“With each new superintendent, hope springs eternal that someone will be found who can lead us to the Promised Land.
While only time will tell if there is a savior among us, whoever steps into the leadership role will face a much greater challege than a divided school board and taxpayer apathy.
He or she will become the chief administrator of a public school system that has lost one-fifth of its potential enrollees to non-public schools and of a student body that is largely dominated by children from single-parent families and low-income households.
These basic demographic factors are, within themselves, not conducive to raising standardized test scores, increasing graduation rates, or curbing violence in schools. ….student demographics will continue to have a significant impact on what takes place in the classroom setting.
Public school enrollment has been declining gradually during much of the past decade Non-public school students are predominately white, from higher income homes, and more likely to perform well on standardized tests, receive college and university scholarships, and generally excel in the classroom. While not all the cream has been skimmed from the Montgomery public schools, there is not as much as there used to be.
The demographics of the black population are especially distressing. While too many children–both white and black–reside in single parent families, are from low-income household, or are classified below the poverty level, these negative social and educational indicators occur much more frequently in the black community.
Such a high concentration of these characteristics in any population does not bode well for academic achievement and classroom success. (A superintendent) can do little on an individual basis to ameliorate these deep-seated community problems. Instead, it must be a cooperative effort, involving all sectors of the community.
Improvement will not come quickly or easily, but the need for a better educated, more highly informed populace cannot be ignored.”
No. These are not my words. They were written by my long time friend, Don Bogie, former director of the Center for Demographic and Cultural Research at AUM, AND PUBLISHED IN THE MONTGOMERY ADVERTISER ON JUNE 26, 1998. ALMOST EXACTLY 20 YEARS AGO.
But they definitely echo my thoughts of just three days ago when I asked. “Can Montgomery Handle The Truth About Its Schools?”
Don’s article was passed long to me by my friend Wiley Cutts, who spent 17 years as principal at Lanier high school and 30 years in the Montgomery system. And if anyone sees the irony in what I said last week and what Don said two decades ago, it would be Wiley.
As I read Don’s comments, it was impossible not to think of the tale of Rip Van Winkle who slept for 20 years in New York’s Catskill Mountains and missed the American Revolution. Because just like ole Rip, Montgomery has been asleep for 20 years.
We’ve gone through a series of superintendents and school board members. And today we are raising thousands of dollars to demean the 29,000 students, teachers and administrators and somehow deceiving good citizens into thinking this is PROGRESS. We got involved with a state intervention directed by a state superintendent who was clueless about what needed to be done and “helped” a deficient financial situation by squandering money left and right.
Don Bogie was correct when he stated: (A superintendent) can do little on an individual basis to ameliorate these deep-seated community problems. Instead, it must be a cooperative effort, involving all sectors of the community.
Improvement will not come quickly or easily, but the need for a better educated, more highly informed populace cannot be ignored.”
But unlike Rip Van Winkle, Montgomery refuses to wake up.
In 1992 the movie, A Few Good Men, told the riveting story of a military court martial. The climatic moment being when the character played by Jack Nickolson says to the character Tom Cruise played, “You can’t handle the truth.”
That scene has gone through my mind over and over as I’ve watched the current hand-wringing about the MPS school board play out.
Because Montgomery and it’s “leadership” refuse to come face to face with reality in regards to our public school system.
Instead, we have press conferences, blame everyone else and raise money to fuel political campaigns based on deceit and deception.
And some good and well-intentioned people blindly follow those who say all our problems rest at the feet of our current school board.
Nothing could be farther from the truth.
More than anything else, we have a COMMUNITY problem in Montgomery and all my friends who have written checks in support of the Expect More for Montgomery Public Schools campaign need to take a long, hard look in the mirror.
What have YOU DONE to help our public schools? Do you belong to a public school PTA? Do you mentor a struggling student? When I was a surrogate dad at the Goodwyn Middle school “Dad and Daughter Dance” recently, I didn’t see any of you there.
And writing a check to hire a political consultant to come up with big post cards slamming our school system is hardly paying your debt to society.
I sat through several candidate forums leading up to the June 5 primary. I listened to good people share their ideas. Things like, “I went to Lanier and I don’t know why it can’t be like it used to be,” or, “I know how to fix things,” or my favorite, “all schools should be magnets.”
The one thing they all had in common is that they had evidently not spent enough time in schools talking to teachers and principals, especially those in high-poverty schools. As a result, they were all looking for band aides—instead of trying figure out why our schools are bleeding.
This includes the mayor, the chamber of commerce and the folks writing the checks to the political action committee.
We have a COMMUNITY problem and our schools are only a symptom.
