Locals react to Governor Bentley’s comments about state education

AUBURN, Ala. – Wednesday in Montgomery, Governor Bentley made a comment at a Alabama Association of Regional Councils saying, “Our education system in this state sucks.”

The governor cited being 51st in NAEP scores in fourth grade math, and adding that something is going to be done about it.

Auburn City Schools Superintendent, Dr. Karen DeLano said when she heard those comments, she could not believe the words that came out of the governor’s mouth. She said sent an email to all of the faculty in the district thanking them for all they do day in and day out, adding educators need to be reminded of that hard work and they can not let his comments get to them.

Superintendent DeLano said that everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not to their own facts. Dr. DeLano said the governor was not speaking with facts. She added that when the governor talked about the NAEP scores, he did not talk about the improvement made in the last 10 years, and the exponential growth compared to other states.

Doctor DeLano said she was appalled by the reaction of those in the room who laughed and applauded at the governor’s comments, and she said those comments will be hard to forget.

“You just can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube,” Dr. DeLano said. “He felt that way when he said it, and at this point, I think he believes it, and that’s said. To my knowledge, he has not been in a classroom in Auburn Alabama.”

The former kindergarten teacher said she has asked teachers to invite the governor in to see some of the things going on in Auburn in regards to education. She also told educators to find things they need in their classrooms to make them the best in the country, and it will be shared with the governor. She added that if he [Gov. Bentley] said he’ll fix it, we can help him with what we need to fix it.

Superintendent DeLano also stated that one of the great things going on in Auburn is the great level of community support, and the variety of people who support it. She said that people are in the community because they want to be there, which is how it is across the state. However, Dr. DeLano said as funds continue to be cut from the state level, a parallel in the governor’s office can not be found, that there might be some parallel to the amount of funding compared to the level of education services that exist.

Former Phenix City School’s Superintendent Larry DiChiara wrote an open letter to the governor and other legislators to let them know that words like that erode the confidence of the public and hurt the kids.

“If I’m a teacher, I’m not sure I want to be doing this very long because I have a governor that doesn’t appreciate me,” DiChiara said. “If I have legislators that try to demean us in order to push some legislation, and they’ll blow out my candle to make theirs burn a little brighter, then I may be one of those teachers thinking of coming to Alabama to teach, I may decide not to.”

DiChiara said that language is unbecoming of a governor, and he does not appreciate the way teachers and school administrators are being targeted as the ones to blame. DiChiara said he believes the governor should apologize and say his words were a misinterpretation, and that he meant that there are things that need to be worked on, and they will be fixed.

DiChiara added that the governor and legislators should take some responsibility.

“You can’t expect us to produce Cadillacs when you give us a Volkswagen budget,” DiChiara said. “You can’t expect us to do this major achievement when we’re trying to do it with one arm tied behind our backs. You can’t cut funds. You can’t cut resources. You can’t put laws in place that put unfunded mandates on us.”

DiChiara added that we can not say that kids are being treated fairly when kids in Auburn have a wonderful local tax base,which supports schools, but other counties do not have the same support, and when they do not achieve it’s the teacher’s fault. He also added that when Bentley ran for re-election, he spoke very highly of education, but now it has all changed.

In a response to his comments, Governor Bentley said that a lot of amazing things are being done in classrooms around the state. He appreciates the passion for education, and now that folks are engaged in the conversation, it is time to do something.

“We can all agree that the status quo should never be accepted,” Governor Bentley said. “We can all agree to accept changes, whatever they may be to do better. We are blessed to call this great state home. We are better than last place. Let’s all work to be better.”

The governor added that Alabama is on the edge of opportunity under the direction of new State Superintendent Michael Sentance. He adds that the new Every Student Succeeds Act will transform how leaders and educators best serve students. He adds that he has chosen Alabama to be one of the first states to implement in due to an implementation committee that has been formed to do it sooner than later.

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