By Scott Buttram, publisher
TRUSSVILLE — Let’s not sugarcoat this situation. Trussville City Schools is in a crisis. That’s the bad news. The good news is that this is a manageable crisis that, if handled properly, can be a launching point to reach new heights.
It’s no secret that I’ve been highly critical of TCS leadership and the BOE appointment process of the City Council for the last few years. No sense running from it because much of that criticism is on video or in writing, and it’s on the Internet for all to see. If some think I’ve been too harsh, fair enough. They may be right.
But it isn’t my criticism or my opinion that matters anymore.
Trussville citizens have packed two public meetings this week, City Council on Tuesday and BOE today, to share their stories and their concerns. Hundreds, if not thousands, more have shared their thoughts on Tribune social media sites this week. They have resoundingly and clearly stated their position.
Dr. Pattie Neill cannot remain as superintendent of Trussville City Schools.
Today, the TCS BOE accepted Neill’s recommendation that she take a 60-day leave. Board members promised a third-party investigation. But BOE members shouldn’t need 60 days or an investigation to determine that Neill must be terminated as soon as possible so the community, students, teachers, and administrators can begin the healing process. The citizens of Trussville, stakeholders as school officials like to call them, have spoken. It’s over.
The investigation should continue and may very well provide the BOE with reason to terminate Neill with cause and save taxpayers from wasting more money.
A culture of avoiding transparency through selective communication has been developing within TCS for years. It has permeated throughout the schools, even going as far as infecting the BOE appointment process used by the City Council. This is not representative of the desires of the people of Trussville, and it must end today.
On Thursday’s Tribune Unscripted, I asked our audience to give leaders on the school board and on the City Council a chance to lead. Leading during the good times requires very little ability. It is in times of crisis when true leadership shines, and pretenders fade. No matter what any of these people believed or said 10 days ago, they may have very different feelings and beliefs today.
They know all eyes are on them. They are where they are because the community had high expectations for them. It is in the best interest of Trussville for them to live up to those expectations, and they’ll need the support of the community to do so.
Statements this week from Councilman Ben Short and TCS Board Member Kim DeShazo offer glimmers of hope and indicate welcome new paths. It’s time to move forward in a new direction.
There has been much talk of shifting to an elected school board. Adding another layer of politics rarely produces the intended results.
But maintaining an appointed school board will require a Herculean effort by the City Council and the BOE. An appointed BOE cannot exist without absolute transparency, and that begins with the appointment process by the City Council.
The State of Alabama places the appointment responsibility in the hands of the City Council. The entire Council must embrace that responsibility in an open and transparent process from beginning to end that convinces citizens that they can be trusted to seek and find the most qualified people possible.
The BOE must operate with as much transparency as legally possible and, above all, prove to the community that they are approachable and empathetic to citizens, students, teachers, and administrators.
If these leaders step up and lead, this crisis becomes a milestone on the path to an even greater community. We should all give them our support and a chance to turn things around.