“He ain’t right.” is something we’ve all heard–and probably said. (And some have said it about me for sure.)
While hard to define specifically, anyone who knows about pot likker, hoe cake and light bread knows exactly what it means. And without doubt, it was how many citizens of Alabama felt about former Governor Robert Bentley for the past couple of years. He was caught up in an alternative universe, protected from the truth about his own short-comings by those clinging to their own perception of power.
More than once someone who had finished medical school told me they thought Bentley exhibited signs of not being capable of fully functioning mentally.
My friend John Archibald of AL.com does a masterful job here of detailing Bentley’s strange decline that lead to last week’s resignation from the governor’s office. A resignation statement that only served to support those who said, “He ain’t right.”
And in hind sight, a good case can be made that Bentley’s detachment from reality impacted Alabama public schools more than anything else.
This was evident in the summer of 2015 when the governor appointed Matt Brown of Baldwin County to a vacant seat on the state school board. This made as much sense as getting Gus Malzahn to lead cheers at a University of Alabama pep rally.
Brown had ZERO background in public school involvement. He never attended a public school and his only claim to fame was leading an effort in 2015 to defeat a tax vote in Baldwin County to better fund schools. Educators were stunned at this appointment and the lack of empathy the governor showed for public schools.
The fact that Brown was clobbered by Jackie Zeigler in the spring of 2016 when he ran for election to this seat was testimony to how badly Bentley erred in picking him.
But an even stronger manifestation of Bentley’s detachment from education reality was his vote for Mike Sentance to be state superintendent of education in August, 2016. It took five votes to have a majority that day. When Sentance’s name came up the second time, Bentley, who was chairing the meeting, looked to his right and saw three hands in the air, including Matt Brown’s, and looked to his left and saw another one. Having counted votes, the governor then raised his hand.
And once again, the education community was stunned. If a single educator in Alabama asked a state board member or the governor to support Sentance, dog gone if I’ve been able to find them.
After voting, the governor then switched back to his alternative universe mode by citing the fact than fourth-grade math scores on NAEP are the highest in the nation in Massachusetts, where Sentance last worked in 2001, and implying that Sentance will magically move our own scores to the same neighborhood.
As we’ve pointed out many times here, this is total and complete fantasy. It is turning your back on the real world. Alabama ain’t Massachusetts. Never has been and never will be.
It would make just as much sense for the governor of Massachusetts to declare they can grow peanuts and cotton as good as we can and ignore Mother Nature’s growing seasons.
So today the governor is gone but the 730,000 public school students in Alabama still have Mike Sentance and his on-going mis-steps of how to make education better. We have him saying that many Alabama teachers could not get a job in another state. (Which seems especially ironic considering the fact that he was turned down in Alabama in 2011 when he applied for state superintendent, and that he was turned down by at least nine other state or municipal school systems.)
We have him engineering a no-bid contract for $700,000+ and another for $500,000+ to a consulting firm in Massachusetts he once had a relationship with. We have him giving principals of the 27 lowest performing schools in Montgomery a 10 percent raise while principals of good schools get nothing. We have him hiring people to implement a “takeover” plan for Montgomery schools–except no one has seen the plan.
And we still can’t find an Alabama educator who supports the former governor’s new superintendent.