The Toledo Board of Education did little to take the community into its confidence before it named a new interim superintendent this week. Board members will have to work a lot harder at building public trust if they expect Toledo Public Schools voters to approve a tax proposal this fall.
After a brief, secretive, and perfunctory search process, the board voted unanimously to hire Assistant Superintendent Romules Durant to succeed Superintendent Jerome Pecko, whose contract expires July 31. Although Mr. Pecko had expressed interest in staying on, board members declined last January to reappoint him. They have yet to explain why.
The board is expected to give Mr. Durant a one-year contract in the interim post, but board president Brenda Hill says the appointment could become permanent. If that change occurs, it must be on the basis of performance rather than bureaucratic inertia.
Mr. Durant will have ample opportunity to show his ability to run TPS in the next school year. In the meantime, though, the school board must consider other, including external, candidates for the permanent job. And it will have to do so less haphazardly than it ran the interim search process, which the board appeared to stack in Mr. Durant’s favor.
Mr. Durant brings appealing qualities to his new post. He is among a cadre of talented young administrators whom Mr. Pecko has nurtured; he played a central role in developing the district’s reform plan. A 14-year TPS veteran, he worked his way up from teacher to assistant principal to principal to the central office.
An east-side native and a graduate of Waite High School and the University of Toledo, Mr. Durant commands a considerable degree of community support. He has helped build partnerships between TPS and local institutions — a refreshing departure from the district’s previous insularity — and to promote leadership and academic excellence among African-American students.
But Mr. Durant, now 37, will be running a school district for the first time. The next superintendent will face a large number of tough challenges, and the school board at least needs to consider more-seasoned candidates for the permanent job.
Critics are questioning the accuracy of an outside, politically motivated performance audit that was forced on TPS by right-wing activists; it calls for large cuts in district spending. The Obama Administration is delaying action on TPS’ application to run the local Head Start preschool program.
The federal sequester is depriving the district of financial aid from Washington. State officials are not likely to increase their aid to the district, even as they demand that TPS reverse last year’s downgrade on its state report card.
The district is about to begin contract negotiations with its employee unions. And it must deal with the continued fallout over its data-scrubbing practices of past years. These issues would test even the most experienced superintendent.
The school board did itself, and Mr. Durant, no favors with the disdain it showed for the state Open Meetings Act by paring its list of candidates for the job in private. By the time board members interviewed the two finalists in public, their minds appeared to be made up.
Such behavior is not likely to endear TPS to skeptical voters — who trounced a proposed district tax increase last year — when they consider a new tax request in November. Although Mr. Durant deserves every opportunity to succeed, the district, like its constituents, must keep its options open.