DeKalb’s school board could see fallout from superintendent vote

The DeKalb County Board of Education’s decision to renege on its own recommendation for superintendent may have lasting impacts as the district seeks new leadership.

Education experts say it could help homegrown candidates, likely to take center stage as external candidates lose interest.

“The pool of external candidates will be smaller,” said Joshua Starr, chief executive officer at PDK International, a nonprofit member-based group that provides resources for educators.

DeKalb’s school board announced that Rudy Crew, president of New York’s Medgar Evers College, was its choice to become the district’s next superintendent during an April 23 video conference meeting. He was among 68 people who applied to replace Steve Green, who left DeKalb Schools in November after just over four years. During the live announcement, five board members spoke glowingly of Crew’s resume and what he could bring to the district.

Board member Stan Jester expressed concerns with Crew during the announcement, saying he worried about past allegations Crew bullied subordinates, spent taxpayer dollars on personal trips and furniture and obstructed a sexual assault investigation. Board member Michael Erwin said nothing during the meeting.

The board — in a stunning twist — voted 4-3 during its monthly meeting on Monday not to offer Crew a contract, after several weeks of emails and parent protests saying Crew’s past concerned them.

Starr said Crew’s past likely didn’t play into the board’s decision.

“There’s nothing that (the board) wouldn’t have known,” he said. “I’m sure the search firm did its due diligence. Everybody who knows Rudy knows who he is and knows the kind of leadership he brings. You know what you’re getting yourself into. He’s a great educator. He’s a brilliant leader, but he comes with baggage.”

Nationally, superintendent candidates have withdrawn their names after being named a finalist for the job. One Texas superintendent finalist never made it to the board vote after being charged with crimes while leading the district as its interim leader. Even the DeKalb County School District has seen a search upended before, with its leading candidate dropping out of contention in 2011 after details of her negotiations became public.

Dan Domenech, executive director of the American Association of School Administrators, said the fallout could affect Crew as he shifts focus back to his current job.

“A lot of times when someone is offered a job and doesn’t get it, the board (at the current job) feels jilted,” Domenech said. “It could impact your reputation.”

Domenech has been there. In 1995, he was superintendent at a school district on Long Island when the New York City Board of Education unanimously voted to approve him as superintendent there on a Friday that September. The next day, under pressure from then-Mayor Rudy Guiliani, the board voted 4-3 against him.

Who got the job instead? Rudy Crew, then a rising star among superintendents who had been leading the district in Tacoma, Wash.

“Within a matter of hours, I called my board president and told him I was leaving and within 24 hours I called and said can I have my job back?” Domenech recalled with a chuckle. “That’s not always the case. For Rudy, this may not work out. It might affect the position he is in.”

Crew did not respond to requests for comment for this story, but spoke exclusively with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution following his selection. Then, he foreshadowed how he might handle a situation such as this:

“I’m not a person who looks into the rear-view mirror too much.”

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