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Opinion

CMS Can’t Dump Another School Superintendent Under A Shroud Of Silence

Tommy Tomlinson

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board doesn’t seem to be inclined to reveal why it got rid of Superintendent Clayton Wilcox. Technically he's resigning as of Aug. 2, but he’s suspended until then, and he’s not likely to be going to any company picnics.

The school board went into closed session Friday to talk about Wilcox’s fate. Before doing that, board chair Mary McCray said the board wouldn’t talk about why Wilcox is leaving because of state personnel laws.

It’s true that the law generally prohibits school boards from discussing why someone is being let go. But it does provide an exception when the information is, quote, “essential to maintaining the integrity of the board.”

Well, guess what? The integrity of this school board is in question.

Just six months ago the board gave Wilcox a two-year contract extension, and a $27,000 raise to $307,000 a year.

There have been some news stories lately about Wilcox’s decision not to fingerprint new CMS employees … but no one from the board, as far as I can tell, has publicly said a word about it one way or the other.

And let’s remember the last time all this happened, back in 2014, when the board dumped superintendent Heath Morrison. At the time, the official school board position was that Morrison resigned to take care of his ailing mother. Shortly thereafter, people in the school system leaked reports that Morrison was a bully to staff and botched a magnet-school project at UNCC.

The truth is, we don’t know all the details of why Morrison left, the same way we might never know why Wilcox is being shown the door. So let’s look at what we do know.

CMS has nearly 150,000 students. Those students come from all income levels and speak dozens of languages. Their parents have wildly differing ideas about how their kids should be educated. The school system employs 19,000 people, and those people have lots of differing ideas, too. CMS is starved for a leader who can do the incredibly difficult job of keeping all those opposing forces pointed in the same direction. Picking a superintendent is the most vital job the school board has.

And the last two times this school board has done a nationwide search, they’ve botched it so badly the person they chose hasn’t lasted more than two years.

That is what we know.

We also know this: The school board is spending $30,000 to hire a crisis-management firm to handle the fallout from Wilcox’s departure. Remember that part of state law that says you can reveal information if the board’s integrity is in question? When you have to hire a crisis-management firm, you know good and well that your integrity is in question.

The school board members I know are good people. They’re faced with a hard decision – balancing an employee’s privacy with the public’s need to know what’s going on in the government our tax dollars pay for.

But when it comes to Clayton Wilcox, the board has got to come up with a better answer than “trust us.” Because, based on the recent evidence, why would we?

Tommy Tomlinson’s On My Mind column normally runs every Monday on WFAE and WFAE.org. It represents his opinion, not the opinion of WFAE. You can respond to this column in the comments section below. You can also email Tommy at ttomlinson@wfae.org.

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