Board still undecided about open search process

Apr. 20, 2014 @ 04:37 PM

The Durham Public Schools board has adopted an aggressive timeline in an effort to name a new superintendent in June.

And in spite of sharp disagreement about how much the next superintendent should be paid, the board settled on advertising the position at $225,000 a year with wiggle room to negotiate up or down $10,000 or so depending on the experience of the candidate selected.

Still unresolved, however, is whether the board will conduct an open search, a closed one or a hybrid in which only finalists are introduced to the public.

Iowa-based Ray & Associates, the firm hired to help the school district conduct its superintendent search, has counseled against an open search because it dissuades some candidates from applying.

“You will lose some candidates [if the process is open] and if anyone tells you different, they’re not being open and honest with you,” Gary Ray, president of Ray & Associates told board members during an April 9th meeting.

The school board could decide as early as Thursday about which direction it will go.

Ray said the board needs to decide quickly whether it prefers an open or closed process because that is usually one of the first questions asked by candidates being recruited.

At least two local organizations have lobbied the board for various levels of openness.

The People’s Alliance, a liberal-leaning political action committee, has asked the board to make public the names of everyone who interviews for the job.

Meanwhile, the Durham Council of PTAs, an umbrella organization for all school district PTAs, wants the board to make finalists' names public.

In an interview this week, shool board Vice Chairwoman Minnie Forte-Brown said she favors a closed search process because it gives the board a better chance at attracting highly qualified candidates.

“If the process is open, you automatically lose some candidates,” Forte-Brown said

She said she suspects the board will likely settle on a hybrid approach that only reveals the names of the finalists’ to the community.

School board Chairwoman Heidi Carter said she has not made up her mind about whether the search should be open, although she is leaning toward a confidential process.

Carter said she continues to weigh the pros and cons and will work to help the board reach a consensus about which approach to take.

“We value community input, but at the same time don’t want to jeopardize our chance to attract the best match for Durham,” Carter said.

The Wake School board conducted an open search process last year and eventually hired veteran administrator Jim Merrill to lead the school district. 

Carter said she contacted Christine Kushner, chairwoman of the Wake County school board, to ask for her advice.

She said Kushner told her that, while she is pleased the board landed Merrill she would likely opt for a closed process if she had to make that decision again.

“She felt some concern that the best candidate might not necessarily be the one who shows best in a public forum,” Carter said.

At the April 9 board meeting with Ray & Associates, several board members expressed strong opinions about whether to open the process.

Board member Fredrick Davis said the process should be closed to protect candidates who might find themselves ats odd with their current school board if it’s made public they are looking for a new job. 

“My experience on national boards is that you want to keep it closed,” Davis said. “They’ll lose their job fooling around with us.”

Board member Natalie Beyer said she wanted a process that would help to rebuild community trust.

In lieu of an open search process, she suggested inviting trusted members of the community to help interview candidates in closed session as a show of good faith.

“I want really high caliber people [to apply for the superintendent job], and they might be within this building already, and the community to trust that we have cast a wide net, been inclusive,” Beyer said. “I’m still not there with this process.”