Private money for Atlanta superintendent search rejected

Businesses won’t pay for Atlanta’s search for a new school leader, but private cash could still double the superintendent’s salary to $600,000.

The Atlanta Board of Education unanimously voted Monday to use taxpayer money for the $146,000 nationwide superintendent search while delaying a decision on Mayor Kasim Reed’s proposal to boost the superintendent’s salary through donors. Reed said he wanted to recruit a superintendent in the same way as the University of Georgia would look for a football coach.

After hearing concerns about outside influence, school board members said the system could afford the search without having to rely on unnamed business contributors, as had been discussed earlier.

“I have a great concern around transparency as it relates to the amount of money we’re spending on this search,” said board member Nancy Meister before the vote. “I hope going forward that this process can be a little bit more transparent so that we all on the board are a little more aware.”

Although the cost of the search has been resolved, the next superintendent’s pay is another matter.

School board Chairman Reuben McDaniel said the superintendent’s salary shouldn’t be discussed until later in the selection process.

The mayor said last week that he has raised additional money, above the position’s advertised salary range of $275,000 to $325,000, to attract a strong superintendent candidate to Atlanta.

A superintendent will likely be named early next year to replace Erroll Davis, who plans to retire. He took the job in July 2011 after an investigation into standardized test cheating, replacing Beverly Hall, who faces criminal allegations that she conspired to artificially inflate test scores.

Ramon Reeves, president of the Atlanta Association of Educators, told the school board during its public comment period Monday that charitable contributions would be better used in the classroom.

“We understand the rationale, but those funds should be used in areas more directly tied to students,” Reeves said. “We need to decrease the amount of politics in education …. so we can focus on who and what really matters.”

The superintendent search firms hired by Atlanta Public Schools, BoardWalk Consulting and Diversified Search, have made more than 300 “touches” with potential candidates, McDaniel said.

Between 12 and 15 candidates should be identified by Nov. 1, and then between three and five of them will be recommended by the school board’s Superintendent Search Committee, he said.

The school board will then conduct interviews and prepare a short list of one to five candidates for the newly elected board to choose from after taking office in January, he said.