Another day, another lesson in dysfunction from the folks who run Hillsborough County schools.
They're bad enough with the small stuff, like the School Board twisting itself in knots over buying some school buses, with discussion after tortured discussion. And how hard is it to buy buses, particularly when the state provides a handy catalog?
So in true bureaucratic fashion, the board took a hard stance and …
Voted to hire a consultant and agreed to hold a workshop!
Then there are bigger problems, like the sort of petty politics that seem to outshine the actual issues facing the eighth-largest school district in the lower 48.
Here's a for-instance:
Over the summer, school superintendent MaryEllen Elia was caught apparently unaware on a microphone during a break at a School Board meeting, talking with the district's lawyer about getting people to meetings to counter critics who spoke up.
The two agreed that April Griffin — School Board chairwoman and Elia critic — was, when it came to letting those speakers go off topic, "in on it."
How … conspiratorial.
And that scene pretty much sums up the long-simmering dynamic between a very powerful superintendent and a very vocal chairwoman. And not in a good way.
Griffin raised eyebrows herself this week with news of how she intervened on behalf of a tennis player at Plant High over residency. It's been a sensitive issue: whether student-athletes live in the boundaries of the school for which they want to play — or bend the rules to make it look like they do.
Griffin used her School Board stationery and, as she put it, her "capacity as the chairwoman" to appeal to state officials a decision to not allow a girl to play at Plant after an investigation into whether she really lived there. (Her parents said they divided time between two homes, one in the Plant district and one not.)
And so Griffin took some deserved licks for overstepping, working outside the system, abusing her position and sidestepping staff and the superintendent on this. She says she acted on behalf of a constituent against a badly handled decision and did nothing inappropriate.
And under all this simmers, again, that bad dynamic.
Here's how Griffin herself described it to me: People used to refer to the school district as a good ol' boy kind of place.
Now, they're seen as "a mean-girl organization," she says — something she says she's worked to avoid.
In the case of the tennis player, Elia did not write a letter to state officials as Griffin urged her to and instead backed her staff. Griffin thinks Elia leaked the story to the press. She has called Elia a bully and says Elia's words caught on that microphone were an example of the superintendent's "disdain for the public." (She's waiting for an apology on that one. She should probably not hold her breath.)
Elia did not comment on Griffin's comments.
A check on, and even a vocal critic of, a powerful superintendent is not necessarily a bad thing. But the chairwoman shouldn't blow the opportunity by overreaching on things like this Plant High dustup.
And old boys and mean girls?
This one seems to be more about power plays — which doesn't exactly inspire confidence in the people who run our schools.