The hunt for a new Charleston County School District superintendent has been anything but transparent from the start.
The school board has changed the scope of the search from national to local, then back to national.
Its attempts to get input from teachers and parents were inadequate.
Many people were never satisfied that the board acted wisely when former Superintendent Nancy McGinley stepped down under intense pressure.
And now the public has learned that a Columbia lawyer involved in the search process had a hand in arranging for seven of the nine school board members to have one-on-one meetings with one of the candidates before the names were announced. Two board members were not offered such an opportunity.
Unless the public can be convinced that the school board, the S.C. School Boards Association (which is conducting the search) and Columbia attorney Ken Childs (whose firm has been assisting the board in its search) have acted legally and in good faith, the board should start the search anew with a different search agent.
Among those most concerned are the two board members, Michael Miller and Chris Collins, who were left out of the loop regarding candidate Gerrita Postlewait.
On Tuesday, more than a dozen clergy and civil rights activists called for a new superintendent search and the resignation of the six board members identified to them as having conversed with Ms. Postlewait to resign.
Their frustration is understandable, but their solutions are premature — and excessive. It is still unclear whether the board members broke the law by speaking to that candidate.
S.C. Press Association attorney Jay Bender did say, though, that the situation raises a red flag. If the members had an agreement that each would meet with Ms. Postlewait, that would have been a majority of the board, and thus the decision to do so should have been made by public vote.
It was not.
Mr. Bender also said it is “impossible to believe” that each member independently decided to contact this one candidate.
The board is scheduled to review applicants identified in the search at a meeting today. That presumably would include Ms. Postlewait and Charleston County School District Deputy Superintendent Lisa Herring, whom the board began considering in March.
But before deliberations begin in earnest, the board needs to address this situation — to give a full accounting of how only some members were given Ms. Postlewait’s name, and how it happened that seven members each made contact with her.
It is clear that Mr. Miller is correct and that the search has been fouled. Scrapping it and beginning a fresh search is the only way to regain the confidence of the public in the wake of this sorry process.
School board members should acknowledge that the ham-handed handling of the search process from the onset has eroded public trust to the degree that they should start all over. And Ms. Postlewait’s candidacy is likely over.
Those who spoke to the candidate out of turn also should recognize that they have risked discouraging talented people from considering the job of superintendent at a time when the district sorely needs strong leadership.