Opinion: State leaders should not hand-pick state school board members

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Special to the
Opelika Observer

Senate majority leader Del Marsh wants to control public education in Alabama.  Yep, the same guy who has shown us repeatedly that he is clueless about how schools really work, what their challenges are and how best to address them, wants to hand pick members of the state school board.
On March 3, 2020 voters in Alabama will say YES or NO to a constitutional amendment to do away with the elected state board of education and replace it with one where the governor appoints nine board members who must then be confirmed by the state senate.  The senate Marsh rules with an iron fist.  Never doubt that under this proposal no one would serve on the state school board without Marsh’s approval.
Based on his track record since becoming majority leader in 2011, this is a scary thought.
The state charter school commission in an appointed board. The governor, lt. governor, speaker of the house and senate majority leader nominate people to serve. The state school board makes the final selections. This was done on Aug. 8.
Look at Marsh’s nominees.  He had two slots to fill. 
Marsh nominated former House of Representatives member, Jamie Ison of Mobile.  His other recommendation for the same position was a young lady from Mobile who had been nominated twice before, but not selected.  She worked for charter schools in Houston and Atlanta and had a relationship with Teach for America.  No doubt she is a fine person, but with this kind of background, how objective could she be?  Her nomination says Marsh was trying to stack the deck.
Jamie Ison was chosen.
The majority leader submitted two names for his other slot.  One was incumbent Henry Nelson of Birmingham who has been on the commission since it was created.  The other recommendation was a Birmingham businessman who was the founding board chair for Legacy Prep charter in Birmingham.  This screams of conflict of interest since charters must be reauthorized every five years by the charter commission.  Again, a questionable choice by Marsh
Nelson was picked to retain his seat.
And we want to let Del Marsh tell us who will oversee public education in Alabama? 
Can we expect him to look for people who really are objective and have some understanding of the challenges our public schools face–or people already beholding to his agenda which has been anything but beneficial for public schools?
Since rising to power in 2011, Marsh’s signature legislation is no doubt the Alabama Accountability Act of 2013.  The bill that went to conference committee as one thing–and came out as something entirely different?  The bill that no one in education knew about because Marsh said, “They might be against it.”
The bill that has sucked money out of every public school classroom in the state to the tune of $145 million at last count.  The bill that promised to help poor kids stuck in struggling schools by their zip code, though six years later such students are damn near impossible to find, especially in the Black Belt.
And he should hand pick state school board members? Marsh is the most powerful legislator in the state.  He is at the top of the fund-raising food chain.  Political action committees curry his favor with donations, lots and lots of donations.  In the election cycle that ran from October 2017 to the end of 2018, Marsh raised $893,000.  Alabama realtors gave $50,000, retailers gave $45,000, automobile dealers gave $47,500, Poarch Band of Creek Indians chipped in $30,000; the medical association gave $30,000.
Who among these groups that fuel Marsh’s political machine know anything about public schools?  Who among them will challenge him on who he wants on the state school board?
Del Marsh is a smart man and a helluva politician.  He is in a position to do things for our schools that would be meaningful and have lasting impact.  But for reasons I don’t understand, as his track record shows, he chooses a different path.
So long as he insists on doing so, he does not need to hand pick state school board members.
Larry Lee is a public-school advocate and co-author of the study, Lessons Learned From Rural Schools. He is a former member of the Montgomery County school board. Email Larrylee133@gmail.com.

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