October 23, 2019 9:26:51 AM
In March 2016, the Mississippi Legislature changed the way public school districts select their superintendents, a change that will go into effect on Jan. 1.
Until now, school districts had the option of allowing voters in the school district to elect the superintendent or have that choice made by the school board. The option for electing superintendents was removed, which means all superintendents are chosen by the school board. For LCSD, it will be the first time the board will choose a superintendent.
Among the candidates for the job is Lynn Wright, whose second term as superintendent expires on Dec. 31.
The law was intended to provide school districts with a deeper pool of candidates, allowing for state-wide and national searches for qualified candidates.
What the law was not intended to do was to eliminate all public participation in the process.
Yet this unintended consequence appears to be unfolding with LCSD's search.
To date, the school board has shared virtually no information about the search with the district's stakeholders -- parents, teachers, staff, student or taxpayers. All we have been told is that 15 candidates were presented to the board and that seven of those candidates are still in consideration.
The board expects to narrow that field to three or four finalists, but unless the board alters its plans, the public will never know who the finalists were, let alone have the opportunity to hear the finalists make their cases for the job through a public forum, which is standard practice.
Instead, the board will hold what it calls a "limited public forum" on Nov. 12. Each board member will bring three hand-picked county residents to meet with the candidates, ask questions and rate them. The broader public will have the opportunity to submit questions to the hand-picked residents. The information will be given to the board to help with their selection.
That means just 15 people -- all of whom are selected by board members -- will represent thousands of stakeholders.
As it stands, the only thing 99.99 percent of the people who live in the school district may ever know about the search is who is ultimately chosen for the job.
We understand the unique situation in play here. It's rare that a sitting superintendent would be a part of such a search, after all. We further understand that much of the public is divided into pro-Wright and anti-Wright camps. Certainly, not opening itself up to that sort of scrutiny is something that would greatly relieve the pressure that is applied to board members. But this is the job board members signed up for. Avoiding unpleasant scrutiny should not be the board's primary concern, as it appears to be in this case.
While the new law does give the school board the full responsibility for choosing a superintendent, we cannot imagine that it was the Legislature's intent to eliminate virtually all meaningful public participation in that decision.
We urge the board to reconsider, make the names of the finalists known to the community and make those finalists available to all citizen stakeholders through a forum that is open to everyone.
Failing to do so is a slap in the face to all who have a vested interested in this important decision.
It's worth remembering, that while superintendents are now appointed, school board members are chosen through elections.
That's something the LCSD board members should keep in mind if they persist in this closed-door selection process.
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