It’s now been just over seven months since Aug. 11, 2016 when five hands were raised at a state school board meeting to select Mike Sentance as the next state superintendent.
There are eight elected members of the state board and the governor is chair by virtue of his office (though he misses about 90 percent of the meetings.) So when everyone is present it takes five votes for a majority.
But he was there on Aug. 11 and I will never forget watching him look to his right and seeing three hands, then seeing one on his left, then raising his as the fifth. In doing so, he joined Mary Scott Hunter, Stephanie Bell, Betty Peters and Matt Brown.
This was actually the 7th round of voting that day. And the second time Sentance was nominated. The governor did not vote for him the first time, but Brown, Hunter, Bell and Peters did.
It’s insightful to look at how the voting unfolded that day. Matt Brown only voted twice, each time for Sentance. Betty Peters voted twice for Sentance and once for Bill Evers from California. Stephanie Bell voted four times, once for Evers, once for Craig Pouncey and twice for Sentance.
The governor voted twice, once for Jeana Ross and once for Sentance. Yvette Richardson only voted one time for Pouncey. Ditto for Ella Bell and Jeff Newman. Cynthia McCarty voted once for Womack and once for Ross.
But Mary Scott Hunter voted five times, twice for Sentance, once for Dee Fowler, Janet Womack and Ross. So of the six candidates being considered, she felt four of them were equally qualified?
Of the six candidates, three were local school superintendents, Pouncey, Fowler and Womack. So that would be one group. Then you had Bill Evers and Mike Sentance, neither with real honest-to-goodness on the ground education experience. Policy wonks if you will. So that is another group. And Jeana Ross, who serves in the governor’s cabinet as Secretary of the Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education, was in a class by herself and has done an outstanding job in her present position.
But how you vote for one from all three groups baffles me.
Now seven months have passed. Brown is no longer on the board, having been defeated in the spring of 2016 by Jackie Ziegler. In fact, he was a lame duck member when he voted. Which means of the present eight elected members, only three voted for Mike Sentance.
The governor has seen his stock drop like a rock since last August. This was borne out by our last survey were only 1.35 percent of more than 750 respondents approved of his job performance. Some in the legislature want to impeach him, apparently there is an investigation concerning him by the Attorney General’s office. And we may be less than two weeks away from learning whether or not he is under investigation by the Ethics Commission.
As for Hunter, she is now a defendant in a law suit brought by Craig Pouncey concerning her involvement in distributing a “smear sheet” last July attempting to discredit him.
It is interesting to note that when a legislative committee investigated this incident, they interviewed all eight elected board members and only two, Hunter and Brown, expressed concerned about an unsigned complaint that the Ethics Commission would not investigate because they could not verify who brought the charges. The other six said they paid the info no attention.
Hunter and Brown also have something else in common. Money. Specifically, who financially supported their campaigns in 2014 and 2016. .The most obvious is the Business Council of Alabama, the same folks now opposing legislation for autistic children. Hunter got $75,000 from BCA in 2014 and Brown got $149,000 from them in 2016. Both also got contributions from the Alabama Federation for Children, the state affiliate for the American Federation for Children which Betsy DeVos chaired before being tapped to head the U.S. Department of Education by President Trump. In addition, Hunter took $15,000 in 2014 from StudentsFirst, the group created by Michelle Rhee.
Some wonder why the morale of the education community sinks lower and lower. Looking back several months answers that question.