It’s Time For Another Iron Bowl

Next Saturday, Nov. 24, the state of Alabama will come to a virtual standstill to tune in the annual football game between Auburn and Alabama.  If college football is a religion in Alabama, and I think it is, next Saturday is the holiest of holy days.

The University of Alabama team once again stands atop the college football world, while Auburn has had a disappointing season.  Alabama fans expect their team to win in convincing fashion on their way to competing for another national championship season.  Auburn faithful put their chances of victory as somewhere between slim and none.

(Of course, there are always some who say, “You can throw out the records when these two teams play each other.”  But truth is, that is NOT the case as the majority of the time the favored team prevails.)

I was a freshman at Auburn in the fall of 1961. In those days, with Bear Bryant firmly lording over the college football world in Tuscaloosa and the game always being played in Birmingham, Auburn fans were seldom expectant.  True to form, Alabama won that year 34-0.  And of the five seasons I was at Auburn, we only beat Alabama once.

Bryant coached his last Iron Bowl in 1982, losing to Auburn 23-22.  And the series has been remarkably competitive in the 35 games since  Bryant leaned against the goal post before the game began.  In fact, Auburn has won 18 while Alabama has won 17.  In 1989 Auburn played for the first time ever on their home field and won 30-20.

And since the game began being played on the campus of both schools, Auburn has won five of the nine games in Tuscaloosa and nine of the 14 games in Auburn.

Obviously I have lots of memories of these games.  Mostly the one’s Auburn won.  Like Pat Sullivan and Terry Beasley winning two of three they played against Bama.  I remember Auburn winning 49-26 in Birmingham in 1969 when punter Connie Frederick decided to run rather than kick and more than 80 yards later reached the end zone.  Of course, I recall 1972 when Auburn blocked two Bama punts late in the game and won 17-16.

I also remember 1985 when Alabama field goal kicker Van Tiffin stuck a knife in Auburn’s heart with a 52 yard kick as the game ended to win 25-23.  The first game played in Tuscaloosa since 1901 was in 2000.  Son Kevin and I went.  This game will always be noted more for the awful weather conditions than who won.  It was 35 degrees and spitting sleet.  Damon Duval kicked three field goals and Auburn won 9-0.  I was so cold I went back to the car and listened to the second half on the radio.  Kevin stuck it out.

No Auburn fan will ever forget playing in Tuscaloosa in 2010.  Alabama was ahead 24-0 in the second quarter before Cam Newton and company came back to win 28-27.  Auburn went on to win the national championship that year.

And there was 2013.  I was at Jordan-Hare when Alabama lined up to try a long field goad with one second to go.  I saw Chris Davis field the missed kick at the other end of the field, more than 100 yards away.  Then he ran and got closer and closer and suddenly 87,000 people realized he would score a touchdown.

Pure and simple, it was bedlam moments after..  Davis was mobbed by teammates in the north end zone while thousands of fans surged onto the field.

More than 50 years of memories.  Like the time at Legion Field when a Bama fan tapped me on the shoulder wanting to know if I had some chewing tobacco.  When I told him I did not, he looked around and said, “Damn, 80,000 people are here and none of them have any tobacco.”  Like the time at Auburn when I came close to punching an extremely loud and vulgar AUBURN fan because he would not shut up.

So start the countdown.  Church begins in six days at 2:30 p.m.


Bless His Heart

The PTOs of Vestavia Hills and Mountain Brook city school systems held their 14th annual PTO Legislative Forum the evening of Nov. 15.  All legislators representing this area attended.  They included State Senators Jabo Waggoner and Dan Roberts and House members David Faulkner, Jim Carns and David Wheeler.

All are Republicans and Roberts and Wheeler are new to the legislature.

Questions were asked about new funding for schools, the state education budget, school choice, school assessment, school safety and mental health.

Having written extensively about the Alabama Accountability Act (choice) and the A-F school report cards (assessment), I was especially interested in response to each of these.  Here are pertinent sections of an article from the Vestavia Voice:


PTO representatives also asked how legislators felt about the state spending about $30 million in each year in scholarships for students to transfer out of failing schools, which they said only hurts failing schools more and profits private schools over public schools.

Wheeler said he wants the Alabama Accountability Act, which authorized the expenditure, to be repealed, arguing it “benefits a few at the sacrifice of many.”

Faulkner disagreed, saying he’s seen poor children benefit from the act, moving into better schools. Faulkner argued the act does not hurt Vestavia and Mountain Brook schools.


Talking about “failing schools,” PTO representatives asked how legislators felt about the A through F report card.

