Leader Blues

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

TOP STORY >> McGill may not reapply, board scrambles to regroup

By NANCY DOCKTER
Leader staff writer

Shunned by the Pulaski County Special School District board Monday evening, Rob McGill, the acting superintendent, is considering withdrawing his name from consideration for the superintendent’s job.

McGill and Vashti Washington were the two finalists for the job and Washington withdrew her name on Friday to take another job, but instead of offering McGill the job, the board voted 6-1 to restart the search and interview as many as four candidates.

The board had planned to select a superintendent this week following a final round of applicant interviews. Washington is an assistant superintendent from South Carolina.

“Dr. Washington pulling her application kind of threw us all for a loop,” board president Tim Clark said after the meeting. “The bottom line is we couldn’t get a majority of the board to agree to McGill.”

The firm hired by the board to conduct a national search has been asked to reinitiate the process immediately. McGill will have to reapply if he wants to stay in the running.

“We will ask for two to four good candidates in seven to 10 days, and hopefully we’ll have this wrapped up within a month,” Clark said.

McGill said he was surprised by the board’s decision in light of its stance two weeks ago in unanimous support of him as one of two top contenders. He indicated that he may not reapply.

“I don’t know yet; I will be considering that,” McGill said. “I am disappointed at this point, but the board has made its decision.”

BOARD MEMBERS COMMENT ON VOTE

Board member Charlie Wood cast the only vote against reopening the application process. He said that he was relieved that the board voted as it did “rather than dismiss McGill’s chances altogether.”

After the meeting, Wood released a two-page statement to the press expressing his support for hiring McGill, the remaining candidate. Wood contends that some board members are unfairly biased against McGill because he is white and because of strong opposition from the teacher’s union. The board in December voted to decertify the teacher union.

Three board members are black and four are white.

“(T)he board publicly agreed that these were the two best candidates,” stated Wood, who is white. “Now, though, there is only one of those two choices remaining; so it seems obvious to most objective people in my zone that the choice of Rob McGill is now natural. The board agreed on a method and process, and followed it diligently. However, now some Board members say that agreed upon process needs to be scrapped because they have a personal agenda against Mr. McGill. It is not supposed to work that way.”

According to Wood, the allegations against McGill that he made racially charged comments were an orchestrated attempt to discredit him.

“(I)t has been a disgraceful attempt to undermine the reputation of a good, honest and hard- working man just to insure the hiring of a favored candidate,” Wood said.

Board member Bill Vasquez of Jacksonville said the board decision was simply that “we were not ready to move forward” with selecting McGill.

The person selected for superintendent will be either taking on a district newly released from federal court supervision or a “district with a lot of work to do,” Vasquez said. “This is a big decision and the candidate we hire has to be able holistically to heal this district including all the stakeholders. This district has 17,000 students and 5,000 employees and taxpayers … There is a ton of people who have a vested interest in our making the right decision.”

Board member Gwendolyn Williams, who is black, said that her interest in reopening the application process was about McGill’s qualifications for the post. She says the allegations did not have a bearing on her decision.

“Regardless of all that, bottom line, is that I do not feel McGill is qualified and has enough experience. He was granted an interview only because a board member asked for that out of courtesy because he is the acting superintendent. Other candidates were more highly qualified head and shoulders above Rob McGill.”

Board member Danny Gililland, who is white, said that he would have preferred that the board consider McGill and their next-second pick among the original field of finalists rather than reopen the application process.

He said his interest in looking at other applicants in addition to McGill was “about experience.” Gililland added that he was glad that McGill was exonerated before a board decision about how to proceed in the candidate search.

Other applicants have more years of experience as a superintendent or deputy superintendent than McGill, who had none prior to his service in the past year.

He took leave a year ago from his position as principal of Pine Forest Elementary School to serve as acting superintendent after James Sharpe resigned in 2009. McGill’s current contract runs out at the end of June. If he is not hired as superintendent, he will go back to his former position.

Sawyer, who is black, said that she wants to re-open the application process because of her desire to find the best-qualified person. Feedback from public forums on candidates conducted in December shaped her thinking, Sawyer said.

Strong leadership skills, a willingness to communicate with the community and engage with school personnel to meet state and board expectations, and accountability are paramount, she said.

As for the allegations against McGill and the independent investigator’s report, Sawyer said all of that had “no play at all” on her decision.

Clark, who is white, said that the allegations and report had “no bearing” on the discussion of McGill’s candidacy.

“My concern is finding the right person for the job,” Clark said.

Board member Mildred Tatum did not return phone calls for comment Tuesday.

CONFIDENTIAL REPORT LEAKED

The board vote concluded a tumultuous meeting in which Rizelle Aaron of the Jacksonville chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People divulged during the public comment period that he had been leaked the report on an investigation into allegations that McGill had made racially insensitive remarks following the state Board of Education’s denial of a PCSSD application for a school charter.

Subsequently, McGill asked that an independent investigation be conducted. The Little Rock law firm of Lassiter and Couch conducted the investigation and on Feb. 26 emailed a report on its findings to board members and attorney Jay Baquette.

Aaron said that the findings did not clear McGill, but were “inconclusive.”

Aaron was responding to a statement issued by Wood to the press Sunday that McGill had been exonerated.

Upon hearing Aaron say that he had read the report, McGill told him that he had obtained the report illegally and went on to say that he wanted the report made public after all witness names were redacted. The report is part of McGill’s personnel file.

McGill said that Wood’s issuing the press release was “inappropriate and unethical.”

Later, Aaron said he had done nothing illegal by receiving the report.

“I receive information anonymously daily in my capacity with the NAACP,” Aaron said. “The person who sent it was illegal.”

Baquette said the leak of the report on McGill was not illegal, but was a violation of district policy.

“Personnel files are confidential and are not to be disclosed to people who do not have the authority to review them,” Baquette said.

As of Tuesday, most board members said that either they had not received the investigator’s report or had not had time to read it.

Gililland said he had no objection to what Wood did. On the other hand, board member Sandra Sawyer said she would have liked time to review the report before reading about it in the newspaper Monday.

“I don’t think that is the way we should operate as a board,” Sawyer said. “We should keep everyone informed including the news media, but let’s be sure we have all our ducks in a row first. I like to be involved and kept in the loop.”

At the board meeting, Williams told Wood that all board statements should come from the president.

“Okay, you can slap my hand,” said Wood, who is board vice president. “I checked with Baquette and he said it was important to get the information out to the public.”

At the time, Clark was out of town.