The Lee County school board failed miserably Tuesday on issues of transparency, public trust and the ability to lead.
The meeting was intended to determine how an interim superintendent would be identified while the members developed a plan for finding a full-time boss.
Instead, the board took a well-orchestrated hour to come up with seven names and a plan to name a new superintendent by Tuesday. The meeting took on the tone that decisions about candidates and process were made prior to the meeting and that could mean Sunshine Law violations occurred.
This was a bull rush of unprecedented proportions. There was no interest in transparency or for a thoughtful search of top candidates regionally and nationally. There was no posting of the job, no pay scale, or no new job description. There was no due process to discuss what is in the best interest of our 80,000 Lee County public school students and what is needed to attract the very best. The “process” as determined over the next seven days will not include public input, discussion or assessment.
Could it be the board is more focused on the three seats up for election next year and therefore wanted the superintendent selection done quickly — not the typical six- to eight-month search plan — to avoid running into voting season? What other possible reason did the members have for this outrageous action?
We have criticized this board in the past for its poor judgment and productivity. They could not get along with outgoing Superintendent Joseph Burke and fought over his handling of an investigation into a key administrator. They fired charges at each other for bullying and violations of Sunshine Law. Tuesday’s actions showed us this board is not capable of leading the district in a meaningful way. Worse, the members have shown a flagrant disregard for the general public, their constituents.
This board also is attempting to fool the public into believing there are seven qualified candidates when the members may already have a favorite — Nancy Graham. The others could be positioned merely as window dressing, a supporting cast of educators who do not have the qualifications to lead one of the top 10 districts in the state. Graham was one of three finalists three years ago when Burke was named superintendent. She also is Chairwoman Mary Fischer’s choice for the job and likely will have the support of the others.
We fail to understand why anyone would want to take the superintendent’s position. In any case, the public will be denied the right to hear them answer questions about how they would lead a district at a time of great change and adaptation with the new common core standards program just around the corner.
We urge board members to retreat from Tuesday’s outrageous display, back off of next week’s vote and develop a meaningful plan for selecting Burke’s successor. The leadership of the school district is at stake and that can’t be resolved in a week.
If the board is intent on hiring Graham, we recommend it delay the vote a week and allow the teachers, students and the public to use the time to get know her and ask questions about her vision for the district.
We also encourage teachers, students, parents and taxpayers contact board members and demand accountability over the next several days and demand a search that works, not one thrown together during one meeting. What happened today was an embarrassment and should not be tolerated.
In the meantime, teachers, parents and taxpayers should demand accountability, with a superintendent search that works for the community and not just the five board members. We should not accept anything less.
How to contact them:
• Mary Fischer: MaryBF@leeschools.net
• Jeanne Dozier: JeanneSD@leeschools.net
• Cathleen Morgan: CathleenOM@leeschools.net
• Don Armstrong: DonHA@leeschools.net
• Thomas Scott: ThomasWS@leeschools.net
The board office phone numbers are 337-8303 or 337-8304.