Education

CMS board chair: Public won’t meet next superintendent until contract is signed

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board convened Nov. 16 before going into closed session to talk to half a dozen semifinalists for superintendent.
The Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board convened Nov. 16 before going into closed session to talk to half a dozen semifinalists for superintendent. ahelms@charlotteobserver.com

An unknown number of Charlotte-Mecklenburg superintendent finalists will be in town for interviews Monday, but the public won’t meet them.

Board Chair Mary McCray said Wednesday the board has agreed to keep its search confidential until the board signs a contract, probably on Jan. 10.

“Basically what we’re asking is allow us to do our job, the same way it was allowed to the city and the county,” she said.

What did you learn? ... You saw how they smiled. You saw how they dressed.

Board Chair Mary McCray on public meetings with finalists

In recent years, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools’ national searches for a superintendent have concluded with three or four finalists doing a round of public meetings, with participants offering feedback before the board made its choice. Those sessions drew heavy turnout and often generated enthusiasm for the person hired, but McCray says such sessions reveal little beyond the candidates’ public persona.

“What did you learn?” she asked. “You learned that they could answer questions on the fly. You saw how they smiled. You saw how they dressed.”

Heath Morrison, the last superintendent hired in a national search, resigned under pressure in 2014 after working less than three years. The district’s lawyer recommended dismissal, saying Morrison had bullied staff and misled the board about school construction costs.

Superintendent Ann Clark, a CMS veteran who had been a public finalist for the job, took his place. Her contract expires in June.

If we’re not going to roll the finalists out to a million, why should we do it to a few?

Board Chair Mary McCray

McCray said CMS is following local and national trends in doing a private search for public leaders, a strategy that avoids exposing also-rans to repercussions or pressure when they return to their jobs. Nashville’s superintendent search, which ended up taking two years, is an example of public interviews creating problems, she said.

Metro Nashville Public Schools made a public offer to one of four finalists in summer of 2015. He rejected the offer and decided to stay in the nearby county where he was working, leading to speculation that he had used the Nashville search as leverage with his board. The Nashville board started over in 2016, unveiling a slate of six finalists before making a hire in May. The board was criticized for including no women among the final six.

Closer to home, McCray cited recent superintendent searches in Guilford and Union counties where no finalists were made public. Charlotte City Council also broke with its tradition of having finalists meet the public when it hired a city manager in October.

The school board’s meeting schedule says the board will convene in public, as required by law, at 10:45 a.m. Monday at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center. McCray declined to say how many finalists will be interviewed or where the board will conduct those interviews to avoid public disclosure. On Nov. 16, the board interviewed half a dozen semifinalists on the lower floor of the Government Center, with access closed to anyone who didn’t have an employee ID.

McCray said no community representatives will be invited to private sessions with the finalists. Everyone will learn about the selection after the contract is signed, she said.

“If we’re not going to roll the finalists out to a million, why should we do it to a few?” she said.

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

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