MMSD board to focus on remaining superintendent candidate - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

MMSD board to focus on remaining superintendent candidate

MADISON (WKOW) -- We're hearing from the Madison Metropolitan School District Board after one of their candidates for superintendent took himself out of contention for the job. Some questioned why he was a finalist in the first place.

Ever since the names were announced, questions have come up about the candidates' qualifications and backgrounds. Tuesday night, Walter Milton, Jr., superintendent of Springfield Public Schools, withdrew his name citing personal reasons. That came after news broke about his past experience in other districts, including an audit showing he mishandled money and hired a sex offender in past jobs.

School board members say the remaining candidate-- chief of instruction at Chicago Public Schools Jennifer Cheatham-- is still in the running.

The public has questioned whether the board is jumping to a decision by continuing on with the process with just one candidate, and raised questions as to whether the Iowa-based search firm, which the district paid $31,000 to find the most qualified candidates, really did its job.

Several calls to Ray and Associates about their role in the search were not immediately returned.

Board member Arlene Silveira tells 27 News that the firm provided references and background checks on candidates and did a lot of work for the district. She says Milton came to his interview with his own documentation, which appeared to clear himself of any wrongdoing in those incidents. Silveira would not elaborate on details of that documentation, saying it was brought forward in a closed door meeting with the board.

When asked whether the board would wait on a decision until after spring elections, when at least two new board members would take their seats, Silveira said that could be too late.

"Jennifer Cheatham is a very viable candidate and so we really want to bring her in and see if she will be the match for us," says Silveira. "By waiting we would probably lose that opportunity."

Board members believe Cheatham's experience in Chicago would be a good fit in Madison where the district faces similar achievement gap issues. On Cheatham's resume, she says she's made a difference in Chicago, by working to die teacher evaluations to test scores and giving low-performing schools a boost. Cheatham also fought for a longer school day, which brought accusations of union busting from parents and teachers in Chicago.

Madison Teachers, Inc. (MTI) President John Matthews declined to discuss Cheatham's candidacy for superintendent on Tuesday, saying it's too soon and it's a sensitive issue.

Cheatham will still be in Madison on Thursday, meeting for a final interview with the board and a public forum at 5:45 p.m. at Monona Terrace. Silveira says the board hopes the community will come out and ask tough questions. They'll meet after the forum to determine whether to go forward and offer Cheatham the job. If all goes well, they could offer her the job by the weekend.

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