Alamance-Burlington school board members agreed this week to start the search for a successor to superintendent Dr. Bruce Benson – nearly a month after he requested an early release from his employment contract with ABSS.
“The board has had a brief discussion and would like to share with the community” what options are being considered, school board chairman Allison Gant said Monday night. The board could hire a recruiting firm to conduct a search similar to the one they had done in 2017 that led to Benson’s hiring in March 2018.
Prior to their latest meeting Monday night, school board members had not publicly discussed their next steps for locating a new superintendent. Nor have they publicly discussed Benson’s request for an early contract release, effective January 1, 2022. There appears to be no statutory requirement for the board to vote on his request, though Benson’s employment contract with ABSS requires 90 days’ notice of his intent to resign.
Other school board members subsequently assured The Alamance News this week that any discussions about the search that may have taken place in closed session involved individual prospective candidates, not the search process itself, which the state’s Open Meetings Law requires to be discussed in open session.
Benson announced September 30 that he’d asked the school board to release him from his employment contract nearly four years prior to its scheduled expiration on June 30, 2025. School board members had voted unanimously just two months earlier, on July 19, to extend his employment term with ABSS by an additional year.
Meanwhile, school board members granted Benson a temporary leave of absence but offered no explanation at a special-called meeting last week.
The Alamance News learned that Benson was hospitalized, after suffering a medical emergency believed to be a brain bleed or cerebral hemorrhage while riding his bicycle on Friday, October 15.
School board members voted 4-3 during their special-called meeting last week to appoint ABSS chief finance officer Jeremy Teetor to temporarily handle the superintendent’s duties while Benson is on leave.
During a brief discussion Monday night, Gant said the most recent superintendent search had taken about 20 weeks. “That is a process that can be used,” the board’s chairman said.
The school board hired Illinois-based BWP & Associates in June 2017 to recruit a replacement for Dr. Bill Harrison, who stepped down as superintendent on May 30, 2018. The search firm, comprised largely of retired superintendents, sent a team to Alamance County to meet with community groups; held public forums; and conducted online surveys to gather feedback about what kind of experience and characteristics the next superintendent should possess.
During the 2017 search, BWP & Associates also conducted background checks and contacted employment references, eventually whittling the initial pool of applicants to a handful of semi-finalists who were recommended for interviews, school board members recalled this week.
“I would like to hear a presentation from these companies and let them tell us what they offer, and the board can tell them what we want,” school board member Wayne Beam responded.
Beam and several of his fellow school board members said this week that it’s imperative to maintain confidentiality for prospective candidates. “Many already have a job – it may be frowned upon [if word got out they were interviewing elsewhere],” Beam said.
School board members Ryan Bowden, Sandy Ellington-Graves, and Donna Westbrooks emphasized the need for the community to be involved in the search.
“Yes, it’s our job to hire the superintendent, but this is the community’s superintendent,” Bowden said.
“Everyone should have a say,” added Westbrooks.
“I think we all believe the community engagement piece is critical,” Gant said.
School board member Patsy Simpson agreed that that community involvement is important but also stressed the need for the school board to retain control over “one of the primary duties of the board,” which is hiring the superintendent, as stipulated by North Carolina’s elementary and secondary education law.
“I think it’s crucial we begin as soon as possible,” Simpson pointed out Monday night.
The community, Simpson said, has always expressed a desire to hire a superintendent “who has knowledge of and is invested in this community.” But regardless of which firm is hired to conduct the search, Simpson said she wants to solicit applications from people who’ve been in Alamance County and stayed here for a while.
“I would not say that’s different from anything we did before,” said school board vice chairman Tony Rose. He also pointed out that, when BWP & Associates conducted the last search, the firm held multiple community forums to gather feedback from the public. “My vote would be – as Wayne suggested – to bring BWP in, maybe the school boards association, another firm to present something,” Rose said.
The North Carolina School Boards Association has previously conducted two searches for ABSS, which led to hiring Lillie Cox as superintendent in 2011 and Randy Bridges in 2006.
Simpson doubted this week whether a Request for Proposals could be issued in time for the next meeting in two weeks. Nonetheless, the school board has tentatively agreed to hear presentations by recruiting firms and discuss the superintendent search on November 9.
OTHER CURRENT ABSS COVERAGE:
Board votes for $3,000 bonuses for all full-time and part-time employees, at cost of $10.5 million (to be paid from Covid-related funds from federal government): https://alamancenews.com/breaking-monday-night-abss-employees-will-get-3000-december-bonuses/
Some special raises have already been given to some groups: https://alamancenews.com/background-on-newest-raises-thousands-in-bonuses-and-raises-already-approved-for-abss-employees/
Other school systems are starting to give employees bonuses, as well: https://alamancenews.com/other-nearby-school-systems-also-giving-employees-bonuses/
Board divided on whether to shorten 14-day quarantine period for students: https://alamancenews.com/school-board-divided-over-when-whether-to-shorten-quarantine-periods-for-covid-19/