State Board of Education fails to approve Public Charter Schools Commission members

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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WHNT) – At Wednesday’s regular Alabama State Board of Education meeting, the Board voted not to approve Alabama’s first public charter school commission.

The four members voting no were Vice President Ella Bell, Betty Peters, Yvette Richardson and Stephanie Bell.

The three yes votes were from Cynthia McCarty, Jeff Newman and Mary Scott Hunter. District 1 was not represented because Al Thompson resigned to take a seat on the newly appointed two-year college board.

Early on, board members were presented with a ballot of 21 names and were asked to choose 10.  Board members were then allowed time to vote. The ballots were gathered and given to Deputy Superintendent Andy Craig to tally, with the final vote to be held at the end of the meeting.

State Superintendent Dr. Tommy Bice told the board that they were to choose four of the eight names submitted by the Governor, one of the two names submitted by the Lieutenant Governor, two of the five names submitted by the President Pro Tem of the Senate, Del Marsh (R-Anniston) and three of the six names submitted by the Speaker of the House, Mike Hubbard (R-Auburn).

Here’s the video of that part of the meeting:

When it came time for the board to officially approve the chosen names, Bice revealed that only three board members had chosen names.

Richardson and Stephanie Bell both stated they didn’t feel the board had enough time to consider the names. Bell said that very little information accompanied the list of names given to the board.

Peters expressed her dismay that appointing the commission is the only part of the charter school process where the legislature included the state board.

Mary Scott Hunter said she felt the board was being “recalcitrant” and was “embarrassed” that the board could not follow through with what it was asked to do. She accused the board of not doing its homework.

As far as the assertion that the Board had little input, Hunter says she got a seat at the Charter Schools Commission table because she asked to be included in the discussions.

To set the stage for some of the frustration, the Board has had some upheaval recently.  Members have been split between K-12 and post-secondary. Hunter says she understands frustrations of an unsteady Board, but says that doesn’t warrant making excuses.

Mary Scott Hunter spoke with WHNT News 19 Monday about the Boards failure to approve the Charter Schools Commission. (PHOTO: David Wood, WHNT)

Mary Scott Hunter spoke with WHNT News 19 Monday about the Boards failure to approve the Charter Schools Commission. (PHOTO: David Wood, WHNT)

“All of the nominees were included in a packet of information that was sent to us a week in advance and each position had two potential nominees for each possible confirmation. We were given the information that we needed to at least give us basic knowledge and to then ask questions if we had any, a week in advance, Hunter explains. “And yet we didn’t get enough votes to confirm the nominees and that’s very frustrating to me because I think we do have a job to do .”

And in addition, it’s not just a duty but a requirement. By law, the Board must confirm the Charter School Commission members by June 1.

“Public Charter Schools represent a big change for Alabama but I feel like we had a lot of opportunity individually, not corporately, but individually as Board members to make inputs into the legislation. So yes, I think part of this is related to the Board’s frustration about the Charter School legislation but I also think there were other factors that were playing into this vote failing.”

Now, accomplishing the original task of confirming commission members will take a specially called meeting.

“I think what we need to do is regroup, come back together in a special-called meeting, take the vote, confirm the nominees, and let’s get on with it,” Hunter said plainly.

She says one thing that’s interesting about the timing is that the Board chose not to succeed in this vote when the legislature is in session and while they’re holding the state education budget.

The General Counsel for the Alabama Department of Education, Larry Craven, cautioned the board that it is bound to follow the law. He added if the board doesn’t do so, it should expect litigation.

Hunter says even though she and two other fellow Board members chose to follow the law, she worries this issue could be addressed toward the Board as a whole.

“That worries me greatly, Hunter says. “I certainly don’t want to be the object of any litigation.”

Here is video of the board’s vote and discussion:

The names that were chosen by the three Board members were read aloud:

  • Thomas Rains, A+ Education Partnership, (Governor’s nomination)
  • Sally Howell, Alabama Association of School Boards (Governor’s nomination)
  • Dr. Ed Richardson, former state superintendent (Governor’s nomination)
  • Mac Buttram, former representative for District 12 (Governor’s nomination)
  • Melinda McClendon, (Lieutenant Governor’s nomination)
  • Chad Fincher, former representative for District 102 (Senate President Pro Tem’s nomination)
  • Dr. Quesha Starks (Senate President Pro Tem’s nomination)
  • Terry Tomlinson (Speaker of the House’s nomination)
  • Gloria Batts (Speaker of the House’s nomination)
  • Dr. Alma Freeman (Speaker of the House’s nomination)