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As it seeks a new superintendent, DPS faces a ticking clock

As the Durham school board launches its search for a new permanent superintendent, a consultant advising the search urged the board to move swiftly and make a final pick by this summer.

Time for finding their dream superintendent is ticking for the school board, the consultant suggested, as other search processes are already underway. 

“The further you get into July, your best candidates are making commitments to their places of employment for the next school year,” Monica Santana Rosen, CEO of the consulting firm Alma Advisory Group said in a meeting on Wednesday. “You’re also going to be competing with other search processes that may be further along than you are.” 

The new superintendent succeeds Pascal Mubenga, who resigned in February. Mubenga came under fire following a pay dispute that left over 1,000 classified staff confused and worried about their pay. Catty Moore was announced as the interim superintendent soon after. She plans to depart before the start of the new school year.

Mubenga’s successor will need to navigate the aftermath of the school system’s recent pay debacle. Superintendent Mubenga became aware in November that the district had promised raises to workers that were beyond the district’s budget. He disclosed the shortfall to the full board two months later, in January, and resigned shortly thereafter. 

The pay dispute led to months of chaos. School was canceled several times as workers called in sick in protest. In late February, the school board approved an 11% raise for classified staff over their 2022-2023 pay rates. Many workers remain dissatisfied, though, as this still falls below what many were making in 2023 after their October pay raises. 

In the wake of the pay debacle, close attention to finances will be a critical part of the new superintendent’s role, the consultant said. “This is a job you got to be looking at every single day.” 

In the meeting, school board members outlined their vision for the next superintendent. Several board members shared their desires for a new leader with a strong racial-equity lens who is knowledgeable about student mental health and has a track record of improving student outcomes.

The board hopes the new superintendent will have strong administration and communication skills to expand staff retention, fill vacancies, strengthen school finances and rebuild community trust. 

The new superintendent also will have to oversee the Growing Together redistricting plan. 

Rosen provided a proposed timeline for the superintendent search, suggesting that the board should post a job profile by April 19 and hold public forums and community surveys in April and May. The hope is that by the end of May, the board will begin meeting candidates, with an eye to making a hiring decision in late June or early July. 

The board plans to begin meeting bi-weekly to discuss the status of the superintendent search. 

Interim Superintendent Moore, a retired Wake County Schools superintendent, has borne the burden of having to navigate pay changes and worker discontent in the wake of the pay dispute. 

The new superintendent will take over Moore’s efforts and will have to continue to repair and address the flawed pay scale. 

“Any leader will need to be able to navigate that challenge, at the district level and then the school level,” said board member Jessica Carda-Auten. 

The vote on the new superintendent will likely come in July, when the board composition will have changed. Two current board members, Jovonia Lewis and Alexandra Valladares, will depart the board in late June. Two newly elected board members, Wendell Tabb and Joy Harrell, will be sworn in on July 1.

Several board members voiced their hope for the process to move more quickly so that current members could vote on the matter. 

“I wanna get ahead of those other offers that are coming out there,” said Lewis. 

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Above: Former DPS Superintendent Pascal Mubenga listens during a school board meeting. Photo by Kulsoom Rizavi — The 9th Street Journal 

Audrey Patterson