Welcome, My Friends, to the Show That Never Ends – The CMSD Meeting of June 11, 2012

June 12, 2012

CMSD, Education, News

Just when you think it can’t get any crazier in Columbus, the CMSD Board of Trustees tops anything anyone has done in a long time.   Like a scene from a Kafka novel, the board underwent a metamorphosis from a stern group of determined leaders that were dead-set against accepting the 2012-2013 school calendar – with its return to the early Wednesday release – to rabid supporters of any and all things that Dr. Liddell (whose contract was approved at this same meeting) wants for the betterment of the children.  In the end, what they did was erode what little credibility they have in the community.

The evening started with a citizen, Lori Pierce, speaking to the board.  Her message was simple: give the parents and teachers an opportunity to review the plan and ask Dr. Liddell and the Board questions.  This would have delayed the process a week or two; however, it appeared that the Trustees already shared this concern. Several board members expressed misgivings about the change, and when it was brought before the group for a vote, it died for the lack of a second.

That’s right, Ma and Pa, it could not even manage a second.  After Currie Fisher made the motion, the room was full of silence.  Not a peep. Not a sound. And, like a leaf in autumn, the motion fell dead to the ground, with nary a thud. But, unlike the leaf, the motion would rise again and live, like some strange Frankenstein Monster.

As the meeting continued with it usual information and protocol – including opening a sealed bid for the Lee Middle School properties – the Board made a fateful discussion to go into the dreaded executive session.  And, that is where the whole thing turned into a sewer problem, including the flies and stench, which will pollute this decision for years to come. When they returned from the session, two and a half of the members had experienced a revelation of biblical proportions. They had seen the light!!!!!!

After Trustee President Tommy Prude made the proud announcement that they had handled a few student problems, rejected the bid for Lee Middle School and approved Dr. Liddell new contract, they returned to open session – which, by this time, had approximately 10 people in attendance, including media representatives. And there, like the mythological Phoenix, the school schedule rose, to fly again.  Yes, in a world where transparency is paramount, the Board pulled the old “switch-a-roo.”  Aubra Turner asked board attorney David Dunn if it would be legal to bring the motion back before the board.  Dunn said it was legal, so Turner brought the motion back to life, in true Dr. Frankenstein fashion, and Ms. Fisher seconded the motion.

And, like a lone voice crying out into the wilderness, Jason Spears voiced what everyone else in the room already understood – that this clandestine move would destroy whatever credibility the board had left in the community. He made it clear that this monumental shift in direction would be viewed negatively.

After much discussion, Ms. Fisher, in a dialogue worthy of Shakespeare – full of sound and fury and signifying nothing – told the horde of empty seats that she was offended by what Mr. Spears had said, once again proving what else everyone knows: the truth hurts.

What the board of trustees, with the exception of Mr. Spears, did at the meeting, was offensive.  It was offensive that they showed cowardice in front of the half-full meeting and did not even give the motion a second or any real discussion.  Then, it was offensive that they come back, after the crowd left, and passed the motion before an empty building.  And, it was offensive that anyone would be indignant, after being caught with their hand in the cookie jar.

After the vote was taken, and passed three to one, with one abstention (the world expects better from Mr. Lautzenhiser than to not vote), it was done.  In a letter sent to citizens and staff, Dr Liddell explained:

Our School District Achievement Near the Bottom & Common Core State Tests Much Harder  

I respect the parent that spoke tonight and all the community members who came out to the meeting to hear actions on the agenda tonight. After we returned from Executive Session tonight, I provided additional discussion to the Board as to why I believe our school district is on “Academic Watch” and why I believe leaders have a responsibility to do something about it-even if it means doing some things differently. I explained how reinstating ERW will give us the dedicated professional development time principals and teachers need for systemic professional development.

The Board of Trustees voted (3, yea, 1 Nay & 1 Abstain) after we returned from Executive Session to re-instate Early Release Wednesdays under “Such Other Matters That May Come Before the Board.” My intention was not to hide anything from our parents and community. I was prepared to discuss the matter in more detail after Executive Session for the same number of persons present before E/S that had they been present earlier. The future achievement of our school district is at stake. As much as I would have liked to have taken the easy way out, tonight, my commitment to the students made me advocate for them even harder. They deserve our best.     

All of the above is true.  However, it should be implemented in such a way as to build public trust.  It is easy to respect Dr. Liddell’s passion and honesty.  Unfortunately, it is a discussion that could haunt her, as the school year begins.  Once the die was cast, the Board was obligated, ethically, if not legally, to its decision.  Plain and simple.

After the meeting, Board President Tommy Prude said that they had changed their minds, to show support for the new superintendent.  That is nice, but with support like this, who needs an anchor tied to their foot?  The School District received a “D” grade on the Mississippi Report Card.  After last night’s meeting, the School Board gets a big, fat, well-earned “F.”    

 

Joseph B. St. John

Note:

The handout from last night’s meeting, as well as Dr. Liddell’s memo, has been published, in their entirety, on our website.

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4 Comments on “Welcome, My Friends, to the Show That Never Ends – The CMSD Meeting of June 11, 2012”

  1. Melissia Says:

    They will do as the want as long as they want, I think their standards speak for themselves, They are in the dark ages and trying to keep Columbus their with them. Sounds like the city council in their backwood decicions.

    Reply

  2. Thom Geiger Says:

    Chief MoJo, like I wrote in another message…same as it ever was, same as it ever was. BTW, when did they change the state Open Meetings law to allow discussion of regular business in executive session? As I read it, the state law explicitly lays out what justifications can be used for an executive session and, once that reason is stated BEFORE the executive session and AFTER a closed determination, ONLY that (or those specific topics) can be discussed.
    I am hoping you were there and was able to hear what the stated reason for the executive session was. If a vote on, or the issue of, Ms. Liddell’s proposed school calendar was discussed in executive session, that is not a valid exemption from the MS Open Meeting Law. If the topic wasn’t discussed in the executive session, what explains the sudden shift in the sentiment towards approving the calendar?
    Methinks the board blatantly violated the law and, if that is the case, I think the board attorney is up to his old tricks again. As the board is his client, if he failed to advise the members of any potential violation of state law, my guess is he failed to do his due diligence and could have placed the individual members in a position of personal liability.
    Of course, the minutes would have to not truly reflect what was said and done and each board member would have to deny that any improper discussions went on in executive session. Given our board’s history, none of that would surprise me in the least. Still, I think a complaint to the state ethics commission about what happened might pry open the safe of secrets on the Columbus school board. The MS Ethics Commission has a digital copy of the complaint form on their web site. It’s there for a reason.

    Reply

  3. Patty Says:

    I read in another account of the goings-on that Dr. Liddell had said there had been no response to a letter sent to teachers and administrators asking for input on ERW. The next few days brought forth the claim that this was a mis-quote – she had not said that. A letter was GOING to be sent. There was an awful lot of words there about what had lead up to this meeting. If the minutes have not been doctored, they will tell the truth; the way I see it, if the original quote was correct, then Columbus had best start looking for a new superintendent!

    Reply

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