Who Can We Believe?

About mid-afternoon Friday a comment shows up on my blog from Jermall Wright, who Alabama taxpayers pay $168,621 annually to work at the state department of education with “turnaround schools.”  He politely informed me that some of the information I wrote in my post about the firing of Jeff Langham was in error.

I had a couple of reactions.  One being that with all the double talk that comes from ALSDE these days, how does one know what to believe?  When you have so much info that contradicts what you’ve already heard, or has proven to be wrong, how do you know what is true and what isn’t.

My second reaction was why is someone making $80 an hour of my tax dollars sitting around reading a blog and then using their state computer to respond?  Is this part of their job description?  What does this have to do with turning around schools?

Here are some examples of the double talk I speak of.

Ten days ago Deputy Superintendent Andy Craig told a meeting of state school board members that next year’s departmental operating budget has an $8 million deficit.  Then this past Wednesday Chief of Staff Dee Fowler told board members of the school superintendents association there is no deficit.  Said it was just a myth.  Sentance was sitting there listening to him.  (And so was a tape recorder.)

The following day Jeff Langham is fired and the reason is that the department needs to close the “gap” in the budget.

So who is telling the truth?  Who are we supposed to believe?

Fowler also told the superintendents that no state money has been spent on the Montgomery intervention, that MPS is paying for everything.  But no one shows numbers to prove this is the case.  No one on the Montgomery school board knows the truth because they are kept in the dark.  Neither does anyone on the state school board know because Mike Sentance got an opinion from the Attorney General saying the state board can not interfere with an intervention.  (Interpretation: I don’t have to account for how I am spending tax dollars.)

Remember one of the reasons for the Montgomery intervention was supposedly because they were in financial trouble.

But here are things we know have happened since the intervention began last winter.  At least five new employees have been added to the Montgomery leadership team.  That’s got to be at least $500,000 in new salaries.  Add to this 10 percent raises for the principals of the 27 lowest performing schools, a no-bid three-year contract of $750,000 for a CFO, $535,000 for Massachusetts consulting firm Class Measures to assess schools, $200,000 for a training institute and $700,000 to Cintas for cleaning schools.

(Couple this with the fact that a memo from the MPS central office sent recently to all principals said that if a PE teacher needs CPR training, the central office does not have money to pay for it.)

So they can’t pay the small bills, yet can absorb all the expenses cited above and never blink an eye?

Again, show us some numbers.

And what about when Sentance threw Linda Felton-Smith under the bus for her supposed involvement in the early release of faulty graduation data?  He put her on administrative leave as punishment.  Then his consultant studied what took place and reported that no one was to blame, instead it was all just a “perfect storm.”

So who do we believe?  The superintendent or the consultant?  Sentance never commented on what he did to Felton-Smith nor extended an apology.  Apparently he didn’t believe the consultant.

Just like he said he didn’t believe the report prepared by his personally selected staff attorney that said there was collusion between state board member Mary Scott Hunter and ALSDE employees to discredit Craig Pouncey’s application for state school chief.

It is said the Gordian Knot is difficult to understand.  Same is true for what comes from ALSDE these days.



3 Responses to Who Can We Believe?

  1. It seems to me if you want to know the truth, you look at the source documents. Why is there an $8 million,or $3 million or $0 million deficit in next year’s budget? And why is everyone just finding out about this now? Budgeting is a process, and if your projected revenues are not going to cover your projected expenses, you either cut expenses or find additional revenue. What does Andy Craig say? Is this projected deficit for next year real or not? I am from Hoover and I’ve been through numerous budget hearings run by Andy Craig and his chief financial officer. He is a master of financial jargon and vague doublespeak. Trying to understand his budgets was incredibly frustrating. We NEVER got a straight answer to a question, and somehow other people always took the fall when cuts had to be made.

    • Craig told Sentance about this issue some time ago according to documentation he has. State board member Cynthia McCarty has a doctorate in economics and has taught this subject for more than two decades at Jacksonville.

      She has reviewed these numbers carefully and agrees with Craig. Several sources tell me Sentance and his “leadership” team make decisions about spending money and then tell Craig to figure out how to pay for what they are doing.

      • If the State Superintendent has that kind of power over the spending of money in public education, then I understand why he’s at the center of a firestorm of political manipulation. Every organization I’ve ever been part of had a budgeting process, and the budget was presented for public input, and voted on by the governing board. If that’s not happening at the ALSDE, then I can see the problem. Lord help us.

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