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State School Board members react to governance bill

By CAROLINE BECK, Alabama Daily News

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — At the Alabama State Board of Education’s first meeting since lawmakers approved a proposal to replace the elected board with an appointed commission, some current members were not keen on the idea.

One complained that the Legislature doesn’t understand how hard the board works for teachers and students.

“We need to let them know across the street ( in the Alabama Legislature) that we are wonderful people and we are here for our children, and we don’t have any hidden agendas,” board member Jackie Zeigler, R-Mobile, said Thursday.

Alabama is one of a handful of states that elect state board members. But Zeigler said she is concerned that an appointed commission will take away Alabamians’ right to vote on school board members.

“I think the voice of the people needs to be heard and that’s at the election box,” Zeigler said.

The proposed constitutional amendment from Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, calls for replacing the elected board with a governor-appointed commission. That commission would then appoint a secretary of education, replacing the current state superintendent.

Marsh and Gov. Kay Ivey are teaming up with a group of lawmakers to sell the plan to voters, who will see it on the March 3, 2020 ballot.

“Since taking office, I’ve made improving education a top priority,” Ivey said at a recent press conference touting the plan. “As a former teacher, I recognize that strong leadership and a strong plan are necessary components to improving our education system.”

Ivey, who serves as president of the state school board, was not at Thursday’s meeting.

Marsh’s proposal comes after several years of squabbling at the State Board of Education, which coincided with Alabama’s decline in education rankings. He said an appointed commission would lead to a more professional and less political group of policymakers. 

“If we have a school board that is made up of qualified individuals who are held accountable, we can increase local control, reduce the amount of time the Legislature spends on education reform and put the power back where it belongs, in the hands of educators,” Marsh said Thursday.

Board member Cynthia McCarty, R-Anniston, said she believes the voters won’t want to make the change.

“If they want the board to stay how it is then they need to show it at the ballot box,” McCarty said.  “And I really do have trust and faith that they will vote what they believe is the best option for students and the schools,”

Some current Board members were more measured in their view of the proposal. Board member Tracie West, R-Auburn, has experience on both an appointed and elected board and can see the benefits of both.

“I was appointed to the Auburn City Schools local board and I was board president for three years. That appointed board worked very well together, but that was a local board,” West said.

“Given that this is a state position and I am new to this position, I am still really learning. My focus has been and will continue to be on doing the very best job on behalf of students and teachers as long as I have a job, so if it is nine more months I am going to give it my all for nine more months.”

Boar member Yvette Richardson, D-Fairfield, also sees the benefits of an elected school board but says it will come down to what the voters think.

“By being on the State School Board I see the importance of being elected because I represent seven counties and 14 school districts so that is a lot of people to represent,” Richardson said. “So, I am definitely in favor of putting the entire subject matter out to the constituents to let them decide.”

State Superintendent Eric Mackey, who took the helm of the Alabama Department of Education last year, said he’ll continue to do the job he was appointed to do and let the voters decide what his title is.

“… I can say this, as long as they will keep me around I’m going to keep doing the job,” current Superintendent Eric Mackey said.

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