TPS interim superintendent search to focus on internal candidatesWritten by John P. McCartney | | firstname.lastname@example.org
The implications of the Toledo Public School (TPS) Board of Education’s decision to hire an interim superintendent to replace Dr. Jerome Pecko didn’t become clear to the handful of people gathered in the Thurgood Marshall building Feb. 28 until after all but one board member had left for the night.
After the meeting was adjourned at 6:24 p.m., members of the gallery waited 10 minutes for board president Brenda Hill to answer questions, during which time Cecelia Adams, vice president, and board members Lisa Sobecki, Larry Sykes and Bob Vasquez left.
Hill explained that the board had gone into executive session to discuss 22 TPS employees and former employees who have maintained ties with the district and who currently hold a superintendent’s license.
Hill said it was not the board’s intention to hire a superintendent at the meeting, but rather to discuss its many options.
“We just wanted to look to see who we had internally and decide if we wanted to get an interim superintendent,” Hill said. “And we felt that’s the best thing to do right now.
“We have quite a few people with the [district] who are qualified, so we’ll look at them. I can’t tell you personally who wants to and who doesn’t. And it could be nobody wants to, and it could be all of them [want to apply]. We’re going to put it out there, and if they have an interest, they’ll let us know, and we’ll interview them.”
Steep learning curve
Hill said the board decided to focus on hiring an internal candidate as interim superintendent because an internal candidate would not face the steep learning curve that someone unfamiliar with the district would be forced to overcome.
“If they’re internal, then they [will] have a knowledge of what’s going on already,” Hill said. “If they’re external, they have to come and learn. So if they’re internal, and we interview them and we feel they’re full of energy and dynamic and have everything together, and we decide to choose them, then they can just start running as soon as they get the position. If they’re external, then they would have to have a little time to learn what’s going on.”
Hill said board members did not discuss the qualities they were looking for in an internal candidate. However, Hill did list five qualities she would personally look for in prospective candidates.
“My qualities would be someone who is dependable, someone who is energetic, someone who has vision, someone who can see plans from the beginning to the end and someone who really has a passion for our students and our school system,” Hill said.
“Just like for any other job, you want someone who has a passion for it.”
Applications are due to Treasurer Matt Cleland’s office no later than 4:30 p.m. March 22. Hill said the board had no timetable for hiring the interim superintendent, only guaranteeing that someone would be hired prior to July 31, the last day of Pecko’s contract.
Hill said that if “things work out,” the board may decide to offer the interim superintendent a permanent position.
Hill did not say how long the interim period would be.
“And if not, then we can do a search later,” Hill said. “And it could be an interim person doesn’t want to be a permanent superintendent. We don’t know.”
Hill said the board chose to hire an interim superintendent because the district faces numerous challenges. She cited contract negotiations, allegations of falsifying attendance records and the potential establishment of a Head Start program as a few of those challenges.
“There are a lot of things a new person would have to go through, and [that new person] might not want to come if they see they have all these hurdles to go over,” Hill said. “But if we have everything calm, we might have a better chance.”
Current board member potential candidate
It wasn’t until Hill was asked to produce the list of the candidates that she acknowledged that board vice president Cecelia Adams was a potential candidate for the interim superintendent position.
Adams was not available for comment, and Hill would not confirm or deny whether Adams was a candidate for the position. Instead, Hill used herself as an example when asked if Adams had told board members whether she intended to apply for the position.
“In order to be a superintendent [candidate], you have to resign from the school board. A past board member can apply. So if I had a license — which I don’t — and I decided I wanted to take the position of superintendent, I would have to retire from the school board [before I could] apply.
According to the Ohio Revised Code, only a retired board member can apply.
‘Scare the living daylights out of me’
Darlene Fisher, TPS board president from 2006-2009 who presided over the hiring of former Superintendent John Foley, said recent board decisions “scare the living daylights out of me because it appears the board is manipulating every aspect of how the district is run.
“That’s a conflict of interest because Cecelia’s potentially on the list of superintendent candidates.
“I see that the list is—quote-unquote—those who hold a superintendent license, but if she puts her application in, then she was in the decision-making process that led the board to decide to hire an interim, internal candidate. And she’s a candidate in that decision-making process. That can’t be. Or it shouldn’t be. If she has any intention of applying for the job, she should have recused herself from the meeting.”
