Interim State Superintendent Dr. Ed Richardson is preparing to slash positions and close several schools. He revealed his plan Friday in an hour-long update on the state's intervention of the Montgomery Public School System.
"Alabama has 137 school systems. There's only one under state intervention: Montgomery," Richardson said in his opening remarks. "I think the time for platitudes and excuses are over."
Richardson was blunt and methodical, and let it be known who and what he believes put the school system in its current situation.
"I frequently hear from those in leadership positions that it's all about the children, and I say bologna. It's all about the inconvenience to adults, and student interests are a distant second. The results speak for themselves,” Richardson said.
The superintendent said both the Montgomery Public School Board and the State Department of Education hold some blame.
"For the past three months, I've been in damage control mode trying to correct some issues. The first side of that was because it became clear to me that the Montgomery Board of Education refused to recognize the magnitude of the problem and would not take ownership of those problems," Richardson said.
"And the second reason was this department of education, that attempted to intervene in a rather ill-conceived manner which contributed to a number of problems," he continued. One issue he addressed was the state giving nearly $1.5 million in funding to Pike Road Schools that should have gone to MPS, an issue he said was being addressed.
Richardson said his plan to improve system finances is "not going to be easy" as he shared details.
"We want to stay out of the classrooms until the very last," Richardson said of cuts, "because if we're going to make improvements in student achievement, we're going to have to have some good teachers and principals out there."
The plan goes as follows:
The sale of the historic Georgia Washington school has been controversial. The deal fell through once, but Richardson said the school must be sold to prevent hundreds of MPS teachers from being fired.
Richardson said public hearings will be held on the school closings and there will be revised attendance zones and bus routes.
"It's been my experience and belief that students will rise to the level of expectations..." Richardson said. "I believe the students in Montgomery are just as capable as anybody else's, even though when you look at these scores you would have to wonder," he added.
Recent statewide report cards for every school system and each individual school found MPS with an overall D score and 11 failing schools, about 15 percent of all those failing in Alabama.
Richardson called the failure rate "an embarrassing situation" and said "we can't live with that."
The intervention report found that after the since-canceled ACT Aspire test was given to students last year in Grades 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 10, only 27 percent of Montgomery students rated proficient compared to 41 percent statewide. The numbers fall even more when taking magnet schools out of the equation.
"Let me just put it all out here. Alabama's state scores are embarrassing low. We're among the bottom in the United States, and I hope we can't stand that either. But if you're low in one of the bottom states, that should convey to you the problem that lies before us," Richardson explained.
He listed the 10th grade proficiency rates for each of the city's traditional high schools and each had "startling" rates. For math, Richarson pointed out Lee High, where he did his own chemistry internship, has just over 1 percent of 10th graders considered proficient.
When he read figures on the gap between graduation rates and the percentage of students who are college and career ready, he asked an educator what the large divide between the two numbers could possibly mean. Without hesitating, Richardson said the educator responded "diploma mill.”
For instance, the Montgomery County system had a 2015-16 graduation rate of 78 percent, yet just 43 percent were rated as ready for college or a career.
"I would say, very frankly, it is deceptive and intellectually dishonest to allow students to graduate from high school with unacceptably low levels," Richardson assessed.
Richardson also spoke on the system's chronic absentee rates. Lanier High School, for example, has a stunning 37 percent of students who have been absent more than 15 days in the school year.
"This is something that can be solved," Richardson said, "and it is a major factor contributing one, to our low achievement scores, but more importantly it's saying this school has not been administered in a way to consider the student's best interest."
Richardson announced an action plan to improve student achievement. The five-year plan includes:
Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange released this statement:
“Dr. Richardson’s intervention plan is a powerful prescription to address the problems affecting Montgomery Public Schools. The City, the County and the business community all recognize the seriousness of this crisis. We will give the plan full support and urge others to do so as well.”
The Montgomery County Commission released this statement:
"The Montgomery County Commission proudly supports Montgomery Public Schools. In fiscal year 2016/2017, the Commission provided approximately $26 million to MPS from the one-cent sales tax and an additional $3.8 million towards MPS Debt Service, including debt service for the new schools Park Crossing, MPACT and LAMP. "
During a press conference Friday by the Interim State Superintendent Dr. Ed Richardson, it was said that Montgomery Public Schools “took a real hit from the County Commission at the last week of the fiscal year.”
The Montgomery County Commission continues to fund Montgomery Public Schools. All of the proceeds of the 1% sales tax are used to support Montgomery County public education at MPS and the Pike Road School System.
“We are passionate about our children being at the top of the learning curve,” said Montgomery County Commission Chairman Elton N. Dean, Sr. “When businesses look at Montgomery County to serve as home, the first question asked is about the educated workforce. It is incumbent for us to create a prosperous public school system in Montgomery. We cannot grow and develop without a strong school system and well educated young people. That’s the reason we do our best to invest in our schools. No one supports Montgomery County public schools more than the Montgomery County Commission.”
Since the 1% sales tax started in July 2001, it has generated approximately $400 million for public education in Montgomery County.
DR. RICHARDSON'S FULL PRESENTATION
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