Cobb school board reveals few details on plans to find new superintendent

Cobb County school board members have revealed very little about their plans to replace Superintendent Michael Hinojosa since the leader of Georgia’s second-largest school system announced his resignation more than a month ago.

The board has met in closed-door, executive sessions at least three times to discuss matters related to the superintendent position, education officials said. But few details have been aired in public portions of board meetings.

Cobb parents are questioning why the board is not sharing more information, and at least one school board member said the board could be communicating more with the public when making this important leadership decision.

“So far, I think most of our discussions have been in executive session, as far as the whole (superintendent search) process,” longtime school board member David Banks said after a board meeting Wednesday, during which members met in executive session.

“I’ve got mixed emotions … about whether some of the discussions should have been in public versus executive session,” Banks said. “I think some of it probably should be more in the public. I would not have had a problem talking about it in public sessions about the process. Now when we get down to … talking about individuals, then I think that’s when you need to be in executive session.”

Banks said board members are considering at least six candidates for the position of interim superintendent, which they expect to appoint around the end of March. Banks said he expects an interim to serve about a year while the board conducts a search for a new superintendent.

Under Georgia law, discussion about logistics and details of the superintendent search process would have to take place in public, according to Hollie Manheimer, executive director of the Georgia First Amendment Foundation.

“The open meetings law has always had a very limited exception in which the public agency can discuss an individual candidate in a closed session, but that is a narrow exception and any vote on a candidate would have to be taken in public,” Manheimer said in an email.

“In fact, 2012 amendments to the open meetings act specifically wrote in that ‘when considering or discussing matters of public policy regarding the employment or hiring practices of the agency,’ the meeting must be open,” she added.

Clem Doyle, the school board’s attorney, said board members have not violated the open meetings law.

School board Chairwoman Kathy Angelucci said in an email that the board has met in executive session “to discuss matters related to the superintendent position and whether to accept the superintendent’s resignation, in addition to other matters related to personnel issues, legal and land acquisition.”

Discussions “pertaining to the superintendent and the selection of another one is a personnel issue, and if we discuss potential candidates, we are our well within our rights as a school board under the law to do so … there is nothing untoward — no votes taken and only those issues; land, legal or personnel, including potential personnel, are discussed.”

JoEllen Smith, who has two children attending Cobb schools, said that while she thinks superintendent candidate names don’t need to be publicly mentioned early in the search process, she believes the board could do a better job of communicating its plans to find a new district leader.

“When they move on to go through the … complicated, detailed process of finding a permanent superintendent, it would be good for them to share it publicly,” Smith said.

Hinojosa announced at a meeting in February that he would step down, leaving the post in late May. He wants to move to Texas to assist with aging parents. Hinojosa has led the district — which has close to 107,000 students in about 114 schools — since July 2011.

The other metro area system looking for a superintendent is Atlanta Public Schools. During its yearlong search for a successor to Erroll Davis — who plans to retire after this school year — the city system has held public meetings to discuss the process for how it would find potential hires, but discussions about specific candidates have been held behind closed doors.

A superintendent search committee will forward a list of candidates to the Atlanta Board of Education in April, and three or fewer finalists would be announced soon afterward.

Appointing superintendents is one of the most important jobs of a school board, and the process should remain open, said Dennis Dearden, associate executive director of the American Association of School Administrators.

“The more transparent you can be, the best obviously for the community,” he said. “Anytime a superintendent leaves, there’s a lot of unknowns … there’s some uncertainty as you try to figure out what the next step is.”

By Rose French
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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