Wake school board majority may search wide

Non-educator is possible

Staff WritersFebruary 18, 2010 

— Supporters of the new Wake County school board majority are urging the board to conduct a national search to bring in an outsider for superintendent who will carry out its sweeping agenda.

The stinging words on Tuesday from Del Burns that he can no longer in "good conscience" remain as superintendent is being viewed by supporters of the new board as a major opportunity. But the search for Burns' successor also adds another item on the new board's crowded plate as it attempts to change policies such as ending busing for diversity to implement neighborhood schools.

"You've got a fairly homogenous group in the central office who've grown up under the policies in place," said Joe Ciulla, a leader of the Wake Schools Community Alliance, a parents' group that backed the four new board members. "At this point, fresh ideas are a good thing. If you're going to make changes, you'll have a better chance doing it from the outside."

But education groups familiar with the process say a national hunt will take more time, making it unlikely that a new person would start by the time Burns leaves at the end of June.

Allison Schafer, director of policy and legal counsel for the N.C. School Boards Association, which helped Wake with the last search, said a search normally takes four to six months.

Daniel Domenech, executive director of the Virginia-based American Association of School Administrators, said if the Wake school board immediately started the search process they might be able to get a new person in place by September.

Domenech said it's less likely that Wake, the 18th-largest district in the nation with 140,000 students, will get applications from superintendents in larger districts.

"If a superintendent knows he'll work with a split [school] board and with the economy the way it is, it would tend to give people pause," said Domenech, a former superintendent of Fairfax County in Virginia.

School board member John Tedesco said he'd prefer to hire a person with a background in education but that's not a requirement .

"I think it should be an extensive nationwide search for a CEO of the largest employer in the region," said Tedesco. "I am not opposed to looking outside the realm of education. I am not opposed to looking to people from different broad backgrounds, depending on what they bring to the table."

The school board finds itself having to start a search soon.

The resignation notice came after the new board majority, bolstered by last fall's election of four Republican-backed members, started dismantling programs backed by Burns. Those measures include a diversity policy that has won Wake schools national recognition, mandatory year-round schools and early class dismissals for teacher planning.

Critics of the new board majority have been wailing over Burns' departure. But supporters of the new board say he had to go for the changes to be made.

"If he feels like his vision is not in line with what the new board wants, it's the best for everybody involved to find someone who has an innovative approach," said Kathleen Brennan, one of the founders of Wake CARES, a parents' group that backs the new board majority.

Dallas Woodhouse, state director of Americans for Prosperity, a conservative group, said it was unrealistic to expect Burns to oversee the new board's policies.

"I think it is a good decision for the large swath of voters who voted for change," he said of Burns' resignation. "At the end of the day, the board needs to have trust that the staff is working for them and not against them. I think it's a good day."

keung.hui@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4534

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