Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Royster tapped to succed Fisher in Greenville

The Greenville Board of Education voted last night to hire deputy superintendent Burke Royster to succeed retiring Superintendent Phinnize "Penny" Fisher as leader of South Carolina's largest school district.

In a split vote, Royster edged out Lynn Moody of Rock Hill and Eugene White of Indianapolis, Indiana.

The process to reach this decision was long and presumably intense, as the board met all day Saturday -- convening in the morning and adjourning at 11 p.m. without a decision -- and reconvened for three hours on Tuesday. Though the details of the board's executive sessions are formally confidential, word circulates that Royster benefited from an organized lobbying effort.

Several board members said after the vote that they had been pressured by numerous school district employees to hire Royster. They said they didn't believe that Royster was behind the effort.

Even so, the vote wasn't smooth or overwhelming.

After coming out of a closed session, the board voted 6-5 in favor of offering the job to Royster, with board Chairman Roger Meek abstaining. It takes seven votes to pass.

Trustee Leola Robinson-Simpson made a motion to continue the search. It failed on a 5-7 vote.

The board then voted again on Royster, and the motion passed 7-5.

Voting in favor of hiring Royster were Megan Hickerson, Lynda Leventis-Wells, Tommie Reece, Danna Rohleder, Chuck Saylors, Pat Sudduth and Meek. Voting no were Debi Bush, Glenda Morrison-Fair, Crystal Ball-O'Connor, Robinson-Simpson and Lisa Wells.

I'm surprised but pleased to learn that trustee Chuck Saylors advocated an open discussion on the finalists before voting -- surprised because personnel matters are always discussed in private, but pleased because it demonstrates Saylors's commitment to transparency. Lawmakers in Columbia could take a note from Saylors's effort.

Saylors made a motion before the closed session that the board conduct its deliberations in open session after failing to agree on which of three finalists to hire during a 14-hour meeting Saturday.

"I realize that a lot of the stuff we need to discuss is of a personnel nature," he said.

"But to be brutally honest with you, I think we have discussed some of this to death, and I think if we're going to have a conversation it needs to be in open session."

Robinson-Simpson, however, said it was necessary to hold the discussions in private "so we can maintain the integrity of all the fine candidates who were presented to us."

Saylors' motion failed 10-2, with Leventis-Wells siding with him.

Finalist White suffered from communication of mixed messages.

Earlier in the day, in Mobile, Ala., White, the finalist from Indianapolis, told a group of parents that he'd rather work in Mobile than Greenville. He is also a finalist there.

White told them that that he had told the Greenville school board that "once I got to Mobile, all bets were off. I wanted to come to Mobile anyway. Quite frankly, this is where I want to stay," The Mobile Press-Register reported.

White, a native of Phenix City, Ala., told a panel of parents that Mobile "would fit with some of the same values that I have. Coming back to Alabama to work is almost like going back to the future to me."

"It would be great to work my last eight to nine years in my home state. That's why I'm here," the newspaper reported.

In Greenville last week, White had told educators and parents that if Greenville offered him the job, he wouldn't be going to Mobile. Local media in Alabama linked to a videotape of his comments made by, which created a stir there, according to the Press-Register.

The school board in Mobile was interviewing three finalists Tuesday and today and is scheduled to make a decision Friday.

The third finalist, Rock Hill Superintendent Lynn Moody, praised the selection of Royster this morning.

“I am completely at peace with this decision,” Moody said early today. “I had very mixed feelings. It would have been a great opportunity but it would also be hard to leave.

“Everything that I have heard during or before this process about Burke Royster is that he’s an outstanding educator. I’m sure he will do an exemplary job. I look forward to working with him as a colleague. And will support him anyway that I can.

“I remember when the Rock Hill school board made that same decision for me.”

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