The standing-room-only crowd that filled the Pine Bluff School District Administrative Office board room Wednesday to participate in the open forum hosted by the school board apparently left disappointed.
A large number couldn’t even enter the room, one observer noted, and “they were pretty much hanging from the rafters. They were lined up two deep along the walls.”
The fire marshal could have written court citations for exceeding capacity of a public building.
Perhaps board president Herman Horace now understands why attorney Gene McKissic, who was behind the petition campaign seeking the open forum with the board, recommended it be held at the Pine Bluff Convention Center.
While the board limited speakers to three minutes each and the forum to one hour, it ran over the time limit by almost 15 minutes. If the board had ended the forum at 60 minutes it could have turned nasty.
Hopefully the board now understands the anger, confusion and unanswered questions that linger among district patrons, teachers and other staffers, and the business community.
The unanswered questions pose the most obvious problem. School district patrons will put up with a lot, but when a school board remains mute and refuses to answer even the most basic questions, we have problems.
If classes were still in session, a civics teacher could encourage students to attend the board meetings and forums. Those meeting don’t always operate in the same manner described in the textbooks. Or the U.S. Constitution.
The First Amendment to the Bill of Rights gives the people the right to “peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
Does the First Amendment apply to public schools? Yes. The First Amendment applies to all levels of government, including public schools.
The initial request for the forum came several months ago and involved questions about the board’s decision to terminate Superintendent Jerry Payne. Those questions remain unanswered.
However, a district parent asked why Payne recommended the district 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.
A group of teachers at PBHS have signed a petition expressing their displeasure that Assistant Principal Earleen Collins was passed over for principal in favor of Nellums, who was investigated by the Pulaski County Sheriff’s Department in 2010 and 2011 after allegations surfaced that he had conspired with Tim Clark, the president of the PCSSD school board, to frame fellow board member Gwen Williams in 2010 for accepting a bribe. No bribery occurred, officers determined.
In a May 21, 2011, report on the case, Prosecutor Larry Jegley described the actions of Nellums and Clark as “shameful.”
Several people spoke in defense of W.T. Cheney Principal Gregory Moore, who was not rehired in that capacity for the next school year.
The board still has time to act and answer questions posed by the patrons, faculty members and others. They may not agree with the answers, but the board must respond.
Service as a school board member is often a thankless task requiring lots of time. The salary is not a big attraction as some might think. The annual salary is still zero.
All seven members of the school board will be up for election Sept. 18 because of changes in their zones following the federal census of 2010. If the answers are not forthcoming soon, an alternative option is still available.