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.