The Columbus School board meets tonight to appoint an interim superintendent to take over when Gene Harris steps down at the end of the week.
Alison Holm has this recap of the complicated path the appointment has taken.
GH: It’s time for me to say goodbye.
When Gene Harris announced last September she would be stepping down at the end of the fiscal year, school board president Carol Perkins admitted the board had a lot to do to find a replacement.
CP: …considering everything; from possibly bringing on a search firm to, more importantly, what are the skill sets and experience that we want in our next superintendent. And we want to get community support and buy-in, before the process starts.
The next day, Mayor Michael Coleman announced his intention to assist the school board during the transition period, including helping to find Harris’s replacement. In December, he announced the formation of the Columbus Education Council, a 25-member body charged with looking for ways to improve education – public and private – in the city. After a series of spats between the school board and the Education Commission over issues of access and prerogatives, the mayor and the board president traded volleys over the superintendent search. When the mayor and members of the Education Commission asked the board to delay naming a permanent replacement for Harris until the Commission had a chance to deliver it’s recommendations, the board reiterated its sole control over the process in a resolution read by board member Gary Baker.
GB: Whereas the Board of Education, in the spirit of cooperation and dedication to partnership, remains committed to the mission of the Columbus Education Commission, but fears the Commission is at risk of losing focus as a result of growing confusion regarding the role of the Commission and the governance of Columbus City Schools, the Board of Education opposes all legislation and regulations by the state or federal government to diminish or eliminate a local board of education's ability to make local decisions to operate the school district and educate it's students; and be it further resolved the Board of Education respectfully requests that Mayor Michael Coleman and Council President Andrew Ginther clarify the scope of the Columbus Education Commission's work as it relates to the future governance of Columbus City Schools and the fundamental right of its residents to democratically elect the leaders of its school district.
Baker admitted that the timeline to appoint a new superintendent by the end of April was aggressive, but insisted it was feasible. Board President Carole Perkins, in a letter to staff and then in a Dispatch commentary said she appreciated the commission and the mayor’s input, but that the board was moving ahead. She later suggested that Coleman might be scaring off potential superintendent candidates who might fear city interference. Coleman fired back that the board was on "a path to failure" and said he would not support any permanent candidate appointed before July, before the release of the Education Commission’s recommendations and the conclusion of state and federal investigations into data-rigging within the district. Board member Mike Wiles said the Mayor’s stance was undermining the district’s efforts. But then, with less than 3 weeks to go on their self-imposed deadline to find a new superintendent, the board did an about-face. On a vote of 4-2, they agreed to suspend the search for a permanent replacement for Harris, and shift authority for the interim search to an external committee co-chaired by mayor Coleman and board president Perkins. Perkins, who sprung the resolution on her fellow board members as the meeting began, defend the idea of embracing outside involvement in the process.
CP: 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 we can pass up this opportunity to take advantage of the support that we have, and that has been offered.
The committee continued looking at candidates, and in May it looked like they’d picked a winner when they interviewed Ohio State University vice president and provost Joseph Alutto. But they day the planned to voting on offering Alutto the interim position, he announced he was taking another job – that of interim president of Ohio State University. Although she admitted the board had no back-up plan, board president Perkins was philosophical.
CP: We were all very disappointed. To be able to get an individual of his caliber was very exciting. But we understand, because the university wants to retain him, so we know we had a qualified individual, and we wish him well.
The outgoing superintendent had a star-studded farewell at last week’s board meeting, and received a more muted recognition at last night’s city council meeting. In a special meeting tonight, the board plans to vote on – and hopefully hire – her at least temporary replacement.