Bibb School Board needs to do its job and get out of the way

July 21, 2013 

The switch in starting dates for the Bibb County School System will do nothing to increase its grade from an “F” in a recent survey. Although the results of that survey of parents, educators and others are a bit confusing. It’s somewhat like grading Congress -- which had an approval rating of just 10 percent in June -- with most people giving their individual representatives high marks. Those taking the school survey, some 1,271, gave the system no higher than a “C,’ and 51 percent gave the system an “F.” Individual schools, however, generally received better grades.

While moving the start date makes sense, the decision should have been made months ago. Granted, there have been extenuating circumstances. The board has been trying to figure how to cover an $18 million shortfall, $14 million of that due to state austerity cuts. The administration has been so tied up by constant delays -- most board-related -- that apparently no one was paying attention to how teacher planning and training and furlough days would impact the system’s starting date of Aug. 1.

At times, the board seems almost clueless as to how a school system’s calendar functions. Interim Superintendent Steve Smith said that one of the other reasons school starts had to be delayed was due to the lack of a contract for essential supplies, such as toilet paper, that needed approval before schools open. You can point to the budget woes as the primary reason big items fell through the cracks.

The budget is supposed to be finalized before July 1, but the board delayed its passage. It would have kicked the budget can down the road further if not for a threat by the interim superintendent. He told board members that if they didn’t pass a budget Thursday, he would have to go to the governor to find funds to operate the system.

In other actions, neither the superintendent or the board have a true understanding of furlough days. While it’s normal for teachers to work on their days off and put in extra time, declared furlough days are different. If an employee is hourly and goes to work or takes work home, they are legally required to get paid. If the employee is exempt, most times, they have to be furloughed for an entire week or the employer risks losing that employee’s exempt status. Exempt employees can’t walk into the workplace, much less do any work, answer emails or check phone messages while on furlough. If the system allows employees to work during a declared furlough day it will open a legal can of worms that will be very expensive to close.

While admittedly the morale of school personnel is at an all-time low, it’s probably not as low as the opinion of parents who are now left to scramble for solutions as to how to care for their charges in the interim. Many of the students had part-time or full-time jobs over the summer and have already notified their supervisors of their departure date.

It’s another example of poor leadership identified by the school system’s accreditors, AdvanceED. Smith has his hands full. The Bibb County School System is a big ship that’s hard to turn. While some positive academic trends may be materializing, the board has to get out of the way. Stop making kindergarten mistakes and let teachers and administrators do their jobs.

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