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Public and NL board deserve answers

Published July 24. 2014 4:00AM

As it prepares for a scheduled conference call with the man it planned to name as its next superintendent, Terrence P. Carter, the New London Board of Education must not only demand clear answers to some difficult questions, but assess whether Mr. Carter can still effectively lead given all the controversy surrounding his selection.

On Monday, the school board postponed its plan to vote on approving a contract with Mr. Carter. That decision, which this newspaper had strongly urged, followed published reports showing the would-be superintendent had used, or allowed the use of, the titles Dr. and Ph.D. when he had earned no such distinction from an accredited institution.

Reportedly, Mr. Carter has since completed his doctoral studies and will be awarded a Ph.D. in education from Lesley University in Cambridge, Mass., Aug. 25.

At 5 this evening, the Board of Education will meet to speak with Mr. Carter by phone. A possible vote on his contract could follow.

None of the news in intervening days has reassured New London citizens that Mr. Carter is a sound choice. Instead, more troubling revelations and questions emerged.

Mr. Carter has faced some serious financial problems, filing for bankruptcy in Illinois as recently as 2012. School board President Margaret Mary Curtin told The Day that the board could not use that as a reason to reject Mr. Carter. Well, it can certainly factor the information into its decision.

There are few fiscal documents more complicated than a public school budget. As New London moves toward an all-magnet-schools district, with more students enrolling in the district from neighboring communities, along with increased state aid tied to those students, expect the complexity to increase.

Whomever the board hires as superintendent must be fiscally sharp.

The resume Mr. Carter submitted to New London lists a "Certificate of Advance Graduate Studies" from National Louis University in Chicago, but the school never issued the certificate. It appears Mr. Carter put in the classroom hours but failed to provide a finalization form to make it all official. This raises both an ethical issue and appears part of a pattern that brings into question Mr. Carter's ability to follow through on matters.

There are also questions about whether Mr. Carter meets the minimum standards to serve as a superintendent under state law and New London Board of Education policy.

Weighed against these concerns is the reason Mr. Carter was the board's unanimous choice; his work as director and chief academic officer of the Academy for Urban School Leadership, a Chicago-based nonprofit that works as a division of the Chicago school system to turn around poorly performing schools.

Under state Freedom of Information laws, the board can legitimately take tonight's discussion behind closed doors, but that law also gives Mr. Carter the option to keep the conversation public. He should exercise that option.

If Mr. Carter is confident he can address the various concerns that have been raised, it is in his interest for the public to hear his explanations directly, not filtered through the assessments that may leak from the board later. Recent news reports have shaken public confidence in his selection. Answering all the questions forthrightly and publicly could begin to rebuild that confidence. It would also provide the opportunity for the public to learn whether the board is asking the tough questions.

The board should not feel compelled to take a vote tonight. It may well need time to assess and probe the explanations it receives. The board must be open to renewing the superintendent search if it judges that action to be in the best interest of the city and its students.

State officials, who initially backed the Carter selection, have since signaled the New London board has room to change its mind.

"The subject matter has been raised at this point and we are confident that the board will consider all factors when making their further decisions," said Steven J. Adamowski, the special master appointed to work with the New London board.

Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor said he expects board members to consider "all information regarding their final candidate for superintendent."

In other words, the state officials have washed their hands. It's up to the New London board. It is a critical choice they cannot afford to get wrong.

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