Cary, N.C. — The Wake County Board of Education has narrowed its search for a new superintendent to three finalists, who will visit the school system next week for a final round of interviews, Chairman Keith Sutton said Tuesday.
Dr. Dana Bedden, superintendent of the Irving Independent School System in Irving, Texas; Ann Clark, deputy superintendent of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools; and Dr. James Merrill, superintendent of Virginia Beach City Public Schools in Virginia Beach, Va., were chosen following a nationwide search.
The board considered about two dozen applicants before interviewing four semifinalists last week.
Sutton described the three chosen finalists as veteran educators with a impressive breadth of leadership experience.
"All three are very capable of running this district and a district of this size," he said. "I think what we are looking at now is who will be the best fit."
Next Tuesday and Wednesday, Bedden, Clark and Merrill will travel to Wake County to meet with staff, visit schools and participate in a public candidate forum. Sutton said he hopes to have a new superintendent in place by July 1, the start of the new fiscal year.
The superintendent position has been vacant since September, when the board's Democratic majority voted to oust Tony Tata. The four Republican board members accused the majority of dismissing Tata as part of a political grudge.
"This is a political mistake, and the results are going to be felt for a long time," board member Chris Malone said at the time.
Democrats denied the ouster was politically motivated and pointed to schedule and bus changes made under Tata's direction that resulted in weeks of parent protests.
Since that time, board members have preached unity of purpose. Chairman Keith Sutton has said they are seeking a "consensus builder" to lead the state's largest school system.
Board continues to refine bond priorities
Though questions remain about who will own and control facilities within the Wake County Public School System, the school board continues to refine its list of construction and renovation priorities.
The board plans to seek a $810 million bond on the October ballot, which will combine with county and other funds to support a nearly $940 million building program. That money will fund the construction of 11 elementary, three middle and two high schools over the next 10 years, renovate existing schools and enhance technology and security district-wide.
County commissioners have asked the General Assembly to give them authority over the construction of schools, and school board members said that, despite their opposition, they expect that measure to pass.
Board member Jim Martin said he is concerned about commissioners' claims that they can build schools more cheaply than the school board.
But other board members said control over school buildings is out of their hands, and they hope commissioners will prioritize the construction and renovation needs identified by school system staff.
"We are going to have to trust the public to hold them accountable for the same level of quality and making sure they are respecting the recommendations of the Board of Education about program needs, and then it's their show," board member Tom Benton said.
Student assignment goals outlined
The board also on Tuesday approved a board policy that outlines goals and priorities for student assignment. The policy requires district leaders to develop student assignment plans based on four ruling guidelines: student achievement, stability, proximity and operational efficiency.
Student assignment is a contentious issue for the school board, particularly in the past five years, as the board's composition has swung from Democratic control to Republicans and back again.
After a long-standing effort to balance schools based on socio-economic status was overturned in 2011, board members have struggled to define the priorities of assignment.
Parents and school leaders agree about the need to distribute a growing student population across the county's schools – about three dozen schools face enrollment caps.
Most families have already received their assignments for the 2013-14 school year under a stop-gap plan approved in December. The board is expected to implement more changes to its student assignment policy for the 2014-15 school year.
Staff to tackle transportation problems with more bus drivers, GPS and call center
Bob Snidemiller, senior director for transportation, updated the school board during Tuesday's work session about the busing plan for next school year, which aims to fix many of the problems that dogged the implementation of the choice-based assignment plan at the start of 2012-13.
Complaints from parents came flooding into the school system in August after buses repeatedly ran late or failed to arrive at all. Snidemiller said hiring 104 additional drivers for 2013-14, equipping buses with GPS-style tracking technology and setting up a centralized call center to handle parents' calls should address those issues.
Snidemiller said he is confident in the 2013-14 bus routes and that the start of the school year will run smoothly for students and parents.