published Saturday, September 18th, 2010

Ominous turn for schools

The sudden turn of events at the school board meeting Thursday is ominous not just for Superintendent Jim Scales. It also suggests serious meddling in the school board’s business by several county commissioners, particularly Fred Skillern. And it clearly signals a hard shift toward the revanchist, racist old guard that still yearns for a school system like the one the county used to have before the merger of the separate city and county school systems in 1997. That would be a system that favors the outlying, mainly white schools over the needs of urban schools.

All this became transparent this week when veteran school board member Everett Fairchild, at the urging of Skillern, reversed his pledge to help elect Linda Mosley as chairman of the school board, and, instead, ran against her. His election to the post Thursday night on the emergence of a revised and newly dominate bloc of five on the nine-member school board further honed both the power and the attitude shift.

Mr. Fairchild himself punctuated the point when he announced as soon as he was elected that his first order of business would be to hold a board work session to discuss the performance and evaluations of Dr. Scales. Such scrutiny apparently is intended to force Dr. Scales to take a buyout of the 18-month remainder of his term, and clear the way to appoint a new superintendent. We urge Dr. Scales to resist such pressure.

It requires no leap to suggest that a successful effort to remove Superintendent Scales, who is black and who was brought here from Texas after a national search, could well be followed by installation of Rick Smith, an assistant superintendent holdover from the old county school system who has long been regarded by Skillern and school board member Rhonda Thurman as the superintendent-in-waiting.

It’s no secret that Smith, who does not have a doctorate in education, has wanted the superintendent’s job since the merger of the former city-county systems, and that he is favored by the Skillern bloc on the County Commission, and the newly pre-eminent Thurman bloc on the school board. Fairchild’s reversal, which came possibly because he has never favored Scales and likes Smith, a fellow Hixson resident, was essential to the Skillern-Thurman agenda. It is nonetheless surprising and disheartening. It threatens a sharp change of course for the school system.

Since 1997, the dominant school board bloc has been progressive. Under former Superintendent Jesse Register’s tenure and more recently under Scales, the board’s majority has favored magnet schools to mitigate segregation and forced busing, and focused on improving both urban and suburban schools through more intense curriculum and enhanced teacher selection and training. School board members in favor of that agenda stood steadfastly behind former Superintendent Jesse Register even as county commissioners treated him and the school system badly.

Though Register knitted together the old city and county systems and vastly improved the system as a whole, the Skillern-led faction of the County Commission finally exhausted him by denying needed funding increases and making it clear it would not cooperate with Register to improve schools. When it ultimately forced him to take a buy-out of his contract and leave (Nashville has since welcomed him as its superintendent), the Skillern-Thurman blocs attempted to install Smith as superintendent. But they didn’t yet have the power to steer the board away from Scales.

Now, power on the school board is in play. Fairchild, a lifelong teacher and principal, can yet be independent of the County Commission and the Thurman block, but his reversal to gain the chairmanship and his apparent intention to oust Scales is deeply troubling. The school system needs an independent, forward thinking superintendent with unique skills to oversee an urban/suburban system, and to keep the intrusive County Commission at bay. Fairchild’s apparent agenda would undermine that capacity.

There is already too much entrenched, nagging history in the County Commission/school board relationship. Before the law was changed to provide elected school board members, commissioners used to appoint the board members. Their political power over their district board member was often abused: some commissioners used schools for patronage jobs and favors and virtually selected their principals. With a supplicant superintendent, they can still use their school funding power to coerce favors and steer school and educational policies.

School board members must be strong enough to resist intrusive political pressure from commissioners if they are to effectively and equitably serve students. But that dynamic now seems threatened. It will take vigilant public scrutiny and strong-minded board members, educators and teachers to keep the school properly independent and on the right track.

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fairmon said...

A school board that votes themselves a retroactive pension for an unlimited number of years and health care is not my idea of a trustworthy and objective board. Mr. Fairchild has shown he is a credible and objective educator that will act in the best interest of students.

Tax payers depend on the county mayor and commission to exercise appropriate fiduciary responsibility of tax money. The school board charter should reflect those essential activities that assure schools adequately meet necessary progressive objectives.

The school board charter, the city and county charters should address the issue of an entity having the authority to determine the terms and conditions of compensation for their voluntary community service.

September 18, 2010 at 7:59 a.m.
rosebud said...

How immature and petty of Mr. Austin, the times editorial writer (lower case intended) to take personal shots at Everett Fairchild. Mr. Fairchild has more integrity in his little finger than this jaded editorial writer could ever attain.

Mr. Austin, please follow up on Monday with a stirring defense of Janice Boydston, and the integrity and good judgment she has displayed in her career. Tell us how "the Boydston bloc" has benefited the community. Compare her life as a role model with that of Mr. Fairchild.

Better yet, have lunch with Janice Boydston, and take notes on her achievements, along with her cronies. I'm sure she can pick up the tab, with her freshly deposited $21,750 parting gift.

Did you notice by the way, that the very ones (Mosley, Ricks, etc) who cried foul because they lost...had somehow already planned their victory party? That Ricks already had his committee assignment (facilities) promised by Mosley? Yet that "advance planning" was somehow not "underhanded."

