Lessons from Montgomery schools

Huntsville parents and citizens must be involved in developing groundrules for rezoning and school closures now; if we wait until the school board presents their plan we will lose any real chance of being heard.

Annie McCallum of the Montgomery Advertiser wrote “Turning point for MPS?  Parents, officials debate rezoning / closure plans”:

With a final public hearing Tuesday and about two weeks until a vote on the proposal, discussion has reached a fever pitch. Many are acutely aware that the system’s financial situation requires immediate changes and view the proposal as a possible turning point for a school system that both officials and parents admit needs some repairs.

“The real thing people need to understand is we have to make these changes,” Superintendent Barbara Thompson said. “We cannot stay status quo.”

…Montgomery Public Schools, like school systems across the country, faces a debilitating funding shortfall and even the closures (slated to save the district $2 million annually) won’t stop all the financial woes.

“If you close these schools, we’ll still make cuts,” Thompson said, “but if we don’t close these schools, we’ll make significantly more cuts.”

…MPS officials have said they face a swift and rigid timeline because they are trying to not renew non-tenured employees as soon as they can.

…Cox and Thompson explained that MPS can’t simply decide not to close a single school because it would have a domino effect on the entire redistricting process.[this is what I mean when I say that once the board has a plan they won't be receptive to changes]

…Like many other magnet parents, Hall is frustrated that school officials propose changing programs that have worked so well and have given national acclaim to MPS.

“The Montgomery school system does have problems,” Hall said. “They are trying to fix all the schools and they are working on it hard, but why don’t they fix what’s broken?”

…Thompson and other system officials also have insisted that despite criticism they are willing to listen and make changes. The school system has made several changes [later described as "tweaks"] to the original proposal.

…”There’s a difference between listening and doing what people want,” she said. “We can only make so many changes. [this is why getting involved early is so important]

The article includes comments from several parents:

“uncertain about keeping her children in MPS”
“parents felt blindsided by the proposed closure”
“people are fearful of speaking up”
“difficult time getting information from the school system”
“officials were not prepared for some of the questions”

On the good side:

“the proposal will return students to neighborhood schools where 90 percent of students will travel no farther than 2.5 miles to school”

I’d like to see a summit of civic associations held to discuss what we, the people want.  IMO people in North Huntsville and South Huntsville share many of the same concerns.  They also seem to share the same ‘enemy’ – both groups believe that downtown ‘Big Mules’ are playing them against each other – as has happened so often in Alabama.

Fun fact – the term Big Mule originated in Alabama to describe a coalition of agricultural and industrial elites who dominated state politics.  Big Mules “used race as a wedge”  to maintain power.

Socialist regime of Egypt in trouble

Endemic poverty, oppression, censorship, corruption, and illiteracy (especially among women) are the hallmarks of decades of socialist rule in Egypt.  The National Democratic Party chaired by 82-year old Soviet-educated dictator Hosni Mubarak is a nationalist, socialist, defacto one-party regime and also a member party of the Socialist International.   There are three reasons why the fall of the Mubarak dictatorship might trouble me: 1) Mubarak has been an ally (albeit well-paid) of the US;  2) Mubarak has been if not friendly at least not hostile to Israel; and 3) it could be worse.

Here’s Michael Ledeen’s take:

Egypt’s destiny will be determined by a fight among Egyptian people, some of whom wish to be free and others who wish to install a tyranny worse than Mubarak’s.  That’s the opposite of freedom.  Think about the free elections in Gaza that brought the Hamas killers to power.

Here’s Richard Fernandez’ take:

“The Obama administration is ramping up pressure on President Hosni Mubarak to address the grievances of the Egyptian people and said the government’s response to protests may affect U.S. aid.”

But there were also signs that the Obama administration was looking past Mubarak — to the Muslim Brotherhood, “a hard-line, but nonviolent, Islamic” group. Not only was the president taking both sides of the argument, he was looking to buy insurance for the future.

Here’s the Wall Street Journal:

Arabs perceive Mr. Obama as de-emphasizing democracy promotion after George W. Bush tried to make it a centerpiece of his second term, Mr. Hamid said.

Expressions of “concern” should be condemnation and outrage, Mr. Hamid said. “We are watching history, and Obama is on the wrong side of it.”

