here is my summary.  What jumps out is that if you took this report card home to mama, you would probably hand it to her and run.  Because after all the numbers are crunched and sorted, his composite score on a scale of 1-5 was only 3.67.   If 5 is an A, 4 is a B and 3 is a C, he got a C+.  This does not get you on the honor roll or in the Beta Club.

Generally the scores fell into two groups, those who voted for Mackey to become superintendent and those who did not.  Of the present  board, only Jeff Newman, Cynthia McCarty and Governor Kay Ivey voted for him last year.  Both Betty Peters and Mary Scott Hunter who supported Mackey, are no longer on the board.

Tracie West, who replaced Peters and came on the board in January, participated in the evaluation.  Wayne Reynolds replaced Mary Scott Hunter.  However, due to a lingering illness he did not participate.  He did not attend the May 9 meeting.

Newman gave Mackey the highest rating of anyone, 4.62.  Next was McCarty with 4.46, Yvette Richardson with 4.38, Trace West with 4.04,  Governor Ivey with 3.82, Jackie Zeigler with 3.38, Stephanie Bell with 1.33 and Ella Bell with 1.0.  Obviously Mackey has done a poor job of mending fences with Zeigler and Stephanie Bell and Ella Bell.  And were I him, I would be very concerned that at this point, the governor doesn’t think he is worthy of the honor roll or the Beta Club.

Mackey was rated in six categories: Goals; Personal qualities; Performance and key job responsibilities,; Relations with the public; Reflective assessment individual and Reflective assessment, board as a whole.

His strongest score with 4.41 was Personal qualities and weakest with 3.32 was Performance and key job responsibilities.  In other words, the board has less confidence in him to do his job than anything else.  That is certainly a cause for concern.

However, as pointed out by the Montgomery Advertiser here. we do know he likes hotdogs.  Though for the life of me I can’t figure out how going to lunch is press worthy or has much of anything to do with making schools better.

Mary Scott Hunter Speaks Out. But Does Anyone Listen?

HOLY COW BATMAN was my reaction when I came across an op-ed on AL.com by former state school board member, Mary Scott Hunter from Huntsville.  Hunter was definitely a lightening rod during her two terms on the board.  She was anything but shy and retiring and often ruffled the feathers of other board members.

No doubt she is smart, but I often thought her political ambitions got in the way of her being as effective as she might have been.  When we last heard of her in the June 2018 political primary season, she was running for a state senate seat in Huntsville.  The same one, in fact, she sought in 2009 before she got on the state school board.

She lost that race to her Republican opponent Sam Givhan.  Her decision to run for the senate came after she had already held a kickoff event to run for Lt. Governor.  But when public service commissioner Twinkle Cavanaugh got in the light governor’s race, Hunter had a change of plans and dropped back to the senate race.

Earlier this week Governor Ivey announced her support for legislation introduced by Senator Del Marsh to change the governance of the state department of education and abolish the elected state school and switch to an appointed one.  Hunter took to Facebook and the pages of AL.com to offer her endorsement of the governor’s plan.

Here is what he had to say:

“I served 8 years on the Alabama State Board of Education (SBOE). When I started, the SBOE governed both K-12 and the Alabama Community College System (ACCS).

During my second term, the legislature moved to an appointed board for the ACCS. I was honored to serve on that newly constituted board as an appointed member, and it worked much better for the ACCS than the previous elected board. Leadership at the colleges stabilized, efficiencies were achieved, needed consolidations occurred, etc. Today, the ACCS is flourishing and continues to strengthen.

My colleagues and I at the Alabama State Board of Education did work hard and had episodes of success for K-12 and for the ACCS, and many know and appreciate our hard work and dedication. Some of my SBOE colleagues have had very long tenures, and that is much appreciated.

However, the level of achievement we want for K-12 requires a very long string of sustained, high-quality leadership decisions. I believe this is best achieved through an appointed Alabama State Board of Education. Local boards will continue electing representatives directly by the people or appointed by city councils who are elected. Our citizens will still continue to have representation and a voice in the direction of their schools in the place where it matters, locally.

I commend Governor Ivey for taking responsibility for K-12 education across Alabama.

This is a bold step because, if the measure passes and Alabama moves to an appointed SBOE, this Governor and all governors who come after her will have to count the success or failure of public education in Alabama as a part of their legacy.”

Now some needed background.

Hunter served on the community college board as an ex-officio member, meaning she could not vote.  However, the casual reader of her statement would assume she was a full-fledged voting member.  Not true.

And while Hunter speaks here of legacy, she does not mention that her own is the role she played in the 2016 disaster of hiring Mike Sentance of Boston to be state superintendent.  As some will recall, this selection process was mired in controversy because someone  orchestrated a smear campaign against Jefferson County superintendent Craig Pouncey to prevent him from getting the state job.

