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Laurels and darts: Darts to the process, not to the CCS hire

March 7, 2011

DARTS

After the Catawba County Schools Board of Education announced a new superintendent for the county’s largest school system, we fire darts at officials who orchestrated the search.
Mind you, we don’t fire darts at the new superintendent, Glenn Barger. A former Catawba County Schools superintendent for a decade and a former county commissioner, there’s little doubt that Barger is dedicated to serving this county — and importantly, its school system. His familiarity with the school system, as well as his experience in administration and government, will, hopefully, serve the school system well during the course of his three-year contract.
That said, we find serious fault with the protocol the school system board followed during the search for a new superintendent. Most significantly, leaders spent anywhere from $9,500 to $15,000 for the N.C. School Board Association to conduct a superintendent search, and then they apparently ignored the fruits of that investment. Yes, after the NCSBA collected two dozen applications for the Catawba County Schools superintendent position — fine-tuning results based on opinion surveys shared by citizens— CCS School Board Chair Joyce Spencer said those candidates were never discussed. According to Spencer’s comments to The O-N-E, candidates’ credentials and experience in school administration were not reviewed. No finalists were selected, and consideration was never given to any ideas held by two dozen applicants who voiced a desire to lead the Catawba County school system into an uncertain future.
Instead, after reviewing his performance during his interim service, the school board hired Barger, who said he never sought the position.
As a result, the community will never know for certain whether a better candidate existed. Certainly, if the school board reviews candidates, conducts an interview process and then decides Barger is the best person for the schools’ post, it can boast a well-informed, exhaustive search for a new system leader. As it stands, the school board wasted money in a job search that won’t even produce applications for any future efforts to replace Barger, should the need arise. That means that when Barger’s three-year contract expires, the school board could again face the challenge of hiring a superintendent. With so many unknowns waiting the future — from the possibility for schools consolidation in the county, to removal of a cap on charter schools — school board leaders’ short, three-year vision only passes the hiring of a long-term school system leader on to future elected officials.
Compounding the problems, the superintendent hiring process was kept entirely in the dark, further leaving citizens to wonder whether their best interests are being served.
The O-N-E followed the superintendent search starting in September to Monday’s announcement naming Barger as the system’s new leader. From the outset of the search, system leaders voiced their intention to begin the interview process after two new board members took office.
The board met Jan. 4 in a closed-session meeting after new members, David Brittain and Glenn Fulbright, were sworn in. The closed meeting was initially scheduled to discuss 24 applications received for the superintendent position, according to a timeline CCS leaders set. That meeting is when a majority of the school board chose to pursue hiring Barger as its leader, according to Spencer.
News of this decision, however, never came to light until this week. Leading up to Monday’s announcement, school board officials never indicated that a candidate was selected or that contract negotiations were under way — and following the requests of our readers, we often asked about the superintendent search.
Many times, The O-N-E was told by Spencer and CCS attorney Crystal Davis that no comment could be made on the number of finalists chosen for the superintendent position. In fact, in a Feb. 8 article, Spencer told The O-N-E that there was “no definitive number of finalists.” Davis said in the same Feb. 8 article that the board had schedule no more meetings concerning the superintendent search, at that time.
Because The O-N-E and other media outlets were not provided with accurate information about the progress of the search — or that a decision was made and contract negotiations were under way — the community was kept in the dark about the superintendent hiring process. As a result, there is a new tarnish on the transparency in government that every publicly elected body should maintain at all costs. There are also new questions about the school board’s willingness to conduct the public’s business in an open setting.

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