Is There A Hidden Agenda In Hiring Mike Sentance?

Seems that every day brings a new revelation in the state board of education’s recent decision to hire education consultant Mike Sentance of Massachusetts.  Or at least something that makes you stop and say, “Now what is that all about.”

Earlier today, board member Mary Scott Hunter of Huntsville blanketed the state with email defending her support of Sentance.  I received two and six friends forwarded copies to me.  It is basically the same statement she used last week–and also as a cut and paste reply to emails she has received about the hire.

She says, “I liked his resume’ from the outset.”

Fair enough.  But since Sentance applied for the same job in Alabama in 2011 and Hunter was on the state school board then, why was she not impressed four years ago?  After all, his resume does not point to any work he has done since then.

She then suggests that we all follow Sentance on Twitter.  I guess we are supposed to be able to look into the heart and soul of someone in 144 characters or less.  How is that working out for Donald Trump?

I like Mary Scott Hunter.  She is a smart lady.  And very ambitious.

And it is this ambition that gives me pause.

Both she and board member Matt Brown openly opposed applicant Craig Pouncey, Jefferson County superintendent.  Hunter told legislators attending a Business Council of Alabama meeting that Pouncey would not be considered for the position because of an ethics commission investigation.  But there is no such investigation.

Which brings us to another point in this whole situation that has more twists and turns than a five-acre kudzu patch.

The state school board met on July 12.  Someone left each member info that can only be described as a “smear sheet” aimed at Craig Pouncey, one time chief of staff for former state superintendent Tommy Bice.  It was anonymous.  It asserted that Pouncey got excessive help when he wrote his doctoral dissertation in 2009.  Included were copies of state department of education emails from 2009.  (Since then, several people have stepped forward to refute this info, including Pouncey’s major professor.)

On July 15, Hugh Evans, III, legal counsel for the ethics committee wrote a letter to Juliana Dean, ALSDE legal counsel that stated: “Please be advised that we have received a complaint alleging certain possible violations of the Ethics Law on the part of Warren Craig Pouncey…”

The burning question is how did the smear sheet end up at the ethics commission?  It is common knowledge that they do not pursue anonymous complaints.  Not only was this one anonymous, it pertained to a FORMER employee of ALSDE.  Since Evans addressed his response to Dean, one has to think she was the one who sent it.

If so, who directed her to do so?  And who was able to access computer records of 2009?  Senator Gerald Dial has asked the attorney general’s office to investigate this matter.  But the state school board should not rest until a complete and thorough internal investigation has been done.

Another player in all of this are my longtime friends at the Alabama Farmer’s Federation.  In fact, they put together a sheet of 10 “talking points” to convince folks that Sentance was a good hire.  My relationship with this organization goes back 50 years.  Long ago they tried to hire me.  I have never known of them to be involved in selecting a state school superintendent.

But they have a close relationship with interim superintendent Phillip Cleveland and would have been happy for him to be made permanent.  But he knew before he took the interim slot that the board said an interim could not apply for the permanent job.  In addition, like Sentance, he does not meet all the qualifications the board asked for when they advertised the position.  Cleveland is a great guy and has done a super job directing the career tech program at ALSDE.  (In addition, he went to Auburn and that is a plus in my book.)

Rep Terri Collins sent an email to board members earlier in the summer urging them to leave Cleveland in place.

When you connect all these dots, it is impossible not to think that we may have just witnessed a well-conceived and well-orchestrated “end around.”

You bring in a policy wonk from Massachusetts who has no administrative experience, has been looking for a job for several years and has no knowledge of Alabama.  You leave all the “players” in place and please Rep. Terri Collins who chairs the House Education Policy Committee, the Farmers Federation and the Business Council of Alabama.

How well does this work for the 740,000 children in our public schools?  Only time will time.  They are certainly in my prayers.

 

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