Wheeler and Faulkner again disagreed, with Faulkner saying while it may have some issues, he supports the system, with Wheeler saying it was very flawed and an “administrative burden,” arguing the state legislature should listen to educators on this issue.

“A score on one standardized test does not accurately reflect on what you do,” Wheeler said.”

As you see, there is a stark contrast between how Wheeler and Faulkner see things.  Knowing what I know, I have to feel that Wheeler has done his homework while Faulkner has not.

This is certainly true when Faulkner says that neither Vestavia Hills or Mountain Brook systems have been hurt by the accountability act.  He doesn’t seem to understand that all systems are funded from the Education Trust Fund and that when money is diverted from ETF, there is less money to spend on EVERY system in the state.

Presently the accountability act has diverted $!46.6 million from ETF since 2013.  This amounts to $201 per student–including those in Vestavia Hills and Mountain Brook.  This adds up to $867,516 for Mountain Brook and $1,437,351 for Vestavia Hills.

Records show that from Jan. 1 through Nov. 2 Faulkner raised more than $200,000 for his re-election campaign and still has more than $175,000 in the bank.  Number One.  Perhaps he can take some of this money and help his schools make up for what AAA has cost them.  Number Two.  Perhaps he should sit down with David Wheeler and get up to speed on some education issues.


Things That Make You Go “Hmmmmmmm”

Recently the Montgomery County school board (which I am on until the end of November) passed a resolution calling on our legislative delegation to work to repeal the Alabama Accountability Act.  The Baldwin County board had already passed a resolution and now Mobile County has as well.

Within hours my email inbox began to fill up with notes from parents in the Montgomery area asking that I not take away their child’s scholarship to a private school.  I politely replied to each that the accountability act is a creation of the legislature and local school boards have no power to do anything other than express their concern about how it is impacting their local budget.

I found it interesting that the majority of these emails came from parents with children in one particular Montgomery private school where more than 40 percent of their student body gets an AAA scholarship.  As best I can determine this school is owned by one person and is not affiliated with any non-profit group or organization.

Several days later I sent the following email to each parent who had contacted me:

“You are one of several who recently emailed me regarding Montgomery public schools and students getting scholarships to private schools.  again, I appreciate you taking the time to contact me.  It did not go unnoticed.

I would love to have the opportunity to talk to you, and the others who wrote me, about this situation.  Specifically, I would like to know of your concerns about MPS and what steps you may have taken to address them with school personnel.  Without doubt this school system has issues.  And I think it is only when we have honest and forthright discussions about them that we will make progress.

Would you be interested in meeting with me, and the others who wrote, for dinner one night.  I’ll treat. 

Look forward to hearing from you.”

Guess what?  Not one person responded.  Which leads me to wonder just how concerned are these parents about education, or did someone just give them a piece of paper with my email address on it and were told that I was trying to take away their child’s scholarship?





Mobile Joins The Parade Calling For Accountability Act Repeal

The Mobile County school system is the largest in Alabama with an enrollment of 53,971 last year.  And at their Nov. 13 school board meeting they joined Baldwin and Montgomery county systems in passing a resolution asking their legislative delegation to work to repeal the Alabama Accountability Act.

These means that of the four largest systems in the state, three of them have called for repeal.  Baldwin has 35,907 students, Montgomery has 29,124 and Jefferson rounds out the top four with 35,907.

Since this law was passed in 2013, a total of $146,617,919 has been diverted from the state’s Education Trust Fund to provide scholarships to students attending private schools.  There were 726,924 students in public schools  in 2017-18.  Do the math and you see this amounts to $201.69 for each public school student.

This comes to $10.8 million for Mobile, $6.2 million for Baldwin and $5.8 million for Montgomery.  With all systems scratching for funding at present, more and more educators and school boards are realizing that the Accountability Act is a bad investment for public schools.

Here are portions of the Mobile resolution:

“WHEREAS, after five years of implementation, based on data, the act has not achieved its original purpose of increasing student achievement; instead, the state as a whole continues to suffer academically;

WHEREAS, instead of a positive financial impact, the act has holistically caused negative financial impacts on school districts;

WHEREAS, an evaluation by the Alabama Department of Revenue concluded that students leaving public schools for private schools under AAA “were not associated with significant improvement on standardized test scores” and that those students “were more likely to remain in a non-proficient category than to improve.”

WHEREAS, AAA labels schools, faculty, staff and students as failing when expediential growth is being shown in these schools each year;

WHEREAS, Mobile County Public Schools is the largest school district in the state, and adequate funding is needed in order to ensure both equity and equality among the 88 schools throughout the district;

WHEREAS, the Mobile County Board of School Commissioners requests a copy of this resolution to be provided to each member of the Mobile County Legislative Delegation requesting their support of the repeal of the Alabama Accountability Act of 2013.”

