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CMS Board Agrees On A Superintendent Search, But Not The Timing

John D. Simmons
Charlotte Observer
Superintendent Ann Clark (left) listens to board chair Mary McCray during a retreat on long-term leadership of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.

CMS board members agreed over the weekend that they should begin the search for a new superintendent. They just couldn’t decide when that search should begin.  The disagreement is whether they can work on a student assignment plan, while also trying to find someone to lead the district. 

WFAE’s Lisa Worf joins Morning Edition host Marshall Terry. 

TERRY: Up until now, the board hasn’t said much publicly about a superintendent search. What was Saturday’s discussion like? 

WORF: It was civil, but heated. Chairman Mary McCray started it off by saying they need to start the search immediately, so they can hire someone this summer. Here she is:

MCCRAY: As to the myth that the board cannot do a superintendent search, student assignment, and carry out its responsibilities at the same time, I say that is hogwash. This board--and boards before us throughout its history--has handled heavier loads than this.

WORF: Three other members agreed with her and said a new superintendent should be part of revamping the student assignment plan. Those who argued for delaying the search said it would require rushing through the two most important things a school board can do. Tom Tate also worried it would be hard to get community feedback in such a short time, especially when CMS is already trying to get input on new boundaries and the budget. He put it this way:

TATE: I begin to wonder if we have the stamina, actually. Not necessarily the board’s, but the community’s.

TERRY: Even if the board starts the search right away, could they find someone this summer? 

WORF: I asked Dan Domenech that same question. He’s with the American Association of School Administrators. He says it would be difficult, but not impossible. Most searches take at least six months. CMS would be competing for candidates with Montgomery County, Maryland, and Minneapolis. Those two districts have been searching for someone for a year now.

TERRY: Who would be in charge if the board delayed the search?

WORF: Right now Ann Clark’s contract ends in July. McCray says Clark would be willing to stay a year beyond that.

TERRY: Would Clark apply for the full-time job?

WORF: My guess is probably not. She signed on to the interim position for 18-months after Heath Morrison resigned, saying she planned to retire after that. Had the board said unequivocally we want you, I bet they could’ve changed her mind. 

TERRY: So what is the urgency to conduct a search right away, if Clark is willing to stay?

WORF: There’s the sense that extending her contract is a backdoor way to give her the permanent job. Now, Clark has the respect of many teachers and community members.  She’s been with CMS more than 30 years and has been a diligent and capable leader. But there are many who fault her for the closure of about ten schools in 2010. Most of these schools were in largely black neighborhoods. That effort was led by former superintendent Peter Gorman. Clark didn’t take a public role, but she was one of Gorman’s top staff members at the time. 

TERRY: Did that come up in the discussion?

WORF: Not explicitly. Rhonda Lennon who represents north Mecklenburg County was concerned the board might delay a new student assignment plan over a search. She said people don’t care about the superintendent. They’re worried about where their kids are going to school. Mary McCray said that’s not what she hears. The questions she gets are mostly about getting on with a superintendent search. Board members’ thoughts on the search do fall along racial lines. McCray and the three other board members who support an immediate search are African American.  Those five that brought up extending Clark’s contract are white.   

TERRY: Where does the board go from here?

WORF: They’ll vote on it next Tuesday February 9. That day is a good illustration of the demands on the board.  They’re also holding a public hearing on goals for a student assignment plan.

Lisa Worf traded the Midwest for Charlotte in 2006 to take a job at WFAE. She worked with public TV in Detroit and taught English in Austria before making her way to radio. Lisa graduated from University of Chicago with a bachelor’s degree in English.