Who Is In Charge

A case study in Indiana State Board of Education dysfunction

PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Indiana State Board of Education member Gordon Hendry.

How did a seemingly simple procedural change, one that Indiana State Board of Education members and state Superintendent Glenda Ritz unanimously favored, become a half-hour debate and result in a split vote on Wednesday?

For regulars at state board meetings, these sorts of puzzlingly contentious moments may be among the few board actions that seem routine.

The real issue in this case was not so much about the question before the board — a proposal to expand public comment at its meetings — but more like another round in the battle among Indiana State Board of Education members and state Superintendent Glenda Ritz over whether she had adhered to the board’s rules.

Disagreements over meeting rules have been a recurring theme for the board, usually accompanying new cracks in the fault lines of hard feelings about how Ritz has managed her role as chairwoman, and how its members have behaved, going back months.

This time, board member Andrea Neal’s suggestion to allow those who come to board meetings to speak on any topic sparked the skirmish.

Though nearly every member of the board said they liked the idea, Neal’s motion only passed 7-3.

Here’s how they got there.

Neal had recently expressed surprise and dismay to find the rules limited speakers to talking only about items on the board’s agenda. In response, Ritz named a committee to develop a recommendation.

And that’s where the trouble began.

Board member Gordon Hendry said he wished to attend the committee meeting but was upset that Ritz sent him notice too late to allow him to plan for it. The meeting was held early Wednesday, before the 9 a.m. state board meeting. Also unable to attend the meeting were state board staff members.

Hendry called for delaying the vote until a future meeting to allow more discussion and was backed by board member Brad Oliver, along with David Freitas and Dan Elsener who were participating by phone.

“The board members on the phone haven’t even seen current proposal,” Hendry complained.

Oliver then cited the board’s own rules that require public notice five days in advance.

The state board has had regular battles over its rules since 2013, and disputes with Ritz as to whether she has faithfully followed them. Those tensions culminated in an explosive November meeting that ended when Ritz abruptly declared they were adjourned.

Since then, changes to the board rules have been intended to mend fences and guard against any future clashes. New procedures that have been added since November have made it easier for board members to place items on the agenda and to make motions during board meetings.

When it comes to scheduling meetings, however, Ritz said Wednesday the 11 board members’ many work and personal commitments make it difficult for her to always find times that work for everyone.

“I have other duties than my state board duties,” she said. “I am an elected official. I am swamped in my superintendent duties.”

But Oliver and others argued that the meeting notice is a responsibility that isn’t optional. Not just the board members had this concern. After the meeting, a newspaper reporter in attendance made formal complaints to the Indiana Department of Education and the state board for failing to provide public notice of the committee meeting.

Ritz tried to guide the discussion back to Neal’s motion.

“It’s a simple matter of an up or down vote,” Ritz said, urging the board to vote.

An exasperated Neal agreed.

“This is a question of expanding public comment,” she said.

The new rules passed despite no votes from Oliver, Freitas and Elsner.

Oliver and B.J. Watts said they agreed with Hendry, but voted yes because they supported expanding the comment rules.

In the end, Hendry also voted yes, citing the same reason.

The board’s next scheduled meeting is July 9, but Ritz said she would be reaching out about dates and times for a second June meeting soon.

For other stories from a busy state board meeting Wednesday see:

 

names are in

Ten apply for vacant seat on the Memphis school board, but six live outside of seat’s district

PHOTO: Kayleigh Skinner
Former Shelby County Board of Education Chairwoman Teresa Jones confers with then Superintendent Dorsey Hopson during a 2015 school board meeting. Jones' seat is now up for an interim appointment.

Ten people have put their name in to become the next board member of Tennessee’s largest school district.

The appointee will fill the seat Teresa Jones vacated following her recent appointment as a municipal court judge, and would serve until the term expires in August 2020, not October as previously reported.

The interim member will join the school board at a crucial time, amid the search for a new superintendent to replace Dorsey Hopson, who left the district in December. Currently, Joris Ray is serving as interim superintendent.

Jones’ district 2 serves neighborhoods including North Memphis, Binghampton, and Berclair. Chalkbeat found that six applicants live outside of the district. Shelby County Commissioner Michael Whaley said this would likely prevent them from an appointment, but the commission is seeking clarity from the state and election commission.

Whaley also said the interim appointment was extended to August 2020 because Tennessee law doesn’t specify that special elections are necessary for the school board, so the interim will finish out Jones’ term.

The county commission is scheduled to name a successor on Monday Feb. 25, a day before the school board’s meeting that month. The commission is slated to interview candidates Wednesday at 10 a.m., but Whaley said more names could be added by commissioners prior to the vote on Monday We’ve linked to their full applications below.

Applicants are:

Althea Greene

  • She is a retired teacher from Memphis City Schools and childcare supervisor with Shelby County Schools. She is currently Pastor of Real Life Ministries.

Arvelia Chambers

  • She is a senior certified pharmacy technician with Walgreens. She said she’s a “passionate aunt” of three children in Shelby County Schools.
  • Her listed address is slightly north of District 2.

Aubrey Howard

  • He works as the executive director of governmental and legislative affairs in the Shelby County Trustee’s Office. He formerly worked for the City of Memphis, and said in his application that he previously ran for school board and lost.

Charles McKinney

  • He is the Neville Frierson Bryan Chair of Africana Studies and associate professor of history at Rhodes College. He is on the board of Crosstown High Charter School, and is the father of two Shelby County Schools students.

David Brown

  • He is the executive director of digital ministry at Brown Missionary Baptist Church and graduated from  Craigmont High School.
  • His listed address is slightly east of District 2.

Erskine Gillespie

  • Gillespie previously ran for City Council district 7 but lost. He is an account manager at the Lifeblood Mid-South Regional Blood Bank. He said in his application that he was one of the first students to enter the optional schools program in the Memphis district.

Kenneth Whalum, Jr.

  • He is a pastor at The New Olivet Worship Center and previously served as a school board member for the former Memphis City Schools; he was first elected in 2006. He has vocally opposed the process behind the 2013 merger of the city school system with legacy Shelby County Schools.
  • Whalum ran against school board member Kevin Woods in 2012 and lost.
  • His listed address is near the University of Memphis, not in District 2.

Makeda Porter-Carr

  • She is a research administrator at St. Jude Research Hospital.
  • Her listed address is in southeast Memphis, not in District 2.

Michael Hoffmeyer Sr.

  • He is the director of the University of Memphis’ Crews Center for Entrepreneurship in which he works with college and high school students. He graduated from Craigmont High School.
  • His listed address is slightly north of District 2.

Tyree Daniels

  • He helped found Memphis College Prep charter school. He lost to Jones in a school board race in 2012. Daniels is now a part of Duncan-Williams Inc. — the firm handling public financing for the project Union Row.
  • His listed address is in east Memphis, not in District 2.

Raise your voice

Memphis, what do you want in your next school superintendent?

PHOTO: Kyle Kurlick for Chalkbeat

Tennessee’s largest school district needs a permanent leader. What kind of superintendent do you think Shelby County Schools should be looking for?

Now is the chance to raise your voice. The school board is in the thick of finalizing a national search and is taking bids from search firms. Board members say they want a leader to replace former superintendent Dorsey Hopson in place within 18 months. They have also said they want community input in the process, though board members haven’t specified what that will look like. In the interim, career Memphis educator Joris Ray is at the helm.

Let us know what you think is most important in the next superintendent.  Select responses will be published.