While both sides in the school separation talks between Baldwin County and Gulf Shores fell over themselves to be the first to ask the state superintendent’s office to intervene, each pledged to abide by whatever ruling was handed down.
That was in February 2018. What a difference a year makes.
As Lagniappe was the first to report last week, the Baldwin County Board of Education (BCBOE) filed a lawsuit claiming State Superintendent Dr. Eric Mackey had no such authority to order the county to follow his directives.
“[Baldwin County] alleges that Mackey acted willfully, knowingly, maliciously, in bad faith beyond his authority, and/or under a mistaken interpretation of the law and is not immune to civil action,” the filing states. “Mackey does not have the authority … to unilaterally order the Baldwin County Board of Education to enter into the agreement.”
Allotment of money may be the attention grabber in the lawsuit, but it also raises issues over personnel, transportation and attendance.
When talks broke down between the two boards a year ago, both sides appealed to then State Superintendent Dr. Ed Richardson to mediate disagreements the boards couldn’t resolve.
Richardson stepped in to clear the first hurdle, decreeing that Gulf Shores City Schools would be open for students beginning in fall 2019. Officials there had hoped for a fall 2018 start date.
Richardson, who was a temporary superintendent, then stepped aside when Mackey was hired and took over mediation. Both Baldwin County and Gulf Shores officials agreed in several instances they would abide by whatever rulings Mackey decreed.
That all changed when Mackey’s rulings were presented to the BCBOE and the Gulf Shores City Board of Education on Jan. 15. The Gulf Shores board quickly approved and signed the agreement, posing for photographs to mark the occasion.
But Baldwin County refused to sign and issued a withering attack at a news conference Jan. 16 and again at a meeting with Orange Beach parents Jan. 31.
“We didn’t sign it and we’re not going to sign it,” Baldwin Superintendent Eddie Tyler said in the Orange Beach meeting.
On Feb. 5, Mackey responded by issuing a second letter to both school boards saying each needed to sign and agree to the conditions by midnight on Feb. 15. Lagniappe received a copy of the letter on Feb. 13, one day before a special-called BCBOE executive session. In the letter, Mackey said he would invoke his powers under state law to force the acceptance of the decree, noting provisions allow the state superintendent to remove any local education officials who do not follow his directives.
Baldwin County’s answer came the day of the deadline in a 4:30 p.m. filing of the lawsuit naming Mackey, the Gulf Shores City Board of Education and the Baldwin County Commission as defendants. The full lawsuit is available here.
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