Alabama editorial roundup

Recent editorials from Alabama newspapers: ___ Sept. 24 The Gadsden Times on Mercedes-Benz announcing $1 billion for its plant in Vance: There's something about the word "billion" that grabs your attention. People practically levitate when lottery jackpots get high, but there's only been one...

Recent editorials from Alabama newspapers:


Sept. 24

The Gadsden Times on Mercedes-Benz announcing $1 billion for its plant in Vance:

There's something about the word "billion" that grabs your attention. People practically levitate when lottery jackpots get high, but there's only been one in U.S. history that made it to 10 digits ($1.6 billion Powerball on Jan. 13, 2016).

That's why the announcement that Mercedes-Benz will sink another $1 billion into its manufacturing plant in Vance, near Tuscaloosa, was such big news (and definitely ramped up the plant's 20th birthday celebration).

Mercedes-Benz plans to manufacture SUVs for its EQ electric vehicle line at the plant, in addition to the GLE, GLE Coupe and GLS SUVs and C-Class sedans currently made there. Company officials say the target date for production is the start of the next decade.

Next year, the company will begin construction on a million-square-foot battery plant — its first in the U.S., joining plants in China and Germany — near the Vance facility. It should begin production by 2020.

We can hear the snickers from the internal combustion die-hards who'll put down the gasoline nozzle "when it's pried from my cold ... ." (We don't have to finish it; you get the point.)

We'll note that Mercedes-Benz is playing the long game here, not thinking about the U.S. per se but about international markets, such as China which is about to ban fossil-fueled vehicles, which at present are more receptive to electric vehicles.

We'll also note that electric vehicle sales in the U.S. are showing a 40 percent annual growth rate, according to data from the Union of Concerned Scientists, which projects they could make up 20 percent of the total U.S. market within eight years. It's the future, folks.

There's more: Mercedes-Benz on Sept. 22 broke ground on a Global Logistics Center (which will supply assembly plants with car kits) and an after-sales North American hub (which will provide spare parts for foreign markets) about 5 miles from the plant in Bibb County.

That's on top of a $1.3 billion expansion project set to be completed next year at the main plant, which includes a 1.3 million-square-foot body shop.

Mercedes-Benz says the new stuff will add 600 jobs to the plant's current workforce of 3,700. We welcome that news even if it's 100 miles down the road, because the psychological and economic boost to Alabama as a whole is as significant as the new jobs.

The incentives — which have proved to be investments — that attracted Mercedes-Benz to Tuscaloosa County led the way to this state becoming a major player in the automotive industry. Within five years, Honda had set up shop in Lincoln, Toyota in Huntsville and Hyundai in Montgomery. The impacts of those plants extend far beyond their individual "neighborhoods."

Consider this: Those who remember traveling that stretch of Interstate 20 prior to 1993, when the Mercedes-Benz plant was announced — you may have been headed to Tuscaloosa to see the Alabama Crimson Tide play, or westward to Mississippi, Louisiana or Texas — know there wasn't anything there. It was a "greenfield," basically untouched land like major manufacturers want.

Toyota and Mazda are looking for a place to put a $1.6 billion joint factory that will employ 4,000 people. Eleven states reportedly are being considered, including Alabama. What's already here indicates that auto manufacturers take this state, and what it has to offer, quite seriously. We wish no ill will to other states, but we hope that gives Alabama an advantage.

Oh, did we mention that Etowah County has a "greenfield" between Interstate 59 and U.S. Highway 11? Are our hands, flesh and blood or metaphoric, raised high enough so they can be seen? They should be.



Sept. 18

The Times Daily of Florence on Gov. Kay Ivey getting a reprieve for the deadline to submit an education plan required by a federal act:

Nobody hopes for a snow day like the student who hasn't done his homework. Hurricane Irma was the Alabama State Board of Education's snow day.

On Sept. 14, Gov. Kay Ivey — in her capacity as president of the state board — explained that she had managed to get a reprieve in the deadline for the state to submit an education plan as required by the federal Every Student Succeeds Act. Ivey spoke to U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and convinced her that the delay was necessary because of Irma.

