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Dr. Richardson calls status of MPS 'A real tragedy'

With less than two months left in the school year, Montgomery Public Schools still faces a lot...
With less than two months left in the school year, Montgomery Public Schools still faces a lot of uncertainty. (Source: WSFA 12 News)
Published: Apr. 5, 2018 at 10:18 PM CDT|Updated: Apr. 5, 2018 at 10:58 PM CDT
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MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - With less than two months left in the school year, Montgomery Public Schools still faces a lot of uncertainty. Interim State Superintendent Dr. Ed Richardson said a request was filed with the Alabama Supreme Court on Thursday to expedite the court's review of a lawsuit from the Alabama Education Association that has placed his intervention plan for MPS on hold.

The AEA filed its lawsuit against Richardson just weeks after he announced plans to close four MPS school and sell one of them, Georgia Washington Middle School, to help save MPS money.

AEA officials said their suit was based on their opinion that Richardson does not have the authority to make such decisions, despite the state's intervention statute.

"The AEA would prefer I not have the authority that I do, but the law is clear and for a reason," Richardson said. "That in order to affect the major changes necessary, in this case in Montgomery, I have to have the authority to make it happen. Because the people currently in authority, the sitting board and so forth, have shown they are unable or unwilling to do what it takes."

With Thursday's request for an expedited decision, Richardson said he hopes to have an answer in by next week. However, he said MPS does not have time for the hold it is currently in.

The delay forced the Town of Pike Road to back out of its agreement to purchase GWMS because it needed to establish concrete plans for its students in a timely manner. The sale was slated to bring in $10 million to MPS, which Richardson said would have helped fund programs to help with student achievement.

"Just to confirm the reason I was selling that school," Richardson said, "it was the only one for which I had a buyer."

Richardson stated in his initial intervention plan that all property, the four schools and nine administrative buildings, he was planning to close would be up for sale. He said Georgia Washington was just the first one to draw specific interest for purchase.

Now that the sale is off the table, he said MPS will take major staffing cuts to make up for the financial loss. In addition to 17 central office cuts that have already been announced, Richardson said MPS will now likely outsource about 500 support staff members and lose up to about 200 teachers.

"It's absolutely what I did not want to do," Richardson said. "But because of the loss of the sale, I'm there. It's a real tragedy. It's unnecessary."

If Richardson is able to move forward with his plan, he said Georgia Washington will still close. MPS just won't receive any money from it.

"That would have been a major step forward," Richardson said, calling it a good thing to show AdvancED, MPS' accrediting agency, that is scheduled to review MPS for its accreditation status before the end of 2018.

Richardson said the "limited" progress made in the intervention? plan will likely keep Montgomery from having enough time to adequately show AdvancED that it's made progress.

"I anticipate a rather severe report that will come from them which puts more pressure on Montgomery Public Schools to do what needs to be done," Richardson said.

However, with the school year coming to an end with four schools' worth of parents and staff still unclear about what's next, Richardson has a major concern.

"If it is very confusing at the end of this year, in terms of what's going to happen. We're going to lose hundreds of students, we're going to lose some of our best teachers and administrators, and we are actually going to be in a worse condition because of the uncertainty," he explained. "Which will make it more difficult to make the improvements needed. That's my biggest concern."

Despite setbacks and opposition, even from some members of the Montgomery County Board of Education, Richardson said he is confident necessary changes will be made. However, he said the delay will likely make things more rushed and more difficult.

"It will take another year perhaps," Richardson believes. "If we could have done what we wanted to do back in February, then I would have been very confident that next school year you would have seen marked improvement in student achievement. But if we go right down here to the wire and we're scrambling around at the last minute, it will have an adverse impact on the next year."

Richardson said the longer it takes for MPS to make tough decisions to correct finances and support student achievement, which he said is the more difficult and time-consuming part of the process, the more of an adverse impact the school system will have on its students.

"In my view, tens of thousands of students, their lives have been adversely impacted and their futures have been dramatically impaired because of the way this school system has been run," Richardson said. "I make no apologies for that. I cannot tolerate people who would abuse children in this manner."

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