Officials deny request supported by city leaders for meeting with ACS board

Rebecca Bibbs, The Herald Bulletin, Anderson, Ind.
·4 min read

Feb. 18—ANDERSON — The Anderson Community Schools Board of Trustees denied the request Wednesday of a multiracial group of city leaders to meet in regard to a request to establish a non-voting group of Black stakeholders to weigh in on the controversial superintendent search.

ACS board President Patrick Hill sent an email to Lindsay Brown, author of the letter co-signed by dozens of people, including City County Council President Pro Tem Rebecca Crumes, saying the school board already had done its due diligence through community meetings, emails and a survey on the Survey Monkey platform.

"In response to your request for a special meeting of the board members of Anderson Community Schools (ACS) on Thursday, February 18th, 2021 or Friday, February 19th, 2021 at least a majority of individual board members have communicated to me individually that they are not willing to attend such a suggested meeting," Hill wrote.

Brown said this was 100% the response he expected because it fits a pattern of non-responsiveness to the public by the ACS board. Several members of the community, including Brown and Stephany Stennis, have complained about the lack of dialogue between the board and stakeholders at meetings.

"The only way you don't speak to your constituents in an open forum is you're afraid of something, or you're hiding something," Brown said.

Applications for the permanent superintendent position were due by last Friday.

Brown's letter was one of several received by the board from the city of Anderson's human relations director Tamie Dixon-Tatum, former Judge George Pancol, who also signed on to group letter, and Be the Bridge requesting a reconsideration of a motion by ACS newcomer Carrie Bale asking for minority representation. Hill has not returned repeated calls for comment on the letters or on his Thursday email denying their requests.

Bale could not be reached for comment.

Brown, a concerned taxpayer whose children attend Anderson Preparatory Academy because of a lack of responsiveness he said he received from ACS in the past, has in recent months challenged the board on several issues. Though many are on behalf of the Black community, he said that what is good for Black students will be good for all students.

Black stakeholders have expressed concerns about a variety of issues that are subjects of documented national research centered on urban school districts. These include excessive discipline of Black students compared to the same infraction by white students, lower graduation rates and failure to steer bright Black students toward college.

Though he is not prepared to reveal his next step, Brown said there is one coming.

"The biggest problem is they make this adversarial, and it doesn't have to be adversarial. The community just wants to be heard," he said.

Brown said he has little trust in the ACS board and its search for a new superintendent to take over from interim Superintendent Joe Cronk. He noted that the previous two superintendents are costing taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars because of early termination of their contracts.

"Asking the community for input can be a smokescreen tactic," he said. "When looking at the history of how they select superintendents and administrators in this school system, there is a pattern of things not being done correctly. So what makes you think things are going to be done right now?"

Annie Wood Bell, author of the letter sent on behalf of Be the Bridge, said she was disappointed in the ACS board's response. Be the Bridge, which also includes Mariann Strozier, Victoria Smith, Maria Alexander, Debbie Sebastian, JoAnn Hearvey and Julie Short, is an informal multiracial group that comes together twice a month to build greater understanding and work toward racial reconciliation.

"I'm disappointed he (Hill) would deny that request. I think that's the wrong choice," said Bell, the mother of ACS elementary and middle school students.

Bell said she was inspired to write the letter after seeing newspaper and social media reports about Bale's efforts and that Brown was one of the people spearheading the effort.

"I trust him. He's somebody I think is a strong, trustworthy voice," she said.

Be the Bridge's letter never received a response from Hill, though Bell said she did speak with Bale and Holly Renz, another school board member.

"They are open to response, and he is not," she said. "Obviously, that speaks volumes when somebody does not respond."

Bell and Short said that, even though the ACS board provided several means of outreach, there can never be enough because parents may not know about community meetings or have access to technology to receive emails and do surveys.

"When there already is a lack of trust, the impersonal nature of those things do not go very far in building bridges or building trust," Strong said.

Follow Rebecca R. Bibbs on Twitter at @RebeccaB_THB, or call 765-640-4883.