CARY — Wake County school board members agreed Monday that once they choose the finalists for superintendent they’ll make the names public, a stark departure from the secretive search that led to the hiring of Tony Tata.
The board is still at least six weeks away from naming finalists, but they plan to make their choices so that the public can meet candidates in community forums before the final vote is held. Board members said the action will help to build good will and trust in the next superintendent of the state’s largest school district.
“We’ve got to assure the public that we’re going through this in a diligent and open manner,” said board member Tom Benton.
In the previous superintendent search, the board’s former Republican majority opted not to release the names of the finalists, citing concerns that doing so would discourage good candidates from applying. Tata wasn’t formally announced until the board vote in December 2010.
After 20 months in the job, Tata was fired by the board’s Democratic majority in September. Monday’s meeting was the first since interim Superintendent Stephen Gainey announced he’s leaving to lead Randolph County schools. He’ll start his new job July 1.
Board members agreed Monday to keep confidential the names of all applicants up through the semifinalist stage. But board members said that once they narrow it down to two or three finalists, the information is “fair game” for the public.
“It builds trust that you believe the community can offer something in your decision-making,” said Sharon Cox, a consultant for McPherson & Jacobson, the Nebraska-based search firm hired by the school board.
Thomas Jacobson, a consultant with McPherson & Jacobson, said they’ve received 19 applications as of Monday afternoon. The deadline was midnight Tuesday, but the board agreed to extend it a week because a recruiter intends to speak to prospective applicants at the National School Boards Association’s annual conference this weekend in San Diego.
McPherson will give the board a list of recommended semifinalists on May 8, as well as a complete list of applicants.
A summary of feedback received from community meetings and online surveys two weeks ago indicates that the school board will be challenged to find a person who will unite the community.
“They do hope that you can find a superintendent who can bring them together to find a common direction,” Cox said.
The feedback also wasn’t very favorable of the school board.
“The board is perceived as driven by political ideology, not the best interests of the children,” according to the summarized report. “Over the past four years, board members’ interactions have fed the news media’s proclivity to sensationalize issues.”