Montgomery has three school systems. More than 35 private schools, eight magnet schools and 44 more traditional schools.
The differences in demographics in magnet and traditional schools is glaring. The poverty rate for magnets is only 14.6 percent but is 63.7 percent in traditional schools.
Since the greatest predictor of student and school performance is poverty, this nearly 50-point gap in poverty between magnets and traditional is very telling. And a strong message that any “turnaround” effort focused on just the school board or even classroom has a scant chance to move the needle.
Don’t think so? Then attend any PTA meeting at a magnet and non-magnet school. Bear elementary has more PTA members than they do students. It’s an entirely different story in traditional schools.
Which means comparing the home environment of students in these schools is apples and oranges. And wondering why all schools aren’t magnets makes as much sense as wondering why the football team at Huntingdon can not beat the one at the University of Alabama.
But instead of leadership trying to find common ground and unify Montgomery, we’re holding press conferences that divide us even more.
Until this community thinks of its public schools as “our” schools we’re kidding ourselves by thinking changing faces at the school board will make much difference. How can the school board by itself lower school poverty rates. A principal of a school with an 84 percent poverty rate told me probably 90 percent of her kids come from single parent homes. Can the school board round up dozens of daddies?
Ministers, both black and white, should be sitting down together to figure out how they can assist their neighborhood schools. The Montgomery Education Foundation should work WITH the MPS board, instead of being an adversary. Expect More for Montgomery Public Schools should be raising money to help teachers buy needed supplies, not stuffing mail boxes with fliers screaming “our school board and our school system are broken.”
Instead of talking about charter schools, the mayor should look at Washington D.C. that has perhaps the worst school system in the country—and a greater percentage of students in charter schools than anywhere else.
We need to attack our issues with community-centered schools that provide wraparound services. We need to engage the whole community in doing this. We had two community school pilots two years ago. Then the state intervention took away their funding.
The truth is that education is everyone’s business—not just the school board’s. And as long as we claim them as the scapegoat, while we let everyone else off the hook, we are not accepting the truth.
Somewhere along the way Todd Stacy also popped up. Like Blades, he once worked for both Riley and Hubbard and until the end of 2017 worked for Martha Roby in Washington.
He came back to Montgomery to begin the Alabama Daily News blog several months ago where he defends BCA zealously every chance he gets.
In a conversation with Pat Wilson, Fuller told her they had a “bombshell” coming and Todd Stacy would deliver it.
Sure enough, in mid-May Stacy ran an article Blades dug up from the Montgomery Advertiser from 1982 attempting to paint me as a racist. Blades used a service called Newspapers.com.
The story was wrong in 1982 and still is.
The other person in this race, Ted Lowry, had been noticeably quiet until May 21 when he blanketed the district with a negative phone call to voters. Here is the message a female voice delivered:
“But just months before he qualified to run as a Republican Larry Lee voted in the Democrat primary in the Senate Special Election. When real Republicans like us voted for our nominee, Larry Lee voted in the Democrat primary to choose his nominee. Larry Lee has run and lost four times as a Democrat, campaign manager for a Democrat congressional candidate, was a paid contractor for the same special interest group who are fighting reforms in the Montgomery schools. Don’t be fooled by Larry Lee.
His record tells us who he really is—a Democrat who will fight against the reforms Montgomery schools desperately need. We can do better. Vote against Larry Lee in the June 5th primary.
Paid for by Lowry for school board, 1532 Old Park Row, Montgomery, AL 36117”
Not a single solitary word about what Ted Lowry wanted to do to help MPS schools. Just 100 percent negative.
It is noteworthy that Lowry got a check from Billy Canary, CEO of BCA for his campaign.
Another entity to surface along the way was something called Expect More for Montgomery Public Schools, supposedly an effort by “young professionals” to beat all three incumbents running for re-election to the MPS board.
They formed MGM NXT PAC and filed their first financial report with the Secretary of State’s office on April 30.
Through June 1, they had raised $72,105 from 108 individuals and eight businesses and spent $77,269. I recognize many of the donors, used to bank with one, was in Montgomery Jaycees with some. Nice to know they were donating money to fill my mailbox with trash.
Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange gave $1,000, his right-hand man gave $2,500. People who work with the chamber and one with a group that claims to work on behalf of public education also wrote checks.
One of their mailers echoed the Lowry phone call by saying VOTE AGAINST LARRY LEE. Another said LARRY LEE IS A LACKEY FOR THE AEA.
