Apparently a lot of folks are mystified by the process the state board followed in the selection of the new commish.
First, on April 7, Mark Hebert reported the state board met in executive session, narrowing its commissioner search down to three individuals but refused to release the names. Hebert was told the board only planned to release the name of one finalist, the person the school board planned to hire. He was later told the board might release the names of the three finalists AFTER the board interviews them in a few weeks.
State board chairman Keith Travis told the Herald-Leader "When we started the search process the entire board agreed on an entire process to go through” because they wanted to get a large number of qualified applicants while ensuring their confidentiality. In the past, three finalists had always been announced to allow a period of time for public input BEFORE finalizing the selection, but that is not required by state law.
Much to his credit, Governor Fletcher urged the board to name their 3 finalists publicly so that state lawmakers could offer their opinions on replacing former Commissioner Gene Wilhoit, who resigned in November. "Public awareness of this important selection promotes dialogue and disclosure that otherwise would be lost, two critical components in assuring the selection of the best candidate," the governor said.
The next day the board did announce their 3 finalists - claiming, unconvincingly, that they planned to do so all along.
I posted numerous news clippings about Barbara Erwin from Scottsdale and St. Charles (and material on the other two finalists) the next day. (Search this blog for "Barbara Erwin", or to see all postings on the subject search "Kentucky Education Commissioner.")
But I also shared that information with the state board, before they met!
So when state board chairman Keith Travis indicated he was unaware of a possible down-side to Erwin's selection, I got suspicious.
To make sure the information was received, I wrote to Lisa Gross, who is in charge of communications for KDE.
I asked, "Did your office assure that all comments received from the public, before the state board met to select the new commissioner, actually made it into the hands of the members?"
Lisa assured me that she, personally, opened every message, "copied the content and pasted it verbatim" into a document. She then "summarized the comments by breaking them out into themes...which they all read and discussed."
The sum of all information shows cause for concern in areas related to openness with the press and an overall tendency toward disharmony and combativeness.
Let's give her the benefit of the doubt. Maybe she was on the "right side" of every issue. But how can we tell if she won't talk about it?
So what does it mean now that the state board of education met again, selected their one finalist, and chose to defer final action until May 9th or 10th?
Is this a period of public discussion - so that the board may confirm, or change its mind - depending on the public input or new information brought to light?
Or is the decision made - and the state just needs a couple of weeks to work out the details - in which case, we can all just stay quiet, because it's a done deal?
And, did Governor Fletcher just get publicly disrespected by the state board - after agreeing to more openness, they clearly circumvented the governor's intent by quickly returning to their original plan to name one finalist? (Late yesterday, I wrote and asked that question of the governor's press secretary, but haven't heard back yet.)
Evidence suggests that Fletcher did convince the state board to release the names of three finalists - then as quickly as possible, the state board apparently returned to its original plan, and named one finalist.
On the other hand, if the chairman Travis is to be taken at his word, then we must conclude the possibility that the committee may have "outsourced" their responsibilities.
See also today's Courier-Journal.
"All those who thought the process for choosing our new Jefferson County school superintendent was flawed should take a look at what happened in the selection of a new Kentucky education commissioner.
The Kentucky Board of Education conducted its search the supposed right way: picking three finalists whose names were made public so that their careers could be open to public scrutiny. But when Barbara Erwin, who was about to retire early as the superintendent of a 15,000-student school district in suburban Chicago, emerged as the apparent choice, only then did it surface that she had left behind a poisonous residue in an earlier tenure as superintendent in Scottsdale, Ariz.
Despite the perfect process, state board chairman Keith Travis said he didn't know anything about that history."