It is expected that more systems will soon take the same action as Mobile, Baldwin and Montgomery.


Is Bureaucracy Killing Our Schools?

Sometimes I wonder if educators read this blog.  But then I post a story like this one and I have my answer.

Suddenly my inbox is swamped as educators from every corner of Alabama chime in to agree with me.  Their frustration with the constant search for a “silver bullet” or “magic pill” to give children is nearly palpable.  There is great distrust of anyone or any missive from a central office or the state department of education.

A principal recently told me that she had gotten 20 emails that day from her central office from people looking for info that they could have looked up for themselves.  I mentioned this to Hope Zeanah, assistant superintendent in Baldwin County and a principal for 16 years.  She told me what she did to slow the requests.  Seems that when she became part of the central office she required that any email sent to a principal also be copied to everyone in the central office, including the superintendent.

Because of this feedback, the volume of emails from central office to principals slowed a lot.

And as all of this goes through my mind, I can’t help but remember that mama went to two-room Chesser school about four miles north of Red Level in Covington County in the late 1920s.  It was on a spit of sandy land her daddy owned about 300 yards from her house.  She walked home for lunch each day.  The school and any sign of it has long vanished, but I could take you to the spot where it stood.

Amazingly, mother could still vividly recall classmates and teachers when she was 90 years old.  From time to time I would coax some tale out of her.

All of which got me to thinking about the history of schools in Alabama.  When did we decide that bureaucrats were smarter than teachers?  According to Shannon Driver, superintendent in Covington County today, a Mr. W. M Snider was elected county superintendent in 1890.  Shannon thinks there must have been a school board at that time  Mr. J. A Keller was appointed superintendent in 1921, so obviously this appointment was made by a school board.

Of course, mother and her classmates were all peas in the same pod.  White, dirt poor. and knew how to pick cotton.  And for some reason, their uneducated parents wanted them to go to school.

As David Mathews says in his book, Why Public Schools?  Whose Public Schools? “In the beginning, control of schools was almost exclusively local; most schools had their own trustees.  Schools were free-standing institutions,  Today, everyone–parents, students, teachers, school board members, would-be reformers, even bureaucrats–.complains about bureaucratic control, which seems to be spreading faster than kudzu.

Few communities today have the same relationship with their schools that they originally had.  State and federal governments now play a much larger role”

In other words. over time communities have stepped back from their schools and allowed them to be gobbled up by bureaucracy.

Of course I know that this world is far different from the one mama grew up in.  That we must prepare young people for a world that in most cases has yet to be born.  But I still believe the real work of education takes place in a classroom with interactions between a caring teacher and an attentive student.  I am not convinced all those who get a paycheck from an education entity remember this as well as they should.


Looking At Members Of 2019 Legislature

With the general election now over, we at least know who the brand new members of both the Alabama House and Senate will be.  There will be 12 new Senators and 28 new House members.

Actually, three of the Senators are former House members moving to the other chamber.  These are Donnie Chesteen of Geneva; David Sessions of Grand Bay and Jack Williams of Wilmer.  They will be joined by brand new Senators Garlan Gudger of Cullman; Sam Givhan of Huntsville, Andrew Jones of Centre; Randy Price of Opelika, Dan Roberts of Birmingham; Will Barfoot of Montgomery and Chis Elliott of Spanish Fort.  Former Senator Tom Butler of Huntsville is returning after sitting out a couple of sessions.

New House members are: Andrew Sorrell of Muscle Shoals; Parker Moore of Decatur; Andy Whitt of Harvest, Proncey Robertson of Mt. Hope; Scott Stadthagen of Hartselle; Tracy Estes of Winfield; Jamie Kiel of Russellville; Rex Reynolds of Huntsville; Gil Isbell of Gadsden, Craig Lipscomb of Gadsden, Debbie Wood of Valley; Ginny Shaver of Centre; David Wheeler of Vestavia Hills; Neil Rafferty of Birmingham; Rodney Sullivan of Northport; Brett Easterbrook of Fruitdale; TaShina Morris of Montgomery; Kirk Hatcher of Montgomery; Ed Oliver of Dadeville, Jeremy Gray of Opelika; Jeff Sorrells of Hartford; Will Dismukes of Prattville, Wes Allen of Troy;  Rhett Marques of Enterprise; Matt Simpson of Daphne, Sam Jones of Mobile, Shane Stringer of Citronelle and Chip Brown of Mobile.

