To ring in the new year on Tuesday, January 2, five members of the Columbus School Board passed a New Year’s resolution: to destroy the tradition of free speech at school board meetings. The long-standing practice of open public comments at the board meeting is gone; equally shameful is moving the starting time of the meeting from the traditional 5pm to 3pm to block access by working parents. This same board majority ended the practice of weekly board meetings last year at the insistence of the malevolent and wholly unqualified ex-jock new board member Stephanie Hightower. After $130,000 poured into her school board campaign from Chamber of Commerce types, she’s now assumed the board presidency in her second year.

Bill Moss’ comment that Hightower “doesn’t know goose shit from wild honey” is too generous on her educational insights. What she does know is how to suppress public expression by the primarily black and poor constituents who come to the board meetings to plea for their children in a system that’s in a state of “academic emergency.” While you’ve come to expect such assaults on the free exchange of public ideas by Republican elected officials, make no mistake, the majority in the 5-vote block – Mark Hatch, Karen Schwarzwalder and Hightower – are “New” Democrats with moderate to liberal credentials.

Schwarzwalder, who sits at the board with the blessing of the almighty Wexner family, benefited by her progressive ex-husband’s name, is an obvious candidate to move up to City Council. With her clear and abiding affection for kissing rich arse, a well-known name, and a complete affinity to the corporate agenda, she’s a shoe-in in Columbus. Hatch, on the other hand, has raised his unprincipled behavior in a principled way – he’s generally learned to keep his mouth shut and let Hightower and Schwarzwalder do the dirty work in thwarting democracy.

Perhaps more appalling was the fact that the board also voted Superintendent Rosa Smith, the woman who led the district into its status as the worst in the state of Ohio, a 4% raise with a $6000 performance bonus. With an absent Loretta Heard, maverick Bill Moss was the board’s lone dissenter, pointing out that Rosa’s most well-known accomplishment last year was her hiring of two fulltime bodyguards, one to serve as a driver, while she dodged parents. The public outcry against her spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on personal security, which she doesn’t need on her frequent trips out of town at the school’s expense, is the obvious reason why the gang of five is closing out the public.

Rosa and her fabulous five’s bunker mentality, and their startling ability to take a mediocre school system and run it into the ground, will lead to the inevitable takeover by the City of Columbus of the schools. Just as in Cleveland, downtown developers will get the buildings and land they want and the $700 million budget will be ripped off by the usual parasites of bonding companies and politically-connected law firms.

Equally predictably, the Dispatch editorial board will take on the PR duties of advancing Hightower, Schwarzwalder and Hatch to other political offices to reward them for a job well done. At least they can run on the slogan, “Why not the worst?”

Jerry Doyle, who was arrested at the meeting, has the right idea. Parents and citizens concerned with democracy should use any means necessary to protect their rights and restore accountability to the Columbus School Board, which apparently is only allowed now in suburbia.

Happy New Year!