MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - Alabama's state superintendent, Dr. Ed Richardson, had some strong statements about the Montgomery Public Schools intervention at the Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce Annual Meeting.
Richardson provided a report on the intervention, warning from the beginning of his speech that it would be direct and blunt. He provided a status report on the intervention, identified factors that led to the intervention and listed corrective steps to fix the school system.
Richardson said that, with the exception of a few good schools, MPS is not a strong school system. He said the decision for the intervention was based on two main issues: a declining financial situation and declining student achievement.
Richardson addressed that the previous intervention model to address the issues within the school system was poorly designed. He said for the first two months of his involvement, he has been doing damage control on that model. Though he says his involvement will end in May, Richardson said before his time is up he will address the financial situation and put a model in place to increase student achievement for the next state superintendent.
Richardson said throughout his intervention experience with about 20 other school systems, he has noticed consistent patterns, including declining student achievement levels, weak administration and decreasing student populations. On weak administration, Richardson said he's seen in school systems the tendency to hire principals that the school systems know, rather than qualified individuals. He also noted that the board of education in a weak school system is often more interested in reelection than in educating students.
In regards to decreasing student populations, Richardson said in 2017 alone, 790 students have left the school system, which he said equates to one whole school.
Richardson delved into MPS's finances. He said the minimum requirement for Alabama public schools is to maintain a one month operating balance, which in Montgomery is $19 million. Richardson said a member of the MPS board showed indifference toward having the required budget amount because it has not met that in the past five years, and in the past ten years the system has only met that requirement once. Richardson said this is one of the board's major responsibilities, and inaction on the board's part is one of MPS's overriding problems.
Per student academic achievement, Richardson said in the past year 80 percent of MPS schools did not meet the state's minimum threshold for achievement, which he said is another failing of the board. Richardson also noted that the average ACT score for the school system, not counting magnet schools, is 14-15, which is below the state average of 20 and well below the college readiness average of 23.
Richardson next addressed corrective steps; he said chief education officer Reginald Eggleston is tasked with working with the board to develop budget options that will help them reach the minimum budget standards of the state plus some cushion room for unexpected expenses, equaling $21 million. Richardson said Eggleston will present these options by the end of December.
Based on that report, Richardson expects significant cuts to be made to MPS's central office administration, working down into the principals and teaching staff.
He also announced that some schools would be closing. The decision about which schools will be closed will be made before the end of the school year, ensuring all the necessary changes to the school system are made before next fall.
Richardson said in order to get student achievement to the levels they need to be, school principals will be assessed, and if they're found to not be performing well consistently, they will be removed. Richardson also said students who are continuously disruptive in class will be taught in a separate building, should he get the approval from his legal team.
Richardson did have some positive news about one Montgomery school, saying MPS should take pride in LAMP. LAMP boasts a 29.2 average on the ACT, and Richardson said the school is a life saver for the school system. However, he said, 95 percent of the schools need a lot of work.
Richardson said if a plan cannot be formulated and exacted to fix the school system, there will be a question of whether MPS can remain accredited.
Board Vice President, Dr. Lesa Keith, released a statement to WSFA 12 News in response to Richardson's criticism of the board.
"Dr. Richardson is correct in stating the Board has not acted," Keith's statement read. "We had an opportunity to sell a school and make substantial financial gains that would allow us more time to fix the systemic issues within the next year. If we are going to consolidate ANY schools , why not consolidate one we can have financial gains on?"
Keith is referring to the board's decision to not sell Georgia Washington Middle School to the Town of Pike Road, a move that would have put MPS with an excess of about $5 million. Keith's statement went on to describe what she believes to be the biggest hindrance on the school board.
"The greater problem is the BOE is unwilling to make tough decisions because they don't want to hurt friends and family so we have teachers who aren't adequately educating , principals who aren't leading, and administrative redundancy! Money from whatever source is CLEARLY being misdirected to jobs that have not only been made up and catered to the individual and their families , but to leaders who are afraid to be the bad guy from both a state and local level."
Board President Robert Porterfield has not responded to WSFA's request for a statement on this issue. He stated multiple times that the Board should not sell Georgia Washington, even to meet required standards because it had fallen short in prior years.
"It's a travesty to our children that some of the recent decisions of some board members has been based on their Re-election to this board," Keith said.