Atlanta Board of Education Chairman Reuben McDaniel said Wednesday that private benefactors shouldn’t fund the $146,000 search for a new schools superintendent.
He said the school district should pay instead.
McDaniel’s comments came after The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported Tuesday that the school system hasn’t revealed who is underwriting the search, which rose in cost to $146,000 from an initial contract of $30,000 after the school board fired its first search firm, PROACT Search. The contract for a more thorough nationwide search was awarded in August to a partnership between BoardWalk Consulting and Diversified Search.
Superintendent Erroll Davis, who plans to retire next year, has led Atlanta Public Schools since he took the job in July 2011 after an investigation into standardized test cheating. He replaced Beverly Hall, who faces criminal allegations that she conspired to artificially inflate test scores.
The plan to fund the search with outside contributions didn’t sit well with state Sen. Vincent Fort, D-Atlanta. Fort said he questions the integrity of the search if external forces are trying to influence the decision of whom to hire as a leader of the 50,000-student Atlanta school district.
“My concern is that the business community is trying to control the selection process for a new superintendent,” Fort said. “They think their money ought to control the process. … It’s one thing if this money was being used to buy pencils or book bags for kids, but it’s financing one of the most important policy decisions the school board will make.”
Fort’s worries could have merit, considering Hall enjoyed widespread support among Atlanta business leaders, who initially dismissed irregularities found in Atlanta Public Schools’ results on the Criterion-Referenced Competency Test.
McDaniel said the funding source for the superintendent search wasn’t a transparency issue because the unnamed donors would have been made public if Atlanta Public Schools had accepted their contributions. He said Atlanta Public Schools should pay for the search because the cost was reasonable and affordable.
“If the search price had come in well above industry standards, and we wanted to move forward with it, that would have been a reason to use community funds,” he said.
The search firms are recruiting candidates for superintendent, and the Atlanta Board of Education will likely choose a school district leader from a list of finalists early next year, after this November’s school board election.
Parent Michelle Constantinides said she was glad to hear that the superintendent search will be funded with public money.
“People will feel more confident in the search for the superintendent knowing that it’s not being influenced by outside special interests,” said Constantinides, who has three children in Atlanta schools.
A decision on whether to use taxpayer money or contributions for the search will be made by the full school board, McDaniel said.
He said he will ask Atlanta Public Schools Chief Financial Officer Chuck Burbridge at Monday’s monthly school board meeting what funds are available to pay for the search, and the board will vote on how to allocate those funds at a later date.
The full amount of charitable contributions for the search had already been raised, said Howard Grant, who handles the school board’s administration as its executive director.
But none of the donations has been paid to Atlanta Public Schools, McDaniel said.
The Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta is holding the funds, said Superintendent Search Committee Chairwoman Ann Cramer, who sits on the foundation’s board of directors.
The Community Foundation’s board members include representatives from Southern Co.; law firm Alston & Bird; architecture company R L Brown & Associates; Delta Air Lines; and Cox Enterprises, the parent company of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.