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Progress remains slow on CMS superintendent search

Ann Clark (left) accepted a one-year term as Charlotte-Mecklenburg superintendent, but the board must find someone to take her place by next summer.
Ann Clark (left) accepted a one-year term as Charlotte-Mecklenburg superintendent, but the board must find someone to take her place by next summer. dhinshaw@charlotteobserver.com

They want someone who can wrestle with tough budget issues, guide a student assignment revamp, restore public trust and make every school excellent.

Yet they’re wary of leaders who seem too charismatic or arrive with preset plans. They want a long-term commitment, and they know they’re asking a lot.

Welcome to the latest round of superintendent search shuffle, a near-constant condition in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools for the past four years. The school board spent two hours Wednesday discussing broad goals but made no decisions. They hope to have a new leader in place by next summer.

Like a herd of turtles.

Board member Thelma Byers-Bailey, on the speed of the board’s search

What’s the back story?

After a year with an interim superintendent, CMS hired Heath Morrison, the national superintendent of the year, from Reno, Nev., in spring of 2012. He resigned in November 2014, after the district’s lawyer gave the school board a report alleging that Morrison had bullied his staff and lied to the board about spending.

Deputy Superintendent Ann Clark, who has worked for CMS for more than 30 years, took the job early this year with the understanding that she’ll retire no later than summer of 2016.

What they’re saying

▪ Board member Rhonda Lennon: “We unfortunately have a history of superintendents having a very short life span here.”

▪ Chair Mary McCray: “We know this is a grueling job.”

▪ Member Ericka Ellis-Stewart: “People who are interested in us are watching us. This job is a hard job. God bless who wants it.”

Why does it matter?

CMS has a budget of more than $1 billion a year. With more than 18,000 employees, it’s one of the region’s largest employers. In addition to providing opportunities for roughly 145,000 students, public schools are crucial to Mecklenburg County’s property values and economic prospects. The superintendent traditionally serves as a high-profile spokesperson for education, locally and statewide.

What happens next?

Board members will discuss whether they want the search to be in-house, local, regional or national, and whether they want to hire a search firm or use other recruiting methods. No target date for decisions has been set.

How to weigh in

Contact information for the school board: www.cms.k12.nc.us/boe

Ann Doss Helms: 704-358-5033, @anndosshelms

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