Their over-riding message was to denigrate this school system. To paint everyone with the same broad brush. Which means that the mailbox of Zestlan Simmons, a teacher at Booker T. Washington magnet and the just-named Alabama Teacher of the Year who also lives in District Two, was being told constantly that she is a failure.
And this is someone’s version of helping our schools?
What a joke.
Something I missed in all of this was what happened to the PAC’s stated intention of defeating incumbents? I was not an incumbent, but I was targeted.
The only incumbent they went after was Melissa Snowden, a veteran of more than a decade on the board.
Besides being a former member of the MPS board, Charlotte Meadows was a lobbyist for StudentsFirst from 2013-15 and today is trying to open a charter school in Montgomery.
Just before election day she also sent out a letter. She spent three lines to endorse Ted Lowry and 18 lines to run me down. She even said, “Lee is NOT PRO-LIFE.”
Where in the heck did that come from and what does it have to do with a local school board election?
So, there you have it. The underbelly of education politics. The length that some will go to under the guise of “doing it all for the kids.”
My plan worked. The light was turned on and all the rats scurried for the dark.
But the question remains, WHY?
To open the door for charter schools seems to be the common denominator. BCA loves charters. Mayor Todd Strange likes them, as does StudentsFirst and the American Federation for Children. Ditto for Charlotte Meadows. The Montgomery Education Foundation wants to take over five MPS public schools to convert to charters.
And Ted Lowry likes charters. I heard him twice tout charter schools in Arizona run by a company called BASIS as examples we should consider
However, he never bothered to tell the full story about BASIS. For example, the dropout rate in these schools is more than 50 percent. They are woefully inadequate in reflecting Arizona public school populations.
While the statewide public school population is three percent Asia, 45 percent Latino and 39 percent white, student bodies in 18 BASIS schools are 32 percent Asian, ten percent Latino and 51 percent white.
In fact, there are NO English Language Learners in the BASIS schools.
Neither did he mention that parents of students at these schools are “requested” to contribute $1,500 a year per child and that BASIS schools spend an average of $2,291 per pupil on administration while public schools spend $638.
(My position on charter schools has always been that they should be carefully considered on a case by case basis. I am very supportive of an effort at the University of West Alabama to open a charter. But I do not support the charter conversion plan of the Montgomery Education Foundation.)
So here we are. With names and faces of those making false promises. People who prefer to operate in the shadows instead of doing positive things for our schools and our children.
Editor’s note: Make no mistake. I was trying hard to win. I spent a lot of soul, sweat and money to do so. I have total contempt for those who seem to delight in abusing educators and those who are utterly clueless about what goes on in our schools today.
I wanted to see just how low they would stoop to vilify a 75-year-old guy who has the nerve to speak truth to power. I got my answer. The agenda they are working so hard to achieve has nothing to do with our children. And writing a check to a PAC to throw stones at educators is not paying your debt to society.
But these forces will continue to prevail until the education community draws the line in the sand and defends itself. From my vantage point, I do not see a willingness to do so at this point in time.
To set a trap, you must have the right bait. It might be an attractive young female with a low-cut blouse. It might be the promises of fistfuls of $100 bills.
Or it might even be an over-weight, balding 75-year-old guy. You know. Like me.
The idea bubbled up last fall when I learned that my own Montgomery County school board seat would not have an incumbent running in 2018.
I know that some of the things I say on my blog in defense of public education and in opposition to things like the Alabama Accountability Act and A-F school report cards do not sit well with some powerful folks who want to force their own will on Alabama schools.
They don’t like that this blog gets 250,000 views a year and is endorsed enthusiastically by hundreds and hundreds of educators.
Sure, in general I knew who they were, but how far would they go to silence me and who would they pull into their inner circle to help them do so?
I wanted more.
I wanted names and to connect dots and to get a clear picture of those who claim to want better schools—but in fact really don’t.
What if I ran for office? Like a local school board seat? How desperate would some folks be to stop me?
June 5 there were elections in 31 counties to fill 46 local school board seats. As it turned out, there were 130 candidates running for these slots. If only ONE of them drew the wrath of certain parties, it would stick out like a sore thumb.
So, on January 29, I qualified to run for District Two on the Montgomery County school board and sat back to watch this little drama unfold.
I had the credentials to be bono fide candidate. Of the 130 who ran on June 5, I was the only one endorsed by Dr. Diane Ravitch, a former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education; had done research on rural high poverty schools; served on the boards of the Network for Public Education and the national Rural Schools Collaborative; chaired the advisory board for Alabama HIPPY (Home instruction for Parents of Pre-school Youngsters; been recognized by the Council for Leaders of Alabama Schools for service to public education and put together the funding to create the Black Belt Teacher Corps at the University of West Alabama.
