Finalist withdraws from Phenix City superintendent search

mrice@ledger-enquirer.comMay 14, 2014 

One of the four finalists has withdrawn from consideration to be Phenix City Public Schools superintendent.

The Phenix City Board of Education announced Wednesday it received on Tuesday the following letter from Kenneth Burton, the assistant superintendent for administration in Opelika City Schools:

"After consideration and deliberation with my family, I have decided to withdraw from candidacy consideration for the position Superintendent of the Phenix School District. I make this decision reluctantly, however, at this time there are many unfinished projects in Opelika that I would like to see completed. Thanking you in advance for your consideration."

The remaining three finalists are:

* Christopher Quinn, assistant superintendent for instruction for Stafford County (Va.) Public Schools.

* Craig Ross, principal of Robertsdale (Ala.) High School.

* Irma Townsend, human resources director and student services supervisor for Enterprise (Ala.) City Schools.

Burton and board president Brad Baker weren’t reached for comment Wednesday.

Burton, 51, is a 27-year educator and already has worked in Phenix City schools. From 1993 to 2000, he was assistant principal at South Girard Junior High, principal of Susie E. Allen Elementary and then went back to South Girard as principal. He left Phenix City to return to his hometown of Opelika, where he graduated high school in 1981. He earned a bachelor's degree in elementary education from Auburn University in 1986. His master's (1994) and specialist's (2001) degrees in education administration are from Troy University. He expects to complete his doctorate, also in education administration, from Auburn by December.

"I had a wonderful experience in Phenix City," Burton told the Ledger-Enquirer on Monday after the school board the released the names of the finalists. "I feel very strongly that, if provided the opportunity, I can come back and once again be a part of the community and continue to assist Phenix City schools in their efforts to reach academic excellence."

The board also finalized the interview schedule for the remaining three candidates:

• May 21 Townsend.

• May 22 Ross.

• May 27 Quinn.

Each interview will be open to the public, as required by state law, and start at 5 p.m. in the Central High School auditorium, 2400 Dobbs Drive.

According to the board’s news release, the finalists will begin their visit at 1 p.m., meeting with interim superintendent Rod Hinton and board members. A tour of the school system and city will follow, as time permits. After the 5 p.m. public interview, each finalist will be available to meet and speak with those in attendance.

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. Now, he is acting superintendent of Selma City Schools as part of the Alabama State Department of Education intervention team.

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

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