February 20, 2014 10:03:51 AM
On Tuesday, the Columbus city council appointed a new member to the Columbus Municipal School District Board of Trustees.
Of the seven applicants for the position, our preference would have been to return Aubra Turner to the position on the board she has occupied since 2011. Especially over the course of the past year -- a year marked by bitter acrimony, reports of indiscretions and the ouster of the district's superintendent -- Turner was an independent, courageous voice for the changes vital to the future of the struggling district. Until the day when her story can be fully told, residents will not have a full appreciation of the service she has rendered to her community, often at a great personal cost.
Instead, the council selected Greg Lewis, who is the programs director for Columbus-Lowndes Recreation Authority. Our preference for Turner should not be perceived as criticism of Lewis. He has proven to be a dedicated public servant in his current position, and we are hopeful that his tenure on the CMSD board will be known for the same kind of independence and courage displayed by his predecessor in the position.
It is our hope that Lewis' arrival on the board will represent not a change of course, but a continuation along the path of recovery for our district. Over the past year, the CMSD board has assumed the authority it had long abdicated to the superintendent, first under Dr. Del Phillips and, later, under Dr. Martha Liddell, who was forced from the position last June.
The board has made steady progress since those dark days. The arrival of Edna McGill as interim superintendent has allowed the district to get back on its feet as attention turns to the vitally important matter of selecting a permanent superintendent.
Less than 12 hours after the council meeting ended, a group of city, county and community leaders left for Chattanooga, Tenn., in an effort to see how that city's remarkable transformation could be applied here in Columbus, specifically as it applies to the Island project. While we expect the leaders to come away with some good ideas from the trip, real progress can only come from the participation of the private sector. Grants and public money are only a part of the formula for successful development.
Development and education are inexorably linked. The kind of private investment essential to real growth will come only if our schools are successful. In fact, schools have an impact on virtually every aspect of a community -- from growth and development to crime and poverty.
For three years now, the city's schools have languished as under-performing. Clearly, our schools can ill-afford the inertia created by warring factions, whether they are drawn along racial or political lines. Under the best conditions, that sort of infighting is counterproductive. In the case of Columbus schools, it is toxic. This is not the time to settle scores or revisit old squabbles. Any effort that is not directed toward the future is destructive.
We fervently hope that a spirit of cooperation will accompany Lewis' arrival on the school board rather than represent a new front on the battle for control. All Columbus residents have a vital, shared interest in our school district's recovery.
The CMSD board needs to retain its rightful role as an autonomous body dedicated solely to the best interests of our schools, free from the interference of those who might be tempted to exert influence beyond what is proper. In short, elected officials need to keep their hands off the CMSD board and allow them to do their jobs. Board members should not be puppets and city officials certainly shouldn't be puppet masters.
In many respects, what happened at Tuesday's council meeting may ultimately have far greater implications on the city's future development than the trip of those leaders to Chattanooga.