Opinion

Finding Heath Morrison’s heir

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board is starting its search for former Superintendent Heath Morrison’s replacement.

That’s good. After all the turmoil surrounding Morrison’s departure, the job needs to be filled as quickly and wisely as possible.

Chairwoman Mary McCray told west Charlotte’s Tuesday Morning Breakfast Club that the board likely will meet several times next month to talk about replacing Morrison, whose abrupt and messy separation from Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools left a host of troubling questions.

Going forward, here are some issues the board needs to address:

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The Ann Clark question.

The 32-year CMS veteran should either be given the superintendent’s job outright, or she shouldn’t be a candidate as part of any national search.



Clark, who is leading the system temporarily, was a finalist during the search that led to Morrison’s hiring in 2012. The board and community know her well. Either she’s the choice, or she should be spared the indignity of earning runner-up trophies in consecutive CMS national searches.

That said, there remain serious questions about Clark’s role in the Morrison affair. She told the board’s lawyer, George Battle III, that a “culture of fear” existed under Morrison. That was a key part of the report that led to his departure.

But when asked about that quote during a recent appearance on WFAE-FM’s “Charlotte Talks,” Clark cast it as a general statement about an issue spanning several superintendencies, not just Morrison’s.

With skeptics questioning whether she undermined Morrison to get the top job, her role must be clarified before she can fully secure public trust.

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Morrison’s personnel file.

The board should open it to inspection. That would let citizens see the facts for themselves, and help restore public confidence.



State law says the board can – but isn’t mandated to – direct the release of information about the reasons behind an employee’s departure. The board instead entered a separation agreement with Morrison that obligates it to keep those reasons concealed.

Given all the ensuing turmoil, that was clearly unwise. Without a fuller airing of the facts, the next superintendent starts off in the red when it comes to public trust. The board needs to do more here, even if it means trying to work out a solution with Morrison and his lawyers.

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Transparency

. Superintendent searches always seem to come with a side order of secrecy. During the search that led to Morrison’s hiring, board members met at Charlotte Douglas International Airport to interview applicants out of public view.



The board can’t afford to approach another superintendent search – if it comes to that – with that mindset. CMS needs to disclose candidates’ identities earlier in the process. That gives the public a closer look, and perhaps greater trust, and allows the board more room to probe candidates’ backgrounds.

That should include visiting the candidates’ districts. McCray said the board didn’t do so before hiring Morrison because it was told it didn’t have enough money. Board members visited Virginia before hiring Eric Smith, but didn’t visit California before hiring Peter Gorman. That must not happen this time. The public trust lost in the Morrison affair was far more valuable than a handful of airplane tickets and hotel reservations.

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