I Hear That Train A-Comin’ (updated)

The Disney version of Davy Crockett liked to say, “Be sure you’re right. Then go ahead.” Certainly, that is the preferred mode of operation at PortsmouthCityWatch.org, but when objective documentation is unavailable and a train is moving down the track in what looks like the wrong direction, action is preferable to paralysis. For that reason we are reaching out to the Portsmouth citizenry in advance of a special meeting of the school board on June 27, 2016.

The announced purpose of the meeting in question is to consider early termination of the schools superintendent’s current contract and replacement of it with a four-year agreement. The terms are to remain what they were in the original document except for the expiration date. With two years left on the existing contract, though, we are wondering why the change is necessary or desirable. Unfortunately, we were unable to attend the June 16 and 23 meetings in which the board may have broached the subject, although, perhaps in closed session. Meeting minutes for those dates are not yet posted, nor are the video recordings of the proceedings. We find ourselves left to intuit a rationale for this move.

Call us suspicious. In light of the many goings on in the dark hereabout that have not been the work of Santa Claus — our apologizes for that convoluted version of a famous Henry Howell-ism — we think that it may be political. Indeed, five school board seats are up for grabs in this election year. Two of those are held by Board Members Ted Lamb and Sarah Duncan Hinds, representatives who have not gone along to get along but instead have consistently raised issues of concern to many in our community. If someone wanted to create a wedge issue to assist candidates receptive to the “group think” approach that characterizes many elected bodies here and elsewhere, would this be it? The issue has that sort of smell to it, something like fish that have spent too long in the refrigerator.

Still, with an idea that has not had a full public airing, we are not comfortable summarily dismissing it as a political ploy, especially if someone can offer a direct correlation between the contract extension and improved overall academic performance, full accreditation, appreciably higher graduation rates, dramatically improved average daily membership, and decreased suspension/expulsion rates. An approach that could build, rather than undermine, public trust would be conducting a full, respectful, and fair discussion of the issue this evening with the vote deferred until the next regular meeting of the board. That way the public will have time to weigh the arguments and make their own assessment. They would also have the opportunity to speak on the issue, something that is not an option at the special meeting. Time is on our side in this matter; the current contract still has two years “on the meter”. The board has no need to decide in haste and potentially repent at leisure.

If you concur with this recommendation or have a different one to offer, time is of the essence. Call in to the clerk of the school board Monday before 4:30 PM to communicate your views. Her number is 757 393-8200. You can also send eMail to the board members through kathy.chambliss@pps.k12.va.us. Should you wish to observe the proceedings in real time, the meeting is to take place at 5 PM, June 27, in the Third Floor Conference Room of City Hall.

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