State Superintendent Mike Sentance faced a number of questions regarding the state intervention in Montgomery schools at the April 13 state board meeting.

And his answers failed to calm the concerns of many board members, especially Stephanie Bell of Montgomery.

Bell, a one time reporter for the Montgomery Advertiser, knows how to ask questions and is not reluctant to do so.  She wanted to know how 10 percent raises for 27 principals of the system’s lowest performing schools could be justified?  Why were some principals who the system planned to terminate given new three-year contracts, plus a 10 percent raise?  How could the system be split into two separate entities with the state operating one and the local system the other?

Any principal facing termination must be given at least a 90-day notice.  Bell asked why the state missed this deadline in some cases.

(Sentnace has repeatedly said that the nine principals whose contracts were up for renewal had not been properly evaluated and therefore, could not be let go.  However, according to two members of the Montgomery school board, this is not accurate.  Instead, they say the system planned to remove four of these principals and all paperwork was in order but when the state stepped in, they botched the process and ignored the deadline.  So instead of removing four principals, they were all given new three year contracts, plus a 10 percent raise.)

Stephanie Bell also pointed out that giving across the board raises to principals of weak schools, while not rewarding principals of the best schools has severely hurt morale in the system.  “You simply can not incentivize poor performance,” she told Sentance.

Bell was supported by Jeff Newman and Cynthia McCarty is questioning the raises.

“I spent more than 30 years in education,: said Newman, “and there is absolutely no justification for these raises.”  McCarty also questioned them and wanted to know where the money was coming from to pay them.  “I thought one of the reasons we intervened was because the system was in financial trouble,” she added.

Sentance tried to explain the rationale for the raises as the fact that the Montgomery pay scale for principals lags behind the rest of the state and that raising the salaries of the 27 principals will help hire better ones in the future.  It was obvious this argument did little to convince the board.

The present scale in Montgomery is $71,046 to $100,487 for principals.  It should be  pointed out that this top end is more than superintendents in 11 Alabama school systems now make.

But the most telling moment of this discussion is when Sentance was asked to show the board the plan for the Montgomery intervention and said that it is “evolving.”

In other words, after spending $1.2 million on two contracts related to the take over, after hiring a new staff member from Philadelphia and one from Mobile to work with Montgomery, there is no definitive plan of what they will be doing or how they will do it?

This is mind-boggling.  And is akin to hiring a carpenter, an electrician, a plumber and a brick mason and telling them to build a house–but not giving them a blueprint.

Ella Bell is also on the state board, and like Stephanie Bell, also represents a portion of Montgomery County.  She summed up the situation by saying, “We were not ready to go public when we announced this takeover a few months ago.  We had no specifics to tell the public.”  Stephanie Bell echoed her thought by stating, “We put the cart before the horse.” 

There will be a public forum on Monday, April 17 at 6:30 p.m. at Robert E. Lee High School in Montgomery.  Personnel from the state department of education will be there to present information and field questions.

It should be interesting to listen as they explain why the state department likes bad principals more than good ones.