With the next regular legislative session less than three months away, the House Ways & Means Education committee started work today (Oct. 25).  It is a massive job to put together a $6+ billion budget.  And chairman Bill Poole and the other 13 committee members spend untold hours in hearings and discussions and digging through reports.

And as anyone who attended today’s session and sat through a 45-minute presentation about the PEEHIP insurance program can tell you, there are more crooks and turns and details to how all the parts fit together than most can imagine.

Bill Poole does an excellent job as chair.  He is a fine young man, conscientious, detailed and hard-working.  I am a Bill Poole fan and certainly appreciate his friendship.  In fact, I introduced him one time to a small group as “the kind of guy every daddy hopes his daughter will bring to dinner one night.”

Interim state superintendent Ed Richardson made a presentation.  Anyone looking on quickly realized that the state school board made an excellent choice when they brought Richardson in to right the ship at the state department of education.  It was obvious that the legislators there today think of him like he is E. F. Hutton.  When he talks, they listen.

He is amiable, but straight forward.  He doesn’t search for words that are “politically correct.”  He doesn’t stammer and stutter when asked a question.  He personifies “been there, done that.”

Among the points he made were:

  • The department will have a balanced budget.  This is in contrast to news that got out several months ago that there was a sizeable deficit in the ALSDE budget.
  • Finances at the department are being carefully reviewed.  Vacant slots are not being filled at present.
  • The department has too many non-merit positions.  These jobs are being reviewed as to their functions and salaries.
  • The present organizational chart put in place by the former superintendent is being studied carefully

To me, the most telling part of the entire meeting were comments by chairman Poole at the conclusion of Richardson’s presentation.  Under the previous administration, state department of education credibility took a tremendous hit.  The constant squabbles between the superintendent and the state school board did not go unnoticed.  Poole brought this to the attention of everyone.

And many legislators, especially some who hold very important positions, did not like what they saw and at the end of the day, placed the blame squarely at the feet of the state board.

Hiring Ed Richardson was a good first step at restoring credibility.  But for now, and a long time to come, the state school board has a target on its back.  Which means their every move is being scrutinized.

My advice to them would be to keep Ed Richardson around as long as he will stay.