In all, 34 percent of the Senate is new, while 27 percent of the House is.

The House will meet this week to organize leadership..  Of the 15 members of the House Ways & Means Education committee appointed to serve after the 2014 election, eight of them are no longer in the legislature.  Bill Poole of Tuscaloosa currently chairs this committee and is likely to return.

As to the education policy committee, chaired by Terri Collins of Decatur, seven of the 13 members no longer are in the House.

So there are plenty of new players now in the game.  Will this bode well for education?  Time will tell.  But this is definitely an opportunity for public schools.


Initiative Overload

A friend recently told me about something that grabbed my attention.  And made a great deal of sense.

She called it “initiative overload.”  Meaning that we bombard educators with first this initiative and then that one.  The poor folks in classrooms and who runs schools can’t catch their breath or really digest something before here comes the next “latest and greatest” something or other.

When Tommy Bice was state superintendent he came up with Vision 2020.  It was well-done and carefully thought through and promoted all over the state.  But then he up and left his job and here came the walking disaster named Mike Sentance to run the show for a year.

Sure enough, he put out his own version of a strategic plan.  However, it was not well-done and was more a wish list than something setting goals and objectives.  And sure enough the man from Massachusetts launched his own road show to let educators across Alabama see what wisdom he had conjured up.

Here is the report national board certified teacher Leslie Hughes of Pell City did after suffering though one of these sessions.  Needless to say, she was not impressed.

Which brings us to the state school board meeting on Nov. 8 when new state superintendent Eric Mackey announced (DRUM ROLL PLEASE) that a new state strategic plan is in the works.

Initiative overload was my immediate reaction upon hearing this news.

If someone changed wives as often as we unfurl state strategic plans, they would be the center of gossip every time three or more people in town gathered.

Enough already.  Can we just give teachers and principals a break?  Can we let them do their jobs working with children?  Besides, anyone with much experience at all will pay scant attention to another fancy report concocted by folks in Montgomery.   I am in schools all the time.  I have yet to have a principal or teacher ask me breathlessly, “When will we get a new strategic plan because I just can’t wait?”

Education occurs in a classroom when a teacher and a student interact.  That is the sole purpose of schools.  Anything that detracts or interferes with that mission is virtually meaningless.

And initiative overload is a distraction.


Thoughts On Tuesday’s Election

Since most of us have now thanked the Good Lord that another election day has come and gone and we’ve had time to take a deep breathe, let’s spend a few minutes reflecting on what happened across Alabama.

A few days ago I posted that I would be watching five legislative races in particular.  These were Senate races in northwest and northeast Alabama, as well as one in east Alabama, along with a House race in Baldwin County and one in Huntsville.

I made no forecasts, just gave some details on both Republican and Democratic candidates and passed along thoughts I picked up from others.  Had not seen any polls, nor had a dog in any of these fights.

But what I thought might be highly contested races turned out to be anything but, except in one case.  Let’s begin there.

Veteran Democrat House member Johnny Mack Morrow challenged first-term Republican Senator Larry Stutts in the northwest corner of the state.  There were 42,363 votes in this race, Stutts got 899 more than Morrow.  While the race in Huntsville between Democrat Amy Wasyluka and veteran Tom Butler was somewhat competitive, 54 percent to 46 percent for Butler was a very comfortable win.

The other three went strongly for the Republican candidates.  Veteran Democrat House member Craig Fold of Etowah County ran as an Independent against newcomer Andrew Jones of Cherokee County.  Jones got 61 percent.  In the Mountain Book section of Birmingham, newcomer Democrat Felicia Stewart challenged incumbent Republican David Faulkner to no avail.  He got 62 percent.  Down in Fairhope, newcomer Danielle Mashburn-Myrick went against veteran Republican House member Joe Faust.  He beat her better than two to one.

Takeaway one.  If millennial, suburban females are breaking away from the Republican party in some parts of the country, the memo never got to Alabama.  Wasyluka, Stewart and Mashburn-Myrick definitely fit the image.  Each was a new comer to politics, bright, articulate and personable. Didn’t matter.  They were Democrats in a deep, deep red state.

According to the secretary of state, 65 percent of all ballots voted Nov. 6 were straight ticket.  Some 661,898 were Republican, 460,408 were Democrat.  This 201,490 advantage to Republican candidates put all Democrats in a deep hole.  Especially those running for statewide offices such as Governor, Lt. Governor, Attorney General, Supreme Court Chief Justice, Auditor, etc.  In almost all of these cases, Democrats found it hard to break 40 percent.