 Here’s GOP Rep. Thaddeus McCotter’s statement on the crisis:

The Egyptian demonstrations are not the equivalent of Iran’s 2009 Green Revolution.  The Egyptian demonstrations are the reprise of Iran’s 1979 radical revolution.Thus, America must stand with her ally Egypt to preserve an imperfect government capable of reform; and prevent a tyrranical government capable of harm.

For if Egypt is radicalized, all of the reforms sought by the Egyptian people and supported by the United States with them – including consensual and constitutional government; free elections; open and unbridled media; and Egyptian control of their natural resources – will be lost.  Nascent democratic movements in the region will be co-opted and radicalized. The world’s free and open access to the Suez Canal’s vital commercial shipping lanes will be choked.  And the Sinai Accord between Egypt and Israel – which must be protected as the foundation and principal example for Mideast peace – will be shredded.

…Inexcusably, this crisis has been hastened and exacerbated by the U.S. Administration’s refusal to whole-heartedly embrace Iran’s truly democratic 2009 Green Revolution.  Make no mistake: strategically and cynically, freedom’s radicalized enemy  is exploiting a real religion to undermine liberty and true reform just as Soviet communism posed as a secular creed to obtain the same illegitimate ends.

 

Hillary Clinton was right about one thing:  President Obama is not ready for a 3 AM phone call.

After unitary status

Someone suggested reading the North Carolina Law Review article “After Unitary Status: Examining Voluntary Integration Strategies for Southern School Districts” (link to PDF), which is written from the viewpoint that “an underlying premise of this Article is that racial integration continues to be an important goal for our public schools”.  Here are some excerpts from the 34 page article:

One of the school districts at the center of Parents Involved was Jefferson County, Kentucky.  The Jefferson County school district was under a desegregation order for several decades, and after attaining unitary status, the school district sought to maintain racially integrated schools through the use of a voluntary integration plan.  Ultimately, the Supreme Court invalidated this race-conscious plan.

…In 1968, the Supreme Court, in Green v. County School Board of New Kent County, outlined more concretely the goals and benchmarks for desegregation cases… The Court found that school districts have a duty “to create a unitary, nonracial system.”  The Court in Green pointed to six areas where school systems should be made nonracial and unitary: students, faculty, staff, facilities, transportation, and extracurricular activities.

…In a series of cases in the 1990s, the Supreme Court explained that in order for a school district to demonstrate that it is entitled to have its desegregation decree lifted, the district court should examine (1) whether the school board “complied in good faith with the desegregation decree since it was entered;”  and (2) “whether the vestiges of past discrimination had been eliminated to the extent  practicable.”  In determining whether the vestiges of past discrimination have been eliminated to the extent practicable, the district court “should look not only at student assignments, but ‘to every facet of school operations—faculty, staff, transportation, extracurricular activities and facilities.’”

…The Supreme Court’s decisions in the early 1990s cases Board of Education of Oklahoma City Public Schools v. DowellFreeman v. Pitts, and Missouri v. Jenkins  made it easier for school districts to achieve unitary status and resulted in more school districts having their desegregation decrees lifted.

…there are eighty-nine school districts in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, and South Carolina that have had their desegregation decrees lifted from 2004 to the present. There are two important trends that are evident from these unitary status cases: the integral role of the DOJ in the cases and the racially homogenous demographics of many of these districts.

1. The Role of the Department of Justice

In many of the cases where the school district achieved unitary status since 2004, the DOJ played an integral role in having the desegregation order dissolved… [note - the authors blame George Bush]

2. Demographic Considerations in the Dissolution of Desegregation Orders

Another commonality in the recent unitary status cases in Southern states is that many of the school districts are populated predominately by one race.

…Post–unitary status school districts use four major methods of student assignment plans: attendance zones, racial diversity transfers, socioeconomic status (“SES”) transfers, and magnet schools. Student assignment plans that rely on attendance zones are plans that divide the school district along residential lines and then assign students to a school that is close to their home.  This Article uses the term “racial diversity transfer” student assignment plans to encompass all race conscious student assignment plans… The “SES diversity transfer” plans include student assignment plans where the school district allows students to transfer based on their socioeconomic status.  Some school districts that no longer use race as a factor in student assignment have begun to examine SES as a factor in student assignment to produce a more diverse learning environment…   “Magnet schools are those that offer a specialized school curriculum organized around a particular subject matter . . . or theme, or that use a distinctive teaching methodology, and seek to attract both white and minority students from all parts of the city, and away from their neighborhood schools or private schools.”

