Sheehan

Sheehan: Obedient CEO wanted for Wake schools

Staff WriterJuly 14, 2010 

So you want a business leader to run the Wake County school system?

A Jack Welch, a Ken Lay or a Carly Fiorina?

OK, maybe not a philanderer, a crook or a fired CEO-turned-politician. But you do want someone to come in with "business sense" to make big decisions and implement them with full force. Steady hands at the wheel in turbulent waters.

But is that really what the Wake County school board majority is after by tinkering with its superintendent search criteria to specify - er, allow - a business person in the mix?

Not likely.

The board majority members don't want someone to come in and tell them what to do, or how to do it. (As a Jack Welch undoubtedly would.) The majority members want someone who views the world as they do, will toe their new line and enforce their new agenda within the "educrat" establishment they disdain.

That's why we're paying an astonishing $82,000 (in this economy!) to a headhunting firm to lure someone to a job paying well over a quarter million dollars a year. The cheaper searches were, astonishingly, planning to look for Del Burns' replacement among experienced educators who have run big school systems in challenging times.

But maybe it worked out just as well to pay the extra freight for a firm that will look in the business world: Why would any self-respecting educator in his or her right mind want to walk into this snake pit, no matter how much money is on the table?

I fear we're entering a period of rapid turnover in the Wake superintendent's office. This job will require a megalomaniac - or a polished, well-spoken pitbull who will heel to the majority and attack opponents on command.

Sadly, Wake is becoming increasingly isolated from the rest of the state's education community, and broadening the search to include non-educators is just the latest example.

Some say that running a school system is no different from running a business. The product, instead of widgets, is our kids' education.

Tired of the analogy

A buddy of mine who serves on the Superintendent's Parent Advisory Committee has grown weary of the analogy. Of course, she and I still have widgets going through the system.

She likened bringing in a business person to lead the schools with asking the guy at the butcher shop to perform surgery. They both know how to cut through flesh and muscle. She'll stick with thesurgeon, thanks.

Meanwhile, against the backdrop of a nationwide superintendent search and reorganization of the entire system, the board majority has veered into a spitting match with the mayor and a wholly unnecessary fight over the name of a local high school.

Our energies need to be focused on the real challenges ahead. First on finding - and listening to - a solid leader with a background in education who will help lead us through the trying times ahead.

And always, ultimately, on the people most likely to be forgotten in the political rhetoric: the kids.

All of them.

ruth.sheehan@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4828

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