School board stands pat

Published 9:56 pm Wednesday, May 26, 2010

In spite of advice from the state Department of Education’s superintendent on finance to cut expenses, a majority of the Selma School Board has voted to maintain the status quo.

Originally, the school board had called for a town hall meeting to discuss alternatives with approaching proration and declining student enrollment.

However, Selma School Systems Superintendent Austin Obasohan sent out an e-mail to board members Tuesday to cancel the meeting.

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In the e-mail Obasohan wrote, “ I strong believe that giving the situation, and lack of board support, that this is the best way to go. There will be no recommendation on central office or closing of any school.”

During Wednesday’s meeting, school board member Holland Powell of District 1 pointed out the system needs to deal with money issues immediately.

Powell said the School of Discovery, which no longer functions as an arts magnet school, costs more than $635,000 each year to operate. The system will have to construct an elevator in the building at the cost of nearly $213,000 for a single student to attend classes in the fall.

The cost of operation and the construction means the system will spend $2,900 per student on sixth graders in the upcoming year.

At the same time, declining school enrollment has left elementary schools across the system with ample space to pick up those sixth graders, Holland explained.

Additionally, cutting staff in the Central Office would save $350,000.

Those two recommendations made earlier by Pouncey, but rejected by a majority of the school board, would provide most of the $1.4 million needed to pay off the debt service each year for construction of the new Selma High School, Holland contended.

“True leaders have to make tough decisions,” he said, adding the closed-door discussions for a total of nine hours during the last to weeks were disheartening. “Selma believed in hope and change. All we get is more of the same.”

But Holland’s plea to go with Obasohan’s earlier recommendations fell on deaf ears. The other school board members voted to wait until a new superintendent is hired before making any decisions about school consolidations, closings or about the staffing of the Central Office.

School board president Henry Hicks Sr. said he wanted to wait until everyone could publicly know what is being done.

“All we’re trying to do is be open,” he said.

For the last two weeks, the school board met in executive session for the stated reason of “reputation and character,” which is allowed under the state’s Open Meetings Act.

However, Hicks and others revealed Wednesday through their public discussion, the closing of the School of Discovery and other issues not included under the Open Meetings Act were discussed behind closed door.

Katy Campbell, an attorney who represents the school board and attended the closed-door sessions, when asked about what she did when the subject violated the law, said, “I can only advise.”

Member Udo Ufomadu of District 4 said he did not have enough information to vote to close a school.

Ufomadu was a member of the previous, appointed school board when the issue came up last year and the board voted to close the School of Discovery, then came back later and recanted its vote.