Any attack against me could not be built on lack of qualifications. It would have to be centered around deception and outright lies. And I would have the opportunity to gather names of who was doing what and how were they intertwined.
It didn’t take long.
By election time I knew that not only my lone Republican opponent TOOK the bait, but so did the Business Council of Alabama, a former board member of the Montgomery school system, a PAC with $72,000 to rail against local educators, a former member of the state House of Representatives, at least one contract lobbyist and someone trying to establish a news blog.
Too many loose lips and internet trails gave the game away. It was amateur hour for the bad guys.
First came a challenge at the local level to me running as a Republican. I responded by explaining that the only office I have ever been elected to was 50 years ago when I was on the Jefferson County Republican Executive Committee. I also showed that I gave money to Republican candidates.
This committee voted unanimously that I remain on the ballot.
However, this decision was ignored and another “challenge” was mounted. This time one-time house member Perry Hooper, Jr. wrote a letter on April 26 to the state GOP chair protesting my candidacy.
At least he signed the letter. But he did not prepare it or any of the supporting “evidence.” In fact, he told a friend that someone gave it all to him.
All indications are that it was done by Josh Blades, a contract lobbyist who hangs his hat at the Montgomery law firm of Bradley Arant Boult Cummings LLC. Blades was once deputy chief of staff for Governor Bob Riley and later chief of staff for Speaker Mike Hubbard. He left Hubbard in 2014 to become a lobbyist.
He has listed BCA as a client since 2015. He also represented StudentsFirst, the group begun by former Washington, DC school chief Michelle Rhee that touted vouchers and charter schools as a panacea for public school ills. Another client is the American Federation for Children, the creation of Betsy DeVos that has brought mega bucks of outside money to Alabama for campaigns.
We do know that Blades was digging up other “opposition research” on me.
Will Fuller, another lobbyist, asked Hooper to go along with this plan. This is the same Will Fuller who was helping my opponent, Ted Lowry, and who stopped by a press conference June 4 to spy.
Hooper told Pat Wilson, Montgomery GOP chair, on May 5 that Fuller brought the info to him. (That was the same day Hooper also told Wilson that he had never gotten money from the Alabama Education Association–which was totally untrue.)
In reality, this was a “fake” challenge since the person who signed off on it was not the person who came up with it. He was just someone’s “gofer.”
The “case” was built around the fact that I voted in the Democratic primary in the special election for U.S. Senate in 2017, that I ran for office as a Democrat, that I made contributions to Democrats and that I had once had a contract with the Alabama Education Association.
All of which is true.
I was not going to vote for Roy Moore for U.S. Senate in 2017. So, I voted in the Democrat primary. The irony is that had I voted in the Republic primary and then voted for Doug Jones in the general election, no one would have said a thing—though I would have betrayed the oath I would have made by voting in the Republican primary.
I was faulted for being honest.
Yes, I ran for office as a Democrat which puts me in the company of people like Governor Kay Ivey, Senator Richard Shelby and gracious knows how many more.
As to giving money to candidates, I am an equal opportunity giver. I have donated to former Congressman Jo Bonner, Congress lady Martha Roby and gave $1,000 in 2016 to a Republican candidate for the state school board.
I started this blog in April, 2015. Other than less than about $1,000 contributed by readers, I foot the cost of travel, supplies, internet connection, etc. When Henry Mabry was head of AEA, I ran into him one day at the statehouse. He said he enjoyed my blog and asked who paid for it.
“No one,” I said. He said that AEA could pay me $2,000 per month to keep on doing what I was doing. Being that my only retirement income is a social security check, I gladly took it. I don’t recall how long this continued, but it stopped a long time ago.
Another irony. While Hooper complained about me getting money from AEA, he was doing the same thing at the same time. He, his father and his brother were collectively getting $16,000 a month from AEA. I have the documentation, which Hooper has now acknowledged.
This so-called challenge also failed when a conference call of state GOP steering committee members denied its viability.
Though I have yet to see the final results in my run for the District two seat on the Montgomery school board, I do know that I was trounced to the tune of OTHER GUY got 71 percent and I got only 29 percent. Out of a total of 3,077 votes cast, I only received 893.
The opposition ran a smart race for a two person field of candidates. When your candidate has no track record of being involved with public schools and few people know him, your only hope is to launch an extremely negative campaign against the other person so that on election day, more people vote AGAINST someone than FOR someone.
Of course, the fact you are must also speak ill of the 29,000 MPS students, teachers, principals and administrators makes no difference. All you want to do is WIN AT ANY COST. The well-being of children is never part of the equation–even though some shout from the rooftops that it is.
