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Alabama editorial roundup

July 31, 2019

Recent editorials from Alabama newspapers:

July 30

The Gadsden Times on efforts to improve Alabama’s public education system:

Alabama’s public school system has gotten plenty of razzberries over the years, mostly because the state usually is at or close to the bottom in assorted rankings. For example, USA Today lists it 43rd, Education Week 44th, Wallet Hub 46th and U.S. News and World Report 50th among the country’s systems.

We’re not going to debate those rankings; they speak for themselves. The focus should be how to change them, which is why we welcomed a meeting last week in Gadsden of people and entities who are committed to doing that.

Alabama is working on its new Combined WIOA Plan under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act. Those plans detail a state’s workforce development system, and governors are required to submit them every four years. The next one is due in 2020.

The Gadsden meeting was among regional gatherings planned across the state, where local leaders and entities can have conversations with representatives of the Alabama Department of Education about those areas’ specific needs.

It was attended by groups representing students (the most important part of the equation) and parents, career technical education, government, industries and workforce development.

Gov. Kay Ivey already has a template in place for Alabama’s plan called Strong Start, Strong Finish. It seeks to combine early childhood and K-12 education efforts with workforce development to design a path that literally runs from childhood to employment.

“Stop right there,” some might say. “This sounds scary if not Orwellian. Why should ‘4-year-olds’ and ‘careers’ be mentioned in the same sentence? Whatever happened to letting kids be kids?”

Take a chill pill (or two or three) and pay attention. Nobody’s talking about turning pre-schoolers, grade-schoolers or teenagers into drones with zombified eyes, trudging in lockstep toward adulthood.

We’ve never criticized people who want to learn and experience things just because they’re there, regardless of any impact on their respective futures. We also, however, think the ultimate goal of a public school system should be to prepare students to be functioning and gainfully employed members of society, whether the collars on their work clothes are blue or white and whether their ultimate roles are in academia, an office or require physical labor.

Ivey’s plan that likely will be reflected in the final WIOA submission has six objectives: ensuring that students are ready for pre-K at age 4; ensuring they’re ready for school at age 5; ensuring they’re on target as far as English and math skills by fourth grade; ensuring they have access to computer science courses throughout their school years; ensuring they’re at least thinking about what they want to do with their lives, whether it’s college or a technical field, by ninth grade; and ensuring they’re either on a college or career track when they receive their high school diplomas.

We think those objectives are on target, and we’re glad to see so many of the stakeholders on board.

Ivey’s education policy adviser, Nick Moore, said during the meeting that Alabama needs to add a half-million skilled workers to its workforce by 2025.

We’ll emphasize “skilled,” and point out again that it’s a different world than it was in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, and a mere high school diploma isn’t going to get you in the door of a place that pays enough to support a family.

These efforts will help prepare young folks for something more.

Online: https://www.gadsdentimes.com/

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July 25

The TimesDaily on an upcoming pay increase for the Lauderdale County Sheriff:

Lauderdale County Sheriff Rick Singleton is getting a 23 percent pay raise in October, and he managed to obtain it without the general public’s knowledge.

Singleton took advantage of a legislative requirement to get his $18,000 pay increase. He petitioned two area lawmakers to sponsor a local bill in the recently completed session that would bump his pay from $78,760 to $96,760 a year.

For the record, there was absolutely nothing irregular about the path Singleton took to get his pay raise. Raising a sheriff’s salary requires legislative action. But the timing of the request and the failure to telegraph those plans to taxpayers is, quite honestly, bothersome.

Here’s why:

Singleton was elected to a second term in November 2018. He knew exactly how much he would be making as sheriff when he chose to run for re-election.

So, his unhappiness with his compensation just weeks into his new term in office is disturbing. To our knowledge, Singleton made no public proclamations during his re-election campaign that he was underpaid and deserved a raise. Therefore, the taxpayers had no idea the sheriff was unhappy with his salary, or that he planned to petition the Legislature for a raise.

We suspect the truth is, Singleton didn’t make the pay raise a public issue during his campaign because it could have hurt his chances for re-election.

If Singleton deserved a raise, as he insists he did, he should have been willing to openly discuss that need with his constituents, since they will now have to foot the additional $18,000 bill per year for the rest of his time in office, and for those sheriffs who follow behind him. If Singleton did not want to broach the subject during his re-election campaign, he could have done so immediately after his election as he worked with sponsors Rep. Lynn Greer and Rep. Phillip Pettus to craft the proposal.

The sheriff’s stated reasons for his raise are as weak as his efforts to inform taxpayers of his salary intentions.

He complained that two other elected officials made more than he did. As previously noted, he was well aware of that fact when he ran for re-election, but didn’t make that an issue before voters.

But the kicker Singleton used as defense of his actions was a decision in 2018 to remove the monthly supplement the state was giving sheriffs to provide food for jail inmates. The state eliminated those supplements because of widespread reports of improper use of the funds.

Singleton said $2,000 to $2,500 a month of those state funds “was my supplement,” so he feels he deserved a raise to cover the loss of the funds. However, he never ran that reasoning by the Lauderdale County residents who will start covering the loss of that state supplement, effective Oct. 1.

As a rule, we believe any salary increase for an elected county official should not be implemented until the beginning of the next term of office. This would ensure taxpayers have a chance to agree or disagree with the incumbent’s belief they are worth more money than they are being paid.

Online: https://www.timesdaily.com/

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July 24

The Cullman Times on a lawsuit over the way appellate judges are elected in Alabama:

A lawsuit that has been lingering for three years in Alabama could have interesting implications in future elections of state appellate judges.

The lawsuit dates to 2016 when plaintiffs argued that statewide elections of judges for such seats as the Alabama Supreme Court violate the Voting Rights Act. The plaintiffs are asking the federal judge, who will hear arguments next month, to order Alabama to switch to elections by districts, or another method.

Alabama’s appellate courts are all-white and all-Republican, a point the state argues occurred because the state’s population is largely Republican, and that race is not a factor in the makeup of those courts.

Alabama is certainly overwhelmingly Republican where statewide offices are concerned. Outside of a small group of legislators and U.S. Sen. Doug Jones, Republican hold a firm grip across the state.

Nonetheless, there is a point in the lawsuit that deserves careful consideration.

Many candidates for judge detest having to declare a political party just to seek office. Judges are supposed to be the most respected and able legal minds, to weigh law based on existing doctrine and weighed against the fairness or unfairness of actions or laws that contradict with personal rights of citizens.

No judge should be beholden to a political party or its philosophical platforms and rituals. The deep intrusion of politics into the judicial branch is a threat to the fairness and purpose of the courts.

The idea of electing appellate judges by districts is not far-fetched. Congressional representatives are elected across the nation, including Alabama, from districts for the purpose of gaining broader representation for the people. A similar practice of electing judges by districts within the state would provide a more effective appellate system and at least give some restriction on political parties controlling those seats.

An even better step would be to break those seats into districts and have candidates run without declaring political party affiliation. Alabamians would be ensured of a more effective system in the judiciary.

Online: https://www.cullmantimes.com/

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