The public is tired of seeing Hillsborough County School Board members April Griffin and Susan Valdes trash everything that comes from the administrative office. And it's frustrating that Superintendent MaryEllen Elia makes matters worse by acting as their equal instead of their subordinate. It's clear all three are to blame for the acrimony of recent months. And it's time they put aside the drama and the attitude and focused more on running the nation's eighth-largest school system.
Griffin was at it again this week, hammering Elia for the problems in the transportation department. This is the longest-running musical on the local stage; Griffin and Valdes have faulted the superintendent for everything conceivable, from campus safety and spending decisions to staffing, disciplinary and other management matters.
Griffin and Valdes have raised legitimate issues over the years and brought light to problems that needed attention. But now they live in a conspiracy-theory world and fly off as a committee of two at the first whiff of finding fault with the administration. This only undermines the cause for reform they are advocating, because the two overstate their case, and they seem unable to separate what's important from what's not. Their behavior has also split the board and forced the staff into defensive mode — which has shut down the open, deliberative dialogue essential to reforming the bureaucracy.
Elia doesn't show Griffin and Valdes the respect they deserve as elected members of the school district's governing board. She is overly secretive, and doesn't appreciate that she works for all board members — not merely the majority currently in her corner. Still, she is a capable and well-meaning administrator who has deftly guided the district, both through the recession and amid the current push toward higher academic achievement. And for all the criticism that Elia is too political, she has managed in the current environment to protect local control of the Hillsborough schools — no small achievement given the current meddling from Tallahassee.
All three, in other words, have something to contribute. And none plan to leave anytime soon. So it would help if they found a way to put their suspicions aside and work together for the good of 200,000 students. More than half of Hillsborough's high schools are A-rated. This year, the county had a record number of National Hispanic Scholars, and it led the state in the number of National Merit Semifinalists. The district is doing something right. It could certainly resolve any problems with busing, safety or other concerns much sooner if these leaders worked together.