Board called to ‘closed’ meeting

Published 7:57 pm Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Not only has the State Department of Education moved a step closer in taking over the Selma City School System, now the State Superintendent of Education wants to have a closed meeting with the Selma City School Board.

In a letter from Dr. Tommy Bice, the state superintendent of education, to Selma’s Superintendent of Education Gerald Shirley, Bice explains Selma’s opportunity on Feb. 12 to explain why the system should not be taken over, but calls for a meeting ahead of time.

“Furthermore, I am requesting a closed meeting with you (Shirley) and the full Board of Education for the Selma City School System to occur on Wednesday, January 22, 201 at 10 a.m., here at the Alabama Department of Education,” Bice writes. “The purpose of this meeting is for you to obtain information about my reasons for the notice of proposed intervention and my expectations moving forward.”

The Times-Journal contested the call for a closed meeting, citing Alabama’s Open Meeting Law, but a clause in the law, allows for such a meeting, regardless of the number of Selma City School Board members attend.

According to state law, the meeting can be closed when the meeting is “with state or federal officials for the purpose of reporting or obtaining information or seeking support for issues of importance to the governmental body.”

In contacting the members of the Selma City School Board, the Times-Journal learned that a quorom — or majority of school board members — do plan to attend the called meeting in Montgomery.

Joining Selma Superintendent of Education Gerald Shirley at Wednesday’s meeting will be Selma City School Board president Henry Hicks Sr., board member Dr. Kirit Chapatwala and board member Frank Chestnut Jr. Board member Dr. Udo Ufomadu said he would not attend the meeting and calls left for board member Brenda Randolph Obomanu were not returned.

The letter was dated Friday, Jan. 17, the same day the State Board of Education voted unanimously to accept a resolution moving toward a state takeover of the Selma City School System.

The takeover threat stems from the reported lack of adequate response on part of the Selma City School System to a scathing state investigation of the school system conducted last year.

The report found major flaws in the Selma City School System, primarily in the way in responded to reports of sexual misconduct on the part of teachers.

The job before the Selma City School Board is to now try to convince the state a takeover — or intervention — is not needed.

“You have the opportunity to demonstrate in writing why intervention is not warranted or should not be approved before the vote is scheduled to occur,” Bice wrote, also mentioning the state board is set to vote on the intervention at their Feb. 12 meeting. “You will also have the opportunity to appear before the Alabama State Board of Education for that purpose at its February 12, 2014 meeting.”

Selma City School Board attorney Katie Campbell said Shirley and members of the board have not discussed with her what they hope to present to Bice during Wednesday’s meeting of the state school board’s meeting on Feb. 12 to avert a state takeover, but said such discussions would likely start after Wednesday’s meeting with Bice.