We wish our teachers had been as gullible as DeVos when we procrastinated on our homework.

Hurricane Irma was never a hurricane in Alabama. It was a tropical storm in some counties, and not even that in most. Irma hit Florida on Sept. 10 and crawled into Alabama after that.

ESSA, on the other hand, became law in December 2015. Fourteen states have not only submitted their plans, but had them approved. Another 17 had submitted their plans as of last week. DeVos can be congratulated for not laughing uncontrollably when advised that a tropical storm that hit Alabama almost two years after ESSA was passed somehow derailed education officials' preparation of a state plan.

The U.S. Department of Education is a popular conservative target, with many Republicans routinely calling for its dissolution. It's a dastardly federal intrusion into state affairs. Washington should stay out of our classrooms, we're told.

ESSA's predecessor, No Child Left Behind, was deeply intrusive. While former President George W. Bush loved it, Congress and former President Barack Obama did not. ESSA is an effort to reduce the federal government's role in elementary and secondary education. While it retains testing requirements, it moves federal accountability provisions to the states. Those who resent the federal Department of Education applauded ESSA.

Even as Alabama politicians rail at the federal government, the state seems intent at demonstrating its incompetence in all things related to education.

On the same day Ivey explained that Irma had somehow forced a delay in the state's education plan, the State Board of Education accepted the resignation of State Superintendent Michael Sentance. The board hired him a year ago, despite the fact that he had previously withdrawn his application and despite widespread concerns that he had no experience in schools. After ignoring public input on predictable problems with Sentance as superintendent, the board proceeded to sabotage his efforts to do his job.

The board is constantly griping about Common Core, but it has been utterly unsuccessful in developing an alternate curriculum. It has been administering the ACT Aspire achievement test, but the federal government had to point out that the test did not match what schools were teaching. Now the board has dropped the test, but has yet to figure out a long-term replacement.

The State Board of Education's failure to develop a final ESSA plan had nothing to do with Irma. It is, rather, the latest symptom of a dysfunctional board.



Sept. 18

The Opelika-Auburn News on the state education board after Michael Sentance resigned as superintendent:

The Alabama board of education needs to get it right this time, and to do that, it needs to get right itself.

Michael Sentance resigned last week as the state's superintendent of education, but it seemed only a matter of time before he was fired. Some of that is his fault, some if it lands squarely on the board.

Sentance was hired after a divisive board vote that set the tone for what he would face when he brought his Massachusetts experience to Alabama.

His own demeanor would never be mistaken for endearment, but plenty of people have said plenty enough already about the faults of Sentance, and he's gone.

Still here, however, are Alabama's school children, teachers and administrators in a state that ranks at the bottom of all 50 states in education, with everyone trying to figure out what the state's board, not to mention whatever the federal level throws at them, will want next.

That's a mouthful.

If the board wants a new superintendent who will exhibit strong leadership, it should set the example.

The bickering must stop, and clear, undisputable goals need to make their way not just to the desk of the next potential candidate for the top job, but into every classroom and principal's office.

Veteran educator and former superintendent Ed Richardson got the nod from Gov. Kay Ivey to serve as interim, and the state is fortunate to have him serve again.

Among the issues Richardson, the board and the next superintendent face:

—Dealing with serious fiscal budget challenges;

—Handling an intervention of Montgomery public schools, which are in a mess;

—Figuring out a replacement to measure student assessment, which was an embarrassing problem under Sentance and prior;

—Submitting a state plan for the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, with a looming deadline.

One mistake the board made in hiring Sentance is that it picked a man many felt had no clue what it's like to be in a classroom, let alone an Alabama classroom.

"You've got to have credibility," Richardson told the Associated Press when asked his opinion of how the board should proceed with its next hire. "The way you have credibility is, 'have you ever done this work before?'"

It seems like a simple question, but nothing about repairing Alabama's education system is going to be simple.

That's why the board of education this go-around can't put obstacles right in front of the starting gate.

Go to the chalk board, put down the pluses and minuses, and develop a solution.

That's how school work is done.