Columbus City Schools board member submits harsh letter of resignation

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After serving on the Columbus Board of Education for five years, Mary Jo Hudson said sometimes the best catalysts for change come from outside a system.

"I feel like I can be much more effective outside the board at this point than in," said Hudson, citing what she called a "tight culture" that's inappropriate for a community board serving Ohio's largest school district.

"We have this bare majority rule and it's not a healthy governing environment," said Hudson.

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Her decision to walk away comes on the heels of a board meeting in which some members refused to discuss Facilities Task Force force recommendations that would close several schools, including Linden McKinley High School.

In her letter of resignation, Hudson wrote years of bare majority rule has "resulted in repeated decision making based on personal interests, raw emotions, and small but vocal opponents."

The Columbus Board of Education has faced its share of challenges.

In September, board member Dominic Paretti resigned over sexual harassment allegations, and in the spring of 2017, the search for a new Columbus City School's superintendent was scrapped amid allegations the board was creating a list of finalists in back-room meetings.

Hudson said she'll work for change and focus on greater community collaboration to meet the needs of students both in and out of the classroom.

"It's got to be about all of those 50,000 children," said Hudson.

The Columbus Board of Education said it anticipates appointing a member to replace Hudson by mid-January.

Dear Treasurer Bahorek and Board Colleagues:
With the clear conviction that I can best help affect change from outside the Board structure, I write to notify you of my resignation from the Columbus Board of Education, effective December 31, 2018.

Let me start first, as is fitting for the Holiday season, with my gratitude. I so appreciate the many teachers, staff, families and community members who work passionately every day for this district. I would especially like to acknowledge and thank those who partnered with me over the past five years to usher in remarkable changes that have made the financial and operational aspects of this $1 billion enterprise more accountable, transparent and responsive to needs of the students who are always our first priority. Our community should know that many in the District and its team want to truly act as public servants. Many team members often just need guidance and resources to achieve that critical objective.

I also want to thank my board colleagues, who I know care deeply for Columbus City Schools and our students. You should be commended as incredibly dedicated volunteers and applauded for your commitment.

However, caring is only a starting point. In a district this large and complex, with so many failing schools that set back our students daily, it is imperative that a community that cares deeply about our children and our future reinvents our model of leadership and implements significant change. Our teachers unnecessarily handle daily burdens of student education, along with hunger, trauma and basic needs. Our facilities have been unnecessarily starved from appropriate capital allocations and regular maintenance for years. Also, as is common in large public enterprises, we have a largely unchecked civil service environment that is slow to change and quick to revert to ways of the past. Our current leadership model, that relies on largely volunteer leadership with few legal definitions of responsibility or roles, and has unnecessary ties to the employment of each and every District employee, cannot be expected to succeed or even begin to climb this growing hill of shifting sand.

Let me repeat that first and foremost, Columbus City Schools should provide the highest quality education to the more than 50,000 children who depend upon us every day. Further, we should do so in a manner that respects and protects the massive public investment entrusted to us by local and state taxpayers. This community obligation calls for strong, professional leadership from individuals who offer specific talents and skills in setting policy for a large operation. It calls for open-thinking and a willingness to encourage innovation and diversity of thought. And, of course, it calls for an unwavering dedication to best-in-class academics.

Sadly, what we’ve seen instead is a group of individuals operating without the needed expertise, data or hard facts. Likewise, our current leadership model uses tight-fisted bare majority rules that disdain rather than promote outside the box-thinking so necessary to confront the enormous long-standing challenges of the district.

Years of bare majority rule at the Board level has resulted in not only the data scandal and its unapologetic response, but also repeated decision-making based on personal interests, raw emotion and concerns of small but vocal opponents. The result is that the voices seeking what’s best for all our children are drowned out, and those well-intentioned supporters are driven away from engaging or encouraging support for the District or, most importantly, our children. I can no longer compromise my personal values in order to try and work for consensus in this intransigent environment. Again, sometimes the best catalysts for change come from outside a system.

Our completely inadequate model of governance is broken. Until it is fixed, our schools will continue to fail, students will be housed in sub-standard facilities, our board will be unresponsive and our families will be kept in poverty rather than given pathways out.

I urge our community to make significant revisions to our District’s governance model so that it is commensurate for an enterprise of this significant size and complexity, and with such a high level of responsibility for a large number of lives.

As a community, we can revise the model so that CCS is governed more professionally, with greater respect for professional advice, financial prudence, diverse professional and personal diversity, and insist on always using best and current governance practices. We also need this new model to consider the complex community needs that overlap and connect to each and every one of our schools, so we are working in collaboration for the benefit of our students and their families.

In the coming months, I look forward to sharing my thoughts and recommendations publicly. Only with wholesale governance reform will we regularly be able to place the best interests of students and the entire community ahead of the personal interests of individual administrators, contractors, staff and select individuals. Bare-knuckled majority rule is no longer the answer for our leadership model, and its continued presence will guarantee a perilous future for this District.

Thank you for the privilege of serving this remarkable community and I look forward to working together to create the meaningful change our children so richly deserve.

Best regards,
Mary Jo Hudson