By MALLORY MOENCH, Associated Press
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — The director of Alabama’s superintendent association, Eric Mackey, was chosen Friday as the state’s new education superintendent in a tight vote clouded by an ongoing lawsuit between a candidate and a state education board member.
Mackey beat out Hoover City Schools Superintendent Kathy Murphy and Jefferson County Superintendent Craig Pouncey. A fourth finalist, former Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott, dropped out of the running Friday morning.
Mackey is a former teacher, principal and city superintendent who has served as the executive director of the School Superintendent Association of Alabama since 2010. He said his top priority will be to find an “assessment that fits right” on top of addressing unequal funding between rural and urban areas and school safety concerns.
Members of the Alabama State Board of Education voted for Mackey after three hours of interviews with the three finalists in Montgomery on Friday. There were five votes for Mackey and four for Pouncey.
After the vote was announced, board member Ella Bell raised the concern that Pouncey has an ongoing lawsuit against another member Mary Scott Hunter and others saying he was victim to a scheme that kept him from getting the job two years ago.
Before the 2016 vote, someone anonymously gave board members a packet of information, including internal department emails, accusing Pouncey of getting state staff to write his 2009 dissertation when he was with the department. Pouncey said the accusation was untrue. A subsequent department report found that employee statements cleared Pouncey.
Hunter did not recuse herself from the vote, saying she was fair and impartial. She voted for Mackey.
Bell, who voted for Pouncey, said she wanted to initiate a lawsuit because without Hunter’s vote there could have been a run-off.
“She shouldn’t be able to vote in this because it’s understood they have an adversarial relationship,” Bell said.
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey, who serves as board president, said she had not spoken to any attorneys about the legal question but she was not aware of any rule where the chair could tell a board member to recuse him or herself.
The board was seeking a replacement for former Superintendent Michael Sentance, who resigned in September after one year and one day on the job. Sentance stepped down after receiving a poor performance evaluation.
A search firm whittled a field of more than 40 applicants to seven semifinalists, who were voted by the board down to the finalists.
On Friday, each finalist was asked the same nine questions in an hour-long interview. Questions covered how to make students job-ready, creating a framework for assessment, ensuring equal funding between rural and urban schools and spearheading state interventions to help failing schools like is currently happening in Montgomery.
Ivey said “this is the most important decision that this board will make in our terms.” She said she voted for Mackey because of his support for her “Strong Start, Strong Finish” initiative and his focus on teaching students computer science and coding.
“I believe Dr. Mackey will serve us well and we will see forward thinking results,” she said.
In his interview, Mackey expressed a desire to stay long-term – at least eight or ten years – in the role. Ivey said “that would suit me fine.”
Mackey will start May 14.
This story has been corrected on the first reference to the former education superintendent, whose name is spelled Sentance, not Sentence.