…majority-to-minority transfer provision may face a legal challenge under Parents Involved. The plurality opinion [note - the Supreme Court ruling] in the case held that the voluntary integration plans in question violated  the Equal Protection Clause because they were not narrowly tailored. The plurality [again - the Supreme Court ruling] offered a broad condemnation of the use of race in student assignment plans.

…Race-conscious student assignment plans will have to be  carefully crafted to ensure that they comply with Parents Involved.  This will likely mean that school districts crafting race-conscious student assignment plans will need considerable assistance from academics and practicing lawyers. [or better yet - don't do it and save the money for teachers]

…The DOJ should immediately end its recent practice of actively assisting school districts in achieving unitary status. [Remember which side the author is on] Without the active assistance of the DOJ, many school districts will remain under their desegregation orders.

Why should the DOJ encourage the status quo in desegregation cases? After Parents Involved, it is clear that once a desegregation case has ended, the school district will have significantly less flexibility to take affirmative steps to maintain racially integrated schools.

…The Department of Education (“DOE”) should also begin to play a more active role in this area by assisting post–unitary status school districts in developing constitutional voluntary integration policies. First, the DOE should provide funding to study voluntary integration policies that produce educational and social benefits for students. [OK, these people went way past a law review article and they're spouting talking points]

The bottom line is that Huntsville should have pursued an end to the desegregation order along with the other 89 Southern systems when it was politically easier (the number doesn’t include school systems outside the South that got out from under deseg orders - like Seattle).  I suspect that the then-school board and their attorney just weren’t interested (IIRC attorney J.R. Brooks still argues for keeping the deseg order).  The Obama Justice department may not be as helpful as the Bush DOJ, but it looks like Supreme Court decisions favor lifting the desegregation order.

Lessons from DeKalb County Schools

DeKalb County Georgia may be near Wild Heaven, but the school system there is in chaos: indicted Superintendent and Central Office,  racial imbalance, school closings, rezoning, principals and teachers removed (but not yet fired) for helping students cheat on State tests, legislators introducing bills to change the school board, getting visits from SACS, failing academic performance, and “morons” for Superintendent and school board members (turns out the Super was (allegedly) a criminal – sometimes what seems moronic is a cover for criminal acts).

DeKalb County high school teacher William Blackwood wrote “Raze DeKalb’s education ghetto” for the AJC; his article painfully illustrates the frustrations of teaching in a failing school:

Disassimilation and disintegration are having a big impact on the high-school population of hyper-segregated south DeKalb county. Many young people from this area will have difficulty acclimating themselves into the mainstream. Many will find it hard to develop and maintain a sense of cohesive belonging within the larger cultural whole. A critical factor in this disturbing sociological dynamic is the public school system itself.

My school employs five assistant principals who make high salaries that, in the private sector, would be inconceivable for comparably educated individuals. Yet, they neither teach classes nor interact significantly with students. They also embody a cumbersome and inconsequential discipline system whose hallmark is the repeated failure to respond effectively to transgressions that, elsewhere, would beget serious action.

The bloated assistant-principal caste characterizes a system that employs more non-teaching personnel than it does teachers. This dysfunctional jobs-creation program is complicit in the invidious perpetuation of the hugely disenfranchising notion that black students are to be taught in a special way.

…DeKalb administrators talk around the conspicuous numbers of high-school students who suffer from varying degrees of illiteracy and innumeracy. These students remain alienated from the fundamental function of any solid education — the inculcation of critical thinking via reflective interaction with a competent authority figure able and willing to guide them through various tasks in a sensible manner.

The nostrum that it is necessary to focus on “doing social studies” as opposed to explicating the subject reduces teaching to a form of crowd control that is hopelessly over tasked when confronted with the need to explain such concepts as the social contract, selective incorporation, equal protection, federalism and limited government.

