Sunday, May 7, 2017

Craig Ford: Alabama feeling buyer’s remorse over Superintendent of Education

  When we hear the words, “buyer’s remorse,” we usually think of somebody who bought a car they couldn’t afford or some luxury item that ended up not being as great as they thought it would be.

  But the term also applies to the way a lot of members of the Alabama Legislature and the state Board of Education feel about our school superintendent, Michael Sentance.

  The warning signs should have been there from the beginning.

  After all, Mr. Sentance isn’t even an educator! He’s an attorney by trade (specializing in tax law) and hasn’t spent a single day of his life in the classroom as a teacher or principal. He has no degree in education, and his only previous experience as an education administrator was from 1991-1996 as Secretary of Education in Massachusetts.

  Before becoming Alabama’s Superintendent of Education, Mr. Sentance had been rejected for similar positions in Kentucky, Nevada, Nebraska and Ohio.

  In Alabama, his candidacy was adamantly opposed by those who wanted someone who understands our unique needs. His advocacy for charter schools also caused a lot of heartburn.

  Mr. Sentence originally withdrew his application due to a lack of support before being convinced to reapply. Shortly thereafter, an anonymous complaint against his strongest opponent, Dr. Craig Pouncey, became public, followed by a whisper campaign that Dr. Pouncey would be investigated by the Alabama Ethics Commission (no investigation ever took place).

  If only the drama surrounding Mr. Sentance had ended there.

  Since taking over the state’s Department of Education, Mr. Sentance’s tenure has been one disaster after another.

  His proposal last month to reorganize the state’s career technical education and workforce development programs caused a huge backlash from educators, students and members of the Board of Education. Mr. Sentance's proposal was deeply unpopular and would have undermined all the success the program has achieved.

  Equally as troubling, Mr. Sentance left the members of the Board of Education out of the loop on what he was planning. Board members were caught off guard by his plans and then blindsided by the media.

  This is becoming a disturbing trend with Mr. Sentance, where a failure to communicate puts others in impossible situations when the media comes calling.

  We saw this again just a few weeks ago when Mr. Sentance announced a drop in high school graduation rates, followed by a public release of numbers that were not only incorrect but had also never been seen by any of the state’s local superintendents.

  Making matters worse, Mr. Sentance never truly accepted responsibility and chose instead to blame others. But it’s not like this was a simple typographical error or one or two stats being a little off. This was a major release of information that anyone with even the most basic levels of competence should have known the press would be interested in after the subject was first mentioned (by Mr. Sentance himself!) in the Board of Education’s meeting a few days before.

  On top of all of this is the questionable nature of Mr. Sentance’s involvement in the awarding of a state contract to a company he has previously been affiliated with.

  Emails showed that Mr. Sentance alerted a top official at the company that bidding for the contract was about to open up, giving the company a two-week head start on preparing its bid.

  On Wall Street, they call that “insider trading,” and people go to jail for it.

  As a tax lawyer, Mr. Sentance certainly should have known better and at least waited until after the bidding process was open to the public before he reached out to the company.

  The Board of Education’s patience with Mr. Sentance is wearing thin, and so is the legislature’s. Alabama has suffered enough embarrassment over the behavior of our leaders recently, and we don’t need any more shady and embarrassing behavior coming out of the Department of Education.

  About the author: Representative Craig Ford represents Gadsden and Etowah County in the Alabama House of Representatives. He served as the House Minority Leader from 2010-2016.

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