LITTLE ROCK — Two f inalists for the Little Rock School District superintendent’s position withdrew Thursday from consideration for the job, leaving June Rimmer, a former chief academic officer in the Seattle public schools, as the sole candidate to be interviewed next week.
Hugh Hattabaugh, a former deputy superintendent in the Little Rock district and now chief operating officer in the 135,000-student Charlotte-Mecklenburg, N.C., school system, and Walter Milton Jr., superintendent of the 15,000-student Springfield, Ill., public schools, gave different reasons for canceling plans to meet with the Little Rock School Boardabout the job.
Hattabaugh cited a board split over his candidacy. Milton said he was happy with his job in Springfield.
Little Rock School Board President Melanie Fox issued a statement Thursday afternoon saying that the board will proceed with Rimmer’s visit and her Monday interview.
“The Board of Education wants to assure parents, faculty and the community that [it] will only hire a district leader who demonstrates all the qualifications previouslyidentified,” Fox said.
Rimmer, 61, is a program director with the San Francisco-based Stupski Foundation, which seeks to improve educational opportunities for poor students or students who are members of minority groups. She earns an annual salary of $180,000, she has said.
She previously worked for five years - 1999 to 2004 - as the chief academic officer in the 42,000-student Seattle school system and, before that, served for 29 years as an English teacher, a high school principal, and an assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction in her hometown of Indianapolis.
The Little Rock board is seeking a replacement for Superintendent Linda Watson, who left the district in January as the result of a separation agreement with the board that included a buyout of the last 51/2 months of her contract.
Watson had been interim superintendent and superintendent for 4 1/2 years in the 26,500-student district at a salary of $198,000 a year. Morris Holmes is now interim superintendent.
The McPherson & Jacobson executive recruitment firm, based in Omaha, Neb., is assisting the board in finding a superintendent. Seventeen people had applied for the Little Rock job by the April 12 deadline. Initially, three were selected for interviews, and that number was later expanded to four.
Milton and Hattabaugh announced decisions to withdraw from consideration one day after Irving Hamer Jr., a deputy superintendent in Memphis City Schools, informed Fox on Wednesday evening that he was not happy with the way his candidacy had been handled in the search and that he would not pursue the job.
Hamer had been dropped as a finalist at one point and then was reinstated when the board decided there had been some miscommunication about his interest in the job.
Tom Jacobson, owner of the search firm, said Thursday that candidates do withdraw and occasionally only one or even none are left in some searches. But he also said he was disappointed by the withdrawal of the candidates in the Little Rock search even though he believed their reasons for bowing out were valid.
“As we talked them through the process, we thought they were [committed] - at least through the interviews,” Jacobson said.
He also said his firm has been in touch with Rimmer, who is “excited” about the interview Monday.
“If board members decide Rimmer is the one that they want, then they should extend a contract to her,” he said. “If she is not, then we will reopen the search and do it again.
“We are with the district until they successfully hire a superintendent, and we guarantee that placement for one year,” he said. “If this doesn’t work out, if they decide Dr.Rimmer is not the person they want to hire, then there is no additional charge. We are with them until they successfully conclude this process.”
Opposition to Hattabaugh’s candidacy by some Little Rock School Board members prompted the former Little Rock district employee to pull out of consideration.
“Anybody going into Little Rock is going to need the total collective support of the board,” Hattabaugh said Thursday, “because there is going to be a lot of hard work to do, a lot of hard decisions. If you are going in knowing the board is split, it would be a very difficult scenario in which to move the district ahead.
“I hope they will find a candidate that they can all agree upon,” he added. “And that [consensus] will enable that individual to lead and put the processes in place that are needed to be put in place to enhance student achievement and close the gap.”
Hattabaugh took the Little Rock deputy superintendent job during the administration of Superintendent Roy Brooks, who was ousted by a 4-3 majority of the board in 2007.
Three of the four boardmembers who worked at that time to remove Brooks remain on the Little Rock School Board. Two of them - Katherine Mitchell and Dianne Curry - have voted in recent days against making Hattabaugh a contender for the top job.
A third board member, Michael Nellums, elected in 2010, also expressed reservations about Hattabaugh, saying he believed that any superintendent in Little Rock should have a doctorate and previous experience as a chief executive of a school system.
Hattabaugh has a master’s degree and educational credentials to be superintendent but not a doctorate. And while he has experience as a deputy superintendent, chief operating officer and an area superintendent overseeing about 21 Charlotte schools and 19,000 students, he has never been superintendent over an entire district.
Hattabaugh, 60, who earns an annual salary of $169,000 in Charlotte-Mecklenburg, said earlier in the week that he hoped the Little Rock School Board would consider his candidacy and leadership style apart from that of Brooks. He also said he was eager to carryout the Little Rock district’s Target 2015 strategic plan and its goals for raising student achievement.
“There are a lot of good folks there in Little Rock that I have the utmost respect for, but I just didn’t feel after some of the discussions that it was going to be the right timing right now,” he said Thursday.
Milton, who earns a base salary of $220,000 as the Springfield, Ill., superintendent, sent out an e-mail Thursday saying that after reflection and conversations with his wife, he realized that he would prefer to remain in the land of Lincoln.
“The more I reflected on my time as superintendent of Springfield Public Schools, the more I came to realize how privileged I am to serve a district with so many assets and with so much potential,” Milton, 45, wrote to news media and selected Springfield district officials. “My family and I have come to truly appreciate Springfield. At this point in our lives, I am not at all sure we could have it better anywhere else.” Information for this article was contributed by Evie Blad of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.