Richard Hyatt: Have your say about the school board

July 12, 2012 

The Muscogee County School District is asking parents to help them decide how to best use federal funding to train teachers. The survey includes questions about classrooms, schoolhouses, principals and teachers.

Nowhere on the survey -- located at www.muscogee.k12.ga.us -- are there questions about the school board or system-wide administrators. Officials might fear the responses they would get from constituents, especially after months of bitter conflicts.

Voters need not fear. On July 31, people all over town can pass judgment on four members of the controversial board:

• District 1: Incumbent Pat Hugley Green is opposed by Alfred Stewart.

• District 3: Incumbent James Walker is opposed by Athavia Senior.

• District 5: Incumbent Rob Varner is opposed by Brian McCabe.

• District 7: Incumbent Norene Marvets is opposed by Shannon Heflin.

The incumbents haven't been able to avoid headlines recently and those events won't be included on their campaign brochures. There was the dismissal and rehiring of Marvin Crumbs after the Columbus High principal showed a distasteful video to faculty members. There was the sudden departure of Superintendent Susan Andrews and the decision to pay former boss John Phillips $17,206 a month to be her substitute.

There was that embarrassing meeting in which the panel sent home friends and family members on hand to see their loved one become a principal with shell-shocked expressions on their faces. After a second vote affirmed them, those guests were invited back on July 23 to cheer for the new principals -- eight days before school board elections.

As the election draws near, the thermometer is rising. A new Political Action Committee recently emerged with an obvious goal. Its Internet address is www.boottheboard.com and it began some edgy TV spots on Thursday.

"Bringing fresh faces to the Muscogee County School Board is within our grasp," the site states. "How many times have you complained about or been embarrassed by the school board? If you have had enough, today you can finally do something about it."

No one has taken credit for the PAC, which is permissible under Georgia ethics laws. A PAC is not required to register until it makes $25,000 of contributions and/or expenditures to candidates, according to the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission Website.

Even if voters do "boot the board," problems won't be immediately solved. New members won't be seated until January and there is no assurance that the newcomers will work and play well with others any better than the incumbents. The firm managing the search for a new superintendent says it might have a candidate by January and though it would seem prudent to include newly elected board members in the process. No one knows if that would be done.

Meanwhile, we can only hope the children playing in the sandbox will get along.

-- Richard Hyatt is an independent correspondent. He is also found at www.richardhyattcolumbus.com.

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