Bradley Byrne Joins Forces With Betsy DeVos

Congressman Bradley Byrne, already an announced candidate for U.S. Senate in 2020, took the stage with Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, to announce his support for a program offering Federal tax credits for donations to scholarships for private schools.  Think of it as the Alabama Accountability Act on steroids.  You can see the AL.com article about Bryne’s move here.

This seems to an odd move by Bryne, considering that he was the odds on favorite to be elected governor of Alabama in 2010, until he launched a full scale attack on the state’s public schools.  This triggered an all out effort by the Alabama Education Association to make sure Bryne’s campaign was not successful.

Consequently, Bryne lost the primary runoff to Robert Bentley.  And we all know the rest of that story.

It also seems strange that Byrne is cozying up to Devos, who in 2017 called out Mobile County schools for earning a failing grade on school choice.  She got her info from a Brookings Institute study, that then superintendent Martha Peek called “a bunch of political garbage” and nothing but an advertisement for charter schools and vouchers.

Truth is, the Mobile system may offer the widest range of choices for their students of any system in the state.  This is because of the 12 signature academies ranging from pre-med to aviation and aerospace and much more.  In fact, the Bryant high school Academy of Coastal Studies was named earlier this week as a Banner School by the Council for Leaders of Alabama Schools.

One would think that Bryne learned that it is not good politics to rally the education community against you.  Especially since another candidate for this seat is probably going to be state senator Del Marsh, who signed a letter endorsing DeVos for Secretary of Education before she was picked by President Trump.

DeVos does not have the support of the vast majority of educators as her track record prior to going to Washington was decidedly anti-public schools.  DeVos has been a major contributor to the Alabama Federation for Children in their efforts to hand pick members of the Alabama State Board of Education and certain legislators.

So DeVos comes up with anti-public school legislation–after talking about how bad our schools are and trying to influence our political process by sharing some of her millions of dollars with us–and Bryne embraces her?

Someone once said that “politics makes strange bedfellows.”  Bradley Bryne proves they were right.

 

 

 

Huntsville Student Wows Today Show Interviewers

Ashley Kimble is a senior at Grissom High in Huntsville.   It is doubtful that when she got involved in designing an artificial foot for Kendall Bane, a wounded Marine, she had any notion that her work would end up with she and Bane being on NBC’s Today show.

AL.com did a great job of describing Ashley’s work.  You can read the story and see the interview here.

Yes, in spite of what many wish us to believe, we do have amazing students doing amazing things in Alabama public schools.

Senator Not Happy With State School Chief

Chris Elliott is the brand new Republican state senator from Baldwin County.  While he is new to the Senate, he is not new to politics, having served as a county commissioner for years.

We’ve told you about the dispute between the county school board and the city of Gulf Shores as they try to work out details of the city separating into its own school system.  Here, here and here.

Elliott spoke with John Sharp of AL.com and came down hard on state superintendent, Eric Mackey.  Here are some of his comments:

“We were close to avoiding all of this but for the lack of willingness of the state superintendent to negotiate at all,” Elliott said. “I think it is clear to me that, and these are through direct statements by Dr. Mackey, that it’s more important for the state superintendent to preserve the body of work his legal team has produced and, frankly, it’s more important to Dr. Mackey that he feels is his authority to issue these decisions.”

Said Elliott, “I think it’s clear by Dr. Mackey’s statements that he’s concerned about setting precedent of the authority and power of the state uperintendent’s office. Everyone was willing to compromise to make this amicable except the state superintendent’s office.”

Involvement by the state superintendent in city-school splits is rare, as most agreements are negotiated by the county and city districts.

Said Elliott, “The students of Baldwin County and the teachers of Baldwin County are pawns in a power struggle.”

Interpretation.  Elliott thinks Mackey is more interested in showing Baldwin County how important he is than looking out for students.

I’ve known Elliott for some time.  He is smart, politically savvy and a hard worker.  He and Mackey have had at least one face-to–face meeting about the Baldwin County situation.  It did not go well.

 

Baldwin County Says They Will Stand Their Ground In Showdown With State Superintendent

In a press conference that lasted nearly 30 minutes Monday, Feb. 18, Baldwin County superintendent Eddie Tyler, school board chairman Cecil Christenberry and attorney Don Beebe explained in detail why the county filed suit against state superintendent Eric Mackey last Friday.

At the center of this controversy is the intention of the city of Gulf Shores to start its own school system this summer.  Negotiations between Baldwin County schools and Gulf Shores reached an impasse months ago.

Enter new state superintendent Eric Mackey, who the county contends has attempted to force his own agreement on them, rather than making a wholehearted effort to mediate.  The matter came to a head when Mackey concocted his final agreement and demanded that it be executed by both parties by Feb. 15.

