Well Hell. When Things Just Don’t Seem Right

There is sadness in little Georgiana, AL tonight.  Because this morning in Birmingham in the final four of the state high school basketball tournament, the team from this little hamlet lost 60-58 to a private school in north Alabama in the smallest division schools compete in.

I was in Georgiana last Thursday night at the Butler County school board meeting.  A large crowd of locals, at least 75 people, were in the audience.  At one point Georgiana High principal Curtis Moorer reminded the audience that the school was in the final four and that buses would be taking folks to Birmingham.

He promised that the school would win the state championship.  The crowd agreed.

But now we know it will not be.

As I said in an earlier post, I was in my element that Thursday night.  I don’t know who they were, but I am sure some in the crowd and I share some of the same ancestors.  Lees have roamed that little speck of south Butler and north Covington counties for nearly 200 years.

They, like everyone else, waged a daily struggle to simply get by.  They followed mules down sandy cotton rows, stacked peanuts in the fall, made sugar cane syrup to drag biscuits through at breakfast, killed hogs when the weather got cold in the fall, ran sewing machines making pants and blouses and under garments and worked one end of a crosscut saw until sweat sloshed in their brogans.

They were yeomen farmers and sharecroppers.  Simple people who went to primitive Baptist churches and were baptized in a creek or pond.  They fried chicken to take to dinner on the grounds.  They helped their neighbors when help was called for.  They buried their own in pine boxes and decorated graves with shells they found in a creek, and maybe even some colored glass.

The last census said Georgiana is now less than 1,800 souls.  Like most of rural Alabama, the citizens are older and poorer than those in the cities where their young have fled to.

Because of such circumstances, the school is more than JUST a school.  IT IS the community.  It is where races mingle in a grandstand and cheer for their team.  For their boys and girls.  It is where hope springs from in a community that doesn’t have many chances to celebrate success or cling to hope.

They lost to a small private school in a town 250 miles away where the average student comes from a totally different environment.

I cast no rocks at the school that won.  Any time you play a game, one side wins and one side loses.  That’s the way it has always been and will always continue to be.

Still, my heart hurts for Georgiana

Because the DNA of its citizens is my DNA also.



Basketball Teams And Accountability Act Scholarships. Any Connections?

High school basketball season for schools playing in a public league end this week with the state tournament in Birmingham.  There are seven size classifications ranging from schools with less than 100 students to Hoover high with 2,177.

The smallest division goes to 159 students, 2A up to 223 and 3A up to 297.  The final four teams in each of the seven divisions are now set.

Of the 12 final four teams in the three smallest divisions, five of them are private schools.  (There are no private schools playing for a state title in 4A, 5A, 6A and 7A.)

It is an open secret that some private schools use AAA scholarships to improve their athletic programs.  A closer look at the five private in the high school playoffs give credence to this assumption.  Since scholarship athletes are not immediately eligible, we looked at numbers from the fall of 2017.

In all, these five schools had 110 scholarships.  Here is how they break down:  Decatur Heritage–2; St. Luke’s Episcopal–40; Westminister Christian–none; Sacred Heart of Anniston–60; and Prattville Christian–8.

Here’s the irony.  As you know, all scholarships are paid for by money diverted from the Education Trust Fund used for public schools.  Could it be that some private schools are using publicly-funded scholarships to compete with public schools in basketball?

Just asking.

Time To Show Some Love

When I posted Thursday night about local school boards who have passed a resolution to repeal the accountability act, I was unaware that Opp city schools joined the parade at their Feb. 21 meeting.  That makes 17 systems in all who have taken a public stance that they are fighting for their students, teachers and schools.

They have the courage and conviction to speak out against the diversion of $145 million from the Education Trust Fund.

They understand this effort is not just about repealing this terrible legislation, it is also about educators coming together across this state and speaking with one VOICE.  Something we’ve been reluctant to do in recent years.

Each of these superintendents is due a word of thanks for leading the way.  Here is the email address for each of them.  Please take a moment and drop them a short note of appreciation.  (And if your own superintendent is not on this list, let them know that you are watching and wondering why they have not stepped up.)

Baldwin County:  Eddie Tyler     etyler@bcbe.org

Bibb County:  Duane McGee     mcgeed@bibb.org

Butler County:  John Strycker     john.strycker@butlerco.k12.al.us

Geneva County:  Becky Birdsong     birdsongb@genevacoboe.org

Henry County:  Chris Padget     cpadget@henrycountyboe.org

Houston County:  David Sewell     dsewell@hcboe.us

Jefferson County:  Craig Pouncey     cpouncey@jefcoed.com

Marion County:  Ann West     awest@mcbe.net

Mobile County:  Chresal Threadgill     cthreadgill@mcpss.com

Montgomery County:  Ann Roy Moore     ann.moore@mps.k12.al.us

Randolph County:  John Jacobs     jjacobs@randolphboe.org

Tallapoosa County:  Joe Windle     jwindle@tallapoosak12.org

Andalusia City:  Ted Watson     watsont@andalusia.k12.al.us

Leeds City:  John Moore     jmoore@leedsk12.org

Opp City:  Michael Smithart     msmithart@oppboe.com

Russellville City:  Hearth Grimes     heath.grimes@rcs.k12.al.us

Winfield City:  Chris Cook     ccook@winfield.k12.al.us

Everyone likes a pat on the back.  You can support this effort by emailing these good folks.


Three More School Systems Pass Repeal AAA Resolutions

Add Geneva and Butler counties and Andalusia city to the growing list of school systems calling for the legislature to repeal the Alabama Accountability Act.

