Board member’s guest column misses mark


Pine Bluff School Board member Harold Jackson wrote a guest column that The Commercial published Sunday, and while we appreciate Jackson’s taking the time to write, we found a number of his points puzzling if not downright objectionable.

For those who need some background, the issue at hand began when the school board, back in mid-April, voted to separate the job of athletic director and head football coach. Bobby Bolding has held both positions for the past four years, an arrangement that was approved by the board at that time.

The board’s move was met with opposition from various quarters and was the impetus for at least two letters, one from Chuck Morgan, head of Relyance Bank, and the other from George Makris, head of Simmons First National Bank.

The letters chastised the board for its lack of professionalism and transparency and for not having a stated reason for taking one of Bolding’s jobs away from him. The letters also urged the board to call a special board meeting and rescind its previous vote — which it did.

Jackson took exception to the involvement from the bankers, saying at the time of the second meeting: “The board knows what the district needs. We didn’t need that letter. I didn’t appreciate the letter. We’re on this board and know more than someone else about what this district needs.”

That statement provides a good segue to some of the passages in Jackson’s guest column.

He said that after the board voted to sever the two positions being held by Bolding, the board received objections from several individuals, some anonymously, and that some remarks were disparaging toward the board members.

“In other words, they lacked the courage to attend a board meeting and express their rights as taxpayers within this public school district,” Jackson wrote.

Additionally, he said that “Just like we’ve done hundreds of times before, we (the board) made a decision as a governing body.”

Yes, indeed, school boards do make hundreds of decisions. But we daresay, there have not been many that rivaled what went on that night. Without any recommendation from Superintendent Linda Watson to make the personnel move and without consulting Bolding’s immediate supervisor, deputy superintendent Rudolph Howard, who said he was “blindsided” by the board’s action, and without discussing the matter with Bolding or allowing him to present his case to the board, the board plucked the topic out of thin air and made its decision.

We aver that it was the board that lacked courage and not upset members of the public who were merely responding to the board’s actions after the fact. By all appearances, the board wanted to limit input from the public, which by any measure is a cowardly approach to a controversial action.

And do we even need to say that a board that believes it knows “more than someone else about what this district needs” is a receptive audience for public input?

Jackson also questioned the individuals who contacted the board, saying he wonders what financial and material support they have provided over the years to the Pine Bluff School District.

The last time we checked, we all have a financial stake in the local school district. It’s called taxes, and we all pay them one way or another. Do members of the public have to be further invested in the district than that in order to have their opinions heard? If that’s the case, what level of “financial or material support” does one have to offer to get a say? And would Jackson question the involvement of a supportive public or does he just question those who are in opposition to board decisions?

A final point of Jackson’s makes us wonder how involved he himself is in the school district. He said he “would hope that our city’s banking and financial institutional leaders don’t just choose to get involved when their favorite cause is on the line. That would be a poor reflection of their real commitment to quality schools within the city limits of Pine Bluff.”

Later, he similarly opines that he hopes that “in the future, the CEOs of the local banks will take an interest in all the decisions that affect student success and the total school programs in the Pine Bluff School District” and that only being interested in what the school board does regarding the football coach/athletic director “and not much else sends a terrible message.”

Has Jackson not heard of the University of Virginia’s school turnaround program going on in the Pine Bluff School District? The program aimed at increasing the academic performance of our schools and the educational outcomes of our children? The one that is being paid for through a significant investment from both Simmons and Relyance banks and others? We would suggest that even the casual observer would surmise that such investment constitutes something beyond an interest in sports.

Jackson is right in one respect, and it is that this episode has sent a terrible message, that being that some members of the school board either do not understand or simply ignore the ideas of proper procedure and operating in a transparent manner. They also do not abide dissent well. In other words: “ Detractors, keep your thoughts to yourself. We’ve got this covered.”

Obviously, they do not.