What many have failed to understand is that the firestorm that erupted after Governor Bentley announced the appointment of Matt Brown from Fairhope to the state school board last week, is really not about Matt Brown himself.
Rather it is about a much more meaningful question. Who is most capable of giving direction to our public schools, people trained as educators and citizens who have demonstrated an interest in public schools–or those with little, if any, education background and experience?
There is a widespread and concerted effort across this nation to malign public schools and to open the door for such quick fixes as charter schools that all have a price tag tied to them. Info about what is happening is readily available to anyone hooked to the internet.
The first manifestation of this came to Alabama in February 2013 when the legislative supermajority passed the Alabama Accountability Act and then boasted that no one in education knew what they were doing. Under the guise of helping “poor children stuck in failing schools by their zip codes” we passed a law that by the end of 2015 will have potentially diverted $80 million from the Education Trust Fund, did not help failing schools one iota and may have helped less than one percent of the 733,000 students in our public schools.
Governor Bentley signed this legislation into law. We’ve now passed a charter school bill, even though hardly a day goes by without another scandal involving charters being unearthed. The governor signed this bill. And we redid the accountability act to state that it is about “school choice” and was never about helping failing schools. We also increased the amount of money that can be diverted from ETF each year and said that a student going to a private school can get a scholarship of $10,000 while we only give a student going to a public high school $5,800. The governor signed this one too.
I like Governor Bentley. He is a decent and honorable man in my book. When we published Lessons Learned from Rural Schools all 140 members of the legislature got a copy. Robert Bentley is the ONLY one who responded. He and I spent nearly an hour talking about this study on the phone.
After he was elected governor in 2010 I was part of a small group that drafted a white paper for him regarding rural Alabama and the challenges it faces.
But at some point those of us who believe in public education, who spend countless hours looking at research and visiting schools, who call dozens of educators our friends MUST draw a line in the sand and say, enough is enough.
If you are going to continue down the path Alabama has been on since 2010, don’t act surprised when you run into opposition. If you are willing to play political games with our school kids we are going to speak out.
Several people were interested in this nomination. I know some of them. I recommended two to the governor’s office. Was Matt Brown more qualified? No way.
From all I’ve learned Matt Brown is a good young man. Certainly dedicated to the task at head as he proved last spring when he headed the group, Educate Baldwin Now, which worked vigorously to defeat a school tax vote.
However, at this point in time, for this job, is he the most capable person in seven counties. As someone who hired a lot of folks in a 45-year career and considering all I now know, he does not get the nod.
The state school board has one mission. To oversee the management of the Alabama Department of Education and its many duties in assisting local public school systems. To do that effectively you first have to believe in your mission to help public schools. Brown has never demonstrated that he does.
I emailed him twice and asked him to respond to questions pertaining to his beliefs, experiences, involvement with public schools, etc. as I felt it only fair for him to have his say on this blog. He did not respond.
In an AL.com article announcing his appointment on July 16 Brown said, “I’m also willing to get inside, dedicate time and effort, to learning how everything works on the inside.” This is critical to doing a good job of representing the 90,000 students in District 1. But in Brown’s case, how will that be possible.
He was moved to a new job with the Baldwin County Commission as of July 21. However, at least two commissioners have questioned how he will be able to work 40 hours a week for the people of Baldwin County and also fulfill his state board duties. So he is under a microscope.
Which probably explains why after verbally committing to interim superintendent Hope Zeanah that he would attend a meeting of all Baldwin County principals on July 23, he has now backed out.
If he can’t meet with principals in his own home county, how will he ever get to know school systems in Butler and Crenshaw counties, which are in this district?
This is a huge district area wise. It covers nearly 7,000 sq. miles. Go to Grand Bay, get on I-10 and head to Montgomery. You don’t leave this district until you reach Fort Deposit, 35 miles south of Montgomery.
Brown lives in Fairhope, a beautiful and unique village on the eastern shore of Mobile Bay founded by Single-Tax advocates. But Fairhope is not representative of District 1.
Fairhope’s median household income is $57,917. Nearly half of its adults graduated college. Less than seven percent of its residents are black. Fairhope Middle School has a poverty rate substantially below the Alabama school average and only nine percent of its students are black.
Greenville’s median household income is $29,136. Some 55 percent of the residents are black. Only 20 percent of the citizens here finished college. At Greenville Middle School, 83 percent of students are on free-reduced lunches. Almost 75 percent of its students are black.
There is no Grand Hotel or Point Clear in Butler County, though it does have a Robert Trent Jones golf complex.
The point being that Butler County superintendent Amy Bryan wants her member of the State Board of Education to understand her schools and their needs as much as any superintendent in the state. She–and her students–deserve no less.
Schools are open during the day. To see teachers in action, to watch students tackle their lessons, you have to be there when they are there. Common sense says Matt Brown is not at a point in life that he can meet this obligation.
Governor Bentley did not become a dermatologist until he started seeing patients. You cannot be an effective member of the state school board unless you can relate to those you are supposed to govern.
I posted my first blog about this appointment last Friday at noon. Since then more than 17,000 have read it online. Their support has been amazing. Like me, the great majority believe this appointment was ill-advised and speaks more to creating a climate that is not supportive of public schools than to the credentials of one citizen.
They believe this was a single action in a much bigger battle. A battle that should be about children, not some ideology being promoted by forces that don’t know Andalusia from Atmore. And don’t care about either.