No names till superintendent is chosen?

Even finalists could be kept secret

Staff WriterJuly 5, 2010 

— Wake County school board members are hedging about whether they'll publicly name the finalists who want to replace Del Burns as the next superintendent.

The committee conducting the search agreed with a consultant's recommendation last week that the names of applicants should be kept confidential until at least the finalists are identified. But board members say they're not sure they'll name the finalists either if it might cause candidates to withdraw.

"If we have candidates that might not have a job if we announce they're finalists, that might change things," said Debra Goldman, the board member in charge of the search committee.

Legally, the school board isn't required to announce the names of applicants before they're hired. The Durham school board didn't publicly identify Eric Becoats as a finalist until his hiring was announced at an April meeting.

Goldman said the board will need to discuss the legal requirements with its attorney before deciding whether any names will be released.

But what's certain is that no one will be named before finalists are chosen.

Board members said they didn't want good candidates from outside of Wake to stay away out of fear that public disclosure could cost them their jobs.

"We want to be as transparent as possible, but releasing the names of applicants before they're serious candidates doesn't make sense," Goldman said.

But John Bussian, a lawyer and lobbyist for the N.C. Press Association, said school districts in states such as Florida are able to attract good applicants even though their laws require them to release the names of all applicants. He urged the school board to release the identities of all applicants, not just the finalists.

"The press does a much better vetting job," Bussian said. "That's why it will inspire more faith in the process."

The initial application deadline is Sept. 1. Last week, the committee authorized Chicago-based Heidrick & Struggles, the search firm hired by the board, to advertise the opening.

The board is looking to replace Del Burns, who resigned because of his disagreement with the new board majority's policies, including ending the socioeconomic diversity policy. Chief academic officer Donna Hargens is serving as interim superintendent.

Goldman said she wouldn't support having the finalists meet ahead of time with the community. She said the community's role is to provide input about what it wants in a superintendent in two public meetings that Heidrick will hold this month.

Heidrick also will hold private meetings with a several groups, including leaders of the various chambers of commerce, the Wake County chapter of the N.C. Association of Educators, mayors, county commissioners, high school student council presidents, the Wake County PTA Council and the Wake Education Partnership.

A private meeting also will be held with the Civitas Institute, a conservative group recently chosen by the school board majority to provide training to board members. or 919-829-4534

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