However, the county firmly believes that the Mackey’s arrangement will financially harm the county system and that he has overstepped his authority.

You can see the press conference here.

Here are highlights:

Tyler: Why should county tax payers be on the hook for startup costs for the Gulf Shores system?  They knew what the law was when they started down this path.  Their decision is not the county’s financial obligationAny effort by the state superintendent to make the county pay would set a new precedent in Alabama.

Mackey’s last communication with Baldwin County appeared to contain a threat that Alabama code gives him the authority to remove Tyler from office.  However, Mackey told AL.com “any scenario involving him removing Superintendent Eddie Tyler is ‘very bizarre.'”

Beebe: While Mackey is trying to clarify his statements about Tyler, his own order says he WILL TAKE ACTION–not might TAKE ACTION.  He is way outside his authority by threatening to bring charges against Eddie Tyler for being insubordinate.  Can you imagine in this state that if you exercise your right to appeal you are being insubordinate?

We will rely on the law–not Dr. Mackey.

Beebe also referred to an attorney hired by the state saying there would be “weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth” if Baldwin County refused to agree to Mackey’s agreement.  Beebe considered this a threat and definitely not something the state superintendent should be engaged in.

Beebe: We are not weeping and wailing and gnashing our teeth.  We’re going to court to determine what the law is.

Christenberry:  We (the school board) read Mackey’s letter and it was a threat.  For Dr. Mackey to say “I don’t mean that” is too little, too late.  We’ll go by what he wrote, not what he now says.

At the ripe old age of 76, I’ve been around the block just a few times.  Certainly long enough that I can recognize CHILDISH behavior when I see it.  And this is it.  That’s all you can call the actions of a state superintendent that get him sued by a local school system

Baldwin County School Board Sues State Superintendent Eric Mackey

Three weeks ago we told you about the mess in Baldwin County regarding the effort of Gulf Shores to start its own city school system.   The county school board was not happy at all with the way in which state superintendent Eric Mackey seemed to be tipping the scales in favor of Gulf Shores.

They felt he was overstepping his authority as to how he thought funding and other issues should be handled.

It all came to a head in late afternoon on Feb. 15 when the board filed a 73-page law suit against Mackey in Baldwin County circuit court.

The straw that may well have broken the camel’s back was when Mackey sent the board a letter in which he implied that he has the authority to fire Baldwin County superintendent Eddie Tyler.  He made serveral references to Alabama code section 16-4-4, which states:

“The State Superintendent of Education shall explain the true intent and meaning of the school laws and of the rules and regulations of the State Board of Education. He shall decide, without expense to the parties concerned, all controversies and disputes involving the proper administration of the public school system. The State Superintendent of Education shall enforce all the provisions of this title and the rules and regulations of the State Board of Education. He shall file charges with the State Board of Education or other controlling authority and shall recommend for removal or institute proceedings for the removal of any person appointed under the provisions of this title for immorality, misconduct in office, insubordination, incompetency or willful neglect of duty.”

The last line of this code section is the one Baldwin board members took great issue with.  Mackey and Gulf Shores superintendent Matt Akin have a relationship dating back to their days at Jacksonville State University.  Mackey was later superintendent of the Jacksonville city school system while Akin was 12 miles away as superintendent of Piedmont city.  And when Mackey applied for state superintendent in 2018, Akin wrote a letter of recommendation for him.

And though Mackey told AL.com that this relationship had nothing to do with how he was handling the controversy, Baldwin County board members were not buying it.

Reportedly Mackey told a Mobile TV station Feb. 14 that  he had no intention of trying to terminate Tyler.  But again, the Baldwin board was not convinced.

Feb. 15 was the latest “drop dead” date Mackey gave both Gulf Sho9es and Baldwin County to sign his agreement.  Instead of signing, Baldwin County went to court.

I know Eddie Tyler.  He is a veteran of more than 40 years in education.  He is definitely a “work horse” and not a “show horse.”  The kind of guy people call “solid.”  When the bullets start flying, you know Eddie will still be in the fox hole with you  Since he has the fastest growing system in the state, adding 500 students each year, he is drinking from a fire hydrant every day.

By comparison, this is a world Mackey can hardly relate to.  Ten years ago when Mackey was in Jacksonville, they had 1,694 students..  Today they have 1,575, while Baldwin County has 31,519.

This lack of experience in working with large school systems is one reason the majority of local superintendents favored Craig Pouncey as  state school chief when the state board picked Mackey in a 5-4 vote last year.

The suit filed in Baldwin County circuit court is very direct in its statements about Mackey.  For example:

“Plaintiff alleges that Mackey acted willfully, knowingly, maliciously, in bad faith, beyond his authority, and/or under a mistaken interpretation of the law and is not immune from civil action.

