UPDATE: Muscogee County School Board to interview one superintendent candidate Sunday in Atlanta

mrice@ledger-enquirer.comApril 26, 2013 

The Muscogee County School Board will interview one superintendent candidate Sunday in Atlanta.

The candidate’s name is undisclosed.

The board announced in an email Friday that it will conduct a called meeting at noon Sunday in the office of the law firm Nelson, Mullins, Riley & Scarborough, 201 17th St., in Atlanta. The board’s superintendent search consultant, Glenn Brock, is a lawyer in that firm.

The emailed notice of the meeting and the subsequent news release from board chairman Rob Varner of District 5 indicate multiple candidates would be interviewed Sunday — but only one is scheduled, Brock said.

And that one candidate isn’t Phenix City native and retired Indianapolis Public School superintendent Eugene White. He is the lone current applicant the Ledger-Enquirer has identified.

Reached by phone Friday in Indianapolis, White said he hasn’t heard from Brock since he applied last month. His bought-out contract expired April 5 in Indianapolis. White, the 2002 and 2009 Indiana Superintendent of the Year, also applied for the top job in Lee County, Ala., but he isn’t among the five finalists that board announced April 2. He was a finalist to be superintendent in Mobile, Ala., and Greenville, S.C., last year.

White said he isn’t a candidate elsewhere now and he assumes he still is a candidate in Muscogee County “until I hear something different from Mr. Brock.” Brock emphasized that interviewing only one candidate Sunday doesn’t mean the search has been narrowed to only one finalist; it just means the board is ready, at this stage, to interview this candidate, he said. More interviews might be conducted, Brock said.

“We’re not looking at numbers,” he said. “If a good candidate comes forward, we’ll do an interview. … When you try to do it in bunches, you’re assuming someone’s availability will continue to be there over a month or more.”

Asked why the interview will be conducted in Atlanta instead of Columbus, Brock said it’s a matter of expense for the search and convenience for the candidate flying into Atlanta.

“The candidate would have to come in and drive a couple hours both ways,” he said, “and I would have to too, and I’m getting paid by the hour.”

According to his contract, the board pays Brock $300 per hour with a cap of $25,000.

Earlier this week, Brock wouldn’t disclose the number of applicants, but board member Mark Cantrell of District 6 said Wednesday that the board had about “at least five” applications on the table during Monday night’s closed session but looked at only two of them.

“We haven’t narrowed down any yet,” Cantrell said Wednesday.

Two days later, that status had changed.

The board plans to convene in open session Sunday and immediately move into closed session to conduct the interview, as allowed by state law. The notice states that no action will be taken, so the board isn’t expected to decide its top choice then.

Search history It’s been 13 months since former Harris County superintendent Susan Andrews announced her pending retirement from MCSD in March 2012. Her predecessor, John Phillips (2003-08), has been interim superintendent since Andrews finished her three years in Muscogee last summer.

In the original search, led by McPherson & Jacobson of Omaha, Neb., the Ledger-Enquirer identified three of the 22 applicants.

Karyle Green, the superintendent of East Allen County Schools in Indiana, was among the four semifinalists the Muscogee board interviewed in closed session Dec. 5 before that search was aborted. The other two identified candidates have local connections but weren’t interviewed: Phenix City Schools superintendent Larry DiChiara and former Shaw High School principal Jim Arnold, now the superintendent of Pelham (Ga.) City Schools.

Green, DiChiara and Arnold didn’t reapply after the board fired McPherson & Jacobson and hired Brock in January.

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.

Cathy Williams, the nine-member board’s lone county-wide representative, has been White’s most vocal proponent on the board. She declined to comment Friday on his candidacy. Asked whether she would be OK if the board hired a superintendent without interviewing White, she said, “I think we’ll cross that bridge when we come to that bridge.”

Regardless, she praised the progress of this renewed search after the initial one fell apart last year, when she chaired the board.

“I’m pleased with where we’re at,” she said, “and I’m confident that, at the end of the process, we’re going to have a great superintendent in Muscogee County.”

Varner, who took over as chairman in January, wasn’t reached for comment Friday. But he said in the news release that “no action to hire a superintendent will be made until we announce the finalist(s) to the public and give you the opportunity to meet him or her. By law, we must wait at least 14 calendar days after the release of the finalist(s) name(s) before we vote on any appointment. In accordance with the law, we will release the names of up to three finalists.

“If, after interviews, we determine that no candidate meets our expectations, we will instruct our consultant to keep looking. As we have said before, we want to get the best candidate possible, even if it takes longer than first anticipated.”

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