March 12, 2013 9:54:46 AM
That Tommy Prude would gorge one last time at the public trough that the Columbus Municipal School District has become should hardly rate as a surprise among those who have been paying any attention at all to the machinations of the school board under his misguided leadership.
Prude left his post as both board president and board member on March 2. He had served on the board for 14 years. Under normal circumstances, we would be inclined to thank him for his years of service to the board. But given his deportment during his term as board president, we are more inclined to say good riddance.
On Monday, the Dispatch reported Prude had chosen to go to an educators' conference in Jackson, a three-day event that ended just two days prior to his departure from the board. It is unlikely that Prude, in his last 48 hours on the board, applied much of anything he learned at the conference to helping the school district, which needs all the help it can get.
Prude's expenses for the trip amounted to roughly $1,000. It is not a large expense, given the district's overall budget of $40.5 million. But in context, it goes to show Prude's indifference to the problems facing the board. In January, schools superintendent Dr. Martha Liddell informed the board that the district had to impose some austerity measures to meet its budget for the remainder of the school year. She said that, beginning in February, all "non-essential" spending would be cut, although she did not elaborate on the details.
From Prude's point of view, spending $1,000 on your way out the door must have seemed "essential."
When asked about the propriety of Prude's parting gift of a free trip to Jackson, Liddell was reticent, saying only that Prude was still a member of the school board at the time of the trip. Asked if the district benefited in any way from Prude's presence at the conference, Liddell simply didn't respond.
Her silence speaks volumes, not only about Prude but about her cozy relationship with the president of a board that has become nothing more than a rubber-stamp body for a superintendent whose performance and deportment warrant close scrutiny.
On Monday, Angela Verdell will take Prude's place on the board. She brings with her impressive credentials, but there is no real way to determine what role she will play until we see her in action. The dynamic of the board may change. Under Prude, the board meekly acquiesced to whatever Liddell proposed. Of the current board members, only Jason Spears and Aubra Turner have made any effort at all to hold Liddell accountable. We have no confidence that board members Glenn Lautzenhiser or Currie Fisher will assert themselves in any meaningful way, largely because nothing in their tenure on the board suggests it.
Obviously, then, Verdell will play a key role in determining whether or not the board fulfills its obligation to serve the best interests of all stakeholders rather than the narrow interests of the superintendent.
There is no way to accurately predict whether or not that will happen.