I have been getting asked a lot over the past few days and weeks about my thoughts on the current state of the school board. I have tried to stay out of this mess but think it is time to go on the record with my disappointment on how things are going. Public education is at a crossroads right now, and there are lofty debates happening as we speak on what the future of public education will look like (charter schools, vouchers, etc.). As our economy turns around (we all need to vote for Romney by the way), we must have a school system that instills confidence into prospective employers who want to locate into our community. The success of our schools and school governance is an economic development issue that we cannot afford to screw up. Here is where I land on the current state of the BOE:
Board Member Conduct:
There are very clear standards for board member conduct that are currently in the ethics policy that has been adopted by the Bartow County School Board. No board member has the authority to ever pressure or reprimand ANY school system employee for any reason. In practical terms, there are really only two people who work “directly” for the members of the BOE…the superintendent & school board attorney. Everyone else in the school system reports through a predetermined chain of command that ends with the superintendent. It is highly inappropriate, unprofessional & a violation to ever mention a personnel matter in an open meeting. Serving as a school board member is an important public service and you must always put the system & children before your own desire for power & privilege. School board members essentially have no official individual authority and any action to the contrary should be considered self-serving. The BOE must be willing to censure any board member who fails to take the necessary action to protect the integrity of the school system.
We are seeing these same kinds of actions in Clayton County and it puts system accreditation at risk.
This is not as simple as SACS deciding not to investigate. In my opinion, it is a conflict of interest for the current Bartow BOE chairman to also serve in any capacity with SACS. The perception will continue to be that calls for investigation are being ignored or manipulated in some inappropriate way. At the very least, it looks bad and the Bartow BOE chairman needs to choose which organization he wants to serve on.
In my almost 7 years on the board I cannot remember having a “retreat” outside of Bartow County. The truth is that this meeting was held in Rome to limit public participation. If you remember, this meeting happened when staff reductions, elimination of middle school sports & tax increases were being proposed. There are conflicting statements from the Superintendent & BOE Chairman on what happened. One board member & a member of the media left the meeting when it was adjourned. Does anyone really believe that they both misunderstood? After these two people left, the meeting continued for as much as 2 hours in violation of the law. Someone is lying to us and to date they have not corrected the record on this issue.
What should have happened?
The meeting should have been held in Bartow County. There is no excuse for purposely trying to exclude the citizens of Bartow County. Once the meeting was reconvened the Superintendent or Board Chairman should have called the board member in question and media representative to return. Now that the error has been made public, someone should officially take responsibility and make sure that this does not happen again. Repeating a lie does not make it any more truthful.
Rome Volleyball/Excel Baseball Issue:
Excel is not the issue here, but the school board is supposed to have a written agreement with non-profits, private entities & governments for facility use. This did not happen and as a result, the impression is that something inappropriate happened.
What should have happened?
Any organization should have to fill out the appropriate paperwork to use school facilities even if the charges are going to be waived. ALL organizations must provide proof of liability insurance PRIOR to using BOE facilities. Excel & the BOE should have put on paper in advance what each party was doing. The value of the facility being used and the value of the services and materials provided. Liability insurance should have been given in advance of anyone using the property. When board members are involved with an organization using BOE facilities the standard should be even higher to avoid the appearance of impropriety.
Finally, the school board does not have to function in inappropriate ways. We must hold our elected representatives to a higher standard. The events that have unfolded over the past few months are unfortunate but self-inflicted because the board failed to operate consistent with policies and historical precedent. This pattern of behavior is suggestive of an organization that is operating from a lack of leadership. No single board member should have the power to manipulate the direction of the school system or intimidate system employees. We have great teachers and students and we must demand better if we want this community to reach its full potential. Bartow County deserves better and it is time to end this nonsense and become a system that everyone can respect once again.