Leader Blues

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

EDITORIAL >> Mays to add class to board

A transcendent concern about public education is not ordinarily the grounds that governors use to choose people for the state Board of Education, the policy-making agent for Arkansas public schools. A 10-year appointment to the board is usually a reward for political support. Gov. Huckabee had even appointed champions of home schooling to the board overseeing public education.

So it was cheering this week to read of the governor’s appointment of Ben Mays of Clinton to the board. You may remember Mays, a veterinarian who has served 22 years on the school board at Clinton, the county seat of Van Buren County.

He is the maverick who has insisted that the state do a better job of monitoring how local schools spend their money, particularly on athletics.

He has been trying for years to get a good accounting of how much his own school district spends on athletics, which, of course, is at the expense of teaching.

The football field is holy ground for school districts, as it is at most colleges. Athletic costs are distributed throughout the budget, so it is hard to establish how much schools spend on sports as opposed to academics. Rep. Betty Pickett, D-Conway, sponsored a bill this year to put a cap on state spending on school athletic programs, but it got nowhere. Mays testified for it.

“We’ve lost sight of our priorities, blinded by the light and the passion of Friday night sports fun,” Mays averred.
In response to complaints by Mays and a new state law requiring a report on athletic spending, the state Education Department finally produced an accounting early this year.

It reported that schools spent $61 million on sports in the previous year. Mays did not buy it. About half the districts left a blank space for athletic spending on such things as utilities, indicating they spent nothing on those items, he said.

Mays, who is not a Republican and would not confess to even voting for Huckabee, was surprised by his appointment, although he said he had liked some of Huckabee’s bold stands on school issues.

Ben Mays will be good for that stuffy board and good for the schools for a long time. Gov. Huckabee must be thinking about his legacy.
This should improve it.