Columbus Mayor Michael B. Coleman will not support any permanent successor to Superintendent Gene Harris whom the city school board hires by this summer, he said yesterday. Coleman continued to insist that the board should name an interim schools chief and said the board is "on a path toward failure" if it doesn't heed his advice.
Columbus Mayor Michael B. Coleman will not support any permanent successor to Superintendent Gene Harris whom the city school board hires by this summer, he said yesterday.
Coleman continued to insist that the board should name an interim schools chief and said the board is "on a path toward failure" if it doesn't heed his advice.
He was backed by six community members who met in his City Hall office, including members of his Columbus Education Commission and Rhonda Johnson, the president of the Columbus Education Association, the district's teachers union.
The group said the school board needs to suspend its search until the district does a self-assessment, the education commission releases its recommendations and the federal and state investigations into grade changing and attendance scrubbing are completed.
Coleman, who wants the decision on a permanent superintendent delayed until July 2014, said the board also must become aligned with the community, including local business leaders, none of whom were at his briefing. The people who were there said the school board is more concerned about political power than educating children.
"We need to get the school board to focus less on power and authority and more focused on the future of the school district," said City Council President Andrew J. Ginther, a former school-board member.
* * *
Current school-board member Mike Wiles called it "unconscionable" that Coleman won't support a new superintendent if the board doesn't bend to his will.
It's the mayor who is undermining the school district, Wiles said. "It's not our leadership that's failing here.
"I can't imagine anybody in leadership saying that," he said of the mayor's pledge of non-support. "No matter whom we hire, we're going to have to be behind him 100 percent. You can't have ill feelings."
School-board President Carol Perkins promised that the entire community will get a chance to vet finalists and noted that a new superintendent won't be hired before the commission is expected to wrap up its work next month.
"Again, we thank the education commission and, above all, the mayor," Perkins said yesterday when told about the briefing. "As stated previously, the board has every intention of having the mayor be part of this process."
Board member Gary Baker said the school board "will do what's in the best interest of the district."
Coleman said this is a bad time to be looking for a qualified applicant because many superintendents already have signed contracts for next year.
"This is the most important position in the city, the No. 1 most important, private or public sector," he said. "We have to make sure this is done right."
School-board member Bryan O. Steward said he's concerned that the board's poor relationship with City Hall and the business community will make attracting a high-quality candidate difficult.
"I certainly think that having an interim (superintendent) right now is not necessarily a bad idea," Steward said yesterday.
Wiles said the six people who gathered with the mayor in his office yesterday don't speak for the entire community.
"Out of all the superintendent-search meetings that we had with the general public, nobody - and I mean nobody - said they wanted an interim superintendent," he said.
Board members Hanifah Kambon, W. Shawna Gibbs and Ramona Reyes didn't return telephone calls.School-board members fear that the education commission is trying to replace the elected board with a different model. The board has adopted resolutions opposing any takeover.
Coleman reiterated yesterday that he has no plans to take over the district. His hope is that the community and business leaders will put enough pressure on the board to halt its plan to hire a superintendent.
"The board is misguided," said Stephanie Hightower, a former school-board president and an education-commission member who was at the briefing. "We are not getting the right level of leadership right now, and right now we are not focused on the children, and this is all about the children."
Two community leaders who were there - Joyce Hughes, president of the Weinland Park Community Civic Association, and Emmanuel Remy, head of the Northland Community Council - said school-board members have refused to sit down with them to discuss the next superintendent.
"I've called numerous times to have discussions, and it's concerning to me that the school board is not responding to those requests from the community," Remy said.
The district did hold five regional meetings in early February where members of the public could offer their views.
"What the mayor and everybody else need to do is chill out a little bit and let us do our jobs," Wiles said.