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District closes in on school leader

Board knows who it likes; now it's up to the finalists to respond

The Portland school board has decided on the people it wants to be finalists for the district superintendent's job.

The board now is waiting for those people to say they really want the job Ñ and to say they're willing to take part in public interviews in Portland during the next few weeks, according to Cynthia Guyer, director of the Portland Schools Foundation.

'There's a strong degree of consensus and support (among board members) for the top three or four' finalists, said Guyer, who has been among people periodically briefed on the superintendent search by school board Chairwoman Debbie Menashe.

'Now, the ball is in the court of these four individuals Ñ about whether they are willing to go publicly forward with the next and final stage of the process,' Guyer said.

The superintendent of the Hartford, Conn., school system announced his candidacy for the Portland job late last week when he told the Hartford Courant that he was considering superintendent jobs in Portland and in at least two California school districts. Anthony Amato did not say whether he was a finalist for the Portland job, however, and neither Guyer nor Menashe would name the Portland finalists.

Menashe would not acknowledge how many finalists there are, saying only that the board has agreed on a group of finalists it wants to bring in for public interviews with teachers, parents, community leaders and others.

'We have talked with individuals we're interested in bringing to the community, and we're in discussions with them about timing' of the interviews and other issues, Menashe said.

The board hopes to announce the finalists this week and arrange public interviews with them during the next few weeks, she said.

The developments come more than nine months after Menashe announced that former Superintendent Ben Canada had agreed to resign. Canada had increasingly been coming under fire from teachers, parents and other community leaders for his management of the district.

The district's former chief financial officer, Jim Scherzinger, has been interim superintendent since July. Scherzinger applied for the permanent superintendent job but withdrew his candidacy last week after talking with Menashe about the finalists.

School board members met in executive sessions for four consecutive weekends last month. On at least one of those weekends, finalists have been flown in to interview or re-interview for the job.

Late last year, school board leaders had hoped to have finalists named by late January, to begin contract negotiations with their final choice by late February and to have a contract signed by mid-March.

Some who have watched the search process speculated that the delay may be partially caused by finalists' reluctance to be publicly revealed as job candidates unless they think they have a good chance of winning the job.

A similar issue nagged the superintendent search that produced Canada four years ago; board members said they weren't prepared for the difficulty of keeping candidates' names confidential or for the reluctance of candidates to come to Portland for board interviews before they were named as finalists.

'It's fine to consider something quietly,' Guyer said. 'It's another matter for it to be known openly in your community and around the country that you're looking aggressively at another job.'

Richard Garrett, president of the Portland teachers' union, said the pace of the search will hurt the district because of decisions that need to be made during the next several weeks Ñ including the approval of next year's district budget Ñ before the board settles on its superintendent choice.

'Any kind of delay is bad news for the district,' he said.

But Guyer said it's more important that the top candidates for the job remain candidates and are willing to take part in the public interviews.

Whatever negotiations the board members 'are doing back and forth with each of these people is probably what they need to be doing,' she said.

Contact Todd Murphy at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .