News that the state department of education’s projected operating budget for next year presently has a deficit of $8,028,074 fell on board members like an anvil last week.

Andy Craig is the chief money man for the department. He revealed that at the moment, the projected budget has receipts of $30,100,000–but expenses of $38,128,074.

Much of this shortfall is attributed to Sentance’s habit of hiring administrators at six-figure salaries like a drunk sailor spends money on shore leave.

For example, the present budget shows personnel expenses of $23,581,134. This jumps to $26,495,799 next year. Compounding the problem is that there are a number of vacant slots now at ALSDE. There are seven jobs in Career Tech that have not been filled.

The board has been concerned about runaway personnel expenses for months, which is why they imposed a hiring freeze earlier this year. As one board member told me, “Thank goodness we did our the deficit would be even greater.”

An official at ALSDE on Friday said information presented last week to the state Board of Education at a public meeting was preliminary and hadn’t been vetted internally. Meanwhile, fiscal management has been one of the concerns raised by board members about State Superintendent Michael Sentance.

“I think in January there is going to be a lot of questions asked of the department,” said State Sen. Author Orr. “If they want more money, they are going to have to answer a lot of questions.”

Nearly $3 million in increased spending next year is in projected personnel costs. But the board earlier this year froze hiring within the department. Craig said if people aren’t hired, at least some of that cost goes away. The board is expected to vote soon to undo the freeze.

The hiring of additional staff has been one of board members’ concerns about Sentance, along with his communication and management styles. A vote to terminate his contract could happen next month.

“When you talk to people in the front lines, the principals and local superintendents, you get the sense that support from the state department for their endeavors is lacking,” Orr said.

Sources tell me that Sentance claimed that he did not know about the deficit until the meeting. However, Craig told some board members that this is not true and that he has documentation about informing the superintendent some time ago. (And as we have learned by now, denial is just the way Sentance rolls. It is always someone else’s fault.)

Recently ALSDE told local systems that they did not have money to provide them with testing material they need for DIBELS This caused some local systems thousands of dollars they did not have in their budgets.

So we can’t provide what local schools need because we don’t have money, yet we are hiring administrators willy nilly and letting needed jobs remain unfilled.

This is not leadership. It is INCOMPETENCE.

Larry Lee is a public school advocate and co-author of the study, Lessons Learned From Rural Schools. He can be reached by email at Larrylee133@gmail.com

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