This caused such an uproar that the legislature launched an investigation to find out what went on and how info got to the Ethics Commission.  They held several hearings.  I attended all of them.  Certainly to me, the most memorable moment was when Hunter admitted to Senator Gerald Dial that she did not know rules under which the Ethics Commission operates.

When the dust mostly settled from this fracas, Pouncey filled suit against Hunter, plus some state department employees.   While several were dismissed from the suit, Hunter is scheduled to stand trial in Montgomery circuit court in August for her conduct.

Since Sentance was picked on a 5-4 vote, with Hunter being one of the 5, it is accurate to say that she had a major say so in this debacle.

Then when Sentance departed, Eric Mackey was chosen in May 2018 to replace him.  Again it was a 5-4 vote and again, Hunter was one of the 5.  Again, Pouncey was the “runner up” so to speak.  Many felt that Hunter should have recused herself from this entire selection process since she was being sued by one of the three finalists.  But she did not.

And judging from the evaluations from current board members Mackey received at the May 9th board meeting, (which amounted to a C+) he is hardly off to a flying start.  You certainly can’t find anyone in the Washington County charter situation who have much faith in him since he has refused to investigate the antics of the state charter school commission.

Here is the AL.com story detailing Mackey’s evaluation.

Like we said.  HOLY COW BATMAN.  Why is someone who is going to court about her conduct while a member of the state school board even offering her opinion?  But then, Hunter says we should have an appointed state school board instead of an elected one.  The fact  that she was elected twice may make her case for her.

 

Washington County Hits Montgomery With A Bang

You knew something was up when the big charter bus pulled up to the Gordon Persons building, the home of the state department of education in Montgomery, the morning of May 9.  The same day as a state board of education meeting.  The bus brought nearly 60 people  from Washington County.  Others drove their own vehicles.  Even Fox 10 News TV in Mobile showed up.

They came to let members of the state board, the state superintendent, the governor and members of the legislature know they are tired of being stonewalled and deceived by the state charter school commission that voted to allow a charter school in this rural county, in spite of widespread opposition to it.

They came to let the state superintendent, Eric Mackey, know that they are disappointed with his unwillingness to investigate this fiasco.  They came to show the state school board they are fed up with them not directing Mackey to do something, instead of just talking.  They came to let senators and house members know that enough is enough.  That they will not longer tolerate being run roughshod over by Montgomery bureaucrats.

They wanted to be put on the agenda to speak to the board members and tell them their concerns.  But they not allowed to speak.

“So we decided that if we could not be heard, we could certainly be seen,” said Betty Brackin, Federal programs director for the Washington County school system and one who has spent countless hours researching what has taken place to this point.  And also the person who has had to listen as state department staff lawyers filled her ear full of platitudes about how they were helpless to do anything.

You see, Washington County educators understand something state department of education folks don’t seem to–the people in charge of Washington County schools DO NOT work for the state department.  They know that folks in Montgomery are supposed to HELP local schools, not HINDER them with ever-increasing paperwork and jumping through more hoops.

And since state board members have rarely responded to emails sent from Washington County, the good folks there decided to come to Montgomery and look board members and the state superintendent in the eye. More than 60 showed up, including two school board members, all wearing a little flashing pin on a white shirt.  They were certainly seen.

They buttonholed board members when they got the chance.  Ella Bell, who represents Washington County, recognized the crowd and had them stand.  Superintendent Mackey acknowledged them as well, said he knew why they were there but there was little he could say about the situation.

The meeting ended and off the good folks from south Alabama headed to the state house to see legislators.  They had a good session with Rep. Terri Collins, who chairs the House education policy committee and Danny Garrett, vice-chair of the same committee.  Collins was house sponsor of the charter bill passed in 2015.  She told the group that she wanted the bill to work and if it needs to be fixed, she is all for doing so.  She asked them to get her information about problems they have encountered.

All in all, it was not only a good day for Washington County, but also a good day for all public schools in the state.  This little group of very tenacious folks have raised their voices and called attention to a bureaucracy that sometimes loses sight of what they should be about.  Listening to local school systems and helping them do a better job any way they can.

THAT is the ONLY reason to have a state department of education, a state school board and a state superintendent.  No doubt some in the Gordon Person building think Washington County should be only seen, but not heard.  Thankfully, Washington County could not disagree more.

 

We Found The Missing Children

A few days ago we wrote about Woodland Prep charter supporters and people at the state department of elucidation constantly saying that 900 children leave Washington County each day to go to private schools out-of-county.

Turns out this number came from the application the charter submitted to the state charter school commission more than a year ago.  Yep, right there on page eight of the application is a chart labeled as “Figure 2.  Student enrollment trend in Washington County, AL”  The graph could be for most any rural county in the state with a descending line going from 2007 to 2017.

But here is where things get funky.  The chart says that in 2016 there were 3,657 children in the county ages 5-18.  That year they say enrollment in the county school system was 2,813.  So they subtracted the little number from the big number and the difference is 844.

