May 30, 2013 10:19:23 AM
Three months ago, when Angela Verdell was appointed to the Columbus Municipal School Board to replace Tommy Prude, there was a feeling the dynamic of the school board would change -- and for the better.
As board president, Prude, had ruled the board, often in a heavy-handed manner, and created a environment that discouraged open public debate over school matters and seemed unfailingly subservient to a superintendent whose conduct seemed to grow more questionable with each passing day.
Rarely was Superintendent Dr. Martha Liddell held accountable, or even seriously questioned about issues that emerged. The board's timid posture and refusal to accept their responsibility as the ultimate decision-maker only exacerbated the problems that faced a district in decline. Prude, along with Currie Fisher -- who, as the new board president has proven to be equally deferential in her dealings with the superintendent -- joined perpetual fence-sitter Glenn Lautzenhiser, to insure that Liddell answered to no one.
The attitude seems to be, "we should all be of one mind."
But, generally speaking, when everyone is of one mind, it's because only one mind is being employed. There is no substitute for healthy debate and genuine dialogue.
Aubra Turner and Jason Spears, recent additions to the board, were routinely frustrated by their efforts to establish some accountability in the district. Every vote seemed to go 3-2 against them. Verdell's arrival, we hoped, would change all that.
And it did.
Although it took a while, we are encouraged by the conduct of the board during its recent meetings. Turner, Spears and Verdell have been active in questioning policies, demanding information and trying to hold district employees accountable. It should be noted that the three are not always in agreement; it is not a matter of block voting. In recent meetings the three have clashed over issues, often quite forcefully. But their conduct in how they approach district business demonstrates they are serious in discharging their duties, which is more than can be said of Fisher and Lautzenhiser. At long last, the board seems to have fulfilled its obligation to be accountable and hold the district employees, most notably Liddell, accountable, too.
The problems that face the district are many, and we have seen little reason for encouragement that the academic issues that threaten the district have been addressed in any meaningful way. Under Liddell's "leadership," the answers to every problem always seems to be some new policy or procedure or program, some new hire, some change in job descriptions, some out of town meeting for the superintendent to attend.
It is a bureaucratic approach to a range of problems that really require something far less glamorous, what the military refers to as boots on the ground. What the district needs in a superintendent is someone roaming the halls, actively engaging principals, teachers, staff and students, encouraging them and challenging them, too.
There is no evidence that is happening in the CMSD and, therefore, little hope for improvement.
The board's recent efforts to exert its authority is about the only promising sign we have seen.
We encourage them to be emboldened in those efforts. The fate of the district relies on it.