A new era for school board

Published 8:42 am Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Franklin City Council failed to reach the consensus it sought on an at-large appointee to the city school board, but it’s hard to argue with the council’s ultimate selection.

Edna King, a former educator and longtime civic and community leader, possesses the qualities a school board member needs: She’s smart, fair-minded and passionate about public education. In Isle of Wight County, where King once lived, she still is remembered fondly for her effective leadership of the county Planning Commission. She brought together disparate interests who had feuded for years and helped strike a balance between the need for economic growth and a desire to preserve the rural lifestyle that Isle of Wight Countians enjoy so much.

Significantly, the appointment of King gives Franklin its first black-majority school board in the city’s history. That is significant mainly because it puts behind us as a community a behind-the-scenes struggle that had consumed way too much time, energy and attention from both races. The question of whether a white-majority board or black-majority board is better qualified than the other is pointless and detrimental to the common goal of developing first-rate public schools for our biracial town.

Thankfully, the vote to appoint King was not strictly along racial lines. White Councilman Mark Fetherolf joined the council’s three African-Americans — Raystine Johnson, Mary Hilliard and Rosa Lawrence — in appointing King. Mayor Jim Councill opposed the appointment, saying he has nothing against King but had made a commitment to support incumbent David Benton. Councilmen Benny Burgess and Barry Cheatham have not said publicly why they opposed King.

Cheatham, however, did offer some wise and appropriate words to help get our community past the long, divisive debate over school board appointees: “The vote was taken, and Mrs. King won. She now has my full support at the at-large representative.”

Much hard and important work awaits a retooled school board, which will have two other new members, Glenn Hopkins and Will Councill, when it convenes again next week. The board now has a nice blend of experience and fresh perspectives that will serve the school division well, we predict. Here’s hoping the citizenry will lend its unanimous support of the board’s efforts.