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School system taking on water

There is no other way to put it — the Dougherty County School System is taking on water and it’s becoming increasingly obvious that the captain of this listing ship, Superintendent Joshua Murfree and the controlling foursome on the School Board are not plugging the leaks.

It might be time to break out the lifeboats.

The school system, already in the midst of a CRCT cheating investigation, is now facing a school lunch scandal centered on Morningside Elementary Principal Gloria Baker, whose middle-school daughter has received free lunches for at least three years despite Baker’s $90,500 annual salary.

After first resisting pressure, Murfree called for a special board meeting today at 3 p.m. to discuss how to deal with this latest brush fire. Murfree was forced into calling the meeting after board members Darrel Ealum and David Maschke exchanged emails with the superintendent urging an emergency called session. Murfree initially dismissed that request, saying he would handle the problem “at the district level.”

It is also disturbing that Murfree was caught in a blatant lie during a television interview in which he declared that he had no calls or communications from board members requesting a special meeting. The time stamps of the Ealum and Maschke emails show he was aware of the request the day before the TV interview.

Oops.

Even if Baker were to resign immediately, there is doubt that the controlling bloc on the School Board — Chairman James Bush and board members Anita Williams-Brown, Velvet Riggins and Milton Griffin — will live up to the responsibility of their positions on the board and call for an independent audit of the free lunch program.

Questions need to be answered. How widespread is this? Who has final approval of those free lunch applications? How much verification — if any — is done on applicants? Is a free lunch considered a perk of the job for a fortunate segment of school system employees who are in favor with the system’s powers-that-be?

We don’t know because the controlling majority on the School Board is leaving that up to Murfree and he won’t tell us. When he took the superintendent’s job in June of 2010, he proclaimed his tenure in office would be marked by transparency and accessibility. His door, he boldly stated, would always be open.

What we’ve gotten instead is a superintendent with a dismissive attitude who is prone to hold news conferences next to open elevators for quick getaways when any real questions are posed by the media.

Rather than confronting a crisis head-on, Murfree, with the blessing of the controlling bloc of the board, dances around the edge of issues, making empty statements filled with cliches and platitudes that don’t address in any way the question at hand.

This is why the STEP III vote was closer than it should have been. Many in the community have little faith in Murfree and a dysfunctional School Board. Five years ago STEP II passed by 85 percent. That did not happen during Tuesday’s election, which was under 60 percent. This was a public referendum on Murfree and the BOE.

Now, here’s something else to chew over.

Around Thanksgiving, Gov. Nathan Deal’s team will release its final report on the five-month investigation into CRCT cheating within the DCSS. That report will result in perhaps 10 elementary school principals and as many as 50 teachers either resigning, being fired or being reassigned.

Guess whose task it will be to pick up the pieces and repair a badly wounded school system? That’s right.

Now how confident does that make you feel?