MONTGOMERY — The Alabama Department of Education will move forward with a $536,000 contract to have an outside company review some low-performing schools as soon as lawmakers lift a hold on it, the state superintendent said Thursday.
Some Alabama State Board of Education members said they still have concerns about the contract with Massachusetts-based Class Measures, but specific questions were not asked during three meetings Wednesday and Thursday.
A separate $708,000, three-year contract with Northbay Strategic Partners, a company created in late January by Jason Taylor, Huntsville City Schools’ chief financial officer, is also moving forward after being signed by the governor last week.
Both contracts are for work on the state’s intervention in Montgomery Public Schools, though reviews by Class Measures are expected in other systems, too.
“I’m still not comfortable with them, no,” state board member Jeff Newman, who represents the Shoals, Lawrence County and part of Limestone County, said about the contracts during a break in meetings Thursday.
Stephanie Bell, R-Montgomery, said Thursday that she has requested copies of the Class Measure and Northbay contracts and hasn’t received them.
“I still have questions and I think it’s certainly relevant for the board to be concerned and ask questions,” Bell said.
The department has said State Superintendent Michael Sentance had nothing to do with selecting Class Measures, a subsidiary of Tribal Group, a company Sentance briefly worked for in 2011. Emails obtained by this newspaper last month show Sentance told a Class Measures vice president a school review request for proposal would be made about three weeks before it was public in January.
On Wednesday, the board held a 2½-hour public meeting with Sentance in which they discussed, mostly, communication.
“Contracts, a strategic plan, communication" are all tied together, said board member Cynthia McCarty, R-Anniston. “I think (Sentance) understands that on contracts going forward, of a certain size, we want to be informed and have input in those discussions.”
She didn’t get all her questions about the contracts answered.
“I still have more concerns, but I certainly feel better than I did (Wednesday),” McCarty said. Her biggest question is about how the contracts will be used to improve education.
“Bottom line, that’s what we all want,” she said.
The Class Measures contract has not been released by the Legislative Contract Review Committee because several north Alabama senators have yet to sign off on it.
Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, said he still needs to discuss it with other members.
The committee can’t kill contracts, but can hold them 45 days. This one has been on hold about 30 days.
Sen. Bill Holtzclaw, R-Madison, said he’s been frustrated in recent years that the committee is “all bark and no bite.” This year, he’s sponsored legislation to allow it to hold contracts longer while agencies respond to inquiries.
By holding contracts such as Class Measures, Holtzclaw said, “We continue to shine the light on these publicly, and now you have a little bit of discussion with the state board of education with these contracts.”
He said he was concerned about the size of the Class Measure contract and had questions “about the need of what we’re trying to accomplish.”
He said Sentance’s connection to the company opens questions about a fair bidding process.