HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - The Huntsville Chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference urged Huntsville City Schools to start over on the search for a new superintendent Friday, saying students "deserve better."
UPDATE: The school board has fired back, saying the process wasn't flawed, but "transparent and inclusive." The board president's comments are at the bottom of this article.
Rev. Gregory J. Bentley held a news conference Friday morning. He is Pastor of Fellowship Presbyterian Church and President of the Huntsville Chapter of the SCLC. Bentley said the recent process to hire a new superintendent was "flawed and corrupted by an anonymous and erroneous charge against the candidate who was the most qualified."
Here is his full statement:
"It is with deep disappointment that Huntsville City School students and parents had to witness a flawed, compromised and corrupt process by which the superintendent was selected. The process was corrupted by an anonymous and erroneous charge of plagiarism against the applicant who happened to be the most qualified.
Under these circumstances, it is the duty and responsibility of concerned citizens to rise up in protest of the results. As President of the Huntsville Chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, we want to be the first to speak out against the process that yielded a result that is not in the best interest of our students.
The fact that neither metrics, a rubric, nor objective standards were implemented to rigorously evaluate and select the successful candidate, based on strong criteria and sound reasoning is deeply troubling. This is along with the unfair and unsubstantiated charge of plagiarism against the most qualified candidate.
Our students deserve a better process to select a superintendent. We urge the board to start over and do a proper search for the next supt of Huntsville City Schools."
The Huntsville Board of Education selected Dr. Matthew Akin of Piedmont as superintendent on January 30. The day of the vote, anonymous information surfaced, accusing finalist Katrise Perera of plagiarism.
The board voted 3-2 for Akin. Last night, the board voted on his contract.
Bentley said no matter -- the board should start from square one.
"We urge the board to start over and do a proper search for the next supt of Huntsville City Schools," Bentley said.
Bentley stressed this is not about Dr. Akin getting the job.
"Dr. Akin might turn out to be a fabulous superintendent. This is not about Dr. Akin. This is not about the individual. It's about the process," Bentley said.
Rev. Bentley did not rule out legal action.
"We're looking at all options to bring about the best result for our students," Bentley said.
Why not speak up sooner?
The school board selected Dr. Akin on January 30. He has already resigned from his job as superintendent in Piedmont, Alabama and is preparing to move to Huntsville. Rev. Bentley was asked why his group didn't speak up sooner.
"We don't like to just react, we like to respond. We wanted to take the time to think through what we wanted to say."
He also said the Huntsville SCLC plans to reach out to Dr. Akin.
"This is not anti-Akin. He is a fine man. This is not about him. It's about the process," Bentley said.
School board's response
Friday afternoon, the Huntsville Board of Education fired back at the group's accusations about the superintendent selection process. Board President Elisa Ferrell issued this statement, emphasizing how the search and interview process unfolded:
"On January 5, 2017, the superintendent search agency, AASB (Alabama Association of School Boards), gave the Huntsville City Board of Education the names of the five finalists for the superintendent position. After receiving those names, the Board encouraged parents, teachers, administrators, staff, and community stakeholders to provide feedback on the candidates.
The Board held public interviews that were broadcast, live streamed, and, later, saved on the Board's website. The Board provided stakeholders the opportunity to meet each candidate following each interview. The Board selected Dr. Akin and worked out the details of a contract proposal in public meetings.
In my opinion, far from being flawed, compromised and corrupt, the Board's process was deliberate, transparent and inclusive. Allegations and rumors played no role in the Board's decision."