School board won’t back down, but they can salvage superintendent search with openness

Terri Breeden (from left), Lisa Herring and Gerrita Postlewait have been named as the three finalists for superintendent of the Charleston County School District.

We’re down to three finalists for the Charleston County schools superintendent job, and no one needed Nostradamus to figure out who two of them would be.

Lisa Herring, the local schools administrator favored by some in the community, is facing the woman that school board members interviewed before the search began.

Somebody should probably tell that poor assistant superintendent from Virginia, who rounds out the list, to bring her body armor.

This is liable to get ugly.

No matter what happens here, someone is going to cry conspiracy. In fact, they already are. The NAACP wants a new search, or for the board to just hire Herring.

The only thing the school board can do here — other than capitulate, which isn’t happening — is make sure they give the public ample input.

No matter what the board does, someone is going to say the whole thing was pre-ordained.

See, most folks figured Herring, a deputy superintendent for Charleston schools, would be on the finalists’ list. But school watchers were absolutely certain former Horry County Superintendent Gerrita Postlewait would make the cut.

School board member Michael Miller raised a stink last month when he revealed that most of his colleagues had met or talked with Postlewait before there was an official search.

Miller argued that gave Postlewait an unfair advantage. He said the process hadn’t been transparent enough and, in fact, had been “tainted.”

The NAACP hammered on the transparency thing Friday.

But you could argue that once Miller made his announcement, the direction of this search was already pretty transparent.

Last week, the school board finished up interviews with nine superintendent semi-finalists.

They interviewed each one of them via Skype — even Herring — to make sure things were even and no one had an advantage.

Now they worry about that, the critics say. But even Miller said it seemed fair.

Next, the three finalists get their day in public, complete with an opportunity for the public to quiz them. This is exactly how Berkeley County did its most recent superintendent search, and it is exactly how the College of Charleston did its president search.

So the school board now seems to be doing things right. Even Miller says things are back on track. Mostly.

“It’s more open now, more transparent than it’s ever been,” he says. “I don’t know if that corrects it.”

Miller still thinks that Postlewait had an advantage. But board Chairwoman Cindy Bohn Coats points out that members also spoke to Herring about the job before the search began. If Postlewait should be excluded, so should Herring.

“If they have the skill set to do the job, I don’t think you disqualify them just because we talked to them,” Coats says.

Miller says an internal candidate should not be excluded for talking to the board because that’s their job.

At this point, that is an academic argument — the field is set.

What happens next is what matters now. That’s where the focus should be.

It’s funny how things change, and how they don’t.

Last fall, the NAACP defended former Superintendent Nancy McGinley when the school board started gunning for her. But back in 2007, the organization protested her hiring — like they are protesting now, albeit for different reasons.

They can ask for a new search all they want, but it’s not going to happen. So the NAACP should just get parents and other locals out for these meet and greets to ensure everyone’s questions get answered.

Complaining after the fact doesn’t do much good.

This might eat up a lot of the candidates’ time, but this is a monumentally important decision. A superintendent is forever — or, in Charleston County, an average of 3.4 years.

If the public doesn’t get the time, they will camp at 75 Calhoun to complain. Besides, it’s only fair to the candidates. Running Charleston County schools is not an easy job. You’ve got to monitor Twitter, make sure people aren’t drawing on watermelons, get beat up in press conferences and — oh yeah — educate nearly 50,000 kids.

If a superintendent candidate can’t put up with some tough questions, there’s no way they will make it 3.4 years before their contract is bought out and they’re sent packing.

Reach Brian Hicks at bhicks@postandcourier.com