Thursday, January 3, 2013

School board's confidence and containment

Posted By on Thu, Jan 3, 2013 at 9:57 AM

There’s a powerful scene in Tennessee Williams’ play Cat on a Hot Tin Roof when family patriarch Big Daddy learns that his health is failing. His family ambushes him with normalcy and mindless chatter as they plot to take over his estate after his death.

“What’s that smell in this room?” he says. “Didn’t you notice the powerful and obnoxious odor of mendacity in this room?”

There was no noxious odor in the city school district’s central office conference room at last night’s board meeting, but there was an uneasy tension. Malik Evans was re-elected president and board member Van White was elected vice president in 6 to 0 votes. Board member Cynthia Elliott was absent.

The unanimous decision for an Evans-White co-governance ended a brief challenge by White for the top position. Power-sharing was perhaps the most benign way of shielding Superintendent Bolgen Vargas from a more hands-on style of management that White would have likely practiced, and also serves to contain White.

Board member Mary Adams heaped praise on Evans, complimenting him for what she called his almost instinctive connection with district families. Her comment resonated because as the board’s newest member, she offers the freshest gauge of the district’s many challenges, and of what powers board members possess and lack in confronting those challenges.

Board member Willa Powell talked about the need for every board member to grow in some type of leadership capacity; how it would make for a healthier and stronger board. Her mediating comments, however, would be lost on anyone who didn’t know about the behind-the-scenes rivalry.

Evans eloquently described 2012 as a difficult year for him professionally and personally. If he speaks more often with that kind of candor, his future in politics is almost limitless. His family was at his side when was sworn into office.

And a conciliatory White asked Vargas, ailing from severe back pain, to swear him into office. It may have been an olive-less branch, but it was more likely a reset moment for White, Vargas, and the board.

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