Phenix City native Eugene White, retiring as Indianapolis superintendent, applies for top job in Muscogee County School District

mrice@ledger-enquirer.comMarch 29, 2013 

Phenix City native Eugene White, who is on leave as superintendent of Indianapolis Public Schools and officially will retire April 5, has applied for the top job in the Muscogee County School District.

White said he submitted his application about two weeks ago but hasn't heard from MCSD search consultant Glenn Brock since then. Brock, an Atlanta attorney, wasn't reached for comment Friday.

"I'm under the assumption that I'll be considered," said White 65. He added that he hasn't spoken to any MCSD officials about the vacancy.

MCSD board chairman Rob Varner of District 5 declined to specifically discuss White's candidacy.

"It's hard to react to any one individual until you see the others," Varner said. "… I don't want to be in the position of speaking for the board in this situation and overstep my bounds. The process just has to play itself out."

Last fall, Cathy Williams, the nine-member board's former chairwoman and lone at-large representative, asked Omaha, Neb., search firm McPherson & Jacobson -- which the board later fired -- to contact White. He declined to apply then, but the political landscape changed for him when new Indianapolis school board members took office in January.

MCSD board members have said none of the 22 applicants in the aborted original search met all of their criteria. The major sticking point was the requirement to have five years of superintendent experience in a similar district.

After seven years as superintendent in Indianapolis, White appears to fit all of the criteria. He is the 2002 and 2009 Indiana Superintendent of the Year -- the state's only two-time winner.

"He obviously is an outstanding candidate," Williams said. "… I don't know the quality of the pool or how many have applied -- we're kind of in the dark because the search is being done by one person -- but I'm sure he would rise to one of the top because of his credentials."

Mixed record

White, however, has a mixed record in substance and style.

The Indianapolis Star report Jan. 14: "White's early community support waned and frustration built over the district's continuing problems with low test scores, declining enrollment and charges of a bloated bureaucracy. New state initiatives -- such as a private school voucher program, an expansion of charter schools and the state's move to take over four persistently failing IPS schools this year -- raised the stakes. The district came under increasing fire for not making more progress."

In October 2011, White was criticized for defending the district's performance by saying in a radio interview that his schools must educate students who are "blind, crippled, crazy." He later apologized.

White was in Columbus last month for his induction into the Chattahoochee Valley Sports Hall of Fame. He played on South Girard High School's 1966 Alabama black state championship basketball team. Then he graduated with academic honors from Alabama A&M, where he led the basketball team in scoring.

White said he also applied for the Lee County job, but he prefers Muscogee County.

"I'm going to be here (in Indianapolis) until I see what's going on with Muscogee and before I make any other decisions," he said.

He was a finalist for the vacancies in Mobile County, Ala., (63,000 students) and Greenville, S.C., (70,000) last year. The Indianapolis (33,000 students) and Muscogee (32,000) school districts are similar in size. Lee County's enrollment is 9,738.

The Indianapolis Public Schools Board approved a $619,121 buyout of White's contract, which ran through 2015, the Indianapolis Star reported. White's base salary was about $200,000, but his total annual compensation package was valued at around $374,000, according to the Star. Susan Andrews cost MCSD $190,713 in superintendent salary and $9,144 in travel during the past fiscal year (July 1, 2011, to June 30, 2012). She retired June 30.

The Opelika-Auburn News reported Jan. 29 that the Lee County Board of Education approved a salary range of $125,000 to $150,000 for the superintendent to replace Stephen Nowlin, who accepted the superintendent position in Jefferson County Ala., (35,843 students) in October.

Andrews was the first female superintendent in MCSD history. White wants to be the first black one. He is the 2007 National Association of Black School Educators Superintendent of the Year.

One year later

It's been a full year since Andrews announced she would retire. Varner said he understands folks might be thinking, "Gosh, y'all are just fiddling around with this," but he noted an extenuating circumstance: The board fired the original search firm in January.

"I think there was a perception in the superintendent network that the job had been filled," Varner said. "I think that was the reason we weren't getting a lot of traction."

The board is three months past its initial goal of hiring a superintendent by the end of 2012. Williams admitted she is "getting a little nervous" about the length of the search, but she expressed confidence that the position will be filled by the start of next school year.

"I know that (interim superintendent) Dr. (John) Phillips is ready to end his tenure," she said, "but I also know we are under excellent leadership with him and his team."

Varner said it's a mistake to set deadlines.

"The bigger concern," he said, "would be to force someone or force ourselves into a bad decision."ED WEEK AD

Here is the notice advertising the Muscogee County School District's superintendent search and published on Education Week's website:

"Muscogee County School District seeks a proven educational leader with the skills and ability to advance the academic achievement of all 32,000 students. This large and diverse school system employs 6,300 employees in 62 schools and alternative centers with a budget approaching $300 million. This system enjoys broad community support with active partnerships with business, PTA, and community volunteers. For more information see: www.muscogee.k12.ga.us.

"The successful candidate will receive a competitive compensation package. Screening of applications will begin immediately. The position is available June 2013.

"To obtain an application, request at: glenn.brock@nelsonmullins.com or contact Glenn Brock at Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough LLP, 201 17th Street NW, Suite 1700, Atlanta, GA 30363. Tel. 404-322-6336 Fax: 404-322-6050.

"Equal Opportunity Employer."

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