Where politics and faith dance in the shadow of the windmill.

Pulling on a Political Scab

Something is under James White’s skin. Perhaps it is only the robo-call by school board president Wendy Falb, but the irritation may run a little deeper.

The schools and the City need to work hand in hand, so it’s no surprise that as the Third Ward race heats up, school board members take sides:  Maureen Slade, Rev. Nathaniel Moody and recent member Jane Geitzen for Senita Lenear; Tony Baker, Wendy Falb, and Jon O’Connor  for  Michael Tuffelmire. I the support for Tuffelmire fears a potential polarization, or more accurately an alienation. In response to Falb’s robo-call, City Commissioner Whites took to the press.

(Falb)  “runs the risk of polarizing her own board, the parents and the community” by actively campaigning for the opponent of her former board colleague, Senita Lenear, in the city race.

At first glance this a peculiar accusation, since White himself is also on board with the Lenear  campaign. As White further explains in the article, the endorsement threatens the necessary working together of city and schools.

“The school district must work closely with and gain support from city, county, state, and federal sources.
“It is unwise to do harm to those relationships by embroiling the school district in the political arena where it has never been before.”

Never before? Even reporter Monica Scott finds herself wondering

Mr. White thinks that the GRPS board has gotten more political and said he didn’t like the direction it is going in. Do you think the board is more political now or the same as in previous years?

Given the sort of controversies that have roiled the school board over the years, the present board is far from the divisive mode of even a few years ago. What is characteristic about the board is its general public unanimity, in part because of the strength of Superintendent Neal. If anything, the addition of John Matias promises to keep the board functioning in a productive fashion.

However there is little danger of a rift breaking out between the schools and the city. Here, White’s complaint sounds stretched, but underneath there are a couple of very real issues at work.

First, is the question of class.

This came out, obliquely, in the interviews Monday night.  We have a school board that is very oriented towards the aspirational side of the GRPS Transformation Plan; their children attend City and so are invested in its success. The attention to the aspirational or middle-class perspectives arises in some part out of reaction to the reforms of the Bernard Taylor years; this board is largely a reform board. That Senita Lenear came to the Board as a supporter of Taylor, accounts for some of the rift. What the present board also lacks is a strong connection to the situation in the regular schools, the home of the poor and struggling, and minority.

That gives the second more significant issue. The one part of the community that supported Superintendent Taylor to the end was the African American. It is, after all, their children who are broadly stuck in the poor and struggling schools. White is reaching to a point, a sense that too strong a visibility by middle class whites may alienate those in this community. The endorsement then is seen as sending a message that they (and their children) don’t count. The danger is less for the impact on the state and federal programs, and far more on the possibility that the schools sacrifice parental support.

White pulls on this scab of the Taylor years.

In a shrinking district, the urge to protect one’s own is almost overwhelming. The genius so far has been to avoid the zero sum conflict that can frustrate and even consume the schools. This is the scab we cannot afford to open.

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