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Making the best of an awful situation, the New London Board of Education took the right step Thursday in tabling any vote on approving a contract with the man it had expected to be its next superintendent, Terrence P. Carter.
This has all the appearances of being the end game. It is hard to imagine any scenario in which Mr. Carter emerges from the controversy that has swirled around him for the past week and still becomes superintendent.
What this is now about is the Board of Education using an investigation to build its case as to why it would be justified in not hiring Mr. Carter.
This is a sad chapter in what we trust will still be a story about a brighter future for city schools. Just a few weeks ago, July 2, the city welcomed Mr. Carter to New London with a reception at Ocean Beach Park. He appeared an exciting selection for superintendent. An education reformer with business experience, Mr. Carter most recently served as director and chief academic officer of the Academy for Urban School Leadership, a Chicago-based nonprofit organization with success in turning around poorly performing schools.
An added bonus was that Mr. Carter, 49, was a black man ready to lead a school district with a predominately minority enrollment.
But a week ago news reports emerged that raised serious questions about Mr. Carter's integrity. In his background were found frequent references over several years to his holding a Ph.D., even though he only recently completed his studies for his doctorate.
There were revelations about past financial problems leading to bankruptcy filings - twice - most recently in 2012. And news that he had not yet received one of the certifications included on his resume, a result of having failed to take steps to finalize the certification.
Public confidence in his ability to lead the school system to its goal of transitioning to an all-magnet-schools district quickly eroded.
Despite prodding from state education officials to withdraw, Mr. Carter persisted. With an attorney in tow, he met with board members in closed session Thursday. In exiting that session, he did himself no good by hurrying past reporters to his car.
Why not stand and answer the questions? The reason, we suspect, is that he does not have good answers.
In unanimously postponing a contract vote, the board opted to have its law firm, Shipman and Goodwin, lead an investigation into the concerns raised by recent news articles. A thorough review should verify the accuracy of the news coverage, and perhaps uncover more information, providing the board with the legal grounds it needs for not moving forward with a contract.
Adverse findings could also persuade Mr. Carter to move on voluntarily.
The board faces potential legal exposure because it had assured Mr. Carter he was its choice, assurances Mr. Carter relied on to make professional and personal decisions. He may well present the argument that, having examined his record and offered him the job, the school board cannot reverse that decision without some compensation for the financial losses he has or may experience.
But if it is able to demonstrate that Mr. Carter was less than truthful about his past dealings - information he did not reveal during his application and interview - it should have the legal protection it needs.
The Board of Education should also explore any legal redress it may have against McPherson & Jacobson, the consultant hired to assess and screen candidates. The agency did not look hard enough at Mr. Carter, that now appears evident.
If the school board can navigate through this difficult time, it can then turn its attention toward a renewed search, matching the skills of an experienced superintendent with the major challenges the school system faces. Next time, if the process is a good one, he or she will arrive with no surprises.