THE skills necessary to lead a major university are not the same as those required for school superintendents at the kindergarten-through-twelfth grade level. Working with teachers' unions, for example, is hardly similar to dealing with university faculty unions. But that's only one reason there would be plenty of eyebrows raised if Bowling Green State University seriously considered Eugene Sanders to replace retiring president Carol Cartwright.
Last week, the 53-year-old former Toledo Public Schools superintendent announced that he was stepping down after four years as leader of the Cleveland school system. Initially, he said that he wanted to take some time before deciding to what to do next. But the next day, he admitted he had applied for the top job at BGSU. His announcement came just six months after he had accepted a three-year contract extension - until 2014 - to stay in Cleveland.
Though it appears that Mr. Sanders is in the education business for his own interests, there is some question about his judgment. For one thing, when Mr. Sanders left the TPS superintendent's post, among the school administrators who went with him to Cleveland was former TPS business manager Dan Burns, 55, who has been found guilty in a scheme that defrauded the local school district more than $650,000 between 2002 and 2006. He continued the scheme in Cleveland.
Even setting that aside, it's presumptuous for Mr. Sanders to think he can make the jump from K-12 superintendent directly to university president. If he wants to pursue a career in college administration, he should set his sights lower - dean or vice president - and work his way up.
Of concern too is that he is abandoning the state's largest school district while it still is implementing wide-ranging reforms he set in motion. And while academic gains have been made, the system faces a $58 million deficit next school year and an uphill battle on a levy campaign.
Sound familiar? When Mr. Sanders became TPS superintendent in 2000, he promised to make the local school district "a national model of excellence in everything that we do." He took over a system facing declining enrollment, financial problems, low morale, and poor test scores. He promised that he was committed to the district and was not the type of person who would break a contract.
In January, 2003, he agreed to a contract extension that committed him to the school district until 2009. But 18 months later, he was interviewing for the top spot in the Washington, D.C., school district. He lost out on that job but, within two years, he was off to Cleveland to fix its ailing schools.
Some say he departed because of the election of new school board members who were thought to be opposed to changes he had made. The truth is, he quit on the children of Toledo. Now he's quitting on the children of Cleveland too.
While TPS made some gains in test scores and graduation rates under Mr. Sanders' watch - his accomplishments were lauded and his departure lamented on these pages - the other uncomfortable truth is that the changes he championed here did not prove to be sustainable. TPS still struggles with declining enrollment, chronic budget deficits, low morale, and poor test scores.
That's not much of a resume to become a university president.
BGSU's search for Ms. Cartwright's replacement has identified about 25 viable applicants. The next president will surely be a talented administrator with a long list of accomplishments, as befits a college of this stature.
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