By Curt Yeomans
The Clayton County Board of Education set a two-week application period Thursday for search firms interested in finding the school system's next superintendent.
The window for firms to submit proposals to the board begins Monday, and closes Feb. 23. The board will hear presentations from interested firms on Feb. 24, and a firm is expected to be chosen on March 3. The superintendent position is not expected to be advertised before mid-March, Clayton County Board of Education Chairperson Alieka Anderson said.
The board also set July 1 as the day the new superintendent must take office.
The dates set by the board establish an aggressive timeline to complete the search for a permanent chief. Superintendent John Thompson's contract expires on June 30.
"These search firms have been waiting to see what we'll do for a year now," said board member Mary Baker. "If they are not ready to rock and roll then, they probably never will be."
The hiring of a permanent schools chief, through a national search process, is one of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools' mandates to restore the district's accreditation. A SACS review team will visit the district in April to monitor progress toward improving the school board, and the overall district.
Officials from SACS have said the board must have a plan in place to find a permanent superintendent when the SACS team makes its visit. The board must also show it is following its plan.
Not every board member was initially prepared to move quickly on the search for a permanent superintendent.
Board Vice-Chairperson Ophelia Burroughs recommended the board double the amount of time it gave search firms to apply, but her colleagues declined.
"It seems to me like we're getting antsy and pushy here," Burroughs said. "We need to slow it down so we have the time to make sure we get this right."
Several board members insisted a two-week window was enough time, and the vice-chairperson acquiesced.
Eight members voted in favor of the two-week time frame. Board member Wanda Smith abstained.
One recommendation from board member Jessie Goree, who pushed some of the aggressive deadlines, caused Thompson some concern.
Goree said the board should set aside 15 minutes per search firm when presentations are made later this month. The 15 minutes would have included time for a representative of the firm to address the board, and for board members to ask questions.
Thompson said that would discourage firms from submitting proposals. "It sends a message, and that message is 'Done deal,'" the superintendent said. Board members didn't agree Thursday on any time limits.
The board also put off a vote Thursday to bill parents for nearly $113,000 in free lunches which were provided to students who do not qualify for the federal free lunch program. School system Nutrition Director Audrey Hamilton recently said she believes the debts incurred by these students could exceed $200,000 by the end of the school year.
Chief Operations Officer Joseph Jones said a policy revision to address the situation will be presented to the board at its Feb. 23 work session.