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EDITORIAL: Has time come to give up on current Talladega City BOE, superintendent?

Daily Home Editorial Board

The Daily Home Editorial Board

It seems the Talladega City school board can’t get its act together — “together” being the operative word. And if they can’t work together, maybe it’s time to call in the state and break the whole thing up and start over.

As has been the case for months now, the most recent school board meeting was dominated by discord, with board members Mary McGhee and Sandra Beavers on one side and Superintendent Tony Ball and board member Jake Montgomery on the other.

The meeting erupted almost immediately with a dispute over what should have been routine approval of the minutes from the previous meeting.

There’s too much history to capture it all in one editorial, but suffice it to say: Neither side trusts the other. 

On the one hand, it’s hard to build a relationship with anyone who calls you racist. On the other hand, a high-profile hire like superintendent should always go through a transparent and fair process. That was not the case when Ball was hired.

Montgomery doesn’t acknowledge the underhanded approach for how the hire played out, and Ball doesn’t acknowledge his own culpability in going along with the process. 

Before the meeting to discuss the candidates, The Daily Home received phone calls that Ball was already announcing that he was going to be Talladega’s next superintendent. If that’s true, maybe it was just a matter of wishful thinking, but that would be an awfully convenient excuse. Regardless, he should have recognized the flawed process by which he got the job and taken steps to build bridges with those who questioned it. More importantly, as he got to know the system he inherited, he should have come to recognize the need for more African-American teachers in a system that features an African-American-majority student body and made attracting them a priority.

Beavers has an ongoing lawsuit against the school system she serves, and McGhee was a party to that same suit until recently. It opens them up to suspicion that their own personal interests — rather than the interests of the system’s students — are their primary motivations.

About the most recent board meeting, a Facebook commenter said: “It appears as if it’s business as usual for the school board. Every vote 3 to 2. Unfortunately we’re stuck with them until the next election. They need to focus on our children and not their egos. I thought that we would see a change as we welcomed new board members but it appears I was wrong. In order to have change they must be willing to work together and I’m sorry to say I don’t see that happening any time soon. Maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad idea for state intervention at least something would get done.”

Is the business of teaching the students getting done? By all accounts, yes. But that’s why this behavior among the leadership is even more harmful; it’s taking attention away from any achievements the system might be reaching in the classroom.

Enrollment determines state funding, but who wants to move into a school system that’s being sued by one of its board members, where the superintendent was hired under the fishiest of circumstances, and where they can’t even approve the minutes from the previous meeting without a meltdown.

We don’t take lightly any suggestions of a state takeover. When the state threatened to take over the Talladega city school system four years ago under former Superintendent Donna King, this Editorial Board’s position was to lean toward patience. An election was on the horizon, and our hope was that a new school board would make necessary changes.

That election brought a new board, which eventually dismissed King and hired Terry Roller as superintendent. It was a successful turnaround, albeit short-lived.

Today the nearest election is not on the horizon but in the rearview mirror, and there doesn’t seem to be a bridge that can reach across the current divide. State takeover would be unfortunate because it would send the unfair message that educators in Talladega aren’t doing their jobs. But the leadership — including the board and the superintendent — is what’s clearly broken, and state takeover might be Talladega’s most immediate option.

The state of Alabama has an amendment on the March 3 primary ballot to consider shifting away from an elected state school board to a governor-appointed one. Would an appointed school board be a better fit for Talladega? Who knows? 

But we can all think of people in each district who would be less-controversial and more cooperative than the current bunch, and Roller showed what’s possible in Talladega when the right person is in the superintendent position. The problem is that it’s a longer-term solution, and it’s unclear how much longer the school system can endure these self-inflicted wounds. The bottom line: Something has to give. Our students, teachers and the city of Talladega deserve better.