Curtis may be gone, but controversy remains

Friday, October 9, 2009

In the aftermath of the tumultuous school board meeting Monday night when director of schools Stan Curtis was fired and two board members resigned, vice chairman Craig Michael was optimistic about the future of the Marshall County school system.

"It was very, very difficult for a lot of reasons," said Michael in a telephone interview the next day. "I feel like it pained every board member there."

"I'm proud to be part of a board that would make that difficult a decision and subject themselves to so much criticism," he continued. "I'm excited to go forward in a positive manner."

A number of County commissioners were in the crowd at the meeting, and were later asked for their opinion about the board firing Curtis.

"They're elected to do a job. That's the job they saw fit to do," said commissioner Jimmy Stitt. "For six to be for it and three against, he must have done something wrong."

"I'm concerned," said commissioner Mickey King. "I have confidence in the school board that they were doing what they felt was the right decision. I have to take their decision and we'll go from that point and try to work with them to do what needs to be done for the school system."

As chairman of the commission's budget committee, King was also asked about the financial aspect, and said, "About contract buy out -- I'm concerned about that. I'm not in favor of spending money and Mr. Michael said, it would cost more to not unload. I don't know. I've got to take their word for it."

Commissioner Scottie Poarch was more blunt about the money when he said, "I'm not going to give them $150,000. It's an awful lot of money."

County mayor Joe Boyd Liggett said that if his office received letters of resignation by 4 p.m. Monday, Oct. 12, the replacement of school board members who resigned could be put on the agenda for the County Commission's Oct. 26 meeting. Commissioners would accept applications, and could hope to make a decision on replacements for Kristen Gold and Todd Tietgens at their November meeting.

Whoever is appointed to the 3rd and 6th District seats would serve until the August 2010 election, when both Gold's and Tietgen's terms were due to expire.

The current chairman of the school board, Mike Keny, was appointed to replace Tim Harrison who resigned from the 5th District. Keny's term, along with Michael's, also expires in August 2010. The rest of the school board -- Dee Dee Owens, Ann Tears, Curt Denton, Randy Perryman, and Mark Wilkerson -- are scheduled to serve until August 2012.

Michael had a private meeting with Curtis last week, and said neither of them was certain of the outcome of Monday night's meeting.

"I don't think anybody really knew" how it would turn out, Michael said. "I was not 100 percent certain how I would vote. I knew it would be close."

Curtis was chosen by the school board in February 2008, and took up his position in April that year. Five candidates were interviewed for the job, and two, Curtis and Spurgeon Banyard, were short-listed and interviewed again. When it came to the vote, Ann Tears was the only one to choose the African-American Banyard; all the rest of the board members voted for Curtis.

"It's not all the director's fault. Nobody wanted him to fail," Michael pointed out. "Everybody is responsible when something doesn't work. No one person is ever at fault: it takes two or more people to not be successful."

Banyard has continued to apply for director positions, as well as principals' jobs, and is currently principal of A. H. Parker High School in Birmingham, Ala.

Would it have been better if the board had chosen him instead of Curtis?

When asked this question a few months ago, Michael answered, "No, it would have been worse!"