So the charter folks want us to believe that ALL of these young’uns must be going to private schools somewhere.  And just to make the application look better, they round up 844 to 900.

Alabama VOICES for children in Montgomery has been keeping data about children for many years.  So I checked in with Rhonda Mann to find out what numbers they had.  Turns out their numbers vary significantly from the ones in the application.

According to census estimates Rhonda passed along, in 2016 there were 3,342 children in the county from age five through 19.  This is 315 LESS that the folks at Woodland Prep and the state department claim.  Plus, the VOICES data goes through age 19–not age 18 as the application claims.  (Census data is broken out by ages 5-9; 10-14 and 15-19.  I have never seen it cut off at age 18.)

And since the state department says Washington County enrollment in 2016 was actually 2,811 (not 2,813 as the application says) the difference between number of children and enrollment was 531, not  844.  But you must consider that by age 19 many students have graduated and some have dropped out.  Which means the number of “school age” children is probably a couple hundred less than the number cited by VOICES

Did no one at the charter commission vet this application?  Did they not verify info submitted was accurate?  Or are they just so anxious to plop charter schools down anywhere that they don’t bother to double check anything?

Just to prove how bizarre the application is, turn over to page 9 where you find “Figure 3.  Funding and student proficiency comparisons.”  Here someone is trying to show that performance of school systems is not determined by the amount of per pupil funding they have..  So we have a comparison of Washington, Sumter and Baldwin county systems and Saraland city system.  Saraland and Baldwin County have higher proficiency levels  in reading, math and science than do Sumter and Washington.

And this is supposed to be a revelation?  Are you kidding me?

This chart conveniently leaves out mention of poverty levels, the best indicator of student and school performance there is.. Free lunch rate in Baldwin is 34.8 percent and in Saraland it is 37.8 percent.  These are lower than Washington County and significantly lower than Sumter County with 72.6 percent of students get free lunches.

This comparison of apples to oranges is a huge red flag to anyone who knows diddly squat about education.  But again, the charter  commission apparently looked the other way.

Yet, we are supposed to have confidence in the charter commission?  Again, are you kidding me?

Editor’s note:  The most recent state A-F report cards show that both Washington and Baldwin counties are B systems.

 

 

Washington County Charter Fiasco Is About Much More Than Washington County

Considering the present state of public education in Alabama, what is happening in Washington County about the proposed charter school is much, much more significant than it appears to the causal observer.

For one thing, one very important one thing, it is about drawing the line in the sand and saying to those who want to continue to run rough shod over public schools that enough is enough.

One of my great frustrations is that folks at the local school system level are way to prone to simply roll over and play dead.  They feel helpless.  They think it is fruitless to stand up and scream, “This has got to stop.”

Public education has been on the defense ever since the voters of  Alabama in 2010 decided to turn over the statehouse to the Republican party.  Not only did they turn it over, they gave them a supermajority which rendered the world of checks and balances moot.  With 35 senators and 105 house members, either the Republicans or the Democrats will always have a majority.  But a simple majority means that in many cases, the majority party often has to negotiate with the minority party to get legislation passed.  However, with a super-majority, it is either my way or the highway.

Right now we have 27 GOP senators and eight Democrats.  Since it only takes 18 votes to pass legislation, this is pretty much a slam dunk for the GOP.  If the table was reversed and we had 27 Democrats and eight Republicans, it would still be bad for Alabama..

What has happened to public education since 2010?

A-F school report cards that are basically worthless–except to those who want to bash public schools.  The Alabama Accountability Act which continues to divert millions from the Education Trust Fund.  The charter school law that, as we see in Washington County, makes a mockery of transparency and truthfulness.

None of these have been in the best interest of public schools.  Yet, try to get someone to take a stand and push back and nine times out of ten all you get is a shrug.  Are another superintendent saying, “Well, you know my board wants me to keep a low profile.”

This was until Washington County and a small group of dedicated educators and parents agreed that they were going to stand firm for what they believe is right for their school system and its students.

Thank God they have.

Because in so doing, they have shown us all that David can go into battle with Goliath.  They have set an example.  One that says only a handful of tenacious folks can get the attention of a great big bunch of folks.  Even The Washington Post.

You do it by keeping on keeping on.  By not giving up.  By doing your due diligence and hours and hours of homework.  They refused to knuckle under when the state charter school commission refused to be forthright and share info that belongs to the public.  They have had the backbone and courage to challenge people they know are being disingenuous and trying to pull the wool over their eyes.

They have shown us that you can fight city hall.  That just because someone is housed at the state department of education and have fancy titles doesn’t mean they can run over local school systems.

Yes, a handful of good people in Washington County have shown all of Alabama what is possible when you are convicted.

And all of Alabama owes them a standing ovation for doing so.