When a majority of south DeKalb students fail to succeed in college and, indeed, would be hard pressed to pass the military’s basic-skills examination, it is surprising that the military’s successful model of using serious remediation coupled with consequential discipline goes unmentioned while dubious educational “theories” are touted over and over.

Meanwhile, the pressing need for intensive, remedial, small-group instruction in reading and math on a massive scale makes the continued employment of so many overpaid non-teaching personnel seem appalling.

I mentioned the DeKalb County School Watch blog earlier; they have been going through this for years and I’ll try to highlight some of their good ideas as I read through their years of archived posts and comments (some of which are quite good). 

Here are some rezoning ideas they’ve noted from seven community groups (who were responding to the rezoning plan – these are the ideas we should insist on before the rezoning plan is made – IMO once the plan is generated it will be too late for community input):

  • Keep neighborhoods together
  • Keep feeder systems stable – no split feeders
  • Don’t move from passing schools to failing schools
  • Be mindful of travel times and congestion

Here’s a thought about “transfer students”:

…the “AYP bubble” which she claims will not be relevant soon because no schools will ultimately be able to meet its 100% success mandate and remain a transfer school. “If you remove the AYP bubble, there’s no need to restructure—and the middle school and some elementary schools can be rebalanced (within the zone)…

Whether that comment reflects insight on a bureaucratic solution – ensuring that all schools fail so they don’t have to hassle with the paperwork and costs of transfers, or just on the results of the transfer policy, it shows how little trust and confidence citizens have in that school administration.

Here’s the DeKalb County School Watch summary of a “study on educational spending sponsored by the liberal think tank Center for American Progress” (Return on Educational Investment report):

Strong community relations
Many of the highly productive districts worked closely with their communities to help maximize education spending.

A willingness to make tough choices
Reducing spending while maintaining strong outcomes takes fiscal acumen, political savvy, and a willingness to make hard choices.

A priority on quality instruction
The country’s highly productive districts devoted 3 percentage points more of their budget to instructional costs than did the least efficient districts.

Smart use of data
Most of the highly productive districts reported having sophisticated data systems that provided detailed information on a variety of school outcomes, from parent satisfaction to student success in college.

Near Wild Heaven

Not near enough…

Getting nearer to Wild Heaven is easier than you may think.  Wild Heaven Craft Beers are available at The Nook, 801 Franklin, Mason’s,  1892 East, and to go at Liquor Express.  The brewery is moving into a building in Avondale Estates in DeKalb County Georgia.  Wild Heaven is working on bottling their Ode to Mercy imperial brown ale and Invocation Belgian style golden ale (currently available on tap).  Wild Heaven will also be able to conduct tours and tastings – something that Free the Hops is trying to bring to Alabama with the Brewery Modernization Act.

I met Nick and Eric when they came to Huntsville for their rollout – both of those guys are truly gifted.  Eric Johnson has the GardenSmart PBS show, shown on APT Create (I watched it today at the gym – they toured the Cave Hill Cemetary in Louisville).  As a gardener, I appreciate the advice provided on the show, even more so that Eric and our own Harvey Cotten agree on garden philosophy (plant considering full size, appropriate for area, color, texture, water).

BTW for the youngsters out there, “Near Wild Heaven” was a song by the Athens GA band R.E.M. released in 1991.

SHCA School Crisis Update

I received the following update summarizing the January 25th school board work meeting from the South Huntsville Civic Association.  The (standing room only) meeting started with the presentation by Susan Salter of the results from the Alabama Association of School Boards Community Survey, then continued with board comments, then public comments, and then the Superintendent discussion.  Here’s the SHCA:

As scheduled, a school board meeting began at 4:30pm on Tuesday evening. SHCA had several representatives in attendance. The following summary is not comprehensive, but contains the items of discussion which stood out to us as issues of importance.

The meeting began with a presentation of the results from the online survey and focus group which were intended to gather community opinion in relation to qualities desired in our next Superintendant of Schools.  Based on information provided on the first slide of the presentation, 1,549 respondents participated which represents less than one percent of Huntsville’s population. Approximately 45% of respondents were employees of the school system. This survey was well intended, but the results should not be utilized as a representative sampling of Huntsville’s population.

