As much as you know you should, some times it is impossible to keep silent.  Such is the case when I read the article Alabama superintendent hasn’t increased spending on personnel, document shows.”

The first line of the article says: “Records show that Alabama’s school superintendent did not add high-level positions to the bottom line as some board members have alleged.”  THEN, this piece goes on to name people like Jermall Wright, Chasidy White and Barbara Cooper as people superintendent Mike Sentance has hired.  The article points out that Wright makes $169,000, White $113,000 and Cooper $177,000.

BUT you just said Sentance has not added any high-level positions.

The new organizational chart for the department shows that White answers directly to Sentance, Cooper answers to Chief of Staff Dee Fowler ($205,792), while Wright answers to Cooper. Anyone in these slots is definitely high level.

(It is noteworthy to point out that Fowler makes more than Sentance which is illegal.  Alabama Code Section 16-2-7 says:  “In no case may the salary of a director or assistant superintendent be as great as or greater than that of the State Superintendent of Education.” Fowler’s salary was set by Sentance.  He was told by at least one board member about this stipulation.  So Sentance wanted to have the state board approve Fowler’s salary, but they removed this item from their agenda because they knew it was illegal.

It should also be noted that in the chart at the end of the article where personnel and salaries are shown, the salary for Sentance is incorrect.  According to his contract signed on Sept. 8. 2016 he makes $198,000 a year–not $219,000.  Obviously some fringe benefits were included in the number given Sentance, but in no other instances with other employees.  So this comparison is not apples to apples.)

(But the fact that Alabama code is being ignored is hardly a surprise.  Code Section 16-4-1 states: “The Superintendent of Education shall be a person of good moral character, with academic and professional education equivalent to graduation from a standard university or college, who is knowledgeable in school administration and has training and experience sufficient to qualify him to perform the duties of his office.”

Had we followed the law, Sentance would have never been hired because he does not meet the qualifications required by Alabama law.)

Back to the article in question.

“Sentance told he implemented a hiring freeze at the department immediately following Craig’s recommendations and has not created any new positions since then.”

Totally false.  The state board instituted the hiring freeze.  Sentance was not happy about it.

As we now know all too well and as was pointed out here, determining what is fact and what is fiction at ALSDE these days is very difficult.

But we do know that on Aug. 23 Chief Financial Officer Andy Craig reviewed the projected 2017-18 department operating budget with the state board and told them that salary expenses would go from $23,581,134 this year to $26,495,799 next year.  That’s a jump of $2,914,665.  If Sentance is not hiring folks, who is?

(Sentance said at the Aug. 23 meeting that he did not know about the potential $8 million deficient Craig pointed out to board members.  However,  this statement was not true.)

I asked several state board members for their thoughts about the article.

One said,  “We are measuring his performance from when Sentance took over to now. So the better comparison would be the total personnel in number and cost on Aug 1, 2016 compared with today.  As interim, Phillip Cleveland had whittled down the size about 25 employees with board encouragement and through attrition.   He handed Sentance a sound financial startThe issue is what happened after Sentance’s first day in office.”  

The fact of the matter is that from the outset, Sentance has done an extremely poor job of communicating with his board, especially on budget issues.  This is why there have been so many protracted board work sessions.  Members have had to pry info out of him.

They have been particularly concerned about the intervention in the Montgomery County school system and the amount of money being spent, with precious little accountability.  And what little there once was has now ended because Sentance got an AG’s opinion that said the state board could not question any of his decisions.

But we do know this.

He let a $750,000 no-bid three-year contract for Jason Taylor to come from Huntsville to be Montgomery CFO.  He let a $536,000 contract to a Massachusetts company he was once involved with to do an assessment of Montgomery schools.  He hired a consultant for $200,000 to put on an institute this summer for Montgomery.  He spent $700,000 to have about one half of the Montgomery schools cleaned.

He initially gave 10 percent raises to the principals of the 27 lowest-performing schools in Montgomery–and later included all principals in this increase.  At least five people, new to the system, have been added to the Montgomery central office.  This is at least an additional $500,000 in salaries.

Considering that one of the main reasons for intervening in Montgomery was their financial troubles, how do they absorb these kind of costs?  Are any of these costs being picked up the that state department?  But since the state board is not privy to answers, we are left in the dark.

Point being, the article by serves no useful purpose.  The financial situation at ALSDE is very more complex with too many unanswered questions than to be treated in such a manner.

For instance, why is not looking at the lack of support Sentance is providing to a highly successful Career Tech program where there is no permanent director and seven jobs are not filled?  Though Alabama’s program has received national recognition, Sentance is not a career tech person as we pointed out here.

Or what about the Alabama Math, Science, Technology Initiative (AMSTI) that has been around since 1999 and circulates more than $75 million worth of lab equipment and materials to schools around Alabama?  They have not had a director since last October.  Yet Mike Sentance has said “AMSTI is not the answer.”

Yes, things at ALSDE are a mess.  And Mike Sentance is the state superintendent.  He is ultimately the person who must take responsiblity.

Wasting time looking for scapegoats does not change that reality.