Controversy over sale of historic school continues as lawsuit filed

AEA officials spoke about the lawsuit Friday afternoon. (Source: WSFA 12 News)
AEA officials spoke about the lawsuit Friday afternoon. (Source: WSFA 12 News)
Published: Feb. 23, 2018 at 4:50 PM CST|Updated: Feb. 23, 2018 at 5:33 PM CST
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MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - The Alabama Education Association is taking legal action on behalf of the Montgomery County Board of Education against interim State Superintendent Dr. Ed Richardson and others.

AEA filed a lawsuit on Friday against Richardson, Richard Eggleston, who is the chief administrative officer for Montgomery Public Schools' intervention, and Pike Road Mayor Gordon Stone.

According to AEA, the lawsuit is in response to Richardson's push to sell Georgia Washington Middle School after the Montgomery County School Board voted to reject the sale in November. The lawsuit claims Richardson's ties to the Town of Pike Road and Pike Road Schools, which is set to purchase the middle school, creates a potential conflict of interest.

"We believe this is another attempt by Dr. Richardson to assist Pike Road in becoming a more better and effective school system," said Theron Stokes, AEA's Associate Executive Director.

The sale of Georgia Washington Middle School was announced by Richardson during a news conference in February when an intervention plan was released.

AEA says Richardson played a vital role in the creation of Pike Road Schools when he was hired to act as a consultant. Richardson is now trying to sell the Pike Road school system a non-failing school's building, which AEA claims goes against the MCBOE's focus on failing schools.

AEA also claims Richardson neglected to assist the MCBOE with the recoupment of $1.4 million that was incorrectly sent to the Pike Road Schools in 2016 by the Alabama Department of Education.

Furthermore, the intervention plan, according to AEA, was to focus on helping the MCBOE's failing schools. None of the schools listed for closure were on the state department's failing schools list and AEA believes these schools will be sold below market value to charter schools once their doors close.

"What we're saying is the law does not allow superintendent Richardson to do what he's doing," Stokes said. "There are some restrictions on the law, and think they have misinterpreted the intervention law that they're saying basically gives them authority to any and everything they want to do and there's no law in this country that allows that to be done."

The suit is also seeking a temporary restraining order, to block Richardson from going through with the school closures and sale of Georgia Washington.

Dr. Richardson has responded to the AEA lawsuit:

My concern is now, and has always been, the children of Montgomery County. My resolve is to make sure the students who attend Montgomery Public schools get a quality education. The student achievement in Montgomery's non-magnet schools are some of the lowest in the state. In more than 50 years of education experience, and having been involved in numerous school interventions all across this state, I have never witnessed this kind of dismal student achievement. It is wrong, deceptive, and dishonest to sit by and continue to watch young people, who are full of potential, graduate from high school with reading and math scores that are unacceptable and don't even approach Alabama's average – much less other states. My primary concern is the proper education of children – not inconveniencing adults.

On the sale of Georgia Washington Middle School, Richardson said:

If Georgia Washington is NOT sold, we anticipate approximately 200 MPS teachers and 75 support staff will have to be laid off in order for MPS to meet its financial obligation. That would obviously have a negative impact on student achievement, not to mention it would not look favorable to our regional accrediting body, AdvancED, who is sending a special review team to examine MPS' readiness for its accreditation study on March 19-21.

Vice-President of MCBOE Lesa Keith also had something to say about the sale of Georgia Washington Middle School:

Truly the citizens of Montgomery that care about our children must see this continued 'wall of harassment' that this Board has continued to build against the state Dept and the much needed intervention. The people of Montgomery have a chance to change this on June 5 by voting to replace every board member running in the primary election . We have a duty as tax payers to stop this & the only way to send a message is to vote for a complete change in board members. They must say 'No to status quo' and now!

I am beyond sorry to both Dr. Eggleston and Dr. Richardson for the continued ignorance of what this interventions main priority is - to help our children & unfortunately we have adults creating walls & a union that has lost its reputation , all for political gain & let's pray they don't succeed .

The Town of Pike Road has also responded to the lawsuit:

The Town of Pike Road and its officials have always made and will continue to make decisions that are motivated by the goal of serving all of our citizens, especially the young people. We also remain committed to being good partners with our neighbors.

The Montgomery County Board of Education issued a memorandum Friday, responding to issues MCBOE says Richardson has with the school board hiring Attorney Fred Bell as their legal representation. The memo said Bell has not entered into any contract to provide legal services to MCBOE and has in fact informed Robert Porterfield Jr., the author of the memo, that he would not be interested in serving in any capacity with the MCBOE.

"He has informed me that all available resources should be for the benefit of the students of MPS and that he does not want to be a part of any effort that would have any impact which interferes with MCBOE's ability to provide the quality education that these students deserve," the memo says.

The memo also accuses Richardson of the same actions detailed in the lawsuit against him, saying Richardson is hoping to establish charter schools and help the Pike Road School District at the detriment of MPS. Read the full memo below:

The first hearing for the lawsuit will be on Monday at 9 a.m. The plaintiffs are a woman with a son at Georgia Washington Middle School, an employee at Chisolm and another teacher.

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