Desegregation debate focus of sit-down meeting - WAFF-TV: News, Weather and Sports for Huntsville, AL

Desegregation debate focus of sit-down meeting

Richard Showers, Bob Harrison and David Blair agreed to a sit-down meeting to discuss the school desegregation debate. (Graphic: MGN Online) Richard Showers, Bob Harrison and David Blair agreed to a sit-down meeting to discuss the school desegregation debate. (Graphic: MGN Online)

A sit-down meeting has been scheduled as the war of words over Huntsville City School desegregation debate continues.

Councilman Richard Showers, Madison County Commissioner Bob Harrison and school board member David Blair have been in a very public argument over the issue. Showers threatened to withhold funding from the schools over the dispute.

Now the three, along with superintendent Casey Wardynski, are going to have a sit-down meeting on April 1 to hash out the problem.

Blair issued this statement in regard to the disagreement:

Dear Huntsville Citizens,

I am saddened that a disagreement about the closing of two schools and the renaming of a new facility has caused such unfortunate comments by Councilman Richard Showers and County Commissioner Bob Harrison. Instead of putting our children's education first, these two are using their position to grandstand, and in Commissioner Harrison's words "let's show up and show out."  These are well known political tactics used in the last century by politicians to further their personal agendas.  Today we call it bullying. Our community deserves better!

Councilman Richard Showers is threatening to withhold local funding from Huntsville City Schools to "teach us a lesson".  This position is repugnant!  Withholding local funding would result in massive teacher layoffs and the closing all of our pre-kindergarten programs.  Sadly thousands of children and adults would be affected. This action would have a huge impact on our community and especially in the northwest area Councilman Showers represents.

Councilman Showers stated he had issue with the superintendent and the board because we were not accommodating him….even disrespecting him.  As to respect, I have to say that is a two way street.  We have never disrespected an elected official, because we have too much respect for the office and the community that person represents.  On the other side, we have seen displays of disrespect from both Councilman Showers and Commissioner Harrison.  When Councilman Showers says that he has been disrespected, he may be confusing a disagreement with disrespect.  I, nor my fellow Board members, nor the Superintendent will agree with everyone on everything.  However, we do try to gather as much information by listening, learning, and asking for input before moving forward.  Just because we don't do what the Councilman wants is not disrespect, it is simply not agreeing with his position.

At the City Council meeting on Thursday night, we heard four of the five members talk about the positive changes and improvements they have seen in the schools. The Mayor has talked about the positive changes in the 21 schools he has visited over the past two months. Each elected official talked about the open lines of communication with the superintendent and the school board, which included nine hours of community conversations about some of the biggest changes Huntsville has seen in education in decades.   

Over the past two years the superintendent along with the school board, staff, parents and students has turned this system around.  Communities across the nation are visiting our school system to see our accomplishments. The Superintendent and the school board are investing ~$200 million in new schools- the oldest high school in our system when finished will be Columbia.  The new Lee High School was a multi-million dollar investment in the community.  Now we are investing $100 million in northwest Huntsville with three multi-million dollar schools, all in Harrison and Shower's district. 

In just two years we have gone from a $20 million deficit to $28 million in reserve.  We are raising the expectations for our students and they are meeting those higher expectations. Our struggling schools are now surpassing state benchmarks.  One only has to look at the scores and discipline data to see that our students are making great strides.  Arrests at Butler, Johnson and Lee are down by 90%.  We also know that hunger is a real issue for some families so last summer we served over 98,000 meals to any child who needed food.  We serve approximately 9100 free lunches each day along with 6600 free breakfast. This month we will serve over 1200 suppers in our schools, most of which are located in Mr. Showers and Mr. Harrison's district. 

There is a meeting set for April 1, with Councilman Showers, Commissioner Harrison and others to meet with Dr Wardynski.  If they believe in this great city and our children, I hope they will set aside their differences and meet. 

 As we move forward I hope for a civil discussion of the issues void of name calling and loud rhetoric. But most of all, for God's sake, let's remember this is about the children.

David Blair

Huntsville City School Board President

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