At least they're talking. That is just about all can be said of the fractious chasm between Pine Bluff School Board members, Pine Bluff School District administrators; teachers, parents and related parties. It's not much, but it's something.

At least they’re talking. That is just about all can be said of the fractious chasm between Pine Bluff School Board members, Pine Bluff School District administrators; teachers, parents and related parties. It’s not much, but it’s something.

As reported in the Commercial, a capacity crowd gathered at Pine Bluff School District Administrative Office board room Wednesday evening to participate in the open forum hosted by the school board. Convening such a meeting is a good sign from the school board. It served as a kind of olive branch among the fusillade of switches and stones that have come to dominate all district business.

Board president Herman Horace explained that the event wasn’t a regular school board meeting.

“This is a community forum that the business people of Pine Bluff wanted to find out which way the board was carrying the district,” he said.

From the less-than-cordial reception by members of the public, teachers, et al., one might infer that the presumed direction involves a really hot place and a hand basket. Reola Moore, a district parent, typifies the position. Moore expressed a broadly held discomfort with Superintendent Jerry Payne’s recommendation to hire Michael Nellums, the former Mills High School principal in the Pulaski County Special School District, to be the new principal of Pine Bluff High School. Even a cursory glance at Nellums’ history gives pause for thought. As reported, Nellums was investigated by prosecutors during his employment with Pulaski County. Moore’s umbrage is apparently shared by many district teachers. One such teacher, Virginia Hymes, echoed an inquiry initiated by several attendees: the selection of Nellums over heir-apparent and long-time assistant principal Earleen Collins.

As Hymes stated, “I am a teacher at Pine Bluff High School. I have been there for 36 years. I love that school. There are a lot of teachers who care about that school. The teachers at Pine Bluff High School have signed a letter too. I’m there for the children. My concern is this; are teachers ever considered when it comes to decisions that are made that affect children? We know Earleen Collins and what she offers. She is a hard working woman. I guess we thought she was going to be principal in the fall. It’s always right to do what’s right.”

Board member Donna Barnes responded by saying that Nellums was recommended to the board by Payne.

“So, this is the superintendent that you have concerns about and want to remove but then you decide to take his recommendation?” Hymes asked.

This is an excellent question. Why would this august body ride Payne out on a rail one day and adopt his recommendation for a critical position the next. The move signals either detachment, ignorance or indifference — inconsistency at best. Simply put, it undermines whatever tenuous credibility the board still had.

Pine Bluff Mayor Carl Redus also spoke to the assembled throng. The remarks given by Redus were on target. “I ask that you continue to listen to the parents and teachers of this district. We must have a strategic direction for this community,” Redus said.

Redus is correct. We need a strategic vision for the school district. We also need one for the city as whole. When the board fired Payne, they nonetheless let him keep his hand on the tiller. At a minimum this move deserves explanation. Ideally, some greater pattern of thought would be evidenced in that explanation. In the meantime, our kids and our communal futures are waiting.