Media points finger at state school board

By Larry Lee

Anyone who didn’t see this coming has been living under a rock.

Now that Mike Sentance has headed back to Massachusetts, at least two state newspapers have taken the state school board to task for what has gone on in the last 12-18 months. The Opelika-Auburn News and the Florence TimesDaily are asking that the governing body for K-12 education get its act together.

The points they make are not without merit. As I’ve said before, Sentance did not hire himself. The state board did. Though Sentance was not selected by a unanimous board decision, at the end of the day the entire board is called to task. That’s just the way such things work.

The TimesDaily points out that Alabama has not been as diligent at developing a plan as to how they will implement the new Federal Every Student Succeeds Act as many other states have.

“Even as Alabama politicians rail at the federal government, the state seems intent at demonstrating its incompetence in all things related to education.

“On the same day [Gov. Kay] Ivey explained that Irma had somehow forced a delay in the state’s education plan, the State Board of Education accepted the resignation of State Superintendent Michael Sentance. The board hired him a year ago, despite the fact that he had previously withdrawn his application and despite widespread concerns that he had no experience in schools. After ignoring public input on predictable problems with Sentance as superintendent, the board proceeded to sabotage his efforts to do his job.

“It is, rather, the latest symptom of a dysfunctional board.”

(To his credit, interim superintendent Ed Richardson understands the urgency of this situation and has said ESSA is one of his four top priorities.)

The Opelika Auburn News took a longer view with its critique here.

“The Alabama board of education needs to get it right this time, and to do that, it needs to get right itself.

“Michael Sentance resigned last week as the state’s superintendent of education, but it seemed only a matter of time before he was fired. Some of that is his fault, some if it lands squarely on the board.

“Sentance was hired after a divisive board vote that set the tone for what he would face when he brought his Massachusetts experience to Alabama.

“ ‘You’ve got to have credibility,’ Richardson told the Associated Press when asked his opinion of how the board should proceed with its next hire. ‘The way you have credibility is, ‘have you ever done this work before?’

“It seems like a simple question, but nothing about repairing Alabama’s education system is going to be simple.

“That’s why the board of education this go-around can’t put obstacles right in front of the starting gate.

“Go to the chalk board, put down the pluses and minuses, and develop a solution.

“That’s how school work is done.”

While I don’t understand the charge about board members “sabotaging” Sentance (he was his own worst enemy), there is little doubt that change is needed. But while we are pointing fingers, we need to point some at the citizens of Alabama. There are eight ELECTED members of the state board. Four of these seats will be filled by voters in 2018.

If we learned anything during the ‘Sentance saga’ it is that we need to pay a lot more attention to who we elect to this board.

And under Richardson we will see board meetings that are much more orderly and far less contentious. It is what happens when experience and competency rule the day.

Larry Lee led the study Lessons Learned from Rural Schools and is a longtime advocate for public education. larrylee133@gmail.com. Read his blog: larryeducation.com