February 20, 2013 10:12:18 AM
On Tuesday night, the Columbus City Council had four choices for one position on the Columbus Municipal School District Board of Trustees.
But really, it came down to two choices: maintaining the status quo that has seen our schools slide toward failure or taking a path forward.
We are encouraged to note that the council has chosen the path less traveled. In selecting Angela Verdell, the council has added to the school board someone whose background suggests a capable, independent, pragmatic leader. Her presence, along with relative newcomers Aubra Turner and Jason Spears, will do much to change the dynamic of the board from a passive, subservient, bureaucratic rubber stamp committee to a body that will be assertive in seeking solutions for the very real problems that face our schools.
Verdell's arrival means the exit of Tommy Prude, who was seeking to hold on to his board position. As board president, Prude's autocratic style had a chilling effect on open, thorough dialogue among the board members, particularly at board meetings, which serve as the public's only real access to the board. Too often, Prude stifled discussion, leaving the public ill-informed. Prude's deferential relationship to school superintendent Dr. Martha Liddell also undermined the board's authority and public confidence.
We do not advocate that Verdell adopt an adversarial stance with Liddell or anyone else in the district. But we do expect Verdell to hold those people accountable. It is her job, after all. To do anything less is to fail those who have a vested interest in the success of our schools, most notably our children.
It is easy to see why the council made its selection. Verdell, 41, has the educational and professional background that will serve her well in her new role. As a parent of two children in the school system, she also has a personal stake in the success of the schools. Her volunteer work in the community provides a portrait of someone who is truly civic-minded.
Spears and Turner have both proven they are willing to hold district leaders accountable, even in a climate that strongly discouraged those efforts. Verdell, we hope, will deport herself in similar fashion. For that reason, we strongly believe that the dynamic of the board will change, and for the good of all stakeholders.
If there was any disappointment associated with Tuesday's selection it is that only one board position was available. Had there been two positions, the council would have been able to appoint Antwann Richardson to the board as well.
The 27-year-old Richardson, a branch manager for Regions Bank, represents a new generation of leaders, a group that will be essential to the prosperity of our city in years to come.
It is encouraging to know there are young leaders in our community who are willing to step forward to serve. Public service, in its purest form, requires sacrifice. It means long hours and hard work with little or no compensation. All too often, our best and brightest young leaders are reluctant to answer that call. We applaud Richardson for his desire and willingness to serve.
Richardson was not the choice this time, but we strongly suspect we have not heard the last of him.
We also hope that other young leaders will answer the call to public service because, to varying degrees, the void of leadership that has afflicted the school board persists in almost every city and county board.
The council acquitted itself well in choosing Verdell to serve on the school board.
It was a step forward.
We hope her selection creates the kind of momentum that will sweep through our entire community.