I mean, Charlotte Meadows, a former member of the MPS board, sent out a letter proclaiming that “Lee is NOT PRO-LIFE.” And all this time I was thinking that it was the U.S. Supreme Court that voted on such matters, not the school board of Montgomery County, AL.
I asked Charlotte why she said this about me when I saw her election day. She said she did not. I have the letter in front of me as I write.
People constantly bemoan the fact that we can’t get good, decent people to run for public office. It’s because of the kind of campaigns I just went through. Who the heck wants to go to their mailbox and pull out another flyer attacking your character and distorting things you have done? I did not enjoy it for sure.
While of course I was disappointed, I slept better last night than I have in weeks. Today I can go back to doing what I do best–telling the positive story of public education.
I have been humbled in the last 12 hours by hundreds of phone calls, emails and text messages supporting my candidacy and what I stood for. All are deeply appreciated.
I am more convinced today than ever that public education in Alabama is under a major attack. The ONLY way to combat this is for those who believe in the mission of these schools is to unite and speak out loudly and forcefully.
There are dozens of advocacy groups across the country who support public education. But none in Alabama that I know about. Isn’t it about time?
This morning Montgomery school board member Melissa Snowden, who is also being attacked by MGM NXT PAC, and I had a press conference at 10 a.m. to discuss the negative campaign being waged against us.
(Interesting that the PAC says they want to make sure no incumbents get elected. Yet, of the three incumbents running, Melissa is the only one being attacked–and is running against a hand-picked candidate.. And there is no incumbent in my race but they are attacking me and have hand-picked both a Democrat and a Republican for the open District Two seat.)
And sure enough, right there in front of God and everyone, in broad daylight, in walks Will Fuller, Fuller is helping my Republican opponent, Ted Lowry, and was the person who contacted Perry Hooper, Jr. to get him to file a “challenge” to kick me off the ballot.
I thought it was hilarious, something right out of an old Don Knott’s movie. You know what I mean, one where no one can get anything right. Amateur hour if you will, childish to say the least. And again a display on how desperate some folks are.
Oh. What did I say to the press? Here it is:
“Friday, I got an email from an MPS kindergarten teacher trying to get supplies for her classroom. She signed up on a site called DonorsChoose.org where teachers seek funding. She needs $555 to get a ScanNCut and supplies to help her students.
I donated $50.
Also Friday I got this mail at my home. It’s another effort by a political action committee that has now spent $77,269 to insult 29,000 students in MPS schools and their teachers, principals and administrators in an attempt to hand-pick the school board.
Here is the irony. For what they have spent to sling mud at candidates and the school system, this PAC could buy 139 ScanNCuts.
The 108 individuals and 11 business who have donated $72,105 to this PAC want us to believe they are trying to HELP our schools.
How in the world do you HELP anything by working so hard to tear them down and to farther divide an already too polarized community?
When I look at the contributors to this effort to tear down our schools, I do not see the face of Montgomery where almost 79 percent of our students are African-American.
One of the first things most of us learned was the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
Apparently, those involved with this PAC have forgotten that.
When I qualified to run for an open seat on the MPS board, I had no idea that a campaign for school board would turn into a mud wrestling contest to hand-pick candidates.
I have a strong record of supporting public schools. I have researched why some high poverty schools perform well, I have been a consistent and constant voice supporting public schools and those who work in them, I have raised money for schools, been honored by the Council for Leaders of Alabama Schools for my support of public education and was recently recognized by the University of West Alabama for helping them start the Black Belt Teachers Corps.
This record has been distorted, twisted and maligned.
It is sickening.
But even more sickening is that friends like Ethel Barnes, principal at Flowers Elementary for 18 years and an educator for 40 years, are also under attack.
You don’t cover the community with mail shouting OUR SCHOOL BOARD AND OUR SCHOOL SYSTEM ARE BROKEN without pointing a finger at Ethel and implying that she is a failure.
Recently Zestlan Simmons, who teaches at BTW magnet high school was named Alabama Teacher of the Year. But according to those funding the MGM NXT PAC, Zestlan is a failure also. I wonder if any of the folks giving money to this effort have the nerve to go tell her that.
I will be glad to take them to her house. She lives in District Two.
Yes, MPS has issues. All school systems do.
But why not be part of the solution, not part of the problem?
Why not raise money to buy school supplies, begin mentoring programs, work with PTAs and dozens of other things, rather than interjecting politics into the classroom?
This is the most divisive thing I have ever witnessed in a local community.
And those who want us to believe they are doing it for our children should hang their heads in shame.”