Search for school superintendent to move forward

The Union County Board of Education voted 7-2 Tuesday morning to ask the N.C. School Boards Association to begin a search to replace retiring Superintendent Dr. Mary Ellis.

After the meeting ended, school officials learned they would also have another vacancy to fill. Dr. Mike Webb, deputy superintendent for Instructional Technology and Operations, told school staff members that he is retiring after 31 years to spend more time with his family. He will leave his job as of July 1. Ellis is retiring as of June 1.

If any board members knew of Webb’s pending retirement announcement, they did not mention it during the meeting, which focused on finding a new superintendent.

Gary Sides made the motion to ask the NCSBA to find Ellis’ replacement. His motion included no time frame, unlike an earlier motion by board member Jason Marton. He proposed July 1 as a target for filling the position. Marton’s motion died for lack of a second.

“I would like to intentionally take our time,” Sides said during the comment period before his motion went to vote. He said six of the board’s nine seats will be voted on in November, and “I think it is prudent to allow a new board the leeway to select the best superintendent they think they can work with, so I think we should purposely take our time in the search process and allow the elected board seated in December 2016 to make the actual selection.”

Marton said his motion set July merely as a goal. He said new board members are elected every two years. “Are we going to say that a new board can never work with a superintendent that a past board has elected?”

Leslie Boyd said it is important to have the new superintendent in place at the start of the school year, so the school system can keep its momentum.

UCPS General Counsel Michele Morris said other North Carolina counties also are looking to fill superintendent positions, and it would be difficult to lock-in a time frame for a search.

Chairman John Collins said the cost of the NCSBA search would “be somewhere in the $25,000 range.”

Collins repeated the motion before the vote, saying it was to ask the NCSBA to begin the search “without any specific end date, but also with no delay.”

Marton and Kevin Stewart opposed Sides’ motion.

Later, after Webb’s retirement announcement became public, Chief Communications Officer Tahira Stalberte said the deputy superintendent position is hired by the superintendent, not by the school board. She said she did not want to speculate as to whether his replacement would be hired by Ellis or Ellis's successor.

Ellis, Webb and a UCPS Chief Technology Officer Tony Burrus were recently cleared during an SBI investigation into whether they had broken the law by creating a consulting firm called Educatrx with a vice president of Lenovo. Lenovo sold thousands of computers to the school system.

Jane Duckwall is a freelance writer: jbduckewall@gmail.com.