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Scott Colom: The school board's credibility problem

 

Scott Colom

 

This probably isn''t the ideal moment for the Columbus School Board to select a new CMSD Superintendent. Over the last six months the board has had its share of notoriety. The board recently had a public dispute with the mayor and city council over whether it was appropriate for them to meet with city officials about the district''s budget.  

 

The dispute resulted in a published letter from the board explaining its rationale for not meeting with city officials, and a published response by city administrator, David Armstrong, and mayor Robert Smith. In his letter, Mr. Armstrong went as far as to sarcastically congratulate the Board for "drafting such a well-composed, misstatement of the truth."  

 

To make matters worse, more than 40 people attended a hearing last night to discuss the qualities the community wants from the next superintendent, and five people were conspicuously absent: the school board. The mediator said the consulting firm excluded the board to keep the focus on the criteria for the next superintendent and not on public discontent with the board.  

 

Ironically, this decision may have increased discontent. Afterwards, several people expressed disappointment with the board''s absence. Monique Montgomery, local attorney and parent of three students in the school district, questioned the productivity of a meeting to discuss the desires of the public for the next superintendent when the decision makers, the board members, weren''t there to hear the public''s opinions. To correct this, Geraldine Gordon, another CMSD parent, suggested the public have an opportunity to see the criteria for the next superintendent composed by the firm and make an addendum to it.     

 

Another attendee, Bill Bluitt, wasn''t hopeful for a correction. Because none of the school board members were at the hearing, Mr. Bluitt said they would only receive secondary information, and he felt like members had to be present to get an accurate sense of the public''s feelings. Mr. Bluitt pointed out that this would have also made the process more efficient, since the board could have relied less on the firm for information.  

 

On the other hand, Lori Pierce, a teacher at the Mississippi School of Math and Science and parent of three students in the district, agreed with the decision to exclude board members. She said she understood the need to get information not biased by people''s current feelings about the board. Because the attention was focused on the next superintendent, Ms. Pierce, who has a background in marketing research, said that the hearing produced a lot of qualitative information. 

 

Regardless of one''s feelings about whether the members should have been at the meeting, there is palpable dissatisfaction with this board by some. At one point, the mediator said the board wouldn''t do anything "under the table" in the hiring process and several attendees expressed disagreement with a "humph" reminiscent of my grandmother at church service. 

 

While criticism comes with public service, and the members should be recognized for withstanding it, the board should also consider how this distrust may impact the next superintendent. Even if a minority of the community distrusts the board, this could make it difficult for the new superintendent to build the support necessary to take CMSD to the next level. Consequently, it may be wise for the board to address this distrust before selecting a new superintendent.  

 

Scott Colom is a local attorney. His email address is colomsw@gmail.com. 

 

 

Scott Colom is a local attorney.

 

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Reader Comments

Article Comment sheatherly commented at 9/16/2011 12:56:00 PM:

When you hire a new promising leader and put him/her over a group of subleaders who are all "in bed together", the new leader's only choice is to join them or get rid of them. If the new guy (or girl) is the personally ambitious or even less-than-honorable sort, or perhaps just too weak, he would never make waves by upsetting the apple cart. Take a hard look at the extreme rate of the superintendent turnover in the last 20 years...and then look at those who have steadily remained in those other positions for many years (and their alliances/relatives within the system/community)...in charge of further hiring of personnel for other administrative duties. And then look at the budget and achievement test scores. Pass or fail?
The facts are there, plain as day. The school board can go through the pretense of trying to hire outsiders to figure it out just to make it look good to the public, or they can tackle the impossible task of shaking the tree till all the rotten apples fall out. That would depend on two things...whether the board is fearless and backboned enough to do it...and whether or not they are also in the same "bed".

 

Article Comment sheatherly commented at 9/16/2011 1:15:00 PM:

It takes a VILLAGE of good leaders to educate a child. One "Wizard of Oz" cannot do it alone...especially when he is nothing near what he appears to be.

 

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