Naming finalists for top public-sector jobs works. Do it.

Former Wake schools superintendent Jim Merrill (right) was chosen after three finalists for the superintendent’s job were named. Merrill recently retired.
Former Wake schools superintendent Jim Merrill (right) was chosen after three finalists for the superintendent’s job were named. Merrill recently retired.

Wake school board members are falling all over themselves rationalizing their decision to not publicly name the finalists for their vacant superintendent’s job.

Board members have abandoned the open process that led to the hiring in 2013 of a successful superintendent — Jim Merrill, who was named North Carolina superintendent of the year (and recently retired). The board named three finalists who came to Raleigh to meet with parents, teachers and the rest of the public, and then hired Merrill.

Instead, the school board is returning to the closed process used in 2010 to hire Tony Tata, who was fired after less than two tumultuous years.

So the board wants to discard the process that worked and return to the process that didn’t work. Got it?

Board members are concerned that publicly naming finalists will discourage some from applying. But, as The News & Observer’s Scott Bolejack reported, more candidates applied in 2013 during the open process (23 applicants) than applied this year with the closed process (20 candidates).

Yes, it’s possible some potential candidates would be discouraged from applying if the name of finalists were released. But if a prospective superintendent doesn’t want the Wake job bad enough to tell his or her bosses, that person isn’t worth interviewing.

The Wake superintendent’s job is one of the best public-school leadership jobs in the country. The Wake system is the 15th largest nationally and one of the strongest — if not the strongest — urban school districts in the country.

Being a finalist and not getting the Wake job won’t hurt a candidate’s reputation; just being a finalist could enhance it.

Take the case of Ann Clark. She was one of three finalists for the Wake superintendent’s job in 2014 when she was deputy superintendent for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. She didn’t get the Wake job but several Wake school board members raved about her.

Being a finalist in Wake provided more evidence that she was a first-rate school administrator. The next year, she was named superintendent of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.

Naming finalists surfaces possible shortcomings and builds community support. It’s a prudent way to manage risk. And it works. That’s why Wake commissioners just announced finalists in choosing David Ellis as county manager and why Raleigh and Durham named finalists in selecting current police chiefs Cassandra Deck-Brown of Raleigh and Cerelyn Davis of Durham.

Jim Martin, a member of the Wake school, said, “The community and the school system is in a very different place than in 2013, and that is why the search is being conducted in the manner it is.”

Yes, the Wake system is more stable now — largely because Merrill helped get it that way. If Wake school board members don’t end up with the right superintendent, their defective process will be a key reason why they came up short.