The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Board of Education is pursuing two tasks in 2017 that could have a significant impact on CMS families for years. In only one does the board seem to want the public to know exactly what it’s doing.
The Observer’s Ann Doss Helms reported Wednesday that the school board is keeping secret its semi-finalists for the CMS superintendent position. Four candidates came to the Government Center on Wednesday, with an additional two or three due Thursday. The board conducted the interviews away from curious eyes in a non-public part of the building.
Such stealthiness is not uncommon at this point in the search process, but the board also is declining to say whether it will even make the finalists’ names public. That’s troubling, and it’s inconsistent. The board has smartly been transparent with its other big 2017 task – achieving greater diversity through magnet schools and student assignment.
Why the reticence with the superintendent search? The board points to its search consultant, Nebraska-based McPherson & Jacobson, which says that candidates don’t like having their employers know that they’re looking for a job.
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That’s the standard reason consultants give for keeping a search like this secret, although we wonder how bad it really is to have your employer know that another employer thinks you’re good enough to be a job finalist. But regardless of whether CMS might lose a publicity-shy candidate or two, there’s more to gain in having the public involved in the search process.
For starters, interaction between candidates and the public benefits everyone. The public gets a chance to see if a candidate’s experience and leadership style fit the job’s demands. The candidates get a more intimate sense of what they might be getting into. The board gets a glimpse of how a wanna-be superintendent handles a critical part of the job – being the public face of a challenging school system.
Making the process public also provides a safety net of sorts. The public often has insightful questions that the board, or the media, don’t think to ask. Plus, the public and media can vet candidates in ways the board and its search consultant might not.
At this point, however, board members seem to be saying “trust us.” Frankly, we don’t. It was a majority of this school board that thoroughly bungled the 2014 investigation and firing of then-superintendent Heath Morrison, and it was this school board chair, Mary McCray, who helped propagate the falsehood that Morrison was leaving for family reasons.
Months later, in a meeting with the editorial board, McCray and others also offered conflicting versions about why the board didn’t offer Morrison’s job permanently to current superintendent Ann Clark. That’s not how you build trust with a public that pays the bills.
We understand that school board members face an always challenging and often thankless task in leading an urban school district. Regardless of what they say or decide, they’ll likely get some frowns in return. But that’s an argument for more transparency, not less. The board should think hard before deciding on secrecy again.