Enough is enough, part two

Published 11:08 am Saturday, October 13, 2012

With complete disregard for the age-old adage about assumptions, I will take a leap of faith and assume most of you are tired of hearing about how bad things are with the Franklin City Public Schools and would instead prefer to start focusing on solutions.

Well, I’m with you.

And because I’m ready to move forward with solutions, I’m going to lay one out here for your consideration. But first, I feel I need to briefly recap exactly where we are so that my proposed solution will make a little sense.

A few years ago, Franklin’s public schools were some of the finest in the state. Today, none of them are even fully accredited. You can argue semantics if you’d like, but fully accredited with warning and not fully accredited are one in the same.

And now, all three schools fall into categories that require some level of intervention by the state.

In the case of Franklin High School, the state is requiring administrators to develop and implement an improvement plan that will lead to achieving state standards. Only 26 percent of all state public schools are required to do this.

S.P. Morton Elementary is considered a focus school, which requires one central office administrator and the principal to attend special conferences, consult with an outside agency on a turnaround plan and implement many other state requirements. Fewer than four percent of state schools fall into this category.

J.P. King Middle school is classified as a priority school, a school that performs so poorly that the state actually requires the school system to contract with one of four approved vendors to help implement a turnaround plan approved by the government. The requirements under this scenario are staggering, and can be viewed by going to the Virginia Department of Education’s website. Only 36 schools out of 1,836, or fewer than two percent, meet this definition.

In September, Dr. Belle, superintendent of schools, said she hadn’t heard of the state taking over a school in 19 years. Having one of your buildings classified as a priority school fits the description of being taken over by the state.

This did not just happen overnight. It literally takes years of poor performance before the state steps in to this extent. The problem, it seems, is that while many in the community saw this coming, those responsible appear to have either been asleep at the wheel, in denial over the extent of the problem, or actively engaged in sugarcoating the problems and covering them up.

They (and by they, I mean central office staff and the school board) were able to get away with it, in large part, because nobody has been holding them accountable.

Which is why I propose that Franklin immediately change its policy of appointing a school board and begin electing one.

That’s not to say that I think everyone on the board is doing a poor job or should be replaced. And it’s not that an elected school board is the magic elixir that will magically transform the city’s schools overnight. But it needs to be a key component in rejuvenating a once top-ranked school system that is now nothing more than a hot mess.

Why elect a school board? Because the taxpayers have no say in who sits on the school board. Under the current system, a school board member is nominated by a member of the community, and then interviewed and approved by city council.

Once on the board, there is no means of removing an ineffective board member until their term expires, no matter how poor a job they do. At the end of their term it is once again up to council to decide if the school board member stays or if they go.

And based on the results of the last several years and the lack of action taken by members of city council to hold the school board accountable for such lousy results, they don’t appear to be up to the task of selecting a qualified school board.

Which is exactly why the community should have an elected school board; so it has the right to not only vote school board members in, but more importantly it would have the ability to vote ineffective ones out.

There are some that worry no one qualified would run if Franklin switched to an elected school board. I say take a look around you and tell me how much worse it can get if they don’t.

The taxpayer, who has little say in the matter, has been footing the bill and getting nothing in return. Involved and caring families, all of whom suffer the consequences of poor performance, have virtually no voice the process. And ineffective, out of touch school board members, many of who have personally presided over the demise of Franklin’s schools, answer to no one.

There are clear and obvious changes that need to be made in how these schools are run, but to date no one has seen fit to make them. With an appointed school board that has no fear of being replaced, the likelihood is low that these changes will ever be made.

It’s time for Franklin to elect its school board. Having an elected school board certainly won’t fix everything. But it seems like a pretty good place to start.

TONY CLARK is the associate publisher of The Tidewater News. He can be reached at tony.clark@tidewaternews.com.