By Karen Hall
Citizens attending a town hall meeting Saturday expressed outrage when only one school board member showed up.
Ann Tears got a round of applause for coming to the meeting called by Gary Davis, president of the local branch of the NAACP, and attended by about 35 people.
"As you can see, we're missing quite a few board members," Davis said at the beginning of the meeting. "That may be an indication they don't care about our schools in Marshall County."
"This room should have been full," said Jimmy Garland, who video-taped the meeting. He is the vice president of the Middle Tennessee conference of the NAACP and a Montgomery County school board member.
"Only one board member here," exclaimed Bill Murphy. "That's disrespect and disgrace."
When asked by e-mail why they had not been at the meeting, several school board members replied immediately.
"To imply that school board members do not care about schools in Marshall County simply because they did not attend this meeting is a bizarre accusation," wrote Kristen Gold. "I do not know why anyone would serve as a member of this board if they did not care about schools in Marshall County," she continued. "I believe each member of the Marshall County Board of Education serves specifically because they do care about the Marshall County School System."
Barbara Kennedy replied in similar fashion.
"The very idea that board members 'don't care about our schools' because we didn't attend this particular meeting is not only absurd, but insulting," wrote Kennedy. "Being a school board member requires a great deal of time and energy. I feel confident that none of us would be doing this if we didn't care very much about Marshall County Schools."
Donnie Moses agreed, writing, "Your accusation that we do not care about the school system we represent is insulting."
"It's sad the chairman (Mike Keny) didn't come," said NAACP secretary Rochelle Alexander who booked the county commission room for the 1 p.m. meeting. "It's been planned for some time."
During a phone interview Monday, Keny said he notified Davis by e-mail he would not be at the meeting because it was his Saturday to work all day at H & S Pharmacy.
The meeting was announced in the Tribune's Briefs as a "Town Hall/School Board meeting."
"It was never our meeting," Keny explained. "We have to announce our meetings, and we only have power when we're meeting in an official capacity - anywhere else, a board member is just one of the general public. The board can only deliberate when it's in session."
Keny emphasized that all school board members were open to phone calls and e-mails from everyone in the county who wanted to discuss concerns relating to the schools.
"Call me, even if I'm not your board member," Keny urged, and other board members said the same. Their contact information can be found under the School Board tab on the schools' Web site: www.mcs.marshall.k12tn.net. Citizens can also request the opportunity to speak at the monthly school board meetings.
Keny concluded by reiterating his faith in director of schools Roy Dukes and his staff.
"We want as much handled by Mr. Dukes and his staff as possible," Keny said. "Dukes is really good and he doesn't want divisiveness; he wants unity and inclusion."
Among the many questions Davis wanted presented to school board members were the following:
* What is your five-year plan for administration and coaching diversity?
* What plans do you have to close the gap for our minority students?
* What are you looking for in the next director of schools?
* Do you plan to change your attitude?
* What steps are you taking to recruit more minority male teachers and administrators?
Tears promised to present these questions and many more to her fellow board members.
"There's an election coming," Garland reminded the group. "Find people who want to serve the community. We're doing this for the children."
Four of the nine Marshall County school board seats will be up for re-election this August, in the districts represented by Tears, Randy Perryman, Sam Smith, and Curt Denton.