MCSD board critics Myers, Thomas make closing arguments at their final meeting

Muscogee County School Board representative Frank Myers of District 8, far right, and John Thomas of District 2, third from right, read their farewell speeches during the board’s monthly meeting Dec. 17, 2018, in the Muscogee County Public Education Center.
Muscogee County School Board representative Frank Myers of District 8, far right, and John Thomas of District 2, third from right, read their farewell speeches during the board’s monthly meeting Dec. 17, 2018, in the Muscogee County Public Education Center.

Muscogee County School Board representatives Frank Myers of District 8 and John Thomas of District 2, the administration’s most outspoken critics, read farewell speeches at their final meeting Monday night.

Philip Schley, who served 21 years on the board (1972-81 and 1998-2010), including nine as chairman, defeated Myers in May for the District 8 seat.

Mike Edmonson will replace Thomas in the District 2 seat after beating Bart Steed in the July runoff. Thomas didn’t run for re-election.

Thomas said he was honored to serve on the board. He sought a seat on the governing body to advocate for “more transparency and efficiency” in the school district.

“After four years, I did not accomplish any of the goals,” Thomas said. “. . . I appreciate the support of the voters of District 2, and I’m sorry that I could not deliver on the platform that I set.”

Among his disappointments, Thomas said, “There has been no end to no-bid contracts.”

Thomas, however, said he is happy about a few accomplishments. When a parent or a teacher contacted him, he said, “I do feel I was able to provide some help in some way.”

He especially is proud of two votes that went his way:

Rejecting by a 4-5 margin superintendent David Lewis’ recommendation to hire Camelot Education, a for-profit company, to run three alternative education programs in MCSD.

Establishing by a 7-1-1 margin his “zero tolerance” policy against racial slurs, in the wake of an MCSD teacher using the N-word in the presence of elementary school students.

Thomas said he has enjoyed “meeting people in Columbus from all walks of life.” Hearing their opinions and concerns, he said, “has given me a completely different perspective on what it means to live and work in Columbus.”

He concluded by saying, “I hope for the best for this city and this school system,” and he thanked several supporters by name, including his wife, Marjorie Mitchell, who teaches business and computer science at Hardaway High School.

“When things have been rough, she has been encouraging,” Thomas said. “. . . In fact, she didn’t complain when I decided to run. She didn’t complain while I was on the board. And when I decided against running for another term, again she did not complain.”

After the laughter subsided, it was Myers’ turn.

He choked up as he thanked his family for supporting him.

Myers said he and Thomas “scored some wins over the last four years, but like John, we didn’t get done what we wanted to get done when we got here.”

When they joined the board together, Myers said, “we started with high hopes, and we leave tonight accepting that we did not change the world as we hoped to do, but we leave with a sense of satisfaction nonetheless.”

Their critics, Myers said, called them “controversial, disruptive, disorderly, negative, all these things, even though John and I vote with this board, just like tonight, about 80 percent of the time.”

Then he focused on that other 20 percent as he listed some of their proposals that were “summarily dismissed” by 2-7 votes:

Pay each parent or guardian $30 per child as a reimbursement for school supplies.

Provide more access to the school district’s financial information.

Give teachers the full 3 percent raise that Gov. Nathan Deal promised statewide, instead of the 2 percent that was in MCSD’s fiscal year 2017 budget.

Allow the public more time to speak to the board during meetings.

Stop the outsourcing of janitorial services.

Conduct a forensic audit of MCSD’s finances.

Permit board members to meet candidates for cabinet-level positions before they are “asked to rubber-stamp” the superintendent’s recommendation. “You would have thought some people from Mars had landed the night we had that debate,” Myers said.

“If you think any of the things that I just talked about are controversial, disorderly, disruptive or negative, I’m sorry,” he said. “I don’t.”

Myers wanted to end what he calls “a culture of fear” in MCSD. “It’s about an unhealthy environment that permeates this entire school system,” he said, “and it starts on the third floor of this building.”

Myers lamented that he and Thomas couldn’t “curb the epidemic of good people, especially teachers, leaving this school district in droves, seeking to only find a nontoxic environment where they can do what they love to do, which is to teach young people. And we were never able to convince a majority of this board that it is the job of the board to establish policy and the job of the administration to carry out that policy. That is black-letter law.”

Myers warned that their defeat of the Camelot “disastrous situation” appears to be temporary.

“I think they’ll have Camelot 2.0 coming soon,” he said. “It’ll be a different name, a different group of people, but it’ll be the same concept: outsourcing the lives of young people to strangers, where there will be no accountability.”

Myers added, “John and I walked into this building four years ago with this school system being ranked in the bottom third of the state. And tonight we leave, and you guessed it, our school system is still stuck in the bottom third of the state.

“We’re told we’re doing better than Augusta, Savannah, Macon. But just last month, Macon landed a major industry that will bring jobs to Bibb County. I can’t remember the last time Columbus announced a new business or industry of any significance, because nobody wants to bring a business to a city with an uneducated workforce. The city has tolerated an inferior local public school system for way too long now. I hope someone in the future can stop it. We did our best to change things. We couldn’t do it.

“The great thing about tonight is that I don’t have to worry about this anymore. This is somebody else’s problem.”

Myers concluded, “To the good people who have their heart in the right place, not the parasites and the socialites, but the people who care about quality public education and who only want a fair shake at a quality public school system, you’re the people that matter. . . . I hope that the last four years somehow served as the beginning of the real change this community so badly needs.”

Nobody at the board table responded to Myers or Thomas before the meeting was adjourned.

Mark Rice, 706-576-6272, @MarkRiceLE.