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CMS Board Interviews Superintendent Candidates At Airport

Charlotte Mecklenburg School board members gathered at Charlotte Douglas International Airport today. They weren't boarding a plane, just taking a trip beyond security to conduct interviews with superintendent candidates. Traveler Richard Winslow unexpectedly found himself in the middle of a school board meeting. But he wasn't exactly sure that's what it was. He just saw the public officials, the TV cameras and microphones, and made a guess. "Are they taking an illegal trip?" he asked. No, just holding a school board meeting. Most of the dozen or so superintendent candidates the board is interviewing come from out of town. So board chairman Ericka Ellis-Stewart says meeting at the airport gives candidates some privacy. "Because at this stage in the game, candidates find that it's very important for them. Most of them are high performers in their district and to put it out prematurely for them would be problematic," says Ellis-Stewart. It's not unusual for government bodies to interview candidates off-site due to privacy concerns. Interviews routinely occur in offices and hotels. A meeting behind airport security is a bit unusual, but legal. The school board did the same thing during its superintendent search in 2006. However, there is a catch. The board must convene a public meeting in a public place and agree there to go into closed session. That public place was the ticketing area of the airport by the windows between checkpoints C and D. Ellis-Stewart convened the meeting as travelers with suitcases trundled by. The board agreed to go into closed session and then got up and walked toward security. They took off shoes and belts and went through metal detectors. Charlotte Observer reporter Ann Doss Helms followed them with a refundable ticket to Chicago in hand. She spent a good part of the day outside the aviation director's complex of offices where the interviews were taking place. But there are multiple entries and it wasn't easy to distinguish airport employees and travelers from candidates. Another reporter WBTV's Dedrick Russell joined her. He chased down one man who looked like a candidate and asked him if he was. Helms says all the man said was something to the effect "Charlotte is certainly a nice place to be." "I think he used his smart phone to take a picture of the back of him receding into the distrance," says Helms. "So we've now narrowed that guy down to a Caucasian male." Helms did spot one familiar face, CMS Chief Academic Director Ann Clark. "It's just there's always a delicate balance, I think, here and everywhere across the country between public access and applicant confidentiality," says Helms. "This school board seems to be sort-of pushing for the side of not disclosing any more than they have to. So I'm just trying to push a little bit toward the side of disclosure." The CMS board's plan is to narrow the candidates down to as many as three and then present those to the public in late April, presumably, not at the airport.