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Our View: School board meeting departs from script




The Columbus Municipal School District Board of Trustees met in a specially called meeting last night to select a search firm for a new superintendent. 


The board meeting lasted just about 90 minutes, which is in stark contrast to the 5-plus hour meeting they held last week.  


So far the votes this board has undertaken have been about as predictable as a Cuban election, with board president Angela Verdell, Currie Fisher and newcomer Greg Lewis voting together and Jason Spears and Glenn Lautzenhiser voting the other way.  


Thursday, it didn't go down like that. 


Lewis, who joined the board in March, broke from the Verdell-Fisher camp to vote not once, but twice, with Lautzenhiser and Spears. These were not votes on trivial matters, either. 


Spears, who had abruptly walked out of the board's last meeting in a fit of frustration and suggested he might resign from the board, came back Thursday. And he came back swinging. 


At the first opportunity, Spears made a motion to have the state department of education do an audit of the district, which will examine the district's performance in all 32 standards set by state law. Normally, these audits are the initial step in an investigation as to whether a district should be taken over by the state. It is rare a district asks for an audit.  


Spears specifically wanted an audit to examine the board's conduct, he said, but when state auditors come, by law, they do a complete examination. 


Of course, there was nothing in the board's previous conduct to suggest Spears' motion would go anywhere. 


Then, Lewis, asked a question: "Would the audit include an audit of the district's finances?" It would. 


Lautzenhiser seconded Spears' motion and the vote passed. Lewis voted with Spears and Lautzenhiser, leaving Verdell and Fisher visibly stunned. 


Minutes later, Lewis voted with Spears and Lautzenhiser again to select Ray and Associates to conduct the search for a new schools superintendent. Again, it was a shocking turn of events, since it seemed obvious that Hazard, Young, Attea and Associates would get the job based on the board's preferential treatment of that firm during presentations conducted during the board's previous meeting. 


We welcome both the audit and the choice of the search firm. The audit will give all stakeholders a clear, unbiased understanding of where the district stands, and we cannot fathom a reason why any board member would be opposed to that scrutiny.  


While we have no particular preference for a search firm, the decision to choose Ray and Associates firm over the one that seemed pre-determined to land the job goes far in assuring that the superintendent search process will not be a choreographed show, and that there is some possibility for a fair, open and thorough search for this vitally important position. 


Finally, we are not advocating any group of board members should simply vote as a bloc because that sort of conduct strongly suggests the presence of a private agenda. We look forward to the day when all board members will vote independently, based on their understanding of the issues before them. We don't favor a bloc of Spears, Lautzenhiser and Lewis any more than we favor a Verdell-Fisher-Lewis bloc. The board's work is too important to be reduced to a political power struggle. 


To his credit, Lewis exercised his independence Thursday in two important votes. We encourage all board members to do likewise going forward.



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