Fisher said that if Adams is going to be considered for the position, she has an ethical obligation to resign from the board immediately.
“Honestly, she should have made notation, or even if the board were just compiling the list of those who hold the licensures, somebody should have made notation from the board saying that she was not going to be considered or that she’s making a plan to resign from the board,” Fisher said. “It seems to be cut and dried to me.
“If she has any intention of applying, she should not have been in that meeting.”
Fisher said she struggled with this same appearance of a conflict of interest when she served as board president.
“Years back, we went through this with Steve Steel because his wife was a teacher. I did not feel that he should vote on the contract. We did check into it, and he had the legal loophole that said since the contract covered so many contracted employees, it was not just his wife’s contract he was voting on, but it seems to be along the same lines.
“And together with Jack Ford, I tried to get everybody to agree to some kind of ‘no conflict’ agreement because this is the kind of stuff that happens behind the scenes that causes the public to have no confidence in anything the school board does.”
Fisher said given the general lack of trust most taxpayers have of TPS, it is only natural that they question the board’s motivation in allowing Adams to be a part of the decision-making process that could potentially lead to her being offered the interim superintendent position.
“If she is finagling behind the scenes to get that job, is that in the best interest of kids?
“Any one of those 22 could probably do a good job as interim. We don’t know. But she can’t make the decision on her own role if she’s going to apply for superintendent. She’s going to have to resign.”
Fisher said Adams decision to not recuse herself from the meeting means she should resign immediately if she’s even considering applying for the job.
“She’s already been in the decision-making process,” Fisher said. “So right now, her only option is to state publically she’s not going to be considered.”
Public’s lack of trust
Fisher’s was not alone in her sentiments about what she considers board members’ poor judgment.
Three minutes after Hill called the meeting to order at 5 p.m., the five trustees went into executive session for one hour and 10 minute. During that time, citizens who attended the meeting to listen to and monitor board proceedings spoke openly of their frustration that board members did not appear to be doing their work in a transparent manner.
“They better not be talking about the superintendent process because that’s illegal discussion,” said education advocate Steven Flagg. “It needs to be specific to an individual and an action taken regarding that individual.
“They can’t talk about process. They can’t talk about how they’re going to go about this thing. That is not privileged conversation under the law.
“They’re doing the public’s business secretly. It should be done in the public.
“They’re afraid to be on the record because it might actually tell us what they think.
“Unless one of them decides to tell the truth, we don’t have any idea [of what’s happening in executive session]. If they all band together, there’s very little you can do other than sue them and force them under oath to testify, and then they can still lie.
“And nothing they’re talking about in there would be something they could not talk about when they come out of executive session. It’s not confidential.”
22 TPS employees and former employees and their current assignments who the board identified as potential interim superintendent candidates
- Cecelia M. Adams: school board member
- Laurie Cranston: Principal; Whittier Elementary
- Todd D. Deem: Principal; Riverside Elementary
- Romules L. Durant: Assistant Superintendent; Bowsher, Scott, Waite learning communities
- Randal J. Euckert: substitute
- James E. Gault: Chief Academic Officer
- Virgie L. Hamrick: Guidance Director (A-E); Start High School
- Chad A. Henderly: Principal; Deveaux Elementary
- Selma D. Irving: Substitute administrator
- Cynthia J. Kline: Emotional Disability; Westfield Achievement
- John R. Krajeski; Principal; McTigue Elementary
- David L. Manley: Supervisor, Cross-Categorial; Rogers Area School Assistance Center
- Diana M. McGee: Substitute administrator
- Linda D. Meyers: Principal; Bowsher High School
- Brian A. Murphy: Assistant Superintendent; Start, Rogers, Woodward learning communities
- Betsey L. Murry: Director; Title I Center
- Emilio V. Ramirez: Principal; Woodward High School
- Lori Reffert: Acting Director; Crossgates Preschool
- Gayle J. Schaber: Director; Special Projects and Compensatory Programs
- Robb A. Slusser: Assistant Principal Pupil Personnel; Woodward High School
- Deborah Washington: Principal; Harvard Elementary
- S. James Zafirau: Guidance Director, Counselor (8); Leverette Elementary