April 15, 2014 10:48:23 AM
Like the recent warm weather, the hope of harmony on the Columbus Municipal School District has proven to be fleeting. It's back to chaos as usual for the CMSD, a dispiriting blow to the community whose fortunes are closely tied to the success of its schools.
The second regular meeting under the, uh, leadership of board president Angela Verdell spiraled out of control Monday. At one point, board member Jason Spears joined some spectators by simply walking out of the meeting, which bickered on for more than five hours.
How bad was it? The board opened the meeting with a 10-minute argument over the seating arrangements.
We pause here to allow that to sink in for a moment.
The same five people who have the daunting responsibility of leading the district out of three consecutive years of under-performing ratings by the state department of education cannot even agree on who sits where.
In the tumultuous nine months since CMSD fired schools superintendent Martha Liddell, we have long advocated the board put personal grudges, pointless politics and petty power struggles aside to address the far more urgent need of reversing our schools' lamentable record of mediocrity. It is clear from Monday's meeting that asking the board to do this is like asking a wolf to become a vegetarian.
We will resist the diplomatic approach that favors distributing the blame equally among all board members, although none of them acquitted themselves particularly well Monday. The person most responsible for the latest fiasco is Verdell. She is board president, after all, and sets the tone and priorities at board meetings. Verdell's petulant preoccupation with the seating arrangements provides insight into her priorities and leadership.
She should be embarrassed. Lord knows, everyone else is.
Past boards have been contentious, of course, but even the worst of them never argued about where to sit. The schools superintendent has always sat on the dais with the board members and board attorney. No one ever gave it a thought.
Until Monday, that is.
Verdell insisted, quite vehemently, that Edna McGill, the district's interim superintendent, leave her seat on the dais and instead sit at a folding table reserved for other district personnel who might be asked to address the board. It was the equivalent to being sent to the children's table at Thanksgiving in the eyes of many.
Predictably, an argument ensued. For 10 minutes, the board battled over whether the rules allowed Verdell to relocate McGill without taking a vote. It was a supreme bit of condescending silliness on Verdell's part. You might be inclined to chuckle were it not for the fact that the fate of the district rests in the hands of a board who seems to redefine the concept of dysfunction.
Eventually, the board finished its tortured rendition of musical chairs and McGill was permitted to stay at the big people's table.
But any hope of actually achieving anything useful had been lost.
And, clearly, there is plenty to do. There is the matter of selecting a permanent superintendent for the third time in four years now. It's obvious that after Monday's prolonged debate over the merits of three search firms, that each and every step will be argued over incessantly.
The board must also find a new attorney; its long-time attorney David Dunn turned in his resignation at the previous regular board meeting. Dunn has not divulged his reasons for leaving. Anybody up for an educated guess?
And, of course, there is the matter of whether the schools will make any progress on the long climb back toward respectability or simply sink further into the abyss.
Instead of addressing any of those subjects, other matters commanded the board's attention. For example, the board also argued for 10 minutes about whether or not one of the pages in the agenda had been duplicated.
If Monday's meeting is any indication, it's pretty clear which path the district is on. We once feared that the state would step in and assume control of our schools. Now, we are fast approaching the point where a state take-over would be a welcomed relief.
We hear much about our city leaders' ambitious plans for moving forward by improving infrastructure, attracting new businesses and making Columbus an attractive option for new residents.
Those efforts are futile unless there is a dramatic change of direction by the schools. You would be hard-pressed to find a thriving community where its schools are in such a state of disarray.
This simply has to change. We all have too much at stake to stand idly by.
If today and tomorrow the phones aren't bouncing off the hook in the mayor's office, if our councilmen aren't getting an earful and if these board members aren't being called to task by a community that is fed up with a board that is content on creating more problems than it solves, we will have our answer:
As a community, we have quit.
And we have failed.
1. Voice of the people: Robert Gillis LETTERS TO THE EDITOR (VOICE@CDISPATCH.COM)
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