The cheating school board

The cheating school board

June 16th, 2011 in Opinion Times

The five members who now control the county school board rarely miss an opportunity to disappoint. Their utterly arrogant vote Tuesday night to override standing board policy governing the selection of a new superintendent keeps their recent string of disappointments intact.

The policy they effectively ditched required a number of specific steps and strong public participation in choosing a successor to ousted Superintendent Jim Scales. For example:

* It directs the board to develop a job description, timeline and process for accepting and reviewing applications, and it spells out selection procedures.

* It says those procedures "shall include" an invitation to the community to participate in the selection of candidates by "suggesting selection criteria, participating in sessions with, and asking questions of, the candidates, and by attending board interviews with the candidates."

* It says resumes of candidates interviewed by the board "shall be available in the central office for public inspection."

* It says "the interview process for each finalist shall include meetings with various staff and community groups and an interview with the entire board."

* It says that "candidates shall be interviewed by the board in an open session," though only board members would be allowed to ask questions during the interview.

* Lastly, it directs the board to attempt to select a superintendent by unanimous vote, but adds that "a two-thirds vote of the membership of the board shall be required for the appointment of a (superintendent) of schools."

The codified policy also specifically expresses a preference for a superintendent with a doctoral degree, and it says that an "interim" superintendent "shall not become a candidate" unless the board expressly permits such inclusion in the selection procedures.

If you had read this policy before the nine-member board's majority faction of five began paving the way to oust Scales, you might have thought the board would not have the gall to ditch all these rules - and nonchalantly disregard the mandate for a national search and public participation in it - and quickly move to make Rick Smith first its designated "interim" superintendent, and then its new permanent superintendent.

And you would have been wrong.

The board quickly signaled it would install Smith as an "interim" candidate - though he has no doctoral degree. And then its proposed amendment to allow the board to ram through his appointment surfaced earlier this week. That memo simply says that "notwithstanding the provisions of this (current selection) policy to the contrary," the board can select a superintendent anyway it darn well pleases, and finalize the appointment with "15 days public notice."

That's the next step. Still, it's wrong. It's a slap in the face of both a public policy and the public's standing right for public participation in the selection of a new superintendent. The memo's origin and author should be outed.

The standing policy was adopted for good reason. Following the merger of the former county and city school systems, citizens here became aware of how critical the superintendent's position would be to the operation of the school system. Citizens wanted a participatory voice, and they still should have that.

Board member Rhonda Thurman, one of the five who has long favored Smith, says the board doesn't need to look further - that Smith has been "interviewed" for 25 years. But Thurman's judgment is dubious, at best. She also has said, for example, that she would close the county's magnet schools immediately if she had the power. And through Smith, she may well hold that power - never mind the value and popularity of the magnet schools and their attendant usefulness in mitigating resegregated schools.

That's just one of many reasons why the board should conduct a national search for an educational leader, as the Chamber of Commerce has rightly recommended. The public, and new businesses here, will not be well served by a yes-man to the board's current, short-sighted gang of five. The public should have a voice in choosing the next superintendent, and there's ample time to provide that.