Over the next few months, school boards from four of the state’s largest districts will interview and select new superintendents, but the degree to which the public will influence those decisions remains unclear.
Cobb, DeKalb, Atlanta and Fulton are expected to have new leaders by July. Cobb board members are in the process of conducting interviews and DeKalb plans to announce finalists next week.
Each district has or intends to collect input from parents about characteristics a new superintendent should have. But when it comes to allowing parents to weigh in on the final decisions, districts have differing strategies.
DeKalb school board Chairman Tom Bowen said the board will hold public interviews where community members can submit questions to the finalists. The district is looking to hire a replacement for Crawford Lewis by early April. Lewis was fired and later indicted on charges he ran a criminal enterprise in the school system.
“Rather than going behind closed doors, we want to be as inclusive as we can,” Bowen said. “It goes to the bigger picture of changing the culture and changing perceptions. We want to make sure with anything major we do, we give transparency to it. The more people understand the process, the more comfortable they’ll be we’re doing things in the best interest of students.”
Cobb board members are in the process of interviewing candidates to run the state’s second-largest district and plan to have a selection before Fred Sanderson retires in June.
When Cobb last hired a superintendent in 2005 to replace Joseph Redden, at least four names surfaced prior to the board’s final decision. The board named Sanderson on a Wednesday and publicly introduced him at a Friday reception. He was formally approved after the 14-day public comment period.
Spokesman Jay Dillon said he expects a similar process this time around. Public input was gathered on the front end; the district organized an online survey and focus groups to determine the desired qualities of a new leader.
There are no planned community forums or meetings with the final pool of applicants, but that could change, depending on the preference and schedule of the finalists, said chairwoman Alison Bartlett. She said she will consider the community’s input once the names are released.
“If the community isn’t going to support whoever is chosen, then you’ve already got an issue,” she said.
Some recruiters argue openness is a deterrent to applicants who don’t want their current employer to know they’re looking for other jobs.
Identifying information about who applies for these high-profile positions is protected by Georgia law for a period of time. However, school boards are required to release the names of the top three finalists 14 days before the final vote. A finalist can drop out of the running to avoid being publicly identified.
Georgia’s open records law isn’t as revealing as that of other states such as Tennessee, where all applications are made public as well as interviews and board deliberations. But Hollie Manheimer, executive director Georgia First Amendment Foundation, said the law is still designed to allow for public oversight throughout the process.
“An informed public makes for the strongest communities,” said Manheimer. “It would seem to me, even the candidates themselves would not resist scrutiny. They want to know their community, and their community wants to know them.”
The Fulton County school board is on track to have a new superintendent by the end of May when Cindy Loe retires, said board President Linda Schultz. The district posted for several weeks a survey of what parents were looking for in the ideal superintendent.
“It’s going really well,” Schultz said. “We’re pleased with the candidate pool that we’ve got and still expect to have a new superintendent named before Dr. Loe retires May 31.”
The Atlanta school board hired an executive search firm March 1 to find a replacement for Superintendent Beverly Hall, who will step down June 30 after 12 years. A visit by the firm, Illinois-based Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates, is set for April 11-12 to collect public comments and insight. A community survey about finding an ideal candidate is already up and accessible on the system’s website (www.atlantapublicschools.us).
According to the firm’s schedule, board members will be on track to select a new superintendent by July 1.
Leisha Fleming, whose daughter attends school in DeKalb County, said she’s pleased with the open process outlined by the school board. She plans to attend the public interviews, but does not believe the decision should be left up to the public.
“It’s not an elected official, it’s an appointed position and I am all right with that,” she said. “But the onus is on the school board to find the right person.”
Atlanta Public Schools Number of students: 48,000
Superintendent: Beverly Hall
Time in job: 12 years
Status: Stepping down June 30
Salary: $332,230 (includes benefits).
Cellphone stipend $1,200.
What’s next: The district is conducting an online survey; search firm will collect public comment April 11-12
Cobb County Schools
Number of students: 107,000
Superintendent: Fred Sanderson
Time in job: Five years Status:
Retiring June 30 Salary: $208,000, plus $9,600 car allowance
What’s next: The district is interviewing candidates; board will select finalists in coming months
DeKalb County Schools
Number of students: 99,000
Interim superintendent: Ramona Tyson
Time in job: 13 months Status: Will spend six months working with new superintendent Salary: $240,000. Allowed $2,000 a month for expenses, $500 a month for transportation
Former superintendent: Crawford Lewis
Time in job: Six years Status:
Placed on paid leave in February 2010, fired in April and indicted in May on charges of running a criminal enterprise at the school system.
Salary: $255,000. Allowed $2,500 monthly for expenses and was furnished with a car What’s next: Finalists expected to be named this week
Fulton County Schools
Number of students: 92,000
Superintendent: Cindy Loe
Time in job: Four years Status:
Retiring at end of school year
Staff writers Nancy Badertscher and Kristina Torres contributed to this article.