Will public meet CMS superintendent finalists? Maybe not

Kriner Cash, Ann Clark and Heath Morrison (left to right) all met the public in 2012 before the CMS board hired Morrison.
Kriner Cash, Ann Clark and Heath Morrison (left to right) all met the public in 2012 before the CMS board hired Morrison.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board leaders said Wednesday they’re willing to end the tradition of having superintendent finalists meet the public if that’s what it takes to recruit the best national candidate.

The remarks by board Chair Mary McCray and Vice Chair Elyse Dashew came before the board met with its search firm to chart next steps for a 2017 hire – and as Charlotte City Council announced the hiring of a city manager without letting the public meet finalists.

“You lose candidates when they feel like they’re going to be paraded around,” said McCray, who took office in the midst of the 2012 search that led to the hiring of Heath Morrison. He and two other finalists – including Ann Clark, who became superintendent when Morrison resigned under pressure in 2014 – met the public.

Clark’s contract ends in June 2017, and the board plans to hire a successor early in the year. The district got 51 applications by the end of September, said consultant Steve Joel with the Omaha-based McPherson & Jacobson search firm.

Confidentiality is of paramount importance.

CMS search consultant Steve Joel

The firm will now start researching those applicants and bring the board a list of candidates who match the board’s requirements.

In earlier planning discussions, board members said they expected to have at least two finalists meet the public in December or January.

Dashew and McCray said Wednesday they’ll still support public meetings if the finalists agree to it. But if they think they’ve found the best candidate and that person doesn’t want to risk public exposure before getting the job, both said they’re willing to make the decision behind closed doors.

Across the country, search firms and superintendent candidates have balked at boards making finalists go public. Many who apply for new jobs are already leading school districts and don’t want their board to know they’re job-hunting if they don’t get the post.

Joel didn’t discuss the final stage of the selection process Wednesday, but he told the board that confidentiality is essential as they move forward. Any leaks could sabotage the process, he said.

“We just have to be really careful,” he said. “I think we have some qualified candidates, but I think every one of them is a little bit nervous about confidentiality.”

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