April 16, 2014 10:17:45 AM
The fix is on. Again.
During Monday's uniformly contentious and often ridiculous meeting of the Columbus Municipal School District Board of Trustees, the board finally got around to interviewing candidates for the search firm that will be charged with identifying candidates for a permanent schools superintendent.
This comes nine months after the firing of superintendent Dr. Martha Liddell, whose malfeasance in her role has been well-documented. It also comes six weeks after a shake-up on the board that elevated Angela Verdell to board president, which coincided with the departure of Aubra Turner.
Turner replaced Tommy Prude, who had been the principal orchestrator in the selection of Liddell over other candidates, whose credentials were clearly superior. Prude's departure opened the door for a shift in the board's dynamics. Suddenly, the board was exercising its authority over the superintendent, which eventually led to Liddell's justifiable dismissal.
If Turner's arrival on the board changed the power structure on the board, her departure has proven to be just as pivotal. Her replacement, Greg Lewis, has joined with Currie Fisher and Turner -- both of whom were unapologetic Liddell sycophants -- in returning the board to status quo. By status quo, we mean the board now serves the interests of a segment of the black community in Columbus that seems intent on further polarizing our community. The message: The Columbus School District will be a district of the black community, by the black community and for the black community.
Regardless of race, that should be disturbing for all fair-minded citizens.
Monday's interviews of three superintendent search firms parallels the flawed and dishonest process that characterized the previous search. In that truncated search, candidates were given a set time period to make their presentations. Prude held the candidates to that stipulation only until it was Liddell's turn to speak. With Prude's approval, Liddell went far past the allotted time. At the end, Prude publicly gushed over Liddell's presentation, a clear indication that the board had made up its mind long before the search had concluded. The search process was obviously a farce. Liddell was the choice from the start.
Monday night we saw the same scenario play out again.
Each firm representative was told it would have eight-to-10 minutes to make a presentation to the board. Two were held to that requirement. The third was permitted to speak far longer than the time allotted. Interestingly, that firm representative, Dr. Louise Coleman of Hazard, Young, Attea and Associates, put a heavy emphasis on the fact that she was a black female, something she noted repeatedly during her presentation.
It appeared as though the newly-reconfigured board would have voted immediately to choose Coleman's firm at the meeting were it not for the vehement protest of ousted board president Jason Spears, who argued that the board should take some time to consider the presentations of the three candidates before taking a vote. Ultimately, Spears walked out of the meeting when it appeared that his appeals were futile. He said Tuesday he is not sure if he will remain on the board.
This kind of race-based favoritism does not bode well for the school district, nor the city.
There are some in the black community who would tell you that this is simply a matter of what goes around comes around.
For much of our city's history, this was the way business was done: One race dominated every aspect of city government. Any black candidate for a position was assumed to be merely "for show."
Blacks never really had much of a say and never had fair representation in city government or schools.
Those days are gone. Columbus is now a black-majority city, but our city's schools are disproportionately populated by black students.
Certainly, the "white flight" we have experienced has some racial component. Some white parents simply do not want their children attending school with black children. But that alone cannot account for the racial imbalance of our schools. Many parents simply want to send their children to schools that can provide a quality education. With the city's schools falling into a consistent pattern of under-performance, it is understandable why some parents choose other options, either by moving out of the district or, if they can afford it, by sending their children to private schools.
But a healthy community is a diverse community. Schools are the second most influential factor for children, ranking only behind home. But how much progress can we make toward a color-blind society if that atmosphere is segregated?
Our mayor and city council, who make the school board appointments, seem determined to repeat the past injustices, this time in reverse.
This "our turn" mentality is unfortunate for all citizens, black and white alike.
Those who hold that view should ask themselves a simple question: If it was wrong and counterproductive for one race to be prevented from having a meaningful voice in the community back then, what is there to suggest that it will be any more fair or any better for one race to be excluded now?
Our black leadership may have learned from past injustices -- no doubt some of them suffered from them -- but you wonder if they learned to right lesson.
How much progress have we really made when our community is divided along racial lines?
Given the current attitude of our city's leaders, Columbus can easily become a "black city."
That would be a mistake that hurts black and white alike. We are stronger, better when we are together. In short, we need each other. Haven't we realized that by now?
How about it, mayor? How about it city council? How about it, school board?
Don't expect an answer. Just watch the way the search for a schools superintendent is handled.
That will be your answer.
1. Slimantics: When mama fell, we knew her wishes LOCAL COLUMNS
2. Our View: Sloppy law enforcement leaves permanent stain DISPATCH EDITORIALS
4. Rheta Johnson: At least not landlocked LOCAL COLUMNS