Open search process is best

-A A +A

We are pleased to hear that the Chester County School Board has said it is going to engage the public in its search for a new superintendent.

It will be a welcome addition to the process of filling this most vital role that in many ways will shape the long-term future of this county. And while we appreciated the selection of Larry Heath as superintendent, there wasn’t significant public input in that long process.

There were some surveys done in the early stages, to be sure; Internet questionnaires to be filled out on what the community wanted.

But that was it, a stale, statistical approach to public access only. The public never, at any stage, got to meet the candidates.

The school board and its consultant did not put the names of candidates before the public. Some names emerged early, because we covered the search doggedly.

We will again offer a couple of different approaches that have been tried elsewhere. Approaches that were tried and approaches we think worked.

The most public in this nearby area was a search conducted in Charlotte. There was a public question and answer session with candidates for the job, the finalists, as we recall. The process was so public that a question and answer session was broadcast on our local radio tower out in Lowrys, WBT of Charlotte.

That massive school system up there, with a budget probably 10 times what Chester County’s budget is, ran an open search that involved the public at all stages.

We also know of a search back in the ‘90s where informal get-togethers were held in the major attendance zones of one county with finalists. We think local PTAs were tapped to organize the meet and greets.

There are other ways to be sure.

At most stages of this process, we understand that work will be done by the consultant, in private, or behind closed doors. That is legal and allowed under state law. But it is not right for all of the process, before the decision is made, to be done behind closed doors.

We aren’t advocating any specific process that involves the public. We wish only for the board and its chosen consultant to come up with a process that involves the public throughout. Perhaps when the board gets five or so finalists or semi-finalists, it can hold its question and answer sessions with no more than an hour of questioning in open session, with the public present, then go behind closed doors.

A candidate for superintendent should be asked about his theory on discipline, and there is no reason that the public should not hear his or her answer to that question. A superintendent candidate should be asked if he or she has ever dealt with budget cuts like we have faced here the past two years, and how. The public should hear the answer to that question.

There’s a lot the public needs to hear before a candidate is hired.

We think the board has done a good job, by the way, in how it has handled and released information about this search firm hire. We appreciate that.