A leak to the press has once again shown that in-fighting on The DeKalb County School Board is making it difficult for members to agree on hiring a new superintendent by its self-imposed deadline of July 1.
This past week an unidentified board member told members of the media the name of a candidate who was favored by several other members, once again breaking the board’s confidentiality policy.
Board Chairman Tom Bowen said that the leak was primarily about Robert Duron, superintendent of the San Antonio Independent School District in San Antonio, Texas, not getting enough votes to be endorsed by the board as a final candidate.
Duron was favored by board members Nancy Jester, Donald McChesney, Pam Speaks and Vice-Chairman Paul Womack and shortly after the leak they sent out a letter to constituents. The letter, penned by Jester, was in support of Duron and urged residents to e-mail their board members and ask them to vote for Duron as a finalist.
In the letter, Jester said that they believed the board needed to hire a superintendent from outside of the district. She wrote that, although there are plenty of capable people within the system, there is a real structural impediment to success and a lack of public trust.
“As you know, our search has already been plagued by leaks that were purposefully made to undermine the will of the board and caused candidates to withdraw from consideration…We are convinced that the latest leak has made DeKalb radioactive to potential candidates,” Jester said.
Earlier in the search process details of contractual negotiations caused finalist Lillie Cox, who has since taken a job with the Alamance Burlington School System in North Carolina, to pull out of the running.
As for the letter penned by Jester, Bowen said that the law requires certain items to be confidential but there is no language to address when there has already been a leak.
“It doesn’t address where there has been a leak already, whether that releases the board members from maintaining confidentiality,” he said. “The answer should have been to err on the side of no disclosure.”
Marshall Orson, president of the Emory LaVista Parents Council, said that the leaking was symptomatic of a larger problem: a lack of trust among school board members. Orson suggested extending Interim Superintendent Ramona Tyson’s contract for a few months longer, stating that she had a proven track record so far.
“Part of my reasoning would be that would allow us to get past the election next year,” Orson said.
Next year the board will be reduced from nine to seven members because of a bill passed recently by the general assembly, and Orson said that this might help balance out the board.
The DeKalb Chamber of Commerce also said that the board should hire Tyson at least until the next election cycle rather than having board members who might not even be re-elected make the important decision of hiring a new superintendent. However, Bowen said that the board is looking for someone who can be in place, sooner rather than later, to begin making the more long-term choices that the system needs.
“When you operate in an interim capacity it’s hard to make those choices…The question is, is the district better off withholding another 18 months? The board believes that it wouldn’t be prudent to put off having a permanent superintendent for that long,” Bowen said.
Bowen said that [the board] will likely ask Tyson to extend her contract for several months in anticipation of October, when they will be revisited by SACS after being placed on warning earlier in the year.
Having a permanent superintendent in place is one of eight points the association wanted the school system to address before they could be placed back on a cleared status.
“In terms of the timing, the current superintendent contract runs out June 30, and as a result of us having not identified a candidate we’re going to have to ask for a slight extension,” Bowen said.
According to Bowen, the search is moving forward and the board is still working with search firm Ray and Associates to find a candidate all the members can support, which he said could be difficult at times.
“The goal at this point is to find a candidate that the board will have some consensus around…the issue really comes down to if you ask nine people what quality is needed to improve the district at this point in time you get nine different answers,” Bowen said.
Jerrie Williams, whose son is a DeKalb County student, said that she has not been comfortable with any of the candidates that Ray and Associates has come up with so far.
“One particular candidate had 10 jobs in eight years and I just feel like the superintendent search firm really needs to look at the background of these people,” Williams said of the first three finalists who all came from systems with fewer than 10,000 students compared to DeKalb’s nearly 100,000.
Williams said that she thinks the superintendent search is important but she is more concerned about the way the board functions as a whole. She said that board members need to take a personal inventory and focus on serving the students and the voters of DeKalb County rather than petty politics.
“I’m not sure if some of the board members really realize the repercussion of making drastic choices like this,” Williams said.