With State Supt. Michael Sentance having stepped down Wednesday after a contentious year at the helm of the state school system, the man whom Sentence originally beat out for the job is, by his own admission, playing his plans close to the vest.
Jefferson County Schools Supt. Craig Pouncey told reporters Thursday that he would not commit to seeking the state’s top education position for a third time, but he wouldn’t exactly rule it out, either.
“I think anyone who knows me knows that I want what’s best in public education. Right now my focus is on Jefferson County, and that’s where I intend to stay. What might happen in the future, nobody knows,” Pouncey said.
A year ago, Pouncey – who was chief of staff for the state board before taking the JefCoEd top job in 2014 – was edged out by Sentance by one vote in the Alabama board’s election of a new superintendent. That selection process stirred controversy because of what Pouncey called a “smear campaign,” stemming from an anonymous ethics complaint alleging he had used state employees to help him with a doctoral dissertation. Pouncey later filed a lawsuit against state board member Mary Scott Hunter, three staff attorneys and Deputy Supt. Philip Cleveland. He accused them of conspiring to stop his selection as superintendent by spreading falsehoods about him. That lawsuit is pending.
Pouncey said the lawsuit has no bearing on his decision.
“I do think it’s important that the public understands the depth of efforts that statewide politics played to try to control certain facets. That’s been my goal the whole time … . I think you cannot lose your moral compass. You’d better be an educator first before you become a politician, because I’ve always believed that while politics are important, they can’t be your guiding light. Doing what’s right for children has to be your guiding light.”
Sentence’s year-long stint as state superintendent has been fraught with battles over significant proposed changes in such matters as standardized testing.
Thursday’s board meeting agenda called for action on Sentance’s job status. Instead, the board voted to hire former state Supt. Ed Richardson to take over temporarily. Richardson ran the Alabama State Department of Education from 1995 to 2004, then served as president at Auburn University. He also headed the team that supervised the Birmingham City Schools in 2012 and 2013 after the state intervened in the system because of financial problems. By state law, Richardson’s interim position can last for no more than two six-month terms.
Pouncey was considered for the state superintendent job in 2011; the board selected Dr. Tommy Bice instead. Sentance replaced Bice in 2016.