By BOB JOHNSON
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - Members of the Alabama Board of Education expect to vote to hire a new state school superintendent Thursday after wrapping up more than four hours of interviews with three finalists for the job Wednesday evening.
All nine members of the board, including Gov. Robert Bentley, asked questions about education funding, teaching philosophy, politics and other issues.
Board members are seeking a candidate to replace Joe Morton, who retired Aug. 31 after seven years as Alabama's superintendent.
Board members questioned South Carolina deputy superintendent Mark Bounds and Alabama Deputy Superintendents Tommy Bice and Craig Pouncey. A fourth candidate, Byron Garrett of Maryland, was out of the country and was not available to be interviewed, apparently losing out on a shot at the job.
The board members voted Wednesday night to pick the new superintendent from the candidates interviewed Thursday and to not talk with Garrett.
"I liked all 3 of them," the governor said after the meeting but said he had not decided who he would vote for Thursday morning. "I think we interviewed three very good candidates. They all answered the questions we asked."
At one point board member Charles Elliott, a Republican from Decatur, said he was ready to vote Wednesday evening, but he later voted with other board members to wait until Thursday.
"I do have a candidate. I feel like this time tomorrow we will have a superintendent," Elliott said. He would not say which of the candidates he favored.
Board members seemed to like all three candidates and were very familiar with Bice and Pouncey, who often make presentations at board meetings. All three candidates promised to work closely with the board.
They also said they favor adoption of national standards in math and English, known as Common Core, but all had some reservations about the national standards.
Pouncey said the state will be at a disadvantage if it does not adopt the standards in English and math, comparing it to a football team deciding to keep playing with 11 players even though all other teams had changed to 12 players. School board members plan to discuss the standards Thursday after voting on a new superintendent.
The candidates were asked how they would handle the budget crisis facing Alabama.
Bounds said schools need to think about new ways to provide services for students, such as partnering with private companies to provide glasses for students.
"We don't have the energy and resources for Alabama to do everything for every school," Bounds said.
Bice, who once taught at the Alabama School for the Blind in Talladega said all students deserve an education regardless of physical disabilities or lack of money.
He told board member Ella Bell of Montgomery, who represents the economically disadvantaged Black Belt region, that he would work to help students in her district.
"I've yet to meet a teacher in the Black Belt that doesn't want what you want for students," Bice told Bell.
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