HOLY COW BATMAN was my reaction when I came across an op-ed on AL.com by former state school board member, Mary Scott Hunter from Huntsville. Hunter was definitely a lightening rod during her two terms on the board. She was anything but shy and retiring and often ruffled the feathers of other board members.
No doubt she is smart, but I often thought her political ambitions got in the way of her being as effective as she might have been. When we last heard of her in the June 2018 political primary season, she was running for a state senate seat in Huntsville. The same one, in fact, she sought in 2009 before she got on the state school board.
She lost that race to her Republican opponent Sam Givhan. Her decision to run for the senate came after she had already held a kickoff event to run for Lt. Governor. But when public service commissioner Twinkle Cavanaugh got in the light governor’s race, Hunter had a change of plans and dropped back to the senate race.
Earlier this week Governor Ivey announced her support for legislation introduced by Senator Del Marsh to change the governance of the state department of education and abolish the elected state school and switch to an appointed one. Hunter took to Facebook and the pages of AL.com to offer her endorsement of the governor’s plan.
Here is what he had to say:
“I served 8 years on the Alabama State Board of Education (SBOE). When I started, the SBOE governed both K-12 and the Alabama Community College System (ACCS).
During my second term, the legislature moved to an appointed board for the ACCS. I was honored to serve on that newly constituted board as an appointed member, and it worked much better for the ACCS than the previous elected board. Leadership at the colleges stabilized, efficiencies were achieved, needed consolidations occurred, etc. Today, the ACCS is flourishing and continues to strengthen.
My colleagues and I at the Alabama State Board of Education did work hard and had episodes of success for K-12 and for the ACCS, and many know and appreciate our hard work and dedication. Some of my SBOE colleagues have had very long tenures, and that is much appreciated.
However, the level of achievement we want for K-12 requires a very long string of sustained, high-quality leadership decisions. I believe this is best achieved through an appointed Alabama State Board of Education. Local boards will continue electing representatives directly by the people or appointed by city councils who are elected. Our citizens will still continue to have representation and a voice in the direction of their schools in the place where it matters, locally.
I commend Governor Ivey for taking responsibility for K-12 education across Alabama.
This is a bold step because, if the measure passes and Alabama moves to an appointed SBOE, this Governor and all governors who come after her will have to count the success or failure of public education in Alabama as a part of their legacy.”
Now some needed background.
Hunter served on the community college board as an ex-officio member, meaning she could not vote. However, the casual reader of her statement would assume she was a full-fledged voting member. Not true.
And while Hunter speaks here of legacy, she does not mention that her own is the role she played in the 2016 disaster of hiring Mike Sentance of Boston to be state superintendent. As some will recall, this selection process was mired in controversy because someone orchestrated a smear campaign against Jefferson County superintendent Craig Pouncey to prevent him from getting the state job.
This caused such an uproar that the legislature launched an investigation to find out what went on and how info got to the Ethics Commission. They held several hearings. I attended all of them. Certainly to me, the most memorable moment was when Hunter admitted to Senator Gerald Dial that she did not know rules under which the Ethics Commission operates.
When the dust mostly settled from this fracas, Pouncey filled suit against Hunter, plus some state department employees. While several were dismissed from the suit, Hunter is scheduled to stand trial in Montgomery circuit court in August for her conduct.
Since Sentance was picked on a 5-4 vote, with Hunter being one of the 5, it is accurate to say that she had a major say so in this debacle.
Then when Sentance departed, Eric Mackey was chosen in May 2018 to replace him. Again it was a 5-4 vote and again, Hunter was one of the 5. Again, Pouncey was the “runner up” so to speak. Many felt that Hunter should have recused herself from this entire selection process since she was being sued by one of the three finalists. But she did not.
And judging from the evaluations from current board members Mackey received at the May 9th board meeting, (which amounted to a C+) he is hardly off to a flying start. You certainly can’t find anyone in the Washington County charter situation who have much faith in him since he has refused to investigate the antics of the state charter school commission.
Here is the AL.com story detailing Mackey’s evaluation.
Like we said. HOLY COW BATMAN. Why is someone who is going to court about her conduct while a member of the state school board even offering her opinion? But then, Hunter says we should have an appointed state school board instead of an elected one. The fact that she was elected twice may make her case for her.