Board has many challenges

Published 10:03 pm Tuesday, June 25, 2019

A series of stories in the Suffolk News-Herald two weeks ago pointed to a number of issues with the Suffolk School Board.

One board member, Sherri Story, says she feels that the rest of the board has isolated and bullied her for speaking out about closed-door meetings that should have been held in the open. She has hired an attorney to represent her against her own fellow members.

In their few public comments in a meeting after two of the newspaper stories had run, some fellow board members denied some of Story’s accusations and did not address others.

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Her fellow board members have censured her twice and seem to be anticipating doing so again, as they talked at length in a recent meeting about adding increasingly more drastic ways to punish their fellow members, including removal from committees.

In a meeting to determine the process for replacing Superintendent Dr. Deran Whitney, who has announced his retirement, seven board members had seven different ideas of how to go about it. Some observers said it seemed like there was no leadership without Whitney there — which is troubling, since the board is supposed to be the superintendent’s leader, rather than the other way around.

The school system has many good people but also has many challenges. Chaos at the top will drive away the good people and leave the school division powerless to solve its challenges.

One imminent challenge — perhaps the greatest one of all — is hiring a new superintendent to lead the school division. And despite an impassioned speech by Story at the June 13 School Board meeting, in which she professed her belief that the board can still choose a good superintendent in spite of members’ differences, we have difficulty believing that can be done when the board had trouble even agreeing on the process by which it would be done. Such turmoil among members of the board could not only preclude a unanimous choice but also drive away the best candidates in the first place.

We urge School Board members to reach an understanding soon that will help the board operate in the best interest of Suffolk’s children, division faculty and staff and the city’s taxpayers.