A special meeting to hire a search firm for the next Kentucky Commissioner of Education was just announced – on short notice – in Kentucky Department of Education News Advisory No. 15-046. This really catches my attention. Are we going to rush a really critical decision?
First of all, some background: Kentucky’s history of hiring education commissioners isn’t exactly sterling. In 2007 the Kentucky Board of Education conducted a search largely in secret using a search firm that charitably didn’t do its job well. The state almost wound up with a very problematic choice. Kentucky narrowly dodged that bullet when the selection for commissioner found herself in legal trouble in her former position and resigned a few days before actually taking over the helm here.
Given this history, I was uneasy about this new News Advisory announcing a short-notice meeting of the Kentucky Board of Education – starting at an unusually early hour in – not Frankfort – but Louisville. This venue probably means the meeting won’t be webcast, a departure from current state board transparency.
Here is the proposed agenda for this important meeting:
I. Call to Order, 8 a.m. ET
II. Roll Call
III. Discussion of Characteristics for the Next Commissioner — Gene Wilhoit, Facilitator (8:05 – 10 a.m. ET; Open Session)
IV. Search Firm Interview Process (10 a.m. ET; Closed Session)
V. Deliberations on Search Firm Presentations (Closed Session)
VI. Consideration of a Motion to Select a Search Firm to Conduct the Commissioner of Education Search (Open Session)
VII. Lunch (12:00-12:30 p.m. EDT)
VIII. Conversation with Selected Vendor on Process/Timeline for Search (12:30 p.m. EDT; Open Session)
IX. Discussion with Search Firm on Potential Candidates for Commissioner (Closed Session)
Notice several parts of the meeting (Items IV, V and IX) will be conducted in closed session (i.e. secret). Secrecy was at the heart of many problems with the 2007 commissioner hiring mess. Shouldn’t the current board avoid it as much as possible? Because a contract with the search firm is involved, some parts of the May 7 meeting might need to be conducted in closed session, but let’s carefully consider this agenda.
The agenda indicates the board first intends to discuss what they want in the next commissioner under the facilitation of Gene Wilhoit. Wilhoit is a past commissioner here, but should he be the only voice except for the board during this critical deliberation?
Shouldn’t other key players, maybe the heads of some chambers of commerce, some representatives from higher education, some parents and even teachers also be heard? How about hearing from some superintendents, too? I’ll even allow that the teachers union has a dog in this fight but doesn’t seem to be invited, either.
Why does the board need “facilitation?” The Kentucky Board of Education normally conducts its business under its own chair’s leadership. I have no doubt that current Kentucky Board of Education chair Roger Marcum is more than capable of running this discussion.
Use of a facilitator can introduce enormous biases into the process.
I wonder, is “facilitating” of the functions of an official Kentucky state agency by a private citizen even allowed? Could Mr. Marcum inappropriately be passing his leadership responsibility and authority on to another, unappointed and unelected official with such a process?
To be very honest, I am wary of facilitated meetings. They often are used to push agendas rather than as a way to develop solid policy. Facilitators were used in the Common Core process, for example, and they proved highly problematic.
I have more questions about the commissioner search meeting. Click the “Read more” link to see them.