November 6, 2018 10:12:35 AM
When Cherie Labat took over as superintendent at Columbus Municipal School District, the people of Columbus viewed it as a fresh start and a new path for the school district after the troubled tenure of Philip Hickman, a four-year series of self-inflicted wounds, mistrust and evasions.
While the spirit of optimism continues under Labat's leadership, we are disappointed by what we fear is the beginning of an all-too-familiar lack of communication between the superintendent and the citizens who have entrusted to her care the future of our schoolchildren.
For the second time in less than a month, Labat has been evasive after being asked about the employment status of a district employee. In October, Labat would not clearly confirm the employment status of long-time deputy superintendent Craig Shannon. In fact, an answer she gave this paper was technically correct but misleading.
Over the weekend, the same scenario repeated itself with another high-profile position in the school district. On Friday, Columbus High School football completed a winless season with a 33-0 loss to Hernando. Conspicuous by his absence at the game was first-year head coach Eric Rice, who, according to Falcons players, was not at practice in the days leading up to the game.
Over the weekend, Labat did not respond to repeated efforts by The Dispatch to clarify Rice's status.
Today, we still don't know if Rice remains as coach, has been terminated or has resigned.
While we understand the sensitive nature of personnel issues, Labat's complete silence on both incidents is alarming.
There is nothing improper or unfair in confirming the status of a district employee. In fact, we believe as the face of the district, the superintendent has a responsibility to share that information with citizens.
When even that kind of basic information is withheld, it creates a climate of rumor and innuendo that benefits no one - not the employee in question, the school district, the superintendent and certainly not the public, which has a reasonable expectation to know when key changes are made.
We are not asking Labat to compromise her responsibilities as superintendent by violating policy. We are asking her to fulfill that responsibility.
Keeping the public in the dark about these high-profile decisions undermines public confidence.
Labat has worked hard to rebuild trust in CMSD, so we hope that she will see that communication between her in the public is important not only for positive district stories but the more sensitive ones too.
It's part of the job. In fact, it's an essential part of the job.
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