In my 40+ years of political involvement, I may have never seen a more bone-headed move than the one just made by Mike Sentance. If you work for a board, you simply do not use the media to chastise them which is what Sentance did in this article from AL.com.
The state school board voted Feb. 7 to intervene in the Montgomery County school system upon the recommendation of Sentance. This marriage between state and county has had lots and lots of rocky patches.
Money has been a major source of contention. A no-bid contract for three years for $750,000 was let to bring in a new CFO. Another $536,000 contract went to Massachusetts consultants Sentance once had a relationship with. A group was paid $210,000 to provide teacher training. Principals of 27 low-performing schools were given a 10 percent raise. (Principals of top schools did not get a raise.)
Reggie Eggleston was brought in from Mobile to oversee the Montgomery intervention. His salary is $164,419. Jermall Wright is being paid $168,621 annually to run Sentance’s turnaround schools program. Wright just announced on Facebook that he is bringing in four administrators from around the country to work on Montgomery.
From the moment Sentance set foot in Alabama he has been lax about keeping the state school board informed on programs and finances. So on June 8 the board passed a resolution to freeze hires associated with the Montgomery intervention until they had a good accounting of who is paying for what. (Sentance has now declared this resolution void since he claims the state board has no voice in what goes on in Montgomery.)
It has long been recognized that Sentance is defensive when questioned. He apparently does not think the state board should be privy to any info about the Montgomery situation that he does not want to share. So he now has an Attorney General’s opinion that indicates he is chief cook and bottle washer regarding Montgomery.
And when board vice-president Stephanie Bell (who has a part of the Montgomery system in her district) sent Sentance an email request in the past few days for a list of recent Montgomery hires, he pulled out his new AG’s opinion and wrote Bell, “…you have sought to interject yourself again into the operations of the district, it is time to stop.”
Then he obviously proceeded to inform AL.com of what he had done.
In a 45-year career I was executive director for five different groups governed by a board. Of course there were times when we did not see eye to eye. But I damn sure did not air any dirty laundry in the press. ESPECIALLY when my primary target was the person who chaired my board.
I asked Stephanie Bell about what is going on. She is bewildered that Sentance is attacking the people who employ him. She has been on the board since 1994 and has never seen a situation such as this one. And she voted to hire Sentance to boot.
It is just plain bizarre.
UNLESS Sentance is using this as some kind of pre-emptive strike in a rapidly escalating battle with the state board. It is hardly a secret that the relationship between Sentance and several board members is strained. Some members have been counting votes for months trying to come up with a majority who are ready to terminate him. There will be a special called board meeting on July 25 and many are speculating that this could be the day the axe falls on Sentance’s neck.
If that happens, more than likely Sentance will say, “I told you so. This board will not stop meddling and let me do my job. It’s all their fault.”
It is now well-documented that Sentance is quick to scapegoat others and not take responsibility for anything. He did this with the premature grad rate release debacle. He put Linda Felton-Smith on administrative leave shortly after this mess happened. And now he has paid another consultant to do another study to tell us no one was to blame for what happened. But that was weeks after he blamed Felton-Smith.
Last fall he seemed to delight in telling the state board that the Feds were auditing Alabama graduation rates and left the impression that a catastrophe was in the making. But before telling the board, he told a state representative that the Mobile County school system was being investigated. This person told a reporter for AL.com, who wrote a story that caught Mobile superintendent Martha Peek totally off guard. Peek, who has more than 40 years with the Mobile system, had no clue what the media was talking about when they began calling her.
One thing Sentance can not seem to grasp is that Montgomery is not the only school system in the state. We have 730,000 students in public schools, only FOUR PERCENT of them are in Montgomery. Every school board member has systems that need help. (Bell has all or part of 17 systems in her district.) And every dollar ALSDE spends on Montgomery is a dollar that can not go to another deserving school or system.
If Stephanie Bell, or any other board member, who are all elected by the public to look our for public schools in their districts, wants to know how Sentance is spending taxpayer money, she is just doing her job.
One of her districts is Coosa County. It is poorer than the proverbial church mouse. Maybe Mike Sentance needs to spend some time in Coosa County before he tells Ms. Bell to mind her own business and not worry about all the money he is using to bring in highly paid administrators to Montgomery.