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Thursday, June 26, 2008

School district Déjà vu

A pesky thorn in the side of Trenton’s city government seems to be causing pain once again.

The city school board laid down the law to another school superintendent in April, by voting to inform Rodney Lofton that he would not be reappointed with the expiration of his contract in 2010, as belatedly reported by the Times of Trenton.

One member cited what seems to be a common theme in Trenton as the reason for sending the message to Mr. Lofton to the Times - a perceived lack of communication and disrespect on the part of the school administration towards its legislative partner in running the school district, the board.

But, reflecting on the actions of the Mayor Palmer-appointed school board in many different educational incidents and gaffes over the past few years, it should be asked why exactly should any of them really expect any respect or punctual communication from the school administration.

When things have gone have gone bad, reflecting badly on the city and the city’s administration, the school board has been shaken up, with members resigning or leaving to be reappointed by newly-appointed members favored by Mayor Palmer. Then those people inevitably fail, only to have new members or old favorites return to take a seat at the table. The same happens with the endless line of highly-touted superintendents, who inevitably leave amid scandal, or failure, or both.

When the Sherman Avenue grading scandal occurred, instead of taking responsibility for something they ought to have known about – and possibly been punished for – the board and the city as a whole chose to direct its ire at Superintendent James Lytle, who had already departed for another position elsewhere.

As the superintendent, yes, he was responsible, but the school board should have been equally responsible for being so out of the loop regarding the business of the district it is supposed to rule.

The board should have known what was going on at a separate high school building – which lacked its own principal in a possibly illegal manner – and should have realized the grade-tampering was underway long before it resulted in revoked or denied diplomas for Trenton students.

In short, in being so unaccountable, easily replaceable, and dysfunctional, this school board has effectively abdicated much of its responsibility and power in governing the way Trenton’s children are educated.

A lack of communication and failure in realizing any real progress on the part of the district’s administration should come as no surprise to any board members or Mayor Palmer, who has proven himself completely inept in fixing the problems that plague Trenton’s school district.

A superintendent will leave, a school board’s membership might change, but in the end the group that is continually shortchanged in all of this – Trenton’s students – will keep getting the short end of the stick.

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