The right call

Published 8:59 am Friday, July 17, 2009

Public education in Franklin will be successful only if this community’s leadership and citizenry become united in their support of the schools.

Petty infighting and political turf battles, such as the kind that have characterized appointments to the city school board in recent years, will surely doom a school division that faces monumental challenges in the months and years ahead.

The Franklin City Council this week gave our schools a fighting chance by rejecting the politics of division and heavy-handedness that for too long have held us back as a community.

In an act of extraordinary political courage and statesmanship, six council members — all but Mayor Jim Councill — voted to start over in their search for three school board members rather than subject the community and its schools to another divisive battle over who should sit on the school board.

The decision was understandably disappointing for the seven rejected nominees and their supporters. They are to be commended for their willingness to serve and to help lead our community’s most important institution. Any of the seven would have served capably. Two of the seven — David Benton and Robert Meredith — are incumbents who already have contributed much time and talent to the school board.

Real leaders understand, though, that the schools and their well-being are more important than any individual’s feelings or ambitions. Raystine Johnson, Benny Burgess, Mary Hilliard, Barry Cheatham, Rosa Lawrence and Mark Fetherolf understand — unlike City Councils past — that they set the tone for the entire city. They understand the importance — both symbolically and substantively — of building consensus and working to overcome the old race-based divisions that had become tiresome and harmful for our community.

On Monday night, at significant political risk for themselves but for the good of the city, African-American council members rejected popular black nominees and white council members rejected respected white nominees in order to avoid another divisive vote — or two or three — along racial lines.

There’s no guarantee, of course, that going back to the drawing board and accepting new nominations for the school board will yield candidates whom council members can agree on. But they have earned our gratitude for at least giving it every possible effort.