School board wants to be mum

Anonymity likely for candidates

Staff WriterJuly 29, 2010 

— Members of the Wake County school board majority are increasing their calls not to publicly release the names of finalists for the superintendent's position.

School board Chairman Ron Margiotta cited how New Hanover County school leaders publicly identified Wake interim Superintendent Donna Hargens as one of their superintendent finalists before hiring a different person Wednesday. Margiotta said he wants to avoid duplicating that situation in Wake and will urge his fellow board members to keep the names of finalists secret when they get to that stage in the hiring process.

"It casts aspersions on people," Margiotta said Wednesday of publicly identifying finalists. "It's not in the best interests of the candidates to say who they are."

Wake is conducting a search to find a permanent successor to Del Burns, who resigned as superintendent because of disagreements with the policies of the new board majority. In particular, he was opposed to the board's ending the school system's socioeconomic diversity policy.

Hargens, who is also Wake's chief academic officer, has been running the day-to-day operations of the 140,000-student district since March.

A school board committee authorized the search firm of Heidrick & Struggles to post ads for the vacancy.

Last week, the school board waived the requirement that the superintendent has to be an educator. Board members said they'd like Hargens to stay on as chief academic officer if she doesn't become the permanent superintendent.

Margiotta said the board won't hold Hargens' decision to seek the New Hanover job against her. She had applied for the job before being tapped as Wake's interim superintendent.

State law allows school districts to keep the names of applicants secret.

Margiotta said not releasing the names would protect the privacy of finalists. He said it would also avoid a situation in which employers of finalists would resent it being known publicly that people are trying to leave their current jobs.

Debra Goldman, chairwoman of the board's search committee, has said she could see why Wake would keep the names of finalists confidential.

John Bussian, a lawyer and lobbyist for the N.C. Press Association, said that government bodies in North Carolina typically keep secret the names of applicants. But he said Wednesday that the public deserves to know who is applying for such an important position as superintendent.

"The people are the employers," Bussian said. "They are entitled to know who is applying."

New Hanover school officials announced the names of its three superintendent finalists last week. All of them attended public meetings in Wilmington. The board ultimately hired Catawba County Superintendent Tim Markley.

New Hanover, like Wake, has seen division in the community about abandoning diversity efforts in favor of neighborhood schools. Edward Higgins, chairman of the New Hanover school board, said Wednesday that he hoped the open process would encourage public support for the district and for Markley.

"The fact that we have done it very openly and public, much more than what a lot of other counties do, has allowed the people of New Hanover County an opportunity to see the caliber of people that we were talking about and to feel like they have had an opportunity to be involved in making the selection," Higgins said.

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

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