Phenix City Board of Education chooses superintendent candidates to interview

mrice@ledger-enquirer.comMay 9, 2014 

After a one-hour closed session during a called meeting Friday, the Phenix City Board of Education announced it has decided which superintendent candidates it wants to interview.

Sydney Smith, the board's attorney, declined to disclose the names.

"I will release the names after I've talked to them and they are still interested," Smith said after the meeting. "Then we will let you know who they are when we've scheduled the interviews."

Board president Brad Baker wasn't available immediately after the meeting, but he told the Ledger-Enquirer in a phone interview that the board picked four of the 17 applicants to interview. He declined to disclose any other details about the candidates.

"We're moving along pretty good," Baker said. "We've got a good plan in place. I think we're going to be fine."

During the open session of the meeting, Smith reviewed the selection process with the board:

• The seven board members individually went to her office to read the applications.

• Smith asked each board member to select their top two candidates.

• Smith tallied the results, which the board chose to discuss in closed session, as Alabama law allows for cases of "good name and character."

Alabama law, however, requires school boards to interview superintendent candidates in public. Smith said she will try to schedule the interviews for the week of May 19.

The superintendent vacancy was created when the board unanimously voted in a called meeting Nov. 26 to place Larry DiChiara on administrative leave and to seek a buyout of the 4½ years left on his contract. The board has refused to explain why it chose to abruptly end DiChiara's 9½-year tenure, which includes being named Alabama Superintendent of the Year three years ago.

Such a buyout is expected to cost more than $750,000, but the deal hasn't been made six months later because DiChiara and the board haven't settled on a figure. The dispute is focused on the benefits owed in the contract. DiChiara's two lawsuits against the board are pending in Russell County Circuit Court.

Rod Hinton, a 16-year veteran of Phenix City Public Schools with experience as a teacher, principal and central office administrator, as well as an executive in the corporate world, came out of retirement to serve as interim superintendent. The Alabama State Department of Education usually allows interim superintendents to serve only 180 days, but Baker said a department official assured him the school system will receive a 30-day waiver.

"We're just waiting on the documentation," Baker said.

Hinton has agreed to the board's request to be a consultant for the hired superintendent if the new leader so desires.

Mark Rice, 706-576-6272. Follow Mark on Twitter@MarkRiceLE.

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