Originally created 07/06/97

Strange smooth sailing for Richmond County school board



Richmond County school trustees are hearing strange words these days when the conversation turns to the school board's recent record.

Compliments are replacing the at-times biting criticism that parents, taxpayers and board spectators had heaped on the trustees since 1995, when the current 10 members began serving together.

"It's a little more pleasant to sit in a board meeting now than it used to be," said Pam Wilkins, a frequent critic and now a bond oversight committee member for the board.

Many people are still talking about the record 12-minute meeting in June at which trustees - who can argue about ice cream in school lunches - approved the largest one-time transfer of principals and employees in decades without one note of dissension. Just five months ago, the board endured its deepest rift, when two trustees each claimed to be president.

"Ever since the last blowup, over the presidency ... it's been pretty smooth sailing," said trustee Jeff Annis. "Everybody sort of let that go, gotten past that and moved onward."

The board meets at 7 p.m. Tuesday for its regular July meeting, at which trustees will vote on five people nominated to be middle school assistant principals and a new math coordinator. Who will be nominated for the jobs won't be decided until Monday at the earliest, Superintendent Charles Larke said.

Trustees have disagreed little with Dr. Larke's changes in how the school system is organized, moves that were mandated in the superintendent's contract. The final reorganization plan was delivered last week and includes shifting Pat Burau, assistant superintendent for personnel, into a new position of assistant superintendent for program development. Personnel duties for pre-kindergarten through fifth grade are now handled by Associate Superintendent Willie Mazyck, with grades six through 12 handled by Deputy Superintendent Gene Sullivan.

Such shake-ups in how the system is run have kept trustees focused on issues and less on personality conflicts and past problems, Dr. Larke said. Board President Adna Stein also has been complimented for keeping trustees focused. He has even begun the habit of stopping a meeting altogether until a spectator or TV camera operator removes his hat, demanding professionalism from members and watchers.

"All 10, I think, realize that we needed some changes," Dr. Larke said.

At least for the time being.

"I think everybody is a little skeptical about whether it is real or not," Ms. Wilkins said.

Trustee Andrew Jefferson said it's tough to comprehend how the board is changing while sitting at the table. But he expects the good behavior to continue - "until somebody does something bad."

"We're trying," Mr. Jefferson said. "I guess everyone's putting forth the effort. That's all you can ask for."