Experts: DeKalb school board vote against its leader pick rare, if ever

A screenshot of the DeKalb County Board of Education during its meeting on April 23, 2020.
A screenshot of the DeKalb County Board of Education during its meeting on April 23, 2020.

Did the DeKalb County Board of Education make history by voting not to hire its sole finalist for superintendent on Monday?

A handful of education experts could not point to another instance where a board voted down its own recommendation. The school board announced Rudy Crew a its finalist on April 23 to much praise, then reneged on him in a stunning twist some 18 days later.

Several superintendent candidates across the country have withdrawn their names after being named a finalist for the job, including in DeKalb County after the leading candidate withdrew herself from contention after negotiations became public. At least one finalist never made it to the board vote after being charged with crimes while leading the district as its interim leader.

"That's highly unusual to say the least," Dan Domenech, executive director of the American Association of School Administrators, said about the board's about-face, noting he could not recall a similar instance. "To be a fly on the wall of the (private) board meeting... ."

DeKalb's school board appeared to largely approve of Crew to become the next superintendent during the April 23 announcement, held via live video conference meeting. Five board members spoke glowingly of his 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 fallout from the vote could impact Crew’s future with Medgar Evers College, his current employer, as well as who the district finally gets as its next leader.

"This is why superintendent searches need to be completely confidential until the board votes," said Joshua Starr, chief executive officer for PDK International, a nonprofit member-based group that provides resources for educators. "You lose some credibility if the people in your community know you're looking. It compromises your leadership."

Starr said oftentimes things come up in the selection process that may preclude a board from selecting a finalist for a fill-time job. He did not know, though, whether that was the case with Crew.

“Rudy’s gonna be Rudy,” he said. “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. I’m sure the search firm did its due diligence.

“There’s nothing that (the board) wouldn’t have known.”

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