March 18, 2014 10:35:44 AM
A newcomer to Columbus would likely have viewed Monday's meeting of the Columbus Municipal School Board of Trustees as tediously long, but ultimately uneventful.
The meeting covered lots of topics, mostly routine business, and ended in four hours, bookended by the swearing in of a new board member, Greg Lewis, and the election of a new board president, Angela Verdell.
Yet the back-story necessary to understand the significance of those two moves offers intriguing insight into how this board will address the serious challenges that face the district.
For three years now, CMSD has been rated as under-performing. The district is also looking for its third superintendent in as many years. Given that, it is only right that those few who seem to genuinely care about the future of the district will watch closely to see how the new board intends to address these matters.
Last year, a similar transition brought Verdell onto the board in place of board president Tommy Prude, whose bid to retain his seat on the board, was rejected by the city council, which makes the appointments to the board. Verdell's arrival signaled an almost immediate change in the board's dynamic. The board began to ask questions and challenge then superintendent Dr. Martha Liddell, something it rarely did under the direction of Prude.
Over the past year, Verdell has proven to be a thoughtful, active member of the board. She has not hesitated to question the district personnel who regularly come before the board. She does not act hastily. She will often vote down a proposal, not because she stands in opposition, but because there are too many unanswered questions.
That said, we were perplexed that Verdell stood solidly behind Liddell long after it became obvious the superintendent had proven to be unfit for the position. When the board voted 3-2 to terminate Liddell in June, Verdell joined Currie Fisher as the dissenting votes. Fisher was replaced as board president by Jason Spears. Again, Verdell voted in opposition.
Verdell's motives for those votes remain a private matter; she has never commented on them. It is, indeed, a mystery in the sense that her votes on these matters appear inconsistent with her reputation for being a measured, fact-driven, independent voice on the board.
We are hopeful, of course, that her posture on the Liddell firing was an anomaly; that as board president she will exhibit all the qualities that made her an agent of change on a board that had previously abdicated its role in leading the district in these difficult times.
We are equally hopeful Lewis will display a similar degree of independence and diligence.
We hope, too, the new board will not collapse in the protracted in-fighting that has only made the district's vulnerable standing even more precarious.
It's time for the board to move forward, relegating to the past personal squabbles, childish vendettas and petty politics.
These are stormy waters the CMSD seeks to navigate. All hands on deck.