(portions published in the Plain Dealer, Letters to the Editor, September 15, 1998)
Plain Dealer Letters to the Editor
1801 Superior Ave.
Cleveland, Ohio 44114
September 5, 1998
I must admit that while being skeptical about the imminent mayoral takeover of the Cleveland City School District, I decided to keep an open mind. Perhaps this would help the system improve and ultimately benefit our youth. After all the motto of the district is "It's About Kids!" Determined to be part of the solution and not part of the problem, my wife and I applied to the Nominating Panel and were among the group of 42 interviewed.
The interviews, however, did little to fuel my newfound hope. They consisted of little more than a repetition of the questions and answers already provided in the application. The only attempts to delve any deeper were repeated expressions of concern about having two candidates married to each other. In the end, the mayor was indeed presented with an excellent slate of 21 candidates from which to choose so my optimism remained.
But the mayor's conduct this week regarding James Penning's contract and future with the district has nearly killed the little optimism I have left. He exhibited none of the spirit of cooperation that he promised to cultivate in the district. While the cost overruns for the new football stadium may total tens of millions of dollars, we are encouraged to believe that these will have minimal impact on the city's budget. Why then should so much be made over a reportedly $600,000 buyout that need never be paid? I find the mayor's claim of ignorance about the particulars to be untenable. It is reasonable to assume that, during over a year's worth of preparation towards Wednesday's ceremonies, the contract of the interim superintendent and potential chief executive officer would have been brought to the mayor's attention or that he would have already solicited this information himself. If the mayor's claim is true, I find his negligence to be unforgivable. Is this a preview of what we are to expect under his operation of the district?
Now more than ever, our children need strong, knowledgeable, and attentive leadership at the helm of the school district, not a captain like Ahab or Queeg obsessed with white whales or missing ice cream. After the handshakes and photo flashes have ended on Wednesday, several important questions will remain. What will be the length of tenure for the new board members? If they fall out of favor or resign, how will they be replaced? Will the selection process start anew or, for the sake of expediency, will the mayor appoint future members?
Unfortunately, it seems that it's still not about kids. It's about money. It's about power. It's about ego. I can only still pray that, in spite of the increasing number of signs to the contrary, it's about to change.
Milton Alan Turner