A superintendent search isn’t what this county needs

As this is being written the Board of Education for the Public Schools of Robeson County is hours away from holding its monthly meeting, and an 11th-hour decision was made to invite two representatives of the North Carolina School Board Association to answer questions about the possible rebooting of a search for a permanent superintendent.

Board members must vote to add them to the agenda, a necessary step for them to make a presentation, but we will assume that is a formality.

Absent will be Allison Schafer, director of policy and a legal counsel for the association, who has been at the front in advising our school board during the last three superintendent “searches.” We wrap searches in quotation marks because our school board has shown itself incapable of a genuine search — the one in 2006 ended where we all knew it would, and the last two searches, after the candidates screened, interviewed and the $20,000 or so spent, were sabotaged by disgruntled board members and a default candidate from within the system was selected.

Although Schafer had other duties for today, she did send an email in advance to the school board advising its members of what the association sees as their best foot forward — name interim Superintendent Shanita Wooten or someone else the permanent superintendent now; allow Wooten to continue as superintendent until the end of June while beginning a search immediately; or allow Wooten to continue as superintendent until the end of June, replace her then as interim, and begin a new search at that time.

We know there are board members who believe that there needs to be a search, because a promise of one was made when the 2017 search ended with acrimony, the board was unable to agree on a candidate, and Wooten was picked as the interim. We know also that many board members, perhaps even most, believe Wooten has done a good job under difficult circumstances and that she displays a genuine concern for doing what is best for the children.

We doubt that the public cares about the the promise of the search, especially since the searches all follow the same path — candidates gathered, money spent, school board chasms deepen, and the most qualified candidate never named. A looming election will do nothing to make a search less political.

Our school board, and this isn’t its fault, has a lot on its plate, the most important entree being the construction of a new school, and the bites are agonizingly slow. Trying to get that done while finding a central office is plenty to do, and trying to conduct a superintendent’s search at the same time promises division when unity is needed.

Of all of Schafer’s options, we would prefer the immediate naming of a superintendent, either Wooten or perhaps a finalist from the 2015 or 2017 searches, assuming that person is available and willing to step into this mess.

But here is the critical aspect, and what has been lacking. When people say that our board is political, consumed with micromanagement and hijacking administrative decisions, especially as they relate to hiring, they are telling the truth. This school board doesn’t understand its role as a policy-maker, and once that is done its duty is to retreat and allow administrators to implement those decisions.