Schools chief may not be an educator

Staff WriterJune 10, 2010 

— Wake County's next school superintendent could be a businessman or a former military officer and not a career educator.

Members of Wake's school board majority say they want to open the field of applicants who will carry out the major changes they have in store for the state's largest school district following Del Burns' resignation over policy disagreements.

On Wednesday, the school board's policy committee recommended eliminating the requirement that the superintendent must have been involved in school work for at least three years over the past decade. The committee is also recommending dropping the requirement that Wake look at internal candidates before conducting a national search.

"The change is to not eliminate any people," said school board member Debra Goldman, chairwoman of the pol icy committee. "We want to open this up to all the best qualified candidates."

But Goldman said the change doesn't mean the board will necessarily hire a non-educator or pick someone who doesn't work for the school district.

The full board could vote on the change Tuesday. That's the same meeting at which the board will vote on hiring Heidrick & Struggles, an executive search firm based in Chicago, at $82,500 plus expenses to conduct the search.

Supporters of the policies being eliminated by the new majority, such as busing for socioeconomic diversity, oppose hiring a superintendent without education experience. School board member Carolyn Morrison, a member of the minority faction, said an educator would have more credibility with principals and teachers.

"I come from the old school and think education experience is very important," said Morrison, a retired Wake teacher and principal.

Rare but legal

Wake would be in the minority if it went outside the education ranks to replace Burns. Maurice Green was the only non-educator among North Carolina's 115 school superintendents that came to mind for Bill McNeal, retired Wake superintendent and now executive director of the N.C. Association of School Administrators.

Green had been Charlotte-Mecklenburg's in-house lawyer and later deputy superintendent before being hired in 2008 to be superintendent of the Guilford County school system.

But such a move would be legal, said Allison Schafer, director of policy and legal counsel for the N.C. School Boards Association. Schafer said the state loosened the law in 2001 to allow non-educators to become superintendents. A North Carolina school superintendent can now be a person who has a bachelor's degree and five years' leadership or managerial experience considered relevant by a school board.

Goldman said she would also recommend dropping the requirement that the superintendent have or be eligible for a superintendent's certificate after learning from a reporter Wednesday that state officials said it was not required.

The certificate serves as proof that an educator has attained or intends to attain an advanced degree, usually a doctorate, in school administration.

The possibility that a businessman could become Wake's next superintendent was applauded by Russell Capps, president of the Wake County Taxpayers Association, a group that backs the board majority. Capps called the school system "the largest business in Wake County," with an annual budget of more than $1 billion.

Support and opposition

"If they hired a businessman who was concerned about education, that would be a good thing to do," Capps said.

Capps said the school board could retain interim Superintendent Donna Hargens to oversee education if a businessman were named superintendent. Hargens, a longtime Wake educator, was tapped to run the day-to-day operations of the district after Burns was put on paid administrative leave in March for his public criticism of the board majority's actions. She has not said whether she will apply for the superintendent's position.

But Tama Bouncer, new president of the Wake chapter of the N.C. Association of Educators, which represents 5,000 school employees, said a non-educator wouldn't necessarily have an understanding of Wake's educational needs.

"How many corporate workers deal with a school setting as a classroom teacher?" Bouncer said.

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

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