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A district in jeopardy

Monday, February 20, 2006

The situation with the Southwest R-V School Board continues to deteriorate, and this week, three members of the board - Janet Ballard, Judy Friend and Angie Corn - showed their true colors. No more floating false rumors or hiding behind false promises that they were serving with the students' best interests in mind. Instead, these three board members proved that they would go to any lengths to pursue their personal agendas on the board.

It is very sad to see a district destroyed because two communities cannot get along and some people believe they can get their way and climb back to a position of power if certain administrators are forced out. I can see getting rid of school administrators if the district is failing or struggling. But it's flat out wrong to get rid of an administrative team that has helped the district make huge strides in recent years. Under the current administration, all teachers are treated equally and receive the support and resources they need to succeed. MAP scores are improving, facilities are in great shape and able to serve a growing student population, and financially, the district is sound. These positive changes didn't just happen. They came about, because previous school boards hired the right people and then let them do the job they were hired to do.

The current actions of three members of the Southwest School Board reveal they do not understand the role of a school board member. As far as we can tell, they are unhappy with administrators for purely personal reasons. It was stated during the open school board meeting that Janet Ballard handed out letters asking that Asbill's contract not be renewed last year, and when the board did not respond, she decided to run for school board. I wonder what she was after? I can only answer that question by stating it's clear to me that she wasn't after what's best for the students.

It has also come to our attention that the large majority of teachers support the current administration, and it is just three or four who are unhappy. It would seem to me that school board members would listen to the majority rather than the minority. But again, personal agendas supercede public service in the case of the three school board members who seem hell bent on destroying the R-V District. The announcement that Richard Asbill had resigned because of all the turmoil was bad enough, but actions taken in closed session last Thursday night are even more disturbing. By a three-to-three vote, the board failed to renew the contract of Judy Randall, Southwest's long-time elementary principal. I have worked with Judy for 10 years and have found her to be a very committed and capable administrator who loves Southwest and loves the children under her charge. I can't understand how 18 years of selfless service to the R-V District could end in such a way. I hope Judy Friend, Janet Ballard and Angie Corn are proud that they've gotten rid of one of the most respected elementary principals in the area. I am deeply saddened by this turn of events, and I wouldn't be surprised if the district loses faculty members over this decision.

The board also split on its vote to renew Vicki Enyart's contract. The 4-3 vote just might send Vicki looking for job opportunities elsewhere. I know I wouldn't want to work in an environment where I felt as if I were being attacked and undermined at every turn. Vicki is an outspoken advocate for students, and I know she butted heads with several of the school board members. Being a high school principal isn't an easy job and it's definitely not a popularity contest. I have had the extreme pleasure of working with Vicki also over the past few years and I believe her to be a very gifted high school administrator. Her love for her students is unparalleled and she's willing to fight for what's right, a quality that I respect. It will be another sad day if she leaves Southwest because of a divided board.

In my opinion the loss of Richard, Judy and Vicki will be Southwest's loss and another school district's gain. I also believe the district will be hard pressed to find administrators who want to come to an embattled, divided district. Qualified administrators will not want to work for a school board that attempts to micro-manage and question their every move. I have a hard enough time sitting through a board meeting and keeping my mouth shut when I see such ignorance and blatant disruption going on. I have covered countless school boards over the years and never have I witnessed what I see happening at Southwest R-V School Board meetings. It's an embarrassment and a black mark on a district that has such potential and was headed in such a positive direction.

Local school boards have a lot of power, and I'm not sure there's anything district patrons can do at this point to clean up the mess made by three out-of-control, power-hungry board members. The only thing that can be done is to make sure such division and selfish service is not repeated in future board members.

Once again, I expect one of these three board members to contact my superiors in an attempt to get me in trouble for this editorial. It's happened before and I'm sure it will happen again. That is their prerogative, but as editor of this newspaper, I also have a right to my opinion and a right to express it on this editorial page. Let me remind Angie Corn, Judy Friend and Janet Ballard that they are elected officials and therefore subject to public scrutiny and public criticism. They do have power in their position, but with power comes responsibility and accountability. I know I am not alone in my critique of their performance, because many people have called me with their concerns.

My comments are not personal. The actions of these school board members do not affect any member of my family and I have no direct ties to the R-V District. My comments come from my deep-rooted support for the public school system and my concern for the young people of Barry County. It infuriates me when the actions of adults negatively impact the future of our children. The loss of an entire administrative team will cause Southwest to lose ground and negatively affect the educational opportunities for Southwest students. Unless radical changes occur at the board level, the future of the R-V District is in jeopardy.