The board next discussed the Superintendent position.

Dr. Robinson inquired about the legality of hiring an interim Superintendent. Board attorney, J.R. Brooks stated that an interim could legally be hired, but that while an interim would be seated, the board would not have solid legal authority to either fire employees or close schools. Therefore, he recommended that no interim should be hired.

The next item discussed was that of How a new (permanent) Superintendent should be hired.

David Blair made the first suggestion which was that a search firm (he prefers BWP) should be hired. Whichever search firm is hired should sift out applicants based on the results of the study mentioned earlier. The Board would then be presented with only the “top” candidates. This suggestion was met by staunch disagreement by many citizens from both North and South Huntsville who were in attendance. The objections stemmed from the realization that the study results are skewed by an imbalanced pool of participants.

Dr. Robinson agreed that using a professional firm would help the board to regain trust.

Vice President of the Board, Laurie McCaulley suggested that the board should conduct the search itself in an open manner which would allow for community input. Applications would be submitted and remain sealed until all would be opened and presented during a public meeting. This suggestion was the most transparent approach discussed.

A professional search firm representative who was in attendance spoke. He offered to withdraw his own company from consideration for the job. He also stated in no uncertain terms that a search firm would limit the pool of our best possible applicants. He suggested that no firm should be hired, and the board should conduct the search themselves.

The final “decision” was that the board would meet with two search firms at 6:30pm, Wednesday in order to get additional opinions and possibly make a decision.

This is a good writeup of the meeting, but it really doesn’t give you a feel for some of the objections to the AASB Community Survey methodology and presentation.  The survey presentation was described as “emotive, non fact-based, non-objective statements not appropriate to the conversation”.  Before I heard that objection, I had only thought of the survey as flawed and of limited value.

Even with that objection, the school board plans to use the results of the survey to develop evaluation criteria for the Superintendent search.  Note that the survey questions are fairly standard and the answers were fairly expected.  For example, the first question was about ‘the importance of successful experience’ and had 14 attributes to be ranked on a 5 point scale.  The number one attribute was ‘turnaround’ experience with 4.75 out of 5.  Number two was budget, three was ‘managing challenging academic achievement issues’, four was ‘communications’, five was ‘innovation / reform’, and so on… the lowest ranked attributes were ‘leading tax increase efforts’ and ‘working with the media’.  IMO it is not the job of the Superintendent to lead taxing efforts – that is the job of an elected official.  The AASB needs to rethink that idea if that’s what they expect of Superintendents across the State.

Board member Laurie McCaulley asked where ‘diversity’ was on the survey (even though she had seen the results on screen along with the rest of us – she was playing to her crowd).  ‘Diversity’ ranked 9th of the 14 attributes – not high on the list.

In addition to the survey, the AASB conducted Focus Groups (also with flawed methodology and execution).  However, some of the comments help inform the discussion – just like the public comments at the SHCA meeting. 

The Focus Groups were concerned: about “accountability, trust, and communication”; that the public “doesn’t receive adequate financial information”; that the system used to have a good reputation that was slipping; that parents are moving students into private schools or home-schooling “in large numbers”; that the situation needs to be resolved “quickly and decisively”; and they were “fearful that the situation facing the system will hurt its reputation”.  AASB’s Salter noted that there was “confusion among better-informed citizens” and “opposing opinions about facts”.

County Commissioner Bob Harrison responded to the survey by saying that the board needs to remember that there are “6th and 7th members of the board”  (my guess is he meant State and Feds) and that there are “many people who want the 6th and 7th members to act”.  Harrison said that “to let the State make decisions for us” is to “coward out”.  Harrison said that “both sides of town should acquiesce for the common good”.  I can see why Harrison wants citizens to “consent or comply passively or without protest”, because one of the solutions Harrison proposed is the “creation of busing”.

Mark McCarter of The Huntsville Times wrote “Survey says…”:

The task is to find the replacement for Dr. Ann Roy Moore, whose days as superintendent are coming to a close, accompanied by outcries of favoritism, inflated salaries and the inability to meet goals established at the beginning of her tenure.

Survey says: 69 percent disagree with the statement that Huntsville schools are going in the right direction.

