The Birmingham School Board conducted a civil and efficient meeting Tuesday night, perhaps tempered by a judge’s ruling that the state does have authority over the district and that Superintendent Craig Witherspoon will keep his job during the takeover.
State Superintendent Tommy Bice presided and was clearly in control, setting the tone from the beginning.
“This is a business meeting,” he said. “It’s not a forum tonight … We have an agenda, and we will follow that agenda explicitly. We want to make sure we get through the business part of this meeting in an expeditious way.”
Bice also took pains to be respectful — even deferential — to board members. The fact that public comment was scheduled for the next meeting on August 28, and that community activist and firebrand Frank Matthews left the meeting, also contributed to the relative calmness of the proceedings.
Matthews was wearing a hat that said “God’s Gangster” and had been shouting, “We gonna shut this [takeover] down” and complaining about a “gay Nazi takeover.”
At times, Bice provided key context to quizzical board members, explaining the accreditation process to board president Edward Maddox, and the new state school calendar law to board member Tyrone Belcher.
The board got through more business at Tuesday evening’s meeting than it had at any meeting since the spring, if not earlier. And some of the most reliable foes of Witherspoon and the state takeover went as far as explicitly complimenting Bice.
Board member Virginia Volker praised him for moving the state beyond the Adequate Yearly Progress testing standards of the No Child Left Behind accountability regime. “Thank you for that leadership,” she said.
Board member Alana Edwards told Bice, “I’ve really enjoyed my experience with you.”
The atmosphere at the meeting was a drastic change from that of recent months, during which the board has achieved national notoriety for dysfunction, grandstanding, and personal infighting.
A group discussion between board members and their lawyers regarding the state takeover and Judge Houston Brown’s Monday ruling, however, is still pending.