Having begun my career decades ago as a print journalist I have long had an affinity for newspapers. And like many others, have been saddened at their demise in recent years, especially the impact this has had on the number of reporters and the lack of in-depth journalism as a consequence.
Still I spend a lot of time scanning newspapers and picking up occasional insight.
For instance, here is a story about a recent Gadsden City school board meeting that reeks of irony.
As happens from time to time, local school boards get fractious and want to make changes. So it is in Gadsden these days. This is one of the school systems in state school board member Mary Scott Hunter’s district and she attended a recent board meeting. This is good. State board members should be as visible as possible in their districts.
Hunter, who has announced she is running for Lt. Governor, spoke to the Gadsden board. According to the Gadsden Times her comments included:
“Hunter said she would advise the board to settle down — not to do anything precipitous, not to undermine the public’s trust.
“Hunter said she had no authority over the board, and did not seek any. Still, she said, she wanted to encourage good behavior on the board — good boardsmanship and compliance with the rules.”
But in light of her own performance on the state board in the last year, these comments ring very hollow. After all, Hunter played a pivotal role in bringing Mike Sentance to Alabama as state school superintendent. A move that has nearly destroyed the public’s trust in the state board.
As our last survey of more than 700 people showed, 65 percent of respondents gave the state board a letter grade of either D or F, while 86 percent gave Mike Sentance a D or F.
And there is the matter of a pending law suit brought against four employees of the Alabama department of education–and Hunter–for how business was conducted during last summer’s superintendent search. In fact, when Hunter testified before a legislative committee about what happened, she told them “I did not know the rules.”
No wonder “The pot calling the kettle black” comes to mind.
Then there is this article from The Decatur Daily about an on-gong debate about graduation rates.
Several weeks ago the state department released graduation rates for local school systems that were incorrect. Not only were they incorrect, but they were released at 4 p.m. on a Friday prior to a state holiday the following Monday. This set off a media firestorm across the state and caused numerous problems for local superintendents who were contacted about data they knew nothing about.
Of course, the fact that the state released data that did not agree with data local systems had sent them was very troubling, but equally so was the timing of the release of the data.
The state school board immediately asked that Mike Sentance and his staff determine what when wrong. Board vice-chair Yvette Richardson told Sentance that she wanted to know who hit the “send” button and who told them to do it.
So as seems to be customary for those in Montgomery these days, they immediately rounded up a consultant to do an investigation rather than someone internally asking some questions to get to the bottom of this mess.
Here is what Dee Fowler, chief of staff, had to say at the June 8 board work session:
“I wish I could say to you today it is all done and here it is,” Dee Fowler, department chief of staff, told State Board of Education members Thursday afternoon. “This is something we said at our last meeting we would run to ground. … That hasn’t changed.”
In other words, hurry up and wait while we spend money on another consultant to do a job that should have been done weeks ago internally.
Reporter Mary Sell also questioned Sentance about this situation. He said:
“Asked after the meeting if anyone has been fired over the error, Sentance said no, “But changes have been made.” He wouldn’t comment further on personnel matters.”
He conveniently forgot to mention that longtime state department employee and former Troy City school system superintendent Linda Felton-Smith was put on administrative leave shortly after the incident and has since retired with 41 years of service. The consensus of superintendents around the state is that Felton-Smith was thrown under the bus by Sentance and because she is a former superintendent, she would not have played a role in releasing this data late on a Friday unless someone directed her to do so.
I will keep reading the newspapers, knowing full well that much of what is reported, through no fault of the reporter writing it, is only at best partially true.