Two years from today, Anniston residents will wake up to the news of who will serve on the city’s school board for the next four years.
Our wish is that it will be happy news. More importantly, the city, its residents, the owners of its businesses, the region and children who attend Anniston City Schools need competent and action-oriented board members.
Anniston’s future, as well as the future of its students, depends on quality public schools that produce an attractive workforce and lure businesses to the city. Right now the city school system is well short of the mark, with a middle school classified by the state as “failing,” a sub-standard graduation rate of less than 70 percent and a sharp decline in enrollment from the mid-1980s until now.
Blame for these ills can’t be laid at the feet of the current board members. Yet, the board elected in August 2012 has been disappointingly slow to get moving on pressing matters.
On school consolidation, the board, like its predecessor from 2008 until 2012, has moved at a snail’s pace. Enrollment dropped by more than a third over the past 20 years. The current board has yet to produce a plan to scale back the number of facilities it uses.
To the board’s credit, it made a fantastic hire when it selected Darren Douthitt to replace Joan Frazier as superintendent earlier this year.
What’s needed going forward are five school board members — one from each of Anniston’s four wards and another at-large member — who will work together to reverse course and put the school system on a positive track.
What qualities should voters demand from school board candidates on the ballot in August 2016? Here’s our list:
NO MICROMANAGERS: School boards make one really big hire: superintendent, who manages the rest of a district’s employees. Candidates need not apply if they are anxious to meddle in day-to-day affairs, such as which coach to hire or settling disputes among teachers and parents.
MANAGING MONEY MATTERS: Budgets are a reflection of what’s valued. As representatives of the taxpayers, board members should understand budgeting and set priorities accordingly. We need board members prepared to think deeply about where the system should be in five years, 10 years and 15 years, and then allocate money accordingly.
TEAM PLAYERS, PLEASE: People being people, school board members are bound to regularly disagree over policy. That’s OK. Civil debate and informed discourse are needed for a healthy democracy. Yet, at some point a decision must be made. A board member on the losing side of a 3-2 vote needs to realize it isn't the end of the world and is certainly no time to pout or undercut colleagues on the other side of an issue. There’s too much at stake in Anniston schools to hold a grudge.
IT REALLY IS ABOUT THE CHILDREN: Board members must dedicate themselves to improving the education of the district’s students. That’s it. Debates that veer into anything else are a waste of time. We need board members who can stay on topic, and THE topic is producing high-quality public schools.
Do these qualities sound like you? Do you have a passion to see Anniston’s school system soar to the top? If so, now is the time to start thinking about running for school board. You have less than two years.