EDITORIAL: Schenectady superintendent search must be more open

Schenectady's Mont Pleasant Middle School
Schenectady's Mont Pleasant Middle School

If you want to examine the history of transparency (and who doesn’t?), go back to about the 5th Century B.C. to the origin of the handshake.

The gesture, greeting someone with an open palm, was made to convey peace and trust, and to demonstrate that neither individual was hiding something such as a weapon.

Metaphorically, that’s the basis for government transparency — to convey mutual trust and to demonstrate the intent not to do harm.

So when Schenectady school officials conduct a search for a new superintendent – maybe the most important and influential public official in any community – the process should be as open as possible.

For Schenectady, finding a permanent replacement for former Superintendent Larry Spring is vital, not just because of the general importance of the position itself, but additionally because of the unique financial and educational challenges presented to the district due to the the covid crisis.

The people most directly affected by the selection of a new superintendent – parents, students, educators, civic groups, businesses and all other taxpayers – need to be active and included participants in the selection process all along the way.

But that’s not what’s happening.

In narrowing the candidates for superintendent, the school board is presenting citizens with just one candidate as it moves toward in the selection process.

Apparently, those conducting the search narrowed the slate down to two candidates, but one candidate dropped out.

So in holding community meetings to meet the candidates, the public is essentially meeting the person who’s going to get the job.

At this point, what difference does public input make?

If the board has already narrowed the choice down to one, what’s the point of citizens meeting the candidate?

None of the comments they make and the questions they ask are going to matter  because, by default, the choice has already been made.

All that’s left now to do is make the offer and sign the paperwork.

So much for community input. So much for public engagement. So much for transparency in the selection process.

That’s how the Schenectady chapter of the NAACP viewed it when it declined to participate in community input meetings for the position last week.

And that’s how others with a hand in the process viewed it.

Assuring the public that the lone surviving candidate is indeed the best candidate for the job isn’t enough.

They could have reached that conclusion without inviting public input.

Trust us, they’re saying. We got the right person for the job, even without your input.

This is no reflection on the final finalist. It’s very possible this person is eminently qualified and that the search process zeroed in on exactly the person the district needed to lead it.

But how can the public know that if it didn’t have a choice? If it couldn’t comparison shop? If it couldn’t evaluate the answers of multiple candidates and challenge each person’s answers and evaluate each candidate’s background?

If the board decides to go forward with this selection without offering stakeholders more choices and more opportunities to evaluate more than one candidate, the selection will forever be clouded by the lack of transparency and public involvement.

The open hand to the public in this case isn’t a handshake.

It’s a slap in the face.

Categories: Editorial, Opinion

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