- When State Senator Paul Sanford speaks, listen.
- Laws don’t care if you’re in a hurry.
- We’re stuck with Dr. Moore for awhile.
- The school board has an organizational problem – they are the boss(es) but there are five of them – no unity of command – the Superintendent is not the boss.
- It’s not too early to start thinking about running for school board districts 1 and 5 – the election is in 2012.
- If you think it can’t get any worse, look around.
I attended the Huntsville City Schools Board of Education meeting on January 20, the South Huntsville Civic Association ‘School Crisis’ meeting on 24 January, and the HCS BOE work meeting on January 25.
You couldn’t swing a dead cat without hitting politicians at those meetings: everyone from former Congressman Parker Griffith (who attended 2 of those 3 meetings) to State Senators Paul Sanford, Bill Holtzclaw, and Clay Scofield; to State Representatives Laura Hall, Mike Ball, and Howard Sanderford; to County Commissioners Phil Riddick and Bob Harrison; to Mayor Tommy Battle and Deputy Mayor Rex Reynolds and HPD Chief Mark Hudson. Former Huntsville Times editor John Ehinger even came down the mountain to attend a meeting.
My impression is that the school board is floundering around right now – I see two school board members engaged in the crisis (David Blair and Jennie Robinson), but the rest seem to be out of touch (or to “coward out” quoting Bob Harrison). It could be that they are content to let Blair and Robinson stand up and take the heat (which they do). Note that Laurie McCaulley and the NAACP have a meeting scheduled for 6PM on February 1 at Rolling Hills Elementary – so we’ll see if she gets involved. However, even Blair and Robinson don’t seem to have a full understanding of the situation (and they are the as-good-as-it-gets guys).
For example, at the SHCA meeting Sanford referred to a law that prohibited the board from appointing an interim superintendent within the 30-day notice of vacancy period. I don’t think Blair or Robinson believed him. Even today at the work meeting (held to discuss the appointment of an interim superintendent), school board attorney J.R. Brooks said “I don’t think he’s read it”, referring to Sanford and the law. However, Brooks then advised the board that they couldn’t appoint an interim superintendent without creating a ”potential legal problem”. I know Sanford well enough to know that when he speaks, listening is a good idea.
- last week the board voted to renegotiate Dr. Ann Roy Moore’s contract (worth $198,000 per year plus $800 per month car allowance plus benefits and perquisites) – Moore will be paid through December 2011.
- HCS (will) issue(d) a notice of vacancy, starting the 30-day clock for a new / interim superintendent.
- HCS must fill the position within 120 days after notice published.
- I really don’t know if this means they’ll just stick with Moore until a new Superintendent is hired or if they’ll hire an interim Superintendent to replace Moore (I imagine that the 30-day notice and 120-day clock would have to be reset to replace the interim Superintendent).
- Dr. Moore will be making near-term contract decisions (some of which can only be made in the near-term like extending principal’s contracts).
- HCS hired ‘demographer’ Steve Salmon to develop a report within 8 to 10 weeks or so; rezoning and closing decisions depend on that report (BTW Salmon was described as the former Superintendent of Dekalb (GA) County Schools – turns out Salmon was with Cobb County Schools).
I hope that the board takes part of this ‘down’ time to get with their attorneys, consultants, planners, and fellow officials to get their act together.
IMO the school board has an organizational problem and they are in a tough situation: the board is elected to oversee the school system, manage the superintendent, and communicate with the public (as well as being held accountable to the public). However, it seems like the board doesn’t have any authority to make decisions – it’s up to the Superintendent who is not accountable. The bigger problem is that the public has no one to hold accountable – no one person is in charge – there is no unity of command. We’ve got five people who all blame someone else (including the public – which is one of the worst moves I’ve seen lately).
One solution that has surfaced is to do away with the school board. Here is a letter to the editor written by respected and beloved Judge Hartwell Lutz from around December 30 (tip to Redeye):
We all make mistakes; some are innocent; some are harmless. Some may even result in good. In my 24 years of elected service, as a legislator and later as a judge, I made my share of mistakes, but one of them overshadows all the others in its ultimate, time-proven harm.
So I now confess. In 1971, I was the author and sponsor of the legislation that resulted in Huntsville’s elected Board of Education. Prior to that, the board was appointed by the City Council. While all the current members of the board are fine, well-qualified people, there can be no doubt that the Huntsville school system has become politicized to the point of serious damage.
Clearly, one of the main reasons for the present $20 million financial deficit in the system is that board members didn’t want to lay people off or cut back on expenses, even though they knew a big problem was looming. That would cost them votes.
There is a high school that almost everyone agrees needs to be closed, but it won’t be any time soon because that would cost one or more board members votes. All this proves that good politics is not necessarily good government.
I don’t necessarily believe that the board is over-politicized, in fact I think that partisan elections at the municipal level would be a good thing. But this letter was not easy for Judge Lutz to write and he illustrates my point: the board has serious structural problems.
If you think it can’t get any worse, look around. I was looking for information on the demographer – but I didn’t know his name until today so I looked up the DeKalb County School System. Imagine my surprise when I found out that their Superintendent (and some senior Central Office staffers) were recently indicted; no, we didn’t hire -that- guy. However in my search I also found a blog named “DeKalb County School Watch”. DeKalb County is undergoing rezoning, school closures, financial troubles, and academic problems – and they have a head start. I recommend reading some of their posts to get a feel for some excellent insight into what we’re about to experience.
It’s late and I haven’t really written about the meetings – maybe I’ll catch up later.