Richard Hyatt: School board arrogance expected

October 22, 2013 

The Muscogee County School Board's unanimous decision to authorize the hiring of a member's daughter as a classroom teacher was expected, and so was the panel's arrogant attitude.

Once again the board showed that it just doesn't get it, ignoring the rights of the public and taking shots at people who dare come before them with questions.

More than a month after the board and a first-year member fumbled a vote on the hiring of new teachers, a second vote was taken on Monday with the hiring of Jonai Senior as an English teacher at Fort Middle School drawing most of the attention.

Newcomer A.J. Senior created an ethical dilemma when she illegally voted to hire her daughter instead of stepping aside. Since then, two former supporters have labeled the job offer as political payback.

The board put Jonai's hiring on the agenda for the second straight month and Kathy Tessin, human resources chief, was asked to explain how new teachers are selected.

Tessin said Jonai was part of a pre-qualified pool of applicants who were presented to Fort Middle principal Sonja Coaxum. Tessin said the principal decided Jonai and another candidate were "what that school needed at this time."

This impressed board member Cathy Williams, who said she believes "the power to hire should reside … with the principal." The fact that Jonai wasn't certified didn't bother Superintendent David Lewis, who said last year's First-Year Teacher of the Year started with a provisionary certificate.

For the sake of the students at Fort Middle, we hope Jonai Senior develops into a brilliant, gifted teacher, but her resume did not create the current firestorm.

At issue was how the board -- A.J. Senior in particular -- has handled itself.

Senior attended workshops on the nepotism law. Veteran board members have dealt with this many times -- particularly John Wells, whose daughter is a longtime high school teacher. Attorneys should have kept Senior out of trouble, for on the day of her unfortunate vote, a Freedom of Information request was filed asking for details of Jonai's hiring.

On Monday several members made fun of the situation, wondering what the fuss was about. One said Senior was the victim of a gotcha moment created by unnamed critics and another mentioned outside motives. No one seemed to understand the promise of disclosure. They were more interested in attacking the messengers.

An uneasy exchange that offered a glimpse at the board's inner-workings preceded the vote.

To avoid more embarrassment, Williams asked the Georgia School Board Association how to handle the vote. She shared that advice, but attorney Jorge Vega adamantly disagreed, setting off a testy exchange.

"We pay someone and we should listen to him," board member Naomi Buckner said. And isn't it time they also listen to the people who elected them?

-- Richard Hyatt is an independent correspondent. Reach him at hyatt31906@knology.net.

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