SCHENECTADY — The Schenectady chapter of the NAACP declined an offer to participate in community input meetings with the lone finalist for the Schenectady superintendent position and others have raised concerns about the level of public involvement in the process.
With just one remaining candidate for the position, the school board invited community members and other interested parties to meet the candidate during a private session scheduled Thursday night.
But in a public comment at Wednesday night’s school board meeting, Odo Butler of the NAACP said the civil rights organization was withdrawing from the meeting due to a “lack of transparency in the hiring process,” noting that the group could not support the process if only one candidate was put forward to the community.
The search process has been organized by Anita Murphy, district superintendent of the Capital Region BOCES, who during a recent update on the search said the board has conducted multiple interviews and narrowed candidates to two finalists, but that one withdrew due to COVID-19 concerns. Board members decided to move forward with the single candidate, giving the community groups a chance to offer feedback before moving forward with a potential job offer and contract negotiations.
Juliet Benaquisto, president of the Schenectady Federation of Teachers, said a handful of teachers and paraprofessionals were participating in the sessions, but she also criticized the search’s lack of public engagement and transparency so far. She said starting the community meetings with one remaining candidate creates a “lack of trust that stakeholders can give valuable feedback.”
“There’s value (in public input) and it’s a mistake the Board of Education didn’t bring stakeholders into the process earlier,” she said. “I had hopes this Board of Education would recognize the importance of all stakeholders being represented in the process.”
It also appeared that those organizing the search were still looking at the last minute to find community members to participate in Thursday’s meeting. A district resident confirmed that someone involved in the search was contacting community members on Wednesday to ask if they would participate in Thursday’s meeting.
Board members at Wednesday’s meeting defended the search process, noting they had hoped to be able to present multiple candidates during the public input part of the process. Board member Andy Chestnut said when the second finalist withdrew the board was left with three options: go forward with the remaining candidates; lower their standards to allow other applicants advance in the process; scrap the search and start again. He said he supported moving forward.
“It was the most responsible and transparent choice available to the Board of Education,” Chestnut said. “We control what we control and candidates have their own decisions to make as well.”
Board President John Foley said people should not view the withdrawal of one candidate as a reflection on the qualifications of the remaining candidate.
“This is still a strong candidate,” Foley said. “Just because another candidate drops out doesn’t weaken the strengths of the candidate that remains.”