Competency is the real issue

Published 11:35 am Saturday, July 19, 2014

After much deliberation and perhaps against my better judgment, there is an element of the Franklin City School Board saga that I feel bears discussion. It will probably be an uncomfortable topic for some and, make no mistake, is one that drags me straight out of my own comfort zone. But it is an issue that has become so glaringly obvious to me that in good conscience I can’t continue to ignore it in this column.

And that is the issue of race.

On more than one occasion, I have been charged with being racially motivated in my criticism of Franklin’s school board, specifically the school board’s chair, Edna King. In one instance, a comment was made stating, “Mr. Clark, your negative attitude toward this school board is very well noted, and I am almost sure that it will continue until you and others of your ilk get the board that you want.”

Another comment said, “Mr. Clark, I sincerely hope that you and others of your ilk get exactly what you want, and that is a white, walk-on-water superintendent.”

If the fact that both comments included references to me, and others of my “ilk,” cause you to believe that the same individual made both comments, then you would be correct. I don’t know the person who made these comments, let alone whether they are black or white. But what I do know is that he or she believes race is a part of the discussion surrounding the leadership of Franklin’s school board. And I agree, just not in the way this person seems to see it.

For the record, I could not possibly care any less about the color of the school board. Black, white, orange or green, it simply does not matter to me. What I, and I believe others of my “ilk,” do care about, however, is that the board be comprised of competent individuals who possess the ability and desire to make sound, reasonable decisions about the management of Franklin’s schools and can do so while remaining in compliance with state code. I believe the desire part is there, but not necessarily the competent or ability parts. And because of that belief, I have stated on numerous occasions that a change in leadership should be made. Make no mistake, if the current school board chair were a 40-some year-old white male, such as myself, I would have been equally as critical of his job performance as I have been of Mrs. King’s and the rest of the school board.

But yes, I do believe that race is a part of decisions being made with regard to school board leadership, and Thursday’s vote to determine who would be chairman of the board for the 2014-2015 school year make that perfectly clear. Franklin’s school board is made up of seven individuals. Four are black, three are white. And when the vote was completed, the four black board members had voted for the black nominee and the three white members had voted for the white nominee. Mrs. King, despite overwhelming evidence that her leadership as school board chair has been utterly ineffective, to say the least, was reelected as school board chair.

At the end of the day, a vote like that which went right down racial lines can’t help but cause me to ask some questions. Did the two other white board members vote for Will Councill because he is white, or did they vote against Edna King because she is black? Did the three other black board members vote for Mrs. King because, like them, she is a black woman? Did every member of the school board vote his or her conscience based on who was the best person for the job? Just some of them? Or none of them?

I don’t know the answers to any of those questions, and I suppose I never will. But what I do know is that they are questions worth asking, and I hope if any of the answers ever see the light of day, my suspicions are baseless. Because what I and others of my “ilk” really do want for this community is a school system that is a source of pride for its stakeholders and, more importantly, one that is capable of providing its children with a world-class education. No matter the color of the board members that oversee it.

TONY CLARK is the associate publisher of The Tidewater News. He can be reached at