They join: Baldwin, Blbb, Henry, Houston, Jefferson, Marion, Mobile, Montgomery, Randolph and Tallapoosa counties, plus Leeds, Russellville and Winfield city systems.)

Interestingly enough, before passing the resolution, the Butler County board had a discussion about the need to make some substantial changes to their budget to adhere to state guidelines.  Their pro-rated share of the $145 million AAA has diverted from the Education Trust Fund is $577,000.  A board member pointed out that they could balance their budget with this amount of money.

According to information from the state department of education, there are 722,212 students in our public schools.  These 16 systems represent 181,239 of them, which is 25 percent.  Of all students in these systems, 42.4 percent are black and 52.4 percent are on free-reduced lunches.

Statewide, schools are 32.4 percent black and 41.6 percent free-reduced.  The stated purpose of the accountability act when it was created in 2013 was to help “poor kids stuck in failing schools by their zip code.”

So why are the very school systems that AAA was supposed to help the ones calling for it’s repeal?

It’s just one more case where RHETORIC does not match REALITY.

Editor’s note:  I attended the board meetings in Andalusia and in Butler County.  I was in my element as my parents are from Covington County (Andalusia is county seat) and I spent four years running the Covington County Economic Development Commission years ago.  Have know superintendent Ted Watson and several board members for many years.

The Butler County meeting was at the high school in Georgiana.  Superintendent John Strycker asked me to comment on the accountability act.  Before I did I told the crowd of 75-100 people that my Uncle Earl Bennett ran a grocery store just down the road in McKenzie,  Also mentioned that one of my great, great, great grandfathers, William Greenberry Lee, is burne4d at South Butler cemetery in McKenzie.

Afterwards a young lady approached to tell me that she was also kin to Uncle Earl (he was her grandpa’s brother) and someone else told me  he on the trustee board for the South Butler cemetery.   And ran into Richie Hartley, son of Marion and Richard Hartley of Greenville, friends of many years.

Yep, I was in my element.  Among people who are salt of the earth–and too often forgotten my politicians and bureaucrats in Montgomery.

Why Is The State School Board Missing In Action?

Let’s go back to the survey we did in early January that got more than 600 responses and take a closer look.

One thing that jumps out is how the public regards the state board of education and their lack of activity when it comes to the accountability act.

We asked: The Code of Alabama says the state board of education “shall seek in every way to direct and develop public sentiment in support of public education.”  With this being the case, do you believe this board should take a public stance regarding the diversion of $100 million from the Education Trust Fund?

We were referring to Alabama Code Section 16-3-11 which is just below.

“The State Board of Education shall exercise, through the State Superintendent of Education and his professional assistants, general control and supervision over the public schools of the state, except institutions of higher learning which by law are under the general supervision and control of a board of trustees, and shall consult with and advise through its executive officer and his professional assistants, county boards of education, city and town boards of education, superintendents of schools, school trustees, attendance officers, principals, teachers, supervisors and interested citizens, and shall seek in every way to direct and develop public sentiment in support of public education.”

Some 87 percent said the board should take a position.  Only eight percent said “no.”  That is definitely a call for action.

We asked: The Code of Alabama also says the state board of education shall recommend to the Governor and Legislature desired changes to existing laws.  Given this authority, should the state board of education be actively involved in making necessary changes to AAA?

This comes from Code Section 16-3-22.

“The State Board of Education shall consider the educational needs of the state and on and with the advice of the State Superintendent of Education shall recommend to the Governor and to the Legislature such additional legislation or changes in the existing legislation as may be deemed desirable. Such recommendations may be in the form of prepared bills and shall be laid before the Governor and the Legislature.”

Again the message was loud and clear as 90 percent said “yes” and only five percent said “No.”

Already 13 schools systems, including the four largest in Alabama, and with 24 percent of all students in public schools, have taken a public stand in calling for repeal of the accountability act.

Why hasn’t the state board said anything?  Why do they ignore the law that governs them?  Is this really what our 722,000 public school students deserve?

Repeal Resolutions Just Keep On Coming

As we  bring down the curtain on this week, I am happy to report that a grand total of SIX school boards passed a resolution this week calling for repeal of the Alabama Accountability Act.

They were: Houston, Bibb, Henry and Marion counties and the city systems of Leeds and Winfield.

That is a total of 13 superintendents and school boards who have now publicly said they are willing to fight for their students and against the continuing diversion of money that should be going to the Education Trust Fund, but is going to private school scholarships instead.

This means that systems with 24 percent of ALL the students in public schools have rejected AAA.  Equally as impressive is that there are 47 House members and 25 Senators who represent some or all of one of these school districts.  Since all politics is local, that is significant.

As we’ve said before, questions about AAA are plentiful.  For instance, reports on the Revenue Department web site from scholarship granting organizations show in the last six years, they have collected $145,003,649 in donation–but have only awarded $90,757,820 in scholarships.  Where is the difference of $54,245,820?

And why do we have a double standard for how we treat charitable contributions.?

The Revenue Department, as well as CPAs I trust, have confirmed that contributions to scholarship granting organizations are the ONLY category of non-profit where a donor gets a dollar for dollar tax CREDIT on their state income tax, while all others only get a tax DONATION.

That is huge.  Why don’t we treat SGO donations just like we do those given to churches, Boy Scouts, United Way, etc.?  In essence, the state of Alabama is paying for all SGO donations because the donor’s income tax is reduced by the amount of the donation.  How many preachers wish their congregation’s tithes were treated the same way?

Thankfully more and more school boards are understanding the AAA is a dead end for public schools.

And stay tuned.  More repeal resolutions are on the way.