For many months, under the reign of state school superintendent Mike Sentance, there was noticeable tension at state school board meetings.  This was especially true in recent months when there was a very recognizable chill between Sentance and some board members.

That was gone today (Sept. 27) with Sentance departed and interim superintendent Ed Richardson in his place.  Richardson served as state superintendent from 1995 to 2004, before moving to Auburn University as president, so he was in a familiar seat.

It was as if a black cloud had been blown away and smiles and chuckles were much more common.  Richardson is known as a problem-solver and it didn’t take him long to outline his priorities for the next three months.  (The board gave Richardson a contract for three months for $24,000, plus a housing allowance.  This contract goes through Dec. 31, 2017.)

To emphasize the urgency of the situation, Richardson said he would have little time to attend meetings, make speeches or just visit with folks.  “My goal is that we get some things taken care of so the next permanent superintendent won’t have to deal with unfinished business,‘ he stated.

He briefly addressed the four priority issues the department will focus on.

Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)–Alabama definitely faces a time crunch in submitting this plan to the U.S. Department of Education.  Governor Ivey was successful in getting a small extension to this deadline.

Budgets for both department operational expenses and for K 12.–Sentance ran into a real buzzsaw on the board a couple of months ago when it was discovered that the operational budget for 2017-18 had a potential deficit of $8 million.  Richardson is hardly a stranger to the budgeting process and assured the board that there will be no “deficit budgets”.  He also stated that he will be working closely with the legislature in crafting the upcoming Education Trust Fund budget.

A new state assessment–Now that the state board has decided to no longer use ACT Aspire to assess student performance, it is critical that an effort to find a new test instrument move quickly.  This is a highly technical part of the education puzzle with several time-consuming steps.

Montgomery intervention–From the get go, Sentance’s plans to intervene in the Montgomery County school system were a train wreck.  He hired high-priced consultants and high-priced personnel and made decisions that defied reasonable explanation.  And he got an Attorney General’s opinion that basically told the state board they had no right to question his decisions.

Richardson told the board that he began his career in the Montgomery system and has great interest in seeing it succeed.  However, he indicated that he is not pleased with the current intervention model and will discuss the situation with the Montgomery County school board at their Sept. 28 meeting.

Richardson also told the board that they need to begin coming to an agreement as to the four or five skill sets a new permanent superintendent should have.

Hopefully they will pay attention to this very wise advice.  For sure, there was never this consensus in the search that gave us Mike Sentance.