How Does Bentley Spectacle Impact Education?

As I write this about noon on Monday, April 10, all of Alabama is trying to figure out when Robert Bentley becomes FORMER Governor Bentley.  At this moment the House of Representatives has begun impeachment hearings, the Ethics Commission has found ample evidence of wrong doing to turn their findings over to law enforcement and some news outlets say Bentley may resign by sundown.

As to the timing, your guess is as good as mine.  (After all, we’re still trying to figure out when Mike Hubbard goes to jail.)  But we are all certain that the governor’s goose is cooked and his impact on the state from this day forward is nonexistent.

This turn of events definitely impacts education as the governor chairs the state school board.  He was the fifth and final vote to hire Mike Sentance as state superintendent last August.  In addition, he appointed Matt Brown to the state board in 2015 and Brown also supported Sentance.  So it is safe to say that because of the governor, Mike Sentance was hired.

Sentance came to Alabama having never worked for, or answered to, a board.  Instead, his only involvement in Massachusetts’ education was because he was appointed to a policy position by that state’s governor.  Since coming to Alabama, he apparently spent much more time talking to the governor than to his board members. This was the primary reason the state board recently had a special called work session of more than two hours.

They questioned Sentance repeatedly about decisions he made without consulting them.  At one point board member Stephanie Bell reminded Sentance in no uncertain terms that he works for the board–not the governor or the legislature.

In addition to the governor, Sentance also maintained a close relationship with Rep. Terri Collins, chair of the House Education Policy committee.  And on at least one occasion he shared info with her before he shared with the board.  This was when he announced to the board that Federal investigators were looking at Alabama graduation rates–even though he had no specifics to share.  He told Collins that one of the school systems being eyed was Mobile County.

Collins shared this with a reporter who wrote about it.  This was news to Martha Peek, Mobile County superintendent, and she took objection and expressed this to Sentance.  Two days later Sentance was trying to “walk back” his comments about Mobile.  (Sentance also blind-sided the Mobile system again when he misspoke at a board meeting by saying his department was considering intervening in this system.  Later that same day he was again trying to retract his comments.)

But as we’ve seen in the current legislative session, Collins seems to be losing her mojo and has been unable to get her own pet bills out of the committee she chairs.

Where does all of this leave Mike Sentance?  It weakens his hand for sure. With Governor Bentley out-of-the-way and Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey taking the reins as state board chair and with Matt Brown having been replaced by Jackie Zeigler on the board, only three of the current members voted for him to be state superintendent.  (And one of them, Mary Scott Hunter, is presently facing legal action because of questions about her involvement in last summer’s superintendent search process.)

Sentance’s tour of duty so far has been anything but stellar in the opinion of most educators.  He has belittled teachers by saying many could not work in other states and are so poorly trained they have to teach from scripted lessons.  He has tried to revamp long running programs such as Career Tech Education, AMSTI and ARI.  He has engineered more than $1.2 million in contracts to intervene in the Montgomery County system.  And his recent announcement that he is giving 10 percent raises to the principals of the 27 lowest performing schools in Montgomery, while principals of good schools get nothing, has impacted the morale of educators from Bayou La Batre to Bridgeport.

These are messy times in Alabama.  And dominoes may continue to fall.

 

 

 

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