Walt Maddox for governor (40.3); Will Boyd for Lt. Governor (38.6); Joseph Siegelman for attorney general (41.1); Bob Vance for Chief Justice (42.5) Miranda Joseph for auditor (39.4)

Editor’s note: I have never voted a straight ticket and don’t plan to any time in the future.  How folks can just blindly give their vote because of party affiliation is something I don’t understand.  I take my vote more seriously than this.

Takeaway two:  Alabama does have a two party system, but it is not Democrat and Republican, it is black party and white party.  The 2019 session of the legislature will have only two white Democrats and no black Republicans.  Montgomery is 55 percent black.  While trounced statewide, here Maddox got 63 percent, Boyd 63 and Siegelman 66.

Macon County is 82 percent black.  Maddox got 81 percent; Boyd 84 and Siegelman 85.  But flip to Winston County which has less than one percent black population and Maddox got 14 percent; Boyd 11 and Siegelman 15.

Alabama is 26.2 percent black, Georgia is 30.5 and Florida only 16.  However, black Democrats in both Georgia and Florida came within an eyelash of being elected governor Nov. 6.

Could that happen here?  I’ll let you mull that one over.



Dig Where The Taters Are

After posting the piece about Republican candidates getting campaign contributions from the PAC, Alabama Voice of Teachers for Education, a number of emails showed up in my inbox with folks wondering what is going on and if giving to people who have traditionally fought public schools makes any sense.

The ONE thing all successful politicians have in common is that they can each count.  Doesn’t matter if they are Republican or Democrat, liberal or conservative, white or black, they know that most political battles are won by those with the most troops.  In Alabama these days, that means Republican and it’s easy to figure out that it is good to be friends \with those in charge.

There is no doubt that the quickest way to a legislator’s heart is through their pocket book.  Campaigns cost a lot of money, way too much in many cases.  Raising money for campaigns ain’t much fun.  I’ve done enough of it to know first hand.  So when someone offers to help, you are all ears.

For years I’ve understood that you best “dig where the taters are.”  Today, the Republicans in the state house have most of the taters.  AVOTE, and lots of others, have figured this out.  Makes perfect sense to me.

Think of a beach and the waves rolling in.  Every time a wave retreats, the beach has been changed in some small way.  That’s politics.  Always shifting and changing.  And so you either shift–or get washed away.

Republican Candidates Gobble Up AEA Money

There was a time not so long ago when the Alabama Republican party could not mention the Democratic party without also mentioning the Alabama Education Association AND trial lawyers.  If a Democrat was being vilified, so was AEA and trial lawyers.

Then something strange happened.  Almost overnight the Republicans stopped cussing trial lawyers.  It wasn’t hard to figure out why.  All you had to do was look at the campaign financial disclosure paperwork of Republican candidates.  As if by magic, they discovered that campaign contributions coming from trial attorneys were as green as dollars coming from the Business Council of Alabama.

And lo and behold, folks like me who look at campaign contributions found lots and lots of dollars coming from a political action committee by the name of Trust Representing Involved Alabama Lawyers (TRIAL) on Republican financial records.

From the looks of campaign donations in this year’s cycle, one has to expect that Republicans will soon stop speaking ill of the Alabama Education Association.  And they have 1.1 million reasons to do so.  Because since the first of the year, 75 Republican legislative candidates took $1.1 million from AEA.

Of these, 19 were incumbent senators or candidates seeking to be elected to the senate as a Republican.  And 56 were incumbent House members are wannabes.  AEA picked those it supported well as only six of the 75 candidates they supported lost.

On the Senate side, my friend Chris Elliott, Republican in Baldwin County who was elected to succeed Trip Pittman got more than anyone else, $55,000.  Next came Republican Tom Whatley of Auburn with $42,500.

Incumbent Republican House member Dickie Drake of St. Clair county won the sweepstakes for State Representative with $37,555.  He was followed by incumbent Republican Chris Sells of Greenville with $27,500.

The irony of all this is hardly lost on me because when I ran as a Republican last spring for the Montgomery school board, I was attacked for  once having a contract with AEA.  (I also had contracts with the School Superintendents Association and the Council for Leaders in Alabama Schools at one time but those opposing me never mentioned that.)

So while mailboxes across my district were filled with fliers saying: “Larry Lee is a lackey for the AEA.” Republican legislative candidates were filling their war chests with AEA contributions.

But as we’ve just seen nationally, politics is often not what some would have us believe.

And when you couple this development with the fact 30 percent of the Alabama Senate and 25 percent of the House will be first time members in 2019, the dynamics of legislation may be very different than in the recent past.