After two weeks of accusations of racism and denials regarding Jefferson County Board of Education member Donna Pike, Thursday’s regular monthly meeting of the board was marked not so much by action, but by the lack of it.
The board waded through more than an hour of mostly routine action, including an evaluation of Superintendent Craig Pouncey and Chief School Finance Officer Sheila Jones by the Alabama Association of School Boards. Then near the end of the agenda, in a portion set aside for “other matters,” President Oscar Mann opened the floor for other members to comment.
Then silence, for a few seconds.
Mann ended the pregnant pause with his own remarks about the board’s recent special called meeting, in which the three members present — Pike and Jackie Anderson-Smith were absent — called for Pike to resign because of posts she had shared on her Facebook page. One such post appeared to support comedienne Roseanne Barr, who had been kicked off the revival of her self-titled situation comedy on ABC television because of racially charged remarks. Pike’s actions were brought to the attention of the board by activist Carlos Chaverst Jr.
“We had a deadline of today for Mrs. Pike to respond to our resolution, and she has not done so,” Mann said, adding that because of the lack of her response on the record, there was no further action that the board could take at that moment. Mann then moved to adjourn the meeting.
“I was expecting someone to speak up, but no one did,” Mann said afterward.
Pike has not given a formal response, either in writing or verbally, during an open meeting. Previously, Pike had said in interviews with both Birmingham Watch and al.com that she would not resign. She reiterated that position in a brief statement before ducking out a back door of the JefCoEd auditorium. Pike added later that she had been told by “my advisers” that she did not have to give a formal response to the resolution.
The path from here is still unclear. The board could later vote to censure Pike, but even that move “is really no more than a slap on the wrist,” Mann admitted, and there may be nothing more that can be done unless Pike somehow violated a law or ethics regulations, and a comment or shared post on social media is unlikely to clear that hurdle.
Or as board legal counsel Whit Colvin said, “A board majority can’t simply vote off a member of the minority.”
Pike is normally aligned with Anderson-Smith on any controversial matters that come before the board, and both usually vote in opposition to Pouncey’s position in such cases. Mann, Vice President Martha Bouyer and Ronnie Dixon comprise the majority that usually sides with Pouncey. The superintendent personally endorsed Mann and Bouyer in their campaigns for re-election; Mann won his Republican primary and faces no opposition in the general election; Bouyer won her Democratic primary but faces GOP nominee Eddie Brown in November’s general election.
That 3-2 split was graphically illustrated in the AASB’s evaluation results presented Thursday morning. Several different groups figured into determining how well they think Pouncey is doing his job, but the group that indicated the division of opinion the most was the evaluations of the five board members. In all the indicator categories, three board members graded Pouncey with the maximum score on a five-point scale nearly every time, while the other two graded the superintendent no higher then three points — indicating Pouncey is adequately doing his job — and often marked him lower still. On average, Pouncey received a score of 3.9 out of 5 from the entire board, lower than the 4.1 average from a group of 20 stakeholders that includes mayors and other officials from cities within the JefCoEd footprint.
Extra Funding for Principal
In other business, the board approved a $20,000 supplement to the pay of Pinson Valley High School Principal Michael Turner, an amount given to the system from the Pinson City Council. Five appointments were made to assistant principal positions, and an agreement to purchase a parcel of land from the parent company of U.S. Steel was approved. The land across from Minor High School will be used for a new elementary school., which will replace Hillview and Crumley Chapel schools.
The board’s next regularly scheduled monthly meeting has been moved from its normal date of July 26 to July 17 at 10 a.m. In addition, special called meetings have been added for July 10 and July 31, as JefCoEd continues its usual procedure of extra meetings needed to add or move personnel during the summer break.