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Madison School Board Begins Process to Find New Board Member, Superintendent

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The Madison Metropolitan School District Board of Education is in full search mode to fill a seat on the board that was made vacant by the abrupt resignation of longstanding school board member Mary Burke. The board also has begun the process of searching for a permanent MMSD superintendent to replace Jennifer Cheatham, who also announced her resignation this Spring. 

During a special meeting of the board on Monday night at the Doyle Administration Building, it became clear that the process in which Board President Gloria Reyes would like to see Burke’s vacant seat is going to be an expedited one. With Burke no longer attending meetings the board is left with only six members which would mean that any vote that they had which ended in a tie would be decided by a coin flip, a concept that does not appeal to anyone on the board. 

“I want to thank Mary Burke for her work, guidance and mentorship,” Board President Gloria Reyes said. “In my short time here it has been very helpful and she has committed herself to our students and community with so much dedication. It is a big loss.”

The process of replacing Burke itself is not without complication. The board has 60 days to appoint a successor but Reyes is hoping to complete the process this month in order to make sure that the community has a full board going forward as soon as possible. 

Several of the board members said on Monday night that multiple people have already expressed interest in being appointed to the School Board. The process the board plans on adopting is to have the field of candidates narrowed down to a top two or three that they would decide between via vote. The Board tentatively has plans to complete that process out in public during the July 22 meeting. 

However, the person that the board ends up appointing will only hold the position until April 2020 even though Burke’s term runs until 2021. 

According to MMSD policy, the person appointed holds the office until the next election, not the remainder of the term of the vacant seat. Whoever is appointed to the seat could run for election to complete Burke’s term at that time. This gives the public the chance to ensure that the school board is a fully elected entity. But because Mary Burke’s term itself runs until 2021, the person would then have to be elected yet again in April 2021 in order to begin a full term of their own. 

At the same time, the board is engaging in a process by which to replace departing Superintendent Jen Cheatham. 

Dr. Jane Belmore was selected to be interim Superintendent for the 2019-2020 school year on June 19. The board is planning on engaging a search firm or multiple firms in order to help them through the process of naming a successor. Reyes said it was important that a search firm understands the importance of community engagement in the process and understand the type of person the school Bboard is looking forward to working with. 

Diversity, racial equity and black excellence have been the company line words around the Board of Education and discussion on Monday seemed to indicate that those are concepts that will remain a focus of anyone who is going to succeed Cheatham. 

The board’s goal is to find approximately 25 candidates that get narrowed down to 10 or so before a more public process begins to whittle down the top three to five candidates. The process will include candidates being interviewed privately by the Board in addition to public discussion. 

The board has made Aug. 26 its goal for selecting a new school superintendent.