Although there are plenty of videos available at the Richmond Public Schools website that show what it is like to try to work with Mamie Taylor (5th-District), this short clip from the November 3, 2014 meeting remains my favorite. This clip is a revealing glimpse into why fixing the schools in Richmond, Virginia is so damn hard.
The issue being discussed concerns the implementation of policy guidelines that direct individual board members to bring any constituent concerns they may have directly to Superintendent Dana T. Bedden, as opposed to taking it upon themselves to contact various employees and department heads within RPS to resolve issues.
Mamie Taylor, 5th-District member, clearly taking great umbrage, begins by suggesting that her colleagues are attempting to approve policy guidelines that are "degrading, insulting and offensive." Watch as she proceeds to repeatedly interrupt, ignore, lose her temper and angrily yell (yes, yell) at 3rd-District member, Jeffrey Bourne.
Earlier in the meeting, 2nd-District member, Kimberly B. Gray, (not shown speaking in the video clip), tried to help Taylor understand the intent of the proposed policy. Gray is in her second term on the board, whereas Taylor is only in her first.
A graduate of The Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership at the University of Virginia and a veteran of both Mark Warner and Tim Kaine's gubernatorial administrations, Gray said the proposed policy simply clarifies the "roles and responsibilities [of the board] as far as governance and policy-making." Gray noted that the policy speaks to "acts of individual board members" and that such acts "undermine the board's ability to hold the superintendent and his administration accountable."
Glen Sturtevant, 1st-District, attempted to assure Taylor that if the policy ended up "unreasonably restraining" individual board members, then the board as a whole could reconsider the issue and modify it. Sturtevant obliquely notes that the policy is attempting to address "things that have happened over the course of two years."
What he doesn't state outright -- but which has been discussed openly in other meetings and venues -- is that one of the issues the policy seeks to correct concerns how some board members have directly gone to the head of the human relations department attempting to intercede on behalf of relatives who already work in RPS or who would like to have jobs within the school system.
Note how Taylor interrupts Sturtevant while he is speaking and how she keeps on talking, seemingly totally oblivious to Board Chairman Donald Coleman, 7th-District, and his efforts to prevent her from disrespectfully interrupting her colleagues when they are speaking.
When Coleman recognizes 3rd-District member Jeffrey Bourne to speak, you can hear a derisive sigh (reminiscent of an annoyed middle school student) and the words, "go 'head" from Tichi Pinkney Eppes, the 9th-District member. (Eppes, you may recall was recently censured by the board for revealing confidential student records to a third-party vendor).
Bourne is simultaneously incredulous and exasperated that the board is spending any time at all "arguing about how we communicate to the superintendent problems that are raised with us."
And, he is absolutely en pointe when -- despite Taylor's constant and increasingly loud efforts to interrupt him -- he reminds his colleagues that what matters most to the children who attend RPS, their families, their teachers and the citizens of this city is that our schools must improve.
"Like many things, we have discussed this ad nauseum [...] We have bigger things to deal with other than this policy. We have middle schools and others that are on the verge of failure -- abject failure [...] We should clear our agenda tonight and discuss the email Dr. Bedden sent us about these schools."
Watch how Taylor raises her voice and has a temper tantrum when Bourne not only refuses to yield to her constant interruptions, but dares to raise his voice right back at her.
Realizing it is pointless to try to reason with his colleague and a waste of time to argue about it, Bourne then asks the chairman to "call the question" whereupon Taylor totally loses it and angrily shouts out: "Thank you, Jeffrey Bourne."
Oh my, yes indeedy -- thank you Jeffrey Bourne, Glen Sturtevant, Kimberly Gray, Kristen Larson, Don Coleman and even Shonda Harris-Muhammad, 6th-District.
All six voted to approve the policy. Only Taylor and Eppes voted against it.
And thank you, Dr. Dana T. Bedden, for tolerating such unnecessary nonsense and continuing to fight hard to improve our schools. You are appreciated.
A point to ponder: Students in RPS get written up for demonstrating far less disruption and disrespect than the "degrading, insulting and very offensive..." behavior Taylor displays toward her colleagues in this meeting.
A question: Do RPS' anti-bullying policies apply to school board members?