Can Wilcox do that? CMS leader’s no-competition administrative jobs raise questions

Note: An earlier version of this story included incorrect information provided by Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools about other superintendents filling jobs without posting them.

When news broke that Superintendent Clayton Wilcox had hired at least five people for high-paying jobs that hadn’t been advertised – including one created for his chief of staff’s husband – people started asking: Can he do that?

The answer appears to be yes. There’s no law requiring public jobs to be advertised, said Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools General Counsel George Battle III. And while CMS generally requires open jobs to be posted for at least two days, board policy allows the superintendent to “recommend election for employment outside the general system and procedures established by Human Resources when, in his or her discretion, it is in the best interests of the school system.”

On Monday, just after Wilcox was sworn in as superintendent, the school board unanimously approved several contracts for top administrators – and one lower-level hire that required board approval because it was the husband of Chief of Staff Laura Francisco.

No one else had a chance to apply for at least three of those jobs, which were newly created or hadn’t been advertised as open. The same was true of two other top jobs filled in April:

▪ Derek Root, who was chief technology officer for Wilcox at his previous job in Washington County, Md., was named chief technology officer for CMS on Monday at $183,500 a year. According to Herald-Mail Media in Washington County, Root made $153,500 there.

Valerie Truesdale, who had been doing the technology chief job for $165,315, kept her salary and will do a redefined job focusing on how schools use technology to teach.

▪ Laura Francisco, whose contract was approved in April, became chief of staff at $175,000 a year, which is $40,585 more than Earnest Winston was making as then-Superintendent Ann Clark’s chief of staff. Francisco held the same job working with Wilcox in Washington County; Herald-Mail Media reports that she earned $139,704.

▪ Jody Francisco, husband of Laura Francisco, was hired Monday to the newly created job of culinary development manager in the department of community engagement at $85,000 a year. He did a similar job in Washington County’s food services department, where Herald-Mail Media says he earned $81,593.

▪ Winston was moved in April to the new position of ombudsman and chief of community engagement, with his salary going from $134,415 to $175,000 a year.

▪ Akeshia Craven-Howell, who had been part of a two-person team leading the recent student assignment review, was promoted to a new post as associate superintendent for student assignment, which merges her job with that of the other person, who left CMS. The new job pays $165,315 a year, about $34,300 more than she had been making.

Friday afternoon, in response to news media questions about the unadvertised jobs, CMS invited reporters to Shamrock Gardens Elementary to meet Jody Francisco, a former chef. His new job will include encouraging schools to develop gardens and use the food in cafeterias, which requires knowledge of federal rules for school meals.

After Francisco walked through for photos and began to talk about the job, reporters peppered him with questions about nepotism and the creation of an unadvertised job. Wilcox and Laura Francisco weren’t there, but Winston broke in to say questions about the hiring decision should be directed to the superintendent. Reporters insisted that Jody Francisco answer since CMS had made him the focus of a news conference, with WBT radio’s Mark Garrison asking him to comment on a county commissioner’s description of his job as “the ultimate fluff job.”

Jody Francisco said neither he nor his wife made her acceptance of the CMS job contingent on finding a job for him. As a chef with food service experience, he could have worked many places in Charlotte, he said, but he was pleased when Wilcox offered him a job similar to the work he’d enjoyed in Hagerstown, Md.

“I invite you to come with me to ensure that my job is not a fluff job,” he said.

It’s not unheard of for CMS to hire family members of top administrators; at least two superintendents, Eric Smith and James Pughsley, had wives on the payroll.

It’s not clear whether, or how often, other superintendents have filled jobs without opening them to other candidates. Spokeswoman Renee McCoy listed a handful of jobs that she said Clark had filled without advertising them. But on Saturday she said she was mistaken and those jobs had been posted.

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

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