Columbus City Schools: Is anybody listening?

The results of last November’s election are now being felt within the Columbus City Schools’ Board of Education. In yesterday’s first meeting of the year, the Board swore in and seated two new members, elected a new president and vice-president, extended the contract of Interim Superintendent Dan Good, and simultaneously removed the interim label from Good’s title.

I listened to this meeting on the radio last night, cruising around in a nice warm car waiting for my daughter to finish choir practice. I mistook it for live initially due to the copious amounts of “dead air” at which I laughed…at first.

The most important part of that meeting, I think, was the inauguration speech of freshly-sworn-in President Gary Baker. He warned us at the outset that his remarks wouldn’t be brief, as anyone who knew him could attest that he likes to talk. And talk he did. About the importance of public schools as a civic institution and as the most important aspect of democracy in any city. He noted the immense importance of the job he was about to undertake as president of the board and how excited he was to work with his board colleagues, the superintendent, and the staff of the district to make good on a promise to provide an excellent education for all the students in the district.

But, Baker said, before he could address the future he had to address the past. Specifically, the student data rigging scandal that the district still has not seen the end of and which occurred on the watch of most of the board members listening to him, including himself. President Baker did not shirk responsibility or cover up or deflect. He owned the unjustified data manipulation that clearly went on and he apologized to the taxpayers and the parents of the district.

You can read about Baker’s speech and the rest of the meeting here.

Where you could hear no more than I related above was on the radio station airing the recorded meeting, because as I listened in horrified fascination, Baker was “played off” with some funky jazz that drowned him out after the words “I apologize…” and continued afterward for nearly 2 minutes before the DJ came in to tell us that they only had time to play the “first half hour” of the meeting. This despite the fact that nearly 5 minutes of silence was included in the part of the broadcast I listened to (Baker going to the podium, VP Steward walking to the podium, nearly 3 minutes of closed-mic silence as Baker and outgoing president Carol Perkins “changed chairs”); this despite the fact that the jazzy combo started up at 7:54 on my clock, nearly 6 minutes before the start of the next program; this despite the fact that the DJ had to vamp (weather for the next 36 hours, programming notes including start and stop times and program content for every program from 8 pm through 3 am) for several minutes; this despite the fact that the station knew the content of the meeting as it had been recorded more than two hours earlier.

Now the station did air a story about Baker’s speech – including the apology – this morning as a piece of news, but neither that story nor the audio of the meeting are available on the station’s website as I type this. (NOTE: story added around 10:00 am on 1/8/14).

Who owns and runs that station, you ask? WCBE is owned and operated by the Columbus Board of Education.

The simple point of fact is that President Baker said what needed to be said and what had not been said by the board before – as noted in reactions to the recent Columbus levy failure which decried a lack of trust in the district and called for transparency and openness from the district to restore that trust – and I didn’t get to hear it. No one else listening to that broadcast did either. As a Columbus resident and taxpayer with school-age children – whose tax money pays for the Board, the district, and the radio station – that is not OK with me. My fear is that President Baker may not have everyone on his team just yet. I hope that isn’t the case as the necessary changes are only going to occur if Board leadership has the support of the Board, Superintendent, staff, and community.

I will try not to jump to conclusions over what I heard on the radio last night, but the term “Orwellian” does keep playing in my mind…over a jazzy combo that won’t be drowned out.

More By Author

Related Articles