Governor Bentley stunned Alabama educators with his July 16 announcement that he was appointing 28 year old Matt Brown of Fairhope to replace Al Thompson on the state board of education. The fact that he never attended public schools, has said his children will not attend them and has no known involvement of supporting public schools was like setting a match to dry kindling. Within two days of posting an article on this blog about the appointment I had 20,000 “hits.”
The reaction was loudest in Baldwin County, where Brown is from. And it is yet to die down along the coast. This is hardly a surprise since Brown was the face of an active effort last March to defeat a school tax vote. The campaign preceding the vote was contentious and divisive. Supporters of the measure felt that Brown and his followers were less than honest and forthright with their information. The Secretary of State’s office said the Brown troops were in violation of the Fair Campaign Practices Act.
Whereas losing candidates for office may lick their wounds for a spell after election day, then go about their business, mothers who feel that someone took aim at their child’s education hold grudges much, much longer.
The governor was aware of this. People told the governor’s staff that Brown carried too much baggage and should not be appointed. Obviously this advice was ignored.
While many places in Alabama are just treading water, not Baldwin County. It had slightly less than 100,000 population in 1990. That has now doubled. The growth is putting extreme pressure on its school system where enrollment has jumped 25 percent in the last 10 years. The Foley feeder pattern has increased 36 percent, Gulf Shores 40 percent and Spanish Fort 71 percent in nine years.
To see what this means, drive around the county. According to figures from the state department of education, Baldwin County has more portable classrooms than all but Mobile County–which has nearly twice as many students. More than Jefferson County, more than Birmingham, more than Montgomery or Huntsville.
And another 17 were added this summer. At Gulf Shores Elementary, the school parking lot is now filled with portable classrooms. Portables that cost more to heat and cool than conventional classrooms.
Most school systems rent portables for $400-$450 per month. Baldwin County does as well–where possible. But because of concern about high winds, the system must buy all portables used south of U.S. Highway 98. These cost $35,000 each. Those built to withstand high winds cannot be rented. Nearly 25 percent of all students go to school south of Highway 98.
As a rule, portables are used eight to ten years. They have no resale value. Most educators consider expenditures for portables as simply “money down a black hole.”
But Matt Brown worked hard to make sure the county school system did not have adequate resources to handle this growth.
It’s hardly any surprise that all the governor’s appointment really did was knock the scab off a wound yet to heal.
And now the governor expects the same educators who Brown said went around the county putting on a “dog and pony show” to drum up support for the tax vote to embrace him? Ain’t gonna happen.