Opinion

Morrison episode does need autopsy

Why have so many people had an unsettling feeling about Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools’ leadership over the past few months? Consider Wednesday, which continued a pattern.

School board chairman Mary McCray, vice chairman Tim Morgan and general counsel George Battle III met with the Observer editorial board and reporter Andrew Dunn, about 12 hours after the school board had named Ann Clark superintendent through July 2016. We were interested in whether they had considered making Clark the permanent superintendent.

“She has expressed to us that she does not care to stay on,” McCray said. “She has said, ‘Mary and Tim, I do not want the position full time, because I have some other things I want to do.’”

Was the board prepared to give Clark the job permanently if she had wanted it?

“We had to navigate according to how she wanted things to be,” McCray said. “… So we never approached the board as far as a long-term thing with her.”

So she took that possibility off the table? “In a sense, yes,” McCray said.

This would mark an abrupt turnaround for Clark, who has long had an open ambition to lead a school system. She applied for the CMS job in 2012 when Heath Morrison won out. She was a finalist for the Wake County job in 2013. She told the Observer just last month that she was interested in being CMS’s permanent superintendent if the school board wanted that. Now she suddenly had no interest in having the top job indefinitely?

Halfway through the conversation, a different version emerged. Dunn suggested it was hard to believe Clark didn’t desire to have the job permanently.

“She may have that desire and I’m sure she does but that was not how we approached her,” McCray said.

“The board never approached her as the person. We told her our needs were for right now and then we would think about later on and she was fine with that.”

A majority of the board, McCray and Morgan agreed, always wanted to do a national search.

So in the same conversation, the interim arrangement went from being something Clark wanted and dictated to something the board dictated and had wanted all along.

It’s an evasiveness and inconsistency that the public has gotten a large dose of since the day Morrison resigned under pressure in November. It started with Morrison and CMS leaders alike telling the tale that he was leaving simply to care for his ailing mother. (McCray said Wednesday the board learned of that excuse when they read it in the media, but the board issued a statement the same day about Morrison’s need to put family first.) Then board members agreed to a confidentiality agreement, signing away their ability to reveal details to the public.

The board and Battle continue to rebuff calls for an independent look at the process that led to Morrison’s departure, basically telling the public, “trust us.”

Asked about the possibility of an independent review Wednesday, McCray and Morgan offered a puzzling argument: that Morrison’s attorney’s decision not to sue proves that the entire process was handled well and an outside look would be pointless. “Do I need a full-blown autopsy? Absolutely not,” Morgan said.

Regardless of Morrison’s legal calculations, the community’s trust in CMS has taken a hit. Its leaders should be laser-focused on doing anything they can to restore it.

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