It's a new day Mr. Austin. You and your PEF pals have had control for 13 unsuccessful years. It's someone else's turn. And it couldn't be any worse.

September 18, 2010 at 11:05 a.m.
rnlqts said...

Who is the idiot that wrote this slanted piece of crap? When in trouble, play the race card to try and divert the public's attention from the truth.

The truth to us regular ole folks is that our kids are getting short changed while the big wigs in the central office are all feathering their nests with our tax money. Between Scales and his "mouthpiece" the taxpayers foot the bill for close to $400,000 dollars a year. Scales is paid more than the governor or Tennessee yet we have to pay Danielle Clark another $130,000 (w/benefits) to speak for him.

Between Scales and his three deputy superintendents we are dropping over a half million a year (including benefits). I don't think that most taxpayers realize that when the City and County school systems merged the central office staff doubled. We taxpayers were told that the consolidation would save us money. That was an outright lie.

"Since 1997, the dominant school board bloc has been progressive" Progressive = poor education, no control of each school by it's principal, no discipline, a huge inflated central office, and an absolute failure.

Thank God, there is a change of attitude with our newly elected board. That's what the voter's wanted. More power to them. The "Progressive" approach has been a dismal failure. Hit the road Scales and take your three overpaid deputies and "communications director" with you.

Ronnie Land

September 18, 2010 at 12:53 p.m.
dcrane said...

The three comments left here have missed the point of this editorial. Yes, we are not pleased with the retroactive pensions, and school board members who immediately pocketed the money, and administrators not telling the board money was already paid.

All of these points are not relevant to the central point of this editorial.

No, I'm not PEF (whatever that is) but I have followed the news about the schools since the merger fight and have clipped out articles to refer back to. I have followed the trail since 1995.

The people and groups who opposed the merger have gathered enough influence over the school board and the county commission. That is the central point of this editorial.

It is the opinion of this editorial that these merger opponents harbor racial conflict. I don't know if that is true. But many sociologist have stated that the term "urban schools" is used many times as an euphemism for "black schools." Zoning disagreements often center around not having certain neighborhoods attend a certain school. With the merger, the divided line between the city schools and county schools disappeared.

Is it ominous? Is it racist? No one really knows. But what is not disputable is that merger opponents have gained influence over school board decisions.

September 18, 2010 at 8:33 p.m.
MountainJoe said...

Bye Bye Dr. Scales. Rhonda Thurman for superintendent!

September 18, 2010 at 8:51 p.m.
harrystatel said...

Janice Boydston, one of your fine "progressives", is an excellent example of the quality of the school board's past members.

Harry Statel

September 18, 2010 at 8:57 p.m.
rosebud said...

Dear Mr. Austin (the writer of the above editorial): Did your child attend/graduate from a Hamilton County public school? In the interest of full disclosure, your readers deserve an answer and an explanation. After all, you have made it your business to critique and meddle in the business of Hamilton County public schools. We will await your answer.

And while you're playing "the race card," how about writing an editorial on how black superintendent Jim Scales (your description) treated the minority & poor children in the Normal Park neighborhood who wanted to attend that school. Did he support them? Did he advocate for them? Or did he try to keep them out? You know the answer. Please share it with your readers in a future compassionate editorial.

As I recall, that mean old Everett Fairchild, and his associate Rhonda Thurman fought to allow the poor, black children to attend their neighborhood school at Normal Park. Their efforts were of course defeated....thanks to Dr. Scales and your favorite "progressive" board members.

That would make a great story. Will you share it with your readers?

September 18, 2010 at 10:29 p.m.
SavartiTN said...

Our county schools suck! What's the joke...Got the money, send your kids to private school, don't have enough for private...send them to christian school, don't care...send them to public school. I hope to see Scales ousted and some local step in. The they are now...are just insane.

September 19, 2010 at 1:51 a.m.
fairmon said...

Your point or opinion that certain members of the county commission would have undue influence over board decisions or policies wasn't missed at all.

I disagree with your contention that some merger opponents will influence Mr. Fairchild to favor some schools over others or be prejudice regarding the opportunity given some students over others. I think there will actually be much more objectivity in that regard. I think there will be more effective use of tax money for educating versus administration.

Yuur leap to judgement that Skillern and others on the commission will have an adverse impact on school board decisions is premature. However, that is why this column is labeled "opinion" with people having an opportunity to post opposing views and disagree. I agree the commissions ability to impact the educational systems by withholding funding is not a good situation but is not new.

I do hope those voting to provide themselves a retroactive pension plus future health care and giving Ms. Boydston a nice going away present receive their pension benefit at the next election. It may be less upsetting if I knew that was the only way she would leave.

September 19, 2010 at 10:06 a.m.
MountainJoe said...

rosebud, don't hold your breath waiting for Harry "Hammer and Sickle" Austin to respond to your questions.

You might have asked him whether he even LIVES in Hamilton County, or even pays the taxes that he constantly advocated having raised on the rest of us. I know the answer, and so does he, but don't expect him to admit it in print.

September 21, 2010 at 1:13 p.m.
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