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Three-to-two is no way to run a school system

Following the school board’s sacking of Superintendent Rick Townsend, not technically terminated but having his contract “modified,” there has been an outpouring of frustration against some members.

Critics want a recall, which is  more complicated than it should be and not likely to go anywhere. But the public’s anger is clear and justified. We agree completely that a change is needed but exactly what needs to change is a much harder question.

Ironically, it is this voting in and out of board members that led to the musical chairs in the school’s high-paid, top post. Starting with the first appointed superintendent, Kimsey Wood in the 1990s, through Rick Townsend now, no superintendent has worked out their full final contract for Pickens schools. That track record says a lot and it’s not good.

Lee Shiver in 2005, Carlton Wilson, 2019 and now Townsend in 2021, were either terminated or forced aside in Townsend’s case. Others have left in advance of impending board turnover. 

The last three hirings/firings show the mayhem a three-to-two board split produces. Carlton Wilson was hired in 2017 by a three-to-two vote; Wilson was fired two years later by a three-to-two margin, after the board changed. And now Townsend has fallen victim to three votes.

A change in the health or residency of just one board member and moving trucks could be needed again at the central office.

Central to the widespread frustration is the board’s silence. With no official comment, the public is left to form their own theories.

Board members will incorrectly claim they would like to discuss it further but are restricted because it’s personnel and in executive session. Hogwash, we say. 

We editorialized before, and we’ll state again, there is no gag order on any elected official because they went into executive session – First Amendment rights take precedent. There is no law restricting an elected official who wants to explain their vote on any topic. In fact, openness and transparency is encouraged. Officials may need to show some digression but explaining to your constituents what you are doing is a bedrock of a democracy.

As for personnel, once people start working for tax dollars, they forego some privacy and in this case, when the decision could cost taxpayers into the six figures, silence should not be an option.

We never heard why three members of the board wanted to oust Wilson in 2019 and now we don’t know of any reason that Townsend is seeing his employment “modified.”

This is a complete dereliction of the duty by the board members.

Anger at them appears justified. But would changing some board members resolve the revolving door or speed it up? 

A better approach is for the public to demand answers. Why were these two superintendents, both of whom have staunch supporters, relieved of their duties? Neither Wilson nor Townsend were given official negative reviews prior to the actions. There is no known blemish on their superintendent work records.

An old saying on public transparency springs to mind, “a little sunshine is the best disinfectant.”

Interim-Superintendent Tony Young is by all accounts a solid choice to lead the system. He’s completely qualified, served as assistant superintendent, a graduate of the local schools and impressive universities. We urge the board (all the members) to settle on him until there is a bona fide and public reason that a change has to be made. 

We haven’t seen any evidence that the turmoil at the top affects student performance. The local graduation rate is the highest among similar systems and we do well in all statewide rankings. 

But, the turmoil is expensive. Paying people to walk away is fine for professional sports teams, not for local school systems.

It’s time for some answers from the board.