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Last updated on April 16, 2014 at 21:24 EDT

Choice of School Chief Belongs Only to Elected Officials ; A Diverse Search Panel Will Help, but Responsibility Rests With the School Committee.

August 28, 2008

By Anonymous

The Portland School Committee deserves credit for inclusiveness in its search for a new superintendent, but at the end of the process it is the committee that bears responsibility for the choice.

The committee this week released the names of 20 people who will participate directly in the search. The list includes people who work in the school system, parents and community leaders. It is a diverse group. If consensus can be reached among these people, it will say much about the qualifications of the person selected.

But in the end, it’s up to the School Committee to make this choice, and committee members should be careful not to shift that responsibility to the search panel. Committee members should meet with candidates, review their qualifications, consider what the search panel has to say and make their own choice – even if that choice differs from that of the search committee.

Only the committee members answer to voters. As elected officials, they represent the will of Portland citizens.

That doesn’t make getting input from concerned citizens a bad idea, but that input doesn’t do anything to lift the weight of this decision from the shoulders of elected officials.

There will no doubt be a long list of qualifications. High on that tally should be an ability to oversee and understand the system’s budget, which is where the previous superintendent got into trouble.

The city will also need someone with strong political skills. The next superintendent will have to lead the school system through some difficult decisions that will inevitably generate controversy and opposition. Managing in such an environment will be the next superintendent’s chief challenge.

Portland is a livable, vibrant city with good schools. There should be no shortage of qualified applicants, and it is up to the School Committee alone to choose among them.

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