Troy superintendent now third candidate to drop out of Phenix City search

The night before the surprise superintendent candidate was scheduled to interview with the Phenix City Board of Education, he unleashed his own surprise.

Lee Hicks signed a four-year contract extension Monday night to remain as superintendent of Troy City Schools. Tuesday morning, the Phenix City board canceled the 6 p.m. interview and announced Hicks had withdrawn his name from consideration.

So the Hail Mary pass the Phenix City board threw Friday -- when it decided to interview Hicks and to not choose between the two finalists it had interviewed -- landed incomplete with a thud.

All of which begs the question: What’s the next step in the superintendent search?

That’s unclear, at least publicly, because board president Brad Baker and board attorney Sydney Smith, who has been coordinating the search, weren’t reached for comment Tuesday.

The email on behalf of the board said about Hicks, “The board appreciates his interest in our school system and wishes Dr. Hicks success in his career.”

The Ledger-Enquirer also hasn’t reached Hicks for comment, but he was quoted in the Troy Messenger as saying, “In talking with my family, I feel like it’s the right decision to stay here and finish what I’ve started.”

Hicks has been Troy’s superintendent for three years.

On May 12, the Phenix City board released the names of four finalists it wanted to interview out of the 17 applicants:

* Kenneth Burton, assistant superintendent for administration at Opelika City Schools.

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

* Craig Ross, principal of Robertsdale High School.

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

But the board has interviewed only two of them.

Burton dropped out of consideration the following day. Despite having worked for Phenix City Public Schools from 1993 to 2000 as an assistant principal and principal at South Girard Junior High and principal of Susie E. Allen Elementary, he explained in a letter to the board that “there are unfinished projects in Opelika (his hometown) that I would like to see completed.”

A week later, two days before the board was scheduled to interview Ross, he became unavailable because the Cullman County Board of Education hired him as its superintendent.

“I came home from my interview and told my family that Cullman was where we need to be,” Ross said in a prepared statement, reported May 20 by WBRC, the Fox affiliate in Birmingham.

The Phenix City board interviewed Townsend on May 21 and Quinn on May 27. Friday’s called meeting was a chance for the board to announce a hiring, but the seven members unanimously decided in a closed session to continue the search, Baker said after the meeting. He noted none of the other finalists has been a superintendent, and the board felt compelled to explore this opportunity, Baker said.

Sometime between the board interviewing Townsend and Quinn, Baker said, someone on behalf of Hicks relayed the Troy superintendent's interest in the Phenix City opening. Board members individually met Hicks in Smith’s law office Thursday, Baker said.

Troy is the same school system which head football coach Jamey DuBose left to take over the program in Phenix City. The Phenix City board introduced DuBose to the public immediately following Quinn's superintendent interview May 27 at Central.

DuBose and Hicks also worked together in Prattville, where DuBose was head football coach from 2008-11 and went 42-13 with two state championships. Three of those losses were forfeits due to Alabama High School Athletics Association rules violations.

Quinn said in an email Tuesday that he still considers himself a candidate “with high interest” in Phenix City.

“I really believe Phenix City is poised to go from good to great,” he said.

Quinn added that he still is under consideration to be superintendent in a Virginia school district he has declined to name.

Townsend wasn’t reached for comment Tuesday.

Phenix City’s 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 seven 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 that his Phenix City contract has been terminated, he is acting superintendent of Selma City Schools as part of the Alabama State Department of Education intervention team.