Richland 1 trustees voted Friday night to hire Craig Witherspoon as the district’s superintendent, even as controversy swirled about him and another of the three top finalists and some parents sought to delay the vote.
Witherspoon is a former Birmingham, Ala., schools chief who was a Richland 1 candidate in 2008.
In recent weeks, school board members have looked at 77 candidates, whose names were provided by a district-hired search firm and winnowed the list down to three.
The other finalists are John Covington, a former Kansas City and Michigan administrator, and Diana Greene, a Florida deputy superintendent.
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Once the finalists’ names were made public, though, some parents did Google searches and found blistering news accounts detailing the professional woes of Covington, whose district schools lost accreditation following his tenure, and Witherspoon, who survived two board attempts to fire him before resigning last year from Birmingham schools.
Last week, those three were brought in for a meet-and-greet last week that was not well publicized by the district and left some constituents trying unsuccessfully to contact their elected board members to voice objections.
With some 23,000 students and 2,057 teachers, Richland District 1 has 52 schools and reaches from the north Columbia area southeast into Lower Richland. The district’s racial makeup is 73 percent black, 19 percent white and 8 percent of other races or ethnicities.
More than 70 percent of students qualify for reduced or free lunches. This year’s budget is $276 million.
The new superintendent will succeed Percy Mack, who retired June 30 after six years in the top position.
Since he resigned last year, the interim superintendent has been Cynthia Cash-Greene.