School board leader seeks meeting to discuss superintendent’s August departure

The Durham Board of Education will meet Thursday, April 6, to discuss its next steps regarding the impending departure of Superintendent Bert L'Homme.
The Durham Board of Education will meet Thursday, April 6, to discuss its next steps regarding the impending departure of Superintendent Bert L'Homme.

Durham school board Chairman Mike Lee plans to call a special meeting to discuss ‘next steps’ in the wake of Superintendent Bert L’Homme’s announcement that he will retire in August.

L’Homme stunned the school board and the community Monday night when he shared his retirement plans in closed session following a board work session.

Lee said the meeting will give the board an opportunity to discuss publicly how it plans to proceed in filling the vacancy created by L’Homme’s planned departure.

“I just want to talk about what this means for Durham,” Lee said.

An emegency meeting had been called for Thursday, April 6, but was canceled late Wednesday afternoon when the date and time didn’t work with some board members’ schedules.

Lee has not yet rescheduled the meeting.

When the board meets, Lee said it will likely discuss whether to pursue a permanent replacement before the start of the school year or appoint an interim superintendent and use the 2017-18 school year to identify and hire L’Homme’s successor.

Whatever is decided, Lee said the process for identifying the next superintendent will be rigorous so the board is in position to select the “best person to meet the needs of the Durham of community.”

Lee is on record stating his preference to have a permanent superintendent in place before the start of the new school year.

“That’s still my preference, but I want to hear from the other board members,” Lee said.

He said the community will also have plenty of chances over the next several months to weigh in on the process and to give the board ideas about the kind of superintendent they think the community needs.

“I want the community to know that we will be listening and will take everyone’s thoughts into consideration when we go down the path to find the next superintendent of Durham Public Schools,” Lee said.

He noted that L’Homme’s announcement, coming as it did in early April near the end of the school year, gives the board an excellent chance to hire a great superintendent.

“This is perfect timing for those looking to make a move,” Lee said of potential superintendent candidates. “I haven’t talked to Bert [L’Homme] about this, but I think he was thinking about the school system when he was deciding when to make his announcement. That’s the type of person he is.”

In a statement announcing his plans to retire, L’Homme cited the changing “landscape of public education” for his decision to retire before the end of his contract.

“In January, I realized that I likely will not have the physical or mental energy to respond to those challenges, while at the same time dramatically accelerating our academic growth, for the duration of my contract,” L’Homme said.

L’Homme, 66, was hired to lead the school district in June 2014 at a salary of $225,000 a year.

His contract was amended last August to extend through June 2020.

As part of his contract extension, L’Homme received an additional 20 days of leave on top of leave already granted under state law.

Lee said L’Homme will be on the job full time through August.

“I don’t see him trying to burn out all of his vacation days or anything like that,” Lee said.

Greg Childress: 919-419-6645, @gchild6645