Governor Robert Bentley appointed Matthew Brown, a Fairhope resident, to represent District 1 on the Alabama State Board of Education last week. Brown, an engineer and attorney, is best known for spearheading the Educate Baldwin Now campaign against higher property taxes to fund the Baldwin County Board of Education’s proposed capital campaign for schools, which was overwhelmingly defeated by voters March 31. District 1 includes all of Southwest Alabama.
Brown will fill the vacancy left by Al Thompson, whom Bentley recently appointed to the newly created Alabama Community College System Board of Trustees. Thompson is a Bay Minette native and Baldwin County High School graduate. District 1 includes Baldwin, Mobile, Conecuh, Covington, Crenshaw and Escambia counties.
The state school board oversees more than 1,500 schools and more than 700,000 students statewide with a multi-million-dollar budget.
Brown, 28, was one of three candidates who applied to fill the vacancy. Baldwin County Education Coalition Executive Director Terry Burkle and business broker and former education software company owner Ernest Scarbrough, a Daphne resident, also were candidates.
“I think my number-one responsibility right now is to continue the good work that Al Thompson has been doing,” Brown said. “I really appreciated Gov. Bentley’s appointment, and I’m excited to have the chance to represent South Alabama. I also appreciate the hard work Al Thompson has done before me. He left big shoes to fill.”
Brown was the chairman of the Educate Baldwin Now PAC, chairman of the Baldwin County Young Republicans and vice-chairman of the District 1 State Federation of Young Republicans, and is the former Eastern Shore Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) coordinator. He is a former attorney with Milam & Milam and a design engineer.
Brown currently lives in Fairhope and is a 2007 graduate of Pensacola Christian College and a 2011 graduate of Cumberland School of Law at Samford University.
“I am honored to appoint Matthew Brown to the State Board of Education,” Bentley said in a statement. “Education is a key component to the success and growth of Alabama, and I am confident Matthew will serve the citizens and students of South Alabama with honesty and integrity. Matthew brings a unique perspective to the position, and will build on the positive momentum Al Thompson created. I appreciate his willingness to serve.”
As Educate Baldwin Now chairman, Brown was one of the leading voices against the Baldwin County school system’s Build Baldwin Now campaign, which asked voters to approve 8 mills in new ad valorem taxes and to renew current tax levels to fund a $350 million capital campaign.
The referendum failed to raise taxes, and also failed to renew the current levels of ad valorem taxes, leaving the county short of the 10 mills it needs to receive state funding. Those renewals could come up for another vote on the March presidential primary ballot.
Because of his opposition and background, Bay Minette resident Heather Karras organized an online petition asking Bentley to reconsider the appointment. It had 345 signatures as of July 21. The petition notes that Brown is the product of private schools, and has chosen to steer his own children away from a public education.
“There are many well-qualified people who could serve on the state board from south Alabama, Mathew (sic) Brown is NOT one of them. We urge Governor Bentley to reconsider this appointment and give someone who will work FOR our public schools, instead of AGAINST them as Matthew Brown has done,” the petition reads.
During his time as coordinator, the MPO reported a need for 16-20 new schools in the MPO’s coverage area before the year 2040. The majority of the MPO’s policy board — comprising mayors, county commissioners, city councilors and an ALDOT representative — supported, or their cities passed resolutions in support of, the Build Baldwin Now campaign.
Brown said he expected his role in helping to defeat the referendum to keep him from getting the position, but he is eager to prove to critics that he does have public schools’ interests at heart.
“I definitely thought it would, understandably, cause some people some concerns,” Brown said. “But my position on the referendum had nothing to do with my support of our schools. I’m not someone who is anti anything, I just made an effort to educate myself and others about something I thought was wrong. I will work hard to make sure the people I represent know that I care deeply about our schools.”
Baldwin County Board of Education President Shannon Cauley issued a statement this week saying it is important that educators and Brown work together for the benefit of the district’s students.
“Today more than ever, state issues are impacting the ability to educate children in Baldwin County and across the state,” Cauley said. “We look forward to sharing those concerns with Matthew Brown and working with him as he represents District 1 in this key role.”
While Brown is expected to keep a full-time job with Baldwin County during the week, he said he looks forward to traveling in District 1 to meet with educators, parents and administrators. The Baldwin County Commission voted Tuesday to appoint Brown to a job with the highway department.
The state board of education meets once per month in Montgomery. As a board member, Brown will receive a $1,500 monthly expense allowance and his travel expenses will be covered. As of July 16, Brown was officially appointed to the board but had not been sworn in. He must be sworn in at the board’s next meeting in Montgomery in August, or at a local venue before that time, he said.
“It has been a crazy 48 hours,” Brown said the day after his appointment last week. “I am honored to be part of the state school board. I want to be known as someone who is not just against everything. I want to be known as someone who will work hard to do what is right and can do some good things from the inside, not just throw rocks from the outside.”
As a member of the board, Brown will have to run for reelection during the 2016 election cycle, which he said he plans to do.