Public school business is supposed to be public

The past few weeks the Calhoun County School District has been at the center of a lot of news, and much of it hasn’t been very flattering.
A second teacher/coach in two years was charged with inappropriate contact with a student. The district superintendent, a principal and a teacher have been charged with not reporting the alleged crime. Court hearings are being scheduled to determine why, and if, those charges need to be pressed further.

Joel McNeece

Joel McNeece

Meanwhile, a divide appears to be growing between the superintendent and school board members over the district’s hiring practices and who needs to know what about district business.
The answer to it all is “sunshine.” The public school district has become too private in how they are conducting the public’s business.

For starters, the administration doesn’t appear to want the public to know exactly when they’re having a meeting. The regular scheduled monthly meeting is held the last Monday of each month, but more often than not those meetings are routine, and issues of greater concern are addressed in “special called meetings.”

The current law requires that the public be made aware of those meetings within one hour of it being called simply by posting a notice on the door, unless it’s an emergency. The district gathered April 21 for one of those “special” meetings to hire a new football coach for Bruce and principal for Vardaman. Neither of those issues constitutes an emergency, however, many sources have revealed efforts were made to prevent the public (this newspaper) from learning of that meeting.

I confirmed the time of the meeting late in the day on April 20 from a couple of school board members and drove to the district office after hours to find no notice posted of any special meeting as the law requires.
It did appear on the door Friday morning. Our newspaper is never informed of any special meetings taking place at the district office, but that will have to change in the near future. The governor recently signed a new law that takes effect July 1 and requires school districts, town boards, supervisors, virtually all elected bodies, to notify the local newspaper of any special called meeting within the hour. All members of the public can “opt-in” as well to receive email notification of such meetings.

As for the perceived rift between the superintendent and the board, it appears it also stems from a lack of sharing of information. To be fair, the system doesn’t work as currently constructed because both the superintendent and board are elected separately, so neither is truly accountable to the other. That will change when Sup. Mike Moore completes his current term and the next superintendent is hired and held accountable by the board members. That’s how the system is supposed to work.

Sup. Moore made it clear to board members last week he was willing to listen to their thoughts on the hiring of key personnel, but it really didn’t matter because it was ultimately his decision. I would suggest that individual school board members are more in tune with their local school, its supporters, and their needs than the countywide superintendent. Their input on the hiring of school leaders shouldn’t just be tolerated, but valued.
That’s not happening right now as they are too often left in the dark, just like the general public about most district matters. That needs to change and quickly.

Email Joel McNeece at joelmcneece@gmail.com