MPS intervention plan remains on hold

MPS intervention plan remains on hold
(Source: WSFA 12 News file photo)

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - After nearly a month of waiting, a hearing was held Thursday in Montgomery County Circuit Court concerning a lawsuit filed by the Alabama Education Association against Interim State Superintendent Dr. Ed Richardson.

During that hearing, both parties and the judge agreed that a pending appeal before the Alabama Supreme Court meant the circuit court did not currently have jurisdiction. The hearing ended with no action pending a ruling by the high court.

The Alabama Supreme Court has since denied two motions, one to expedite the appeal and the other to vacate the order and dismiss the complaint. However, Attorney Susan Copeland, who represents Pike Road Schools, said the appeal is still pending.

Circuit Court Judge Greg Griffin has since set a new hearing for April 5.

The AEA lawsuit, filed in February, challenges Richardson's authority to close and sell MPS schools as part of an intervention plan of the system.

Richardson announced his intervention plan in January. It included the closure of four schools at the end of the school year and the sale of one, Georgia Washington Middle School, to the Town of Pike Road.

AEA sued to stop the closures or sale. Then, Pike Road and Richardson filed motions of appeal to the state's highest court.

Pike Road had agreed to purchase the school for $9.75 million but on Tuesday terminated its sales agreement.

"The main reason we couldn't get title is because of the sale of the school issue is tied up in court," said Pike Road Mayor Gordon Stone.

Stone did not completely shut the door to eventually purchasing GW, however. He said Pike Road Schools would reconsider the deal under the right circumstances. Meanwhile, PRS will move forward with a different plan to support its students, primarily the purchase of portable temporary classrooms.

Richardson's plan was not limited to the actual sale of Georgia Washington. He intends to close four schools: Dozier Elementary, Chisolm Elementary, Floyd Elementary and Georgia Washington. He also announced plans to close nine administrative MPS buildings.

The closures were one his efforts to help MPS save money and meet budget requirements.

The sale of Georgia Washington was an option that had already been agreed upon before Richardson's plan was announced. When the Montgomery School Board changed its vote from selling it to not selling it, Richardson made the decision to move forward anyway until it got tied up in the AEA's lawsuit.

AEA Attorney Theron Stokes said the lawsuit is based on the idea of authority. He said the AEA does not believe Richardson has the authority to close or sell property belonging to MPS. However, state intervention law explains that the state superintendent has "plenary" decision-making authority under state intervention. Stokes said he believes that authority is administrative, and if it included real property, he believes the law would have explicitly stated that.

Richardson was unavailable for an interview Thursday but confirmed Wednesday he has started compiling a list of personnel to cut in the case that MPS is unable to find the necessary funding.

And there's another factor that hangs in the mix: Accreditation of the school system.

AdvancedEd, MPS' accrediting agency, wrapped up a special review of MPS in February. Dr. Andre Harrison, who oversees the agency's Alabama operations, said the group will return in about 30-45 days with the results of the review and recommendations. After that, the team will return to check on progress.

If MPS is making progress based on the areas of leadership, learning, and resource capacity based on the agency's recommendations, he said the team will work with MPS through the accreditation process. He said if progress is not made, that could impact MPS' ability to keep its accreditation, which expires in June 2019.

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