Powell in an interesting situation

Published 1:02 am Saturday, March 8, 2003

By By Paul Keane
Melvin "Buck" Powell, the superintendent of the Escambia County School District, finds himself in an interesting position and situation. It's a situation I would not want to trade with him to be in.
Powell is sitting on a time bomb, so to speak, and slings and arrows are being tossed at him from every side. He says the school district needs more money, and that a property tax increase is needed quickly in order to keep the system afloat.
On the other hand, he knows that if a tax increase doesn't pass, he's going to have to take the very unpopular step of cutting out programs and possibly closing schools. Some of the programs that could be axed include athletic programs, which would make him extremely unpopular.
To be honest, the decision to close any schools won't come from Powell. If the system becomes too financially strapped, the state will simply step in and start making decisions for us. In a system that boasts having the first public high school in the state, that would be a crying shame, allowing outsiders to come in and decide what is best for our children.
But Powell is in another unique situation that perhaps people haven't thought about during this entire fiasco. To quote an old Southern phrase, he "doesn't have a dog in the hunt," with the exception of trying to make this system the best it can be.
Powell has more than enough years into education to retire and enjoy life at this point. To be honest, if he were to walk away today, his retirement would be equal to about 98 percent of his current salary. When you think about it, he's basically doing all of this work for about 2 percent of his total salary.
For me, that would be a big drawing card to go sit on a house boat or on the beach every day rather than struggling with some of the things that Powell is working through right now.
Powell also isn't interested in getting re-elected to the position. In fact, he can't get elected because the position is appointed by the Board of Education. That means there's no political mumbo-jumbo driving his actions here.
Powell also had a son that graduated from Escambia County High School. In fact, he was valedictorian of his class. That means he believes in the school system and knows what it can accomplish and what it can become.
There's also a wife involved in the school system. For the record, her salary comes from federal funding and to move her back into the classroom would cost the school district more than it would be to leave her in her current position. So throw that criticism and argument right out the window.
So what is driving Powell to go through all of this when he could just sit back, mark his time and be remembered as a nice guy who made his mark over the years? That's probably what I would do, and I know of many administrators who have done that over the years.
Having been a sports writer for more than 20 years, I think I know what makes Powell, a former football coach, tick. To put it bluntly, he wants to win, and that means making local schools the best they can possibly be.
All of the schools in the district are approaching being on "clear" status, which would be a major accomplishment in itself. But Powell wants more than just that.
He wants the schools to be considered among the best in the State of Alabama, and that old football coach mentality comes out when he speaks about wanting to be the best. He's on the right track, and he has the right attitude about working to make our schools the best.
But a coach can't win games by himself. It takes a team effort to make it happen, and too many of us want to sit on the bench right now. It's time to get on the field and start playing the game to win instead of trying not to lose.

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