- Associated Press - Thursday, April 27, 2017

Recent editorials from Alabama newspapers:

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April 20

AL.com on a state bill that would allow mega-churches to choose a dedicated police force for security:

An Alabama mega-church, Briarwood Presbyterian, is inching closer to a state law that would allow its two campuses to have a dedicated police force of its choosing. The church has thousands of events each year at its schools and facilities, and a dedicated police force could be a better option than private security or hiring off-duty officers. Legislation passed last year but wasn’t signed by the former governor. Opponents, like the Alabama ACLU, say the idea is a constitutional mess. Police officers represent the state and that should stay separate from the church.

Alabama law provides for the employment of one or more persons to act as police officers at colleges and other private educational institutions. Why should churches the size of Briarwood (4,100 members and 2,000 K-12 students) be different?

“All they will be charged with is protecting the church from crimes and criminal acts,” (said A. Eric Johnston, the bill’s author).

The legislation confines the church police officers’ authority to “the campuses and properties of Briarwood Presbyterian Church,” and requires them to be certified by the Alabama Peace Officers Standards and Training Commission….If they arrested someone, they would turn that person over to law enforcement from that jurisdiction, who would take the person to the appropriate jail, he said.

It’s a reasonable desire to be able to provide reliable safety and security for their church members and students.

The Briarwood Presbyterian Church Police Force Explained

The Alabama ACLU sees constitutional problems aplenty, and is already planning court action if the law is enacted. There are issues of transparency and accountability. The police must enforce the laws of the state, not the religious rules of a local church. What happens if Briarwood Presbyterian wants their private police force to look the other way if somebody is breaking the law or even infringing on another individual’s civil rights?

Church officials say the move has nothing to do with complications from a student drug bust in 2015.

But a drug bust did happen and the church school officials weren’t eager to talk about it.

“The problem, of course, is that silence fuels the belief and the expectation that the plague of drug abuse does not happen in the affluent zip codes, or among the churched, or the vigilant, or the exceptional. But we know better. Of course it can happen at Briarwood. It can happen anywhere.”

Critics wonder if the move for private police is to keep incidents like this under a tighter wrap.

Briarwood is among the largest congregations in Alabama, with 4,100 members. But it is eclipsed by others in the state, including the 15-campus Church of the Highlands, which boasts a weekly attendance of 40,000. Many fear a flood of church-affiliated forces if the Alabama law passes.

National media seem fascinated. And maybe they are taking things too far out of context.

“Officers would operate only on church property…..Church officials don’t understand why anyone would be opposed to this. As one official told us today, ‘what’s all the fuss about’?”

The church isn’t just a place to worship on Sundays. It’s a full community. They have thousands of events throughout the year, from holidays to birthdays and picnics and more.

Some see the conservative church position in even starker terms.

“It leaves me to wonder things like, if church members from this church decide to go protest outside of a clinic, does their police force come with them?” said Danielle Hurd, Alabama state organizer with Unite for Reproductive and Gender Equity.

Online: https://www.al.com/#/0

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April 27

The Montgomery Advertiser on State Superintendent Michael Sentence’s progress improving schools:

When thinking about State Superintendent Michael Sentance’s experience since his arrival from Massachusetts late last year, a line from the 1986 movie “Hoosiers” comes to mind.

New coach Norman Dale is loading the back of a truck for a sympathetic woman who has noticed he hasn’t gotten much support from the town folks since he arrived in Hickory, Indiana, to coach the basketball team. He’s being run out of town before he even really started.

The woman looks at Dale and says, “Sun don’t shine on the same dog’s ass every day, but mister, you ain’t seen a ray of light since you got here.”

Mr. Sentance, we promise the sun does shine in Alabama.

The Montgomery Advertiser editorial board met for more than an hour Tuesday with Sentance and other leaders of the state intervention into Montgomery Public Schools. The meeting was a few days after an editorial where we implored him and intervention leaders to be as open about the takeover as possible.

Like many in our community, we pressed them Tuesday with question after question. We challenged them. We examined Sentance’s decision making. We picked at details of the state’s plan to take over the local school system.

What we found was a man not ready to be run off.

