School board members respond to search criticism

Apr. 28, 2014 @ 07:05 PM

School board members said Monday that the board has no plans to slow the superintendent search process to allow candidates elected May 6 to help choose the next schools’ chief.

The board members’ comments are in response to those made by several non-incumbent candidates last week who urged the board to slow the search and to allow the board seated in July to hire the next superintendent.

The seven-member board will have at least two new members in July and possibly three because two members – Fredrick Davis in District 2 and Nancy Cox in District 3 – are not seeking reelection and District 1 incumbent Omega Parker Curtis has two challengers.

District 4 incumbent Natalie Beyer is running unopposed.

School board Vice Chairwoman Minnie Forte-Brown said the job of hiring a new superintendent belongs to the current board.

“There are people running for Congress now but the decisions are being made by the people currently in office,” Forte-Brown said.

She said the board is following a timeline suggested by the firm hired to conduct the school district’s search.

The search firm advised the board to hire a superintendent by June because that’s the month new contracts are signed, and it’s easier to do so.
Gary Ray, president of Ray & Associates, told the board that it’s difficult to get superintendents to leave jobs in the middle of the school year.

Beyer said the board has discussed ways to receive input from newly elected board members even before they are sworn in in July.

“This board is thoughtful, experienced and will act thoughtfully for this community,” Beyer said.

She noted that she and Cox were not yet on the board when it selected former superintendent Eric Becoats to lead the district in 2010 but had no problem with the sitting board making the decision.

District 3 candidate Lisa Gordon Stella said last week that she wants the board to slow the process and to allow the next school board to select the new superintendent because new members might have different priorities for the next superintendent.
Gordon Stella said that whoever is chosen to lead the school district should know what direction the board wants him or her to take it.

The school district has set May 15 as the deadline for applications in order to have a new superintendent in place by the time schools open in August.

But School board Chairwoman Heidi Carter said that while the deadline is May 15, it does not preclude the board for from receiving material from additional candidates in the interest of finding the best match for Durham.

“The end point of this search is May 15, and so that has been set to get a superintendent in place before the start of school,” Carter said. “However, that date is not firmly etched in stone. We’ll push that time back until we have a wonderful match for this community. If we don’t find someone, we have no problem calling this a failed search and starting a new one.”

In the final weeks of the campaign, school board candidates have become aggressive in their efforts to differentiate themselves from the current board and each other.

District 2 candidate Jimmy Doster challenged newcomers to take a stand against the search process and to stand up to Forte-Brown and Carter.

 “How can a school board candidate say they stand for change, while permitting the decision on the new superintendent to be made by a board whose membership will change in less than three months?” Doster asked. "How can candidates present themselves as agents for change and be willing to let others selects a CEO?”

And on Monday, Gordon Stella issued a press release critical of the proposed $408 million budget the school district released last week and the district’s spending on programs she contends are not evaluated to weigh their effectiveness.

Gordon specifically questioned the board’s wisdom in creating the STEM program at Neal Middle School.

“Neal is a school where most students struggle to read, write and do basic math,” Gordon Stella said. “Why are we spending nearly half a million dollars on a STEM program at that school instead of using resources to get those students to grade level in math and reading?”