The State Superintendent has failed to follow the procedural requirements for conducting a review of actions or orders of a local board.

Mackey has failed to comply with the law, as well as his own rules, practices, policies, and procedure with regard to the Baldwin County Board of Education, thereby acting wrongfully and in violation of the laws of the State of Alabama.

In a nutshell, Mackey is being accused of incompetence.

And my layman’s interpretation after reading the suit and all supporting documentation is that Baldwin County has made a very good case.

Editor’s note: I am constantly amazed at how some grown ups act when the issue is about children.  The fact that a brand new state superintendent has become so embroiled in an issue that one side feels their only relief is in court is mind-boggling.  Local school boards employ local superintendents.  They DO NOT work for the state department of education.  The ONLY reason for a state superintendent, state department and state school board to exist is to do everything they can to help what goes on in our classrooms.

Education takes place in classrooms when a teacher and her students interact.  Education does not happen in the Gordon Persons Building which houses the state department in Montgomery.  Just as it does not occur in any local system central office anywhere in the state.

In 2016 the state board embarrassed itself by hiring Mike Sentance to head our schools on a 5-4 vote.  They were part of a process that was so flawed one of the board members at that time faces legal action this summer from Jefferson County superintendent Craig Pouncey to defend her actions during the selection.

In 2018, when someone was being picked to take Sentance’s place, the top three contenders were Mackey, Pouncey and Hoover city superintendent Kathy Murphy.  And though she was being sued by Pouncey, the above referenced board member DID NOT recuse herself from voting and the vote was 5 for Mackey and 4 for Pouncey.

And now we get THIS.  OWN it or not, this is ultimately the obligation of the state board to straighten out. (more…)

Fur Flies In Baldwin County

All divorces are messy.  Even the “good” ones.

This is especially true when the divorce is happening between an existing school system and a “wannabe” one.  As is the case in Baldwin County where the city of Gulf Shores has been yearning for its own city system for a long time.  But when one system is asked to give up facilities it owns and personnel it pays there is always disagreement about who gets what and who pays for what.

Gulf Shores has a school board and a superintendent, but no schools or students at present.  Both parties have been haggling for months.  They finally came to an impasse early in 2018 and turned to the state department of education for help.  Ed Richardson was interim state superintendent at that point and decided Gulf Shores schools would begin with the 2019-20 school year.

This meant final negotiations fell to new state superintendent Eric Mackey who took office in mid-May of 2018.  And within a month his long time friend Matt Akin became the new Gulf Shores superintendent.  The two were in grad school together at Jacksonville State University.  Mackey became superintendent of the Jacksonville city system while Akin took over the Piedmont city system, just 15 miles up highway 21.  And when Mackey applied for state superintendent, Akin wrote one of his letters of recommendation.

Mackey told AL.com that his long relationship with Akin, “did not weigh into any of this.”  However, after reviewing the details of the agreement Mackey sent the county and Gulf Shores to sign off on, county officials are simply not buying this.

Mackey sent a letter and 19-page “Agreement by and between the Gulf Shores city board of education and the Baldwin County board of education” to Tyler and Akin on Jan. 16.  He wanted this executed by Jan. 18.

Both school boards had meetings on Jan. 17.  The Gulf Shores board approved the agreement.  The Baldwin County board decided to go to court instead, believing that Mackey had overstepped his authority when it came to financial issues.  For instance, the county believes the agreement would cost them $7 million.  CFO John Wilson told AL.com, “The state superintendent has made a decision that has never been done in the history of Alabama to prorate to Gulf Shores.”

Mackey expressed displeasure that the county held a press conference on Jan. 17 to register concerns about the contract.

The irony here is that as a former member of the Montgomery County school board, I well remember when Mackey joined forces with Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange at a press conference to cast stones at MPS.  He never took time to come talk to the school board about the state intervention that is on-going.

I have reviewed the 19-page agreement, as well as a list of concerns raised by the county.  I have discussed the situation with several superintendents around the state who are familiar with what Mackey thinks Baldwin County should do in regards to dividing money from the state’s Foundation program.  None of them agree with him and all said that if faced with the same situation, they too would see relief in court.

To me, situations like this can only be called “sad.”  And all too common.  In my brief tenure on the Montgomery board I became aware of thousands of dollars being spent that could not be justified and situations where a blind eye was turned instead of someone being challenged.

The state superintendent works for the state school board.  They hired him.  They should exercise their oversight responsibilities in instances such as this.  Don’t bet the farm on them doing so.

Thank God education is about what goes on in a classroom between a teacher and her students.  Grown ups with too large egos intent on showing others who is boss are not about education.