June 12, 2012 9:57:26 AM
Monday night the Columbus Municipal School District's Board of Trustees pulled a fast one on the teachers and parents who came out to hear discussion on Superintendent Martha Liddell's proposal for "early dismissal Wednesdays" during the 2012-2013 school year.
Under Liddell's plan, students would be released at 12:45 p.m. on Wednesdays, allowing teachers to attend professional development and training sessions. Students would be released 45 minutes later the other four days of the week to make up for the lost instruction time.
Early in the meeting, board member Currie Fisher motioned to adopt the plan, but the motion was not seconded. The board later went into executive session to finalize the contract negotiations with Liddell. They also discussed a received purchase offer for the Lee Middle property-a questionable topic for executive session.
Assuming the early release issue was settled, most of the crowd left. Executive session is typically reserved for the very end of the meeting.
Immediately after the board returned from executive session, board member Aubra Turner motioned again to pass the early release proposal. After being seconded by Fisher, she, Turner and Board President Tommy Prude voted in favor of adopting the plan. Glenn Lautzenhiser abstained from the vote and Jason Spears voted against.
Though board attorney David Dunn assured the board they were within their legal right to take up the issue after executive session, the decision to do so shows, at best, a lack of respect for the concerns of those who came to the meeting for that very issue and, at worst, a cowardly deception.
It also raises a legitimate question: What could have transpired during the executive session that prompted taking up the issue again? Discussion of that issue in executive session would be illegal.
Reasonably, Spears motioned to table the issue for a month to allow public discussion.
The adoption of this plan means additional work hours for teachers and has the potential to complicate the schedules of parents. Though the plan may be crucial to improving our schools as Liddell states, it deserves public discussion.
In a post-meeting email sent from Liddell to district teachers, principals and administrators she states, "As you know, there was a lengthy discussion tonight regarding my proposal to re-establish Early Release Wednesdays ... " The discussion she references was largely a speech she gave on the importance of re-implementing the policy after most of the community members had gone home.
Incredulously, Liddell addressed the lack of community discussion on the issue by saying community input "doesn't always work in the best interest of students." It takes a community, Dr. Liddell. While school boards must, from time to time, make unpopular calls (And this may be one of them.), community input is an essential part of the process. These are, after all, "public" schools.
For a school board that took a year to find a new superintendent and more than two weeks to negotiate a contract with the selected candidate, we wonder what's the rush?