I didn't catch the live version of last night's Dallas ISD board powwow to winnow its list of superintendent candidates, figuring it would go immediately into closed session and that if I wanted grainy, depressing footage, I'd be better off popping in Inside Job, which I'd somehow missed upon its release. Turns out I was in for a night of obstruction and bumbling either way.
Eighty-nine people applied for the district's top job, Board President Lew Blackburn announced after the meeting. The district's search firm narrowed that list to 11, and Tuesday night was designed to narrow it down to something closer to five. Those finalists will be interviewed on Saturday and then pared down further, until the board announces and votes on a lone finalist in April.
There's high hope that the district's profile -- big, urban, messy -- will prove an attractive project to some rising star in education, most likely a reformer open to partnering with charter schools, challenging the teachers union and otherwise upending the status quo in the name of achievement, to the delight of many and the frustration of many others. There's also fear in the board room that the best candidate might be scared off by dysfunction and in-fighting on the board.
If the prospective supes were watching last night, they certainly got some of the latter. You'll never guess who it starred.
One of the Morning News' education reporters, Matthew Haag, covered it as it happened and followed up in this morning's paper. I've heard basically the same version. Basically, Blackburn asked the board to sign a sort of non-disclosure agreement, prohibiting board members from yapping about the process. There's a lot of fear, probably justifiably so, that names will leak and good candidates will pull themselves from the running, afraid of losing their current jobs.
The form was a bit of a formality; personnel matters are confidential, and trustees can't talk much about them anyway. (Although they probably could talk in generalities about the process, and this seems to limit that speech.) Regardless, Blackburn wanted it, and everyone signed it -- except Trustee Carla Ranger, self-appointed Champion of the People.
Ranger, you'll recall, walked out on the January board meeting in which the trustees voted to close 11 schools -- a tough decision largely forced on them by shifting demographics, the state's refusal to fund education and, yes, a history of ineptitude. Ranger was ashamed of the process, she said, so she removed herself from it. When the trustees had attach their names to one side of the issue -- and risk losing support from parents and the powerful teachers union, as Trustee Bernadette Nuttall recently did -- Ranger wasn't even in the room.
She wasn't in the room last night, either.
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First Ranger refused to sign the paper without closer examination. An understandable position, really. Never sign something you haven't read. I'm down with this. I've seen Inside Job.
After a break to let Ranger read it, she refused to sign it altogether. OK, fine. You don't like to be needlessly muzzled. You have a blog to keep up, and all these basketball recaps are getting a little boring. We get it.
The board had no choice but to unsheathe its pruning shears, gather the 11 names and head into closed session. And then, an hour into the meeting -- the first meeting to decide the future of leadership in the district Ranger wants us to believe she cares so deeply about -- she walked out again, vaguely citing open meetings laws, according to the News' account.
Ranger and I have been playing phone tag for a while. I called her house earlier this week and again this morning, and the voicemail isn't accepting messages. Maybe she has some totally logical reason for disappearing; if she does, we'll let you know. More likely, all she has is a growing track record of obstinance disguised as righteousness -- a track record that, with any luck, prospective superintendents, and one day maybe voters, can see for what it really is.