Crystal Bonvillian of the Huntsville Times wrote “Moore remains superintendent…”:

The Huntsville school board Tuesday night backed off of plans to appoint an interim superintendent amid sobering community input that indicates a loss of faith in the board’s ability to govern.

Huntsville School Crisis Roundup

Summary:

- When State Senator Paul Sanford speaks, listen.
- Laws don’t care if you’re in a hurry.
- We’re stuck with Dr. Moore for awhile.
- The school board has an organizational problem – they are the boss(es) but there are five of them – no unity of command – the Superintendent is not the boss.
- It’s not too early to start thinking about running for school board districts 1 and 5 – the election is in 2012.
- If you think it can’t get any worse, look around.

***

I attended the Huntsville City Schools Board of Education meeting on January 20, the South Huntsville Civic Association ‘School Crisis’ meeting on 24 January, and the HCS BOE work meeting on January 25. 

You couldn’t swing a dead cat without hitting politicians at those meetings:  everyone from former Congressman Parker Griffith (who attended 2 of those 3 meetings) to State Senators Paul Sanford, Bill Holtzclaw, and Clay Scofield; to State Representatives Laura Hall, Mike Ball, and Howard Sanderford; to County Commissioners Phil Riddick and Bob Harrison; to Mayor Tommy Battle and Deputy Mayor Rex Reynolds and HPD Chief Mark Hudson.  Former Huntsville Times editor John Ehinger even came down the mountain to attend a meeting.

My impression is that the school board is floundering around right now – I see two school board members engaged in the crisis (David Blair and Jennie Robinson), but the rest seem to be out of touch (or to “coward out” quoting Bob Harrison).  It could be that they are content to let Blair and Robinson stand up and take the heat (which they do).  Note that Laurie McCaulley and the NAACP have a meeting scheduled for 6PM on February 1 at Rolling Hills Elementary – so we’ll see if she gets involved.  However, even Blair and Robinson don’t seem to have a full understanding of the situation (and they are the as-good-as-it-gets guys).

For example, at the SHCA meeting Sanford referred to a law that prohibited the board from appointing an interim superintendent within the 30-day notice of vacancy period.   I don’t think Blair or Robinson believed him.  Even today at the work meeting (held to discuss the appointment of an interim superintendent), school board attorney J.R. Brooks said “I don’t think he’s read it”, referring to Sanford and the law.  However, Brooks then advised the board that they couldn’t appoint an interim superintendent without creating a ”potential legal problem”.  I know Sanford well enough to know that when he speaks, listening is a good idea.

***

Timeline:

- last week the board voted to renegotiate Dr. Ann Roy Moore’s contract (worth $198,000 per year plus $800 per month car allowance plus benefits and perquisites) – Moore will be paid through December 2011.
- HCS (will) issue(d) a notice of vacancy, starting the 30-day clock for a new / interim superintendent.
- HCS must fill the position within 120 days after notice published.
- I really don’t know if this means they’ll just stick with Moore until a new Superintendent is hired or if they’ll hire an interim Superintendent to replace Moore (I imagine that the 30-day notice and 120-day clock would have to be reset to replace the interim Superintendent).
- Dr. Moore will be making near-term contract decisions (some of which can only be made in the near-term like extending principal’s contracts).
- HCS hired ‘demographer’ Steve Salmon to develop a report within 8 to 10 weeks or so; rezoning and closing decisions depend on that report (BTW Salmon was described as the former Superintendent of Dekalb (GA) County Schools – turns out Salmon was with Cobb County Schools).

I hope that the board takes part of this ‘down’ time to get with their attorneys, consultants, planners, and fellow officials to get their act together.

***

IMO the school board has an organizational problem and they are in a tough situation:  the board is elected to oversee the school system, manage the superintendent, and communicate with the public (as well as being held accountable to the public).  However, it seems like the board doesn’t have any authority to make decisions – it’s up to the Superintendent who is not accountable.  The bigger problem is that the public has no one to hold accountable – no one person is in charge – there is no unity of command.  We’ve got five people who all blame someone else (including the public – which is one of the worst moves I’ve seen lately).

