The Columbus City School boards last night voted to suspend the search for a permanent replacement for superintendent Gene Harris, who is stepping down in June, and to put that task in the hands of a new committee to be headed by the Board president and Mayor Michael Coleman. The resolution passed – but not without controversy. Alison Holm has more.
The proposal to suspend the search for a permanent superintendent came in a resolution from Board president Carol Perkins that was distributed to the rest of the board after the meeting had already begun. After lengthy presentations on changing credit requirements and Title 1 spending, and a unanimous vote approving expansion of pre-kindergarten classes, the board took up the more contentious proposal, which not only recommended suspending the search for a permanent replacement and focusing on finding an interim superintendent, but also suggested putting the long term search in the hands of a new committee to be run by Perkins and Mayor Coleman. It’s a sharp reversal for Perkins, who two weeks ago insisted the board had to move quickly and independently, free of any political pressure from groups like the Mayor’s Education Commission. She told board members the resolution grew out of growing sentiment she’s hearing from the public to slow the process down.
Perkins: Having been a member of the Columbus Education Commission for the past several months, I’ve heard similar thoughts from Commission members as well as other participants. Given the important impact that our schools have on the community, and the impact that the community has on our schools, I don’t believe that we can pass up this opportunity to take advantage of the support that we have, and that has been offered.
Board member Mike Wiles balked at the last-minute resolution. He says delaying will waste the $32,000 the district has already spent on a search firm – and could cost them a good candidate as well.
Wiles: How do we know that the best possible candidate isn’t out there today, that won’t be there if we put this off for another year – because that’s how long it’s going to take, if you go through an interim and everything else, we’re talking another year – and basically putting the district on hold for any major changes through the superintendent. I just don’t see where this is prudent at this point, without even talking to the people that have responded to the search that we’ve already paid for.
Vice President Shauna Gibbs opposed taking the board out of the search process, and took offense at the quick pace, when Perkins attempted to wrap up discussion of the resolution and call for a vote.
Perkins: There’s been a motion, there’s been a second – everybody around the table has had the opportunity to share their issues and concerns. And… we need to move on.
Gibbs: Well, that’s not fair. Madam President, with all due respect, that’s not fair. You can’t bring us a resolution, put it on the table today, right now, and then cut off conversation. We are duly elected by this community. We are here to make the best decision possible. Just because your mind is made up does not mean everybody’s mind is made up.
The resolution passed on a 4 to 2 vote, with Gibbs and Wiles opposed. Board member Gary Baker, who had been one of the most vocal supporters of what he admits was a very aggressive timeline to find a permanent superintendent. He supported shifting the focus to finding an interim because he thinks reports in recent months about the districts attendance scandal may have scared off applicants.
Baker: I’m as anxious to hire a permanent replacement for Dr. Harris as any of you are. But… one of our duties is to make sure that we hire the very best candidate possible. Because this person will be managing a billion dollar governmental subdivision. I do not believe that the best candidate will present him- or herself at this time due in large part to what has been reported locally, in our media.
The board had promised to find a replacement for Harris by the end of the month, with interviews scheduled in two weeks. No word yet on what the new timeline will be, or how the new committee headed by board president Perkins and Mayor Coleman will be formed.