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Officials say Carter was poorly vetted for superintendent's job

By Colin A. Young

Publication: The Day

Published July 24. 2014 4:00AM
Search firm should have learned details of candidate's doctorate, bankruptcy filings, they say

New London — Members of the committee that was tasked with finding a new superintendent of schools said Wednesday they are not satisfied with the vetting of Terrence P. Carter, the man the Board of Education unanimously selected for the superintendent's job.

The Board of Education canceled its planned contract ratification vote Monday after revelations that Carter may have been misrepresenting himself as having a doctorate degree for more than five years and that he has filed for personal bankruptcy in two states in the last 15 years.

"I think that McPherson and Jacobson, the search firm that was hired, did a poor job in that they didn't find out this information," said Richard Baez, president of the New London Education Association and a search committee member. "They did a disservice to the search committee, to the Board of Education and to New London in that had they done their job properly, all of this would have been vetted out earlier and we wouldn't have been put in this position."

The Board of Education hired McPherson and Jacobson, a Nebraska-based consulting firm, for about $16,000 earlier this year to conduct a nationwide search for the city's next superintendent.

"We were told about (Carter's) financial issues," Baez said. "But I do not recall it being as extensive as what was reported in the paper."

The Day reported Tuesday that Carter has a history of defaulting on financial obligations and filed for personal bankruptcy in California in 1999 and again in Illinois in 2012, claiming more than $700,000 in liabilities.

Baez said he thinks the search process went well and that the search committee members worked well together to do their due diligence, considering that McPherson and Jacobson was hired to screen applicants and present the committee with the top candidates.

"We were under the impression that the search firm had met its obligations by giving us qualified candidates to review," he said. "The search firm and even the state did background checks on Terrence Carter and missed this information."

State Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor and his office did not participate in the candidate screening process, according to a state education department spokeswoman.

"The commissioner's only involvement occurred after the selection was made," Kelly Donnelly, the spokeswoman, said in a statement. "He was asked to meet with the search committee's final candidate to concur with their selection."

As a condition of the state's involvement in the city's school system, state-appointed Special Master Steven J. Adamowski and Pryor each interviewed Carter and gave their approvals before the board voted to appoint him to the position.

In the board's June 12 announcement that it unanimously chose Carter as the city's next superintendent, Adamowski said Carter "garnered the enthusiastic concurrence" of Pryor.

Pryor was not available to comment Tuesday or Wednesday and will not be available today, according to Donnelly. Adamowski did not return a call seeking comment Wednesday afternoon.

McPherson and Jacobson "probably could have done a little better," Board of Education President Margaret Mary Curtin said Wednesday.

"If the information was there, I would have expected it" to come out during the vetting process, she said.

Sharon Cox, the McPherson and Jacobson consultant who led the New London search, did not respond to inquiries from The Day on Wednesday.

The information that has surfaced in the last week "is ground that should have been covered during the vetting process," Donnelly said in a statement. "It will be important for the board to consider these questions before they make their final decision."

Matthew Greene, a probate court judge who was a member of the search committee, said he believes that the revelations about Carter's background are significant but that he is keeping an open mind until he hears Carter's side of the story.

"Obviously there is some new information that has come out that we need some answers to," Greene said. "I'm waiting to hear the answers, hopefully they're sufficient answers, and we will go from there."

By email Wednesday, Carter referred all questions to Curtin and said, "I have been fully vetted by the board and the CT State Department of Education."

Greene said that Carter was perfectly clear with the search committee that he had not yet received his doctorate and even corrected committee members if they referred to him as "Dr. Carter."

Board of Education and search committee members are expected to meet in executive session at 5 p.m. today to hear Carter's side of the story. It was unclear Wednesday whether Carter will attend the meeting in person or via conference call, according to district Communications Manager Julianne Hanckel.

Following the closed-door session, the board is expected to conduct a special meeting to vote on whether it will sign a contract with Carter.

"My opinion is that he really needs to begin his time in New London with no questions," said search committee member Adam Sprecace, a former city councilor and parent of New London Public Schools students. "The best way to do that is to answer these questions in a public setting and explain to those who are expected to hire him, and also to the New London community in general, that there is a logical explanation."

Another member of the search committee also called for all the questions raised over the past week to be thoroughly answered before a contract is signed.

"I am troubled by the reports in the Courant and in