Sentance appears thick skinned enough to take it. He previously may have cared about what is being written about his decision making, but he said he has stopped reading the commentary (we’re not even sure he will read this).

He can be matter-of-fact, and when Sentance is exacerbated, he doesn’t hide it well. Sometimes he is a bit too honest for the public relations department. As best we can tell, he has a whole lot more opinion about how big of a failure Montgomery’s school system has been. He’s holding back a bit, and we wish he wouldn’t.

Sentance said he has heard from area leaders who have tried to do what the education department wants to accomplish with MPS.

“I can’t count all the different entities in the city, in the county, in the state that have said, ‘We tried to do this with the district, and we stopped trying because we weren’t getting the cooperation,’” he said.

We’re afraid there aren’t many other options left.

Without Sentance or the intervention team, MPS is still a chronically underperforming school system in need of positive change. It’s the same MPS that lacks adequate special needs assistance, resources for teachers and adequate pay for (all) principals. It is still hamstrung by conduct issues, teachers who don’t show up for work and broken windows.

The intervention may not work, but it can through cooperation and trust. It’s the best hope for change.

If not Sentance and the State Department of Education, then who? Be patient with the process. The intervention will take years. Don’t kill it before it even starts.

The sun will shine again on MPS. It might even shine on Sentance.

Online: https://www.montgomeryadvertiser.com/

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The Gadsden Times on Jacksonville State University and Gadsden State Community College’s new transfer program:

We’re not knocking other institutions of higher learning across Alabama. We’re also aware that many high school graduates anxious for a taste of freedom want to flee as far away from the nest as they can when choosing a college.

However, an awful lot of folks from Etowah and surrounding counties, particularly those interested in a career in education, attend Jacksonville State University. For a healthy subset of that group, the first step on the path there is a year or two at Gadsden State Community College. GSCC, like other state community colleges, has strongly emphasized career tech education in recent years - something we support - but it remains “Harvard on the Hill” for those interested in academic degrees.

The problem is, some students inevitably fail to understand that they’ve got to have one eye on GSCC and the other on JSU when scheduling their courses, and wind up taking things at the former that won’t transfer into a degree program at the latter. That could delay or even derail their progress toward graduation, and hit them in the bank account for fees for additional classes.

Officials at both schools hope a program announced earlier this year and finalized last week with the signatures of GSCC President Martha Lavender and her JSU counterpart, John Beehler, will help prevent that situation in the future.

The Transfer Pathway Initiative will let GSCC students who plan to major in one of five subjects - biology, chemistry, child development, criminal justice and nursing - know exactly which courses they need to take if they plan to complete a four-year degree at JSU.

Those students will have their complete degree paths mapped out from associate’s to bachelor’s and beyond, according to Lavender - with all worries removed as to whether the courses they’ve scheduled are correct and will transfer.

If it’s successful, the number of degree tracks could be expanded (as could the number of colleges participating; discussions are underway between JSU and Snead State).

The initiative doesn’t preclude closed classes, however, so registering sooner rather than later remains advisable.

It also doesn’t help students who haven’t decided on a major. Young adults have for generations dithered over what to do with the rest of their lives. No program is going to speed up that maturing process.

The objective is to make the transition from GSCC to JSU as seamless possible - to make it a mere campus change, not a major disruption in people’s lives.

We think it’s a good idea. We’ll be watching to see how it works in practice.

Strike vote just part of process

There was a collective “gulp” in Gadsden last week when United Steelworkers Local 12, which represents Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. employees here, announced on its Facebook page that a strike authorization vote had passed with 99 percent support.

Take a sip of water, people. This happens every time there are pending contract negotiations between the union and Goodyear - and this is one of those years; the four-year contract adopted in 2013 is expiring.

Local union officials are optimistic that both a new local agreement (talks on that began Monday) and a master agreement between the company and all five of its plants can be reached without a strike.

You can’t blame the union for wanting that little bit of muscle to take to the bargaining table, even if the talks turn out to be non-contentious.

Still, we’re not going to fuss at anyone for the “gulp.” It simply shows the importance of the Goodyear plant to the local economy.

Online: https://www.gadsdentimes.com/

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