Forum discusses electing city board

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Four members of the Selma City Council presided over a public forum Tuesday night to address the issue of whether members of the Selma City School Board should be appointed by the council or elected by public vote.

The topic was a major point of discussion at the council meeting this week after the council voted to re-appoint John Williams and Dr. Kirit Chapatwala to the school board.

Councilwoman Geraldine Allen said the public forum was scheduled after council members received phone calls from “several constituents” who complained about not having an opportunity to voice their opinions about the school board selection process.

“The council felt it was fair to listen to our constituents’ concerns,” Allen said.

Allen, a former Selma City School Board member, said she found positives in both sides of the issue, but felt appointed school boards have more structure than elected boards.

“The city’s school board is volunteer, and we are asking its members to make very important decisions about our schools,” Allen said. “It’s not just a job for them, and they have the students’ needs in mind.”

Allen added, however, that she would support what her constituents wanted.

Councilwoman Jannie Venter said she would also support what her constituents wanted, but felt parents should be more involved in their children’s schools.

“There should be more concern and parents need to come to the PTO (Parent Teacher Organization) meetings,” Venter said.

Council member Cecil Williamson, also a former school board member with the Dallas County School Board, said he has always supported an elected school board.

Council President George Evans, a former Dallas County Schools superintendent, said an elected school board would cause an additional expense for the city.

“They would have to be paid out of the general fund, plus travel expenses,” Evans said. “There are 12 members on the board right now. There would have to be a reduction of the board if we decided to have an election. Currently, the way it is now has gone very well.”

Only 12 local residents attended the public forum, with the majority in favor of elected school board members.

“I believe in an elected school board because it leads to accountability,” said Rajeeyah Holmes. “Parents should have a voice, and elected officials would give us that voice.”

Angela Benjamin, president of the Coalition for Concerned Families, said elected school board members would more likely meet the needs of constituents.

Kobi Little said he was in favor of an elected school board because it would lead to more accountability.

Little pointed out that no school board members attended the public forum.

“No school board members are here because they have no accountability,” he said. “There is also an issue of civic involvement. Like the council, school board members can be elected on a platform.”

Allen said the school board is currently under a consent decree, which means the board switches every other year between a black majority and white majority.

“We are trying to come up with a date for a meeting between the school board and the council to discuss the decree,” Allen said. “The consent decree is not working because we are picking people interested in being on the board. Race does not matter.”