One solution that has surfaced is to do away with the school board.  Here is a letter to the editor written by respected and beloved Judge Hartwell Lutz from around December 30 (tip to Redeye):

We all make mistakes; some are innocent; some are harmless. Some may even result in good. In my 24 years of elected service, as a legislator and later as a judge, I made my share of mistakes, but one of them overshadows all the others in its ultimate, time-proven harm.

So I now confess. In 1971, I was the author and sponsor of the legislation that resulted in Huntsville’s elected Board of Education. Prior to that, the board was appointed by the City Council. While all the current members of the board are fine, well-qualified people, there can be no doubt that the Huntsville school system has become politicized to the point of serious damage.

Clearly, one of the main reasons for the present $20 million financial deficit in the system is that board members didn’t want to lay people off or cut back on expenses, even though they knew a big problem was looming. That would cost them votes.

There is a high school that almost everyone agrees needs to be closed, but it won’t be any time soon because that would cost one or more board members votes. All this proves that good politics is not necessarily good government.

I don’t necessarily believe that the board is over-politicized, in fact I think that partisan elections at the municipal level would be a good thing.  But this letter was not easy for Judge Lutz to write and he illustrates my point:  the board has serious structural problems.

***

If you think it can’t get any worse, look around.  I was looking for information on the demographer – but I didn’t know his name until today so I looked up the DeKalb County School System.   Imagine my surprise when I found out that their Superintendent (and some senior Central Office staffers) were recently indicted;  no, we didn’t hire -that- guy.  However in my search I also found a blog named “DeKalb County School Watch”.  DeKalb County is undergoing rezoning, school closures, financial troubles, and academic problems – and they have a head start.  I recommend reading some of their posts to get a feel for some excellent insight into what we’re about to experience.

***

It’s late and I haven’t really written about the meetings – maybe I’ll catch up later.

Huntsville Pastors’ Pro Life Rally

From our friends with the Alabama Alliance Against Abortion:

Huntsville Pastors Pro Life Rally At 12 Noon, Saturday January 22, on the steps of the Madison County Courthouse.

Area pastors and local government officials, will be participating. This is an annual event held every year for the past 12 years. Over 30 area pastors have come and participated in our events. All area office holders are welcome to speak. All area pastors are welcome to come and participate, and speak for 2 minutes. Invite your pastor to come. Moral leadership in America begins with leadership of our pastors.

Judge Roy Moore, County Commissioner Mo Brooks, and Rev. Jimmy Jackson of Whitesburg Baptist Church were our keynote speakers last year. The Alabama Alliance Against Abortion is known for being a leader in north Alabama pro life events. We have sponsored Life Chains in Huntsville with over 3,000 in attendance.

For more information contact Alabama Alliance Against Abortion at http://www.wholeworldinhishands.com, email southernchristian1@yahoo.com or call Reverend James Henderson at 256-337-0826.

Reverend James Henderson gave the invocation at the Huntsville Governors’ Forum last Spring.

“Whatever you do for the least of them, you do for me.”

***

Congressman Robert Aderholt will be the keynote speaker at the Pro Life Rally in Huntsville on Saturday, Jan 22, at Noon. [Thanks Jessie]

MCGOP – 15 January 2011

Me and a couple of hundred fellow travellers attended the Madison County Republican Club breakfast Saturday morning.  The speakers were area State House Representatives who gave (very) short speeches announcing their committee assignments.  Here’s an even shorter summary of their remarks:

Wayne Johnson (22) is on the Judiciary and Public Safety committees – “right down the line of work I’ve been doing most of my life”.  “We passed ethics laws – I’m proud to be a Republican”.

Jim Patterson (21) is on the Industrial Recruitment and Tourism committees, as well as the Health Board – after “29 years as a pharmaceutical representative” he’ll work for “better care and hold costs down”.  “We’ve got a bright future”.

Phil Williams (6) is on the new Research and Technology committee, plus the Education Policy and Appropriations (Higher Education) committees. “Things are going to get better”.

Mac McCutcheon (25) is on the Transportation and Ways and Means General Fund committees.  “I’ve been beat up, shot at, and had two children, but passing ethics reform was probably the toughest thing in my life”.

Howard Sanderford (20) is on the Boards and Committees committee, where he can “straighten out some State agencies”.  “There’s a new day in Montgomery”.

In addition to the speakers, many elected officials attended the breakfast – eager to discuss issues with their constituents, including  State Senator Clay Scofield, Judge Dick Richardson, newly-appointed County Commissioner Phil Riddick, County Clerk Jane Smith, and County School Board member David Vess.  Non-partisan attendees included Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle, Deputy Mayor Rex Reynolds, and School Board member David Blair.  Future Judges (IMO) Assistant District Attorney Don Rizzardi and Sam Givhan attended.  Former Congressman Parker Griffith is a regular attendee at the meetings – it will be interesting to see what role he develops for himself in local GOP politics. 

I’ve seen Alabama A&M’s Wendy Kobler (VP for Marketing) at several GOP events, usually with other AAMU leaders.  IMO getting to know local officials is a smart move by AAMU. 

Congratulations to Clinton Carter, who accepted a position with the Bentley administration.  Carter led the Huntsville Governors Forum effort last Spring and is (soon-to-be was) the President of the Young Republicans.

***

After speaking with School Board member David Blair I’m reassured that Huntsville City Schools will emerge from the current crisis stronger than they are now.  Blair plans to cut staff before cutting teachers, develop “objective” merit-based policies for keeping teachers (using student testing performance trends, credentials, &c), and look at creative ways to reduce personnel costs (like using inmates to cut grass).

Huntsville Retail Summit

This should be fun:

Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle, with his city coming off of a string of economic development successes, announced a community wide economic development summit and unveiled an interactive “Ideas Map” as part of his administration’s continued commitment to growth in Huntsville.

“Developing Ideas: Planning for Huntsville’s Future,” will be held on WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 19th at 6:00pm. The event is hosted by and will be held at the Hudson Alpha Institute for Biotechnology (601 Genome Way, Huntsville, Alabama 35806).

The event is free of charge and is open to the public.

“The successes we’ve seen in economic development over the past year have been unmatched by any other community in our nation,” said Mayor Tommy Battle. “Each of those successes started with an idea – and this summit is another incredible way for our residents to bring their ideas to the table.”

Steve Doyle of The Huntsville Times wrote “Trader Joe’s…”:

Called “Developing Ideas: Planning for Huntsville’s Future,” the event includes a panel discussion led by Mayor Tommy Battle and two city department heads directly involved in retail recruitment, Economic Development Director Joe Vallely and Acting Planning Director Marie Bostick.

Other panelists are commercial developer Don Beck, downtown real estate expert Donna Lamb, A.J. Smith of Smith Appraisals and Huntsville Development News blogger James Vandiver.

…”This will give citizens a chance to weigh in on what they would like to see here as far as retail stores,” Battle said Friday. “Some will fit and some won’t, but at least we’ll have input on what people are looking for.”

Battle said two retailers seem to be high on everyone’s wish list: Cheesecake Factory and Trader Joe’s, a specialty grocer with stores in Nashville and Atlanta but none yet in Alabama.

James Vandiver’s blog is Huntsville Development News:

The purpose of this summit is to get feedback from the public about where the city should be going in terms of economic development and planning. Representatives from the real estate community along with city officials and yours truly will be there to answer your questions. The format of this event is still evolving, and the attendance will ultimately determine what will be done.

Here’s my wish list:  H&M, IKEA, Brooks Brothers, Burberry, CCs (Community Coffee house), Nordstrom, Von Maur, American Girl, Lego Store, a Cracker Barrel at I565 and Oakwood, and a Taco Bell (or better yet Bandito Burrito) in 5 Points.  I’d also like for someone to carry “Volunteer Traditions” products.  I think the Von Maur, Brooks Brothers, Cracker Barrel and Taco Bell are doable, the rest are dreams…

Other retail I’ve heard mentioned in wish lists: Trader Joe’s, Cheesecake Factory, Saks, Diesel, Bulgari,  Johnny Rockets, In-and-Out Burgers, Joe’s Crab Shack, Coach, Urban Outfitters, Whole Foods, Bass Pro Shops, California Pizza Kitchen, Macy’s, Z Gallerie, Aldi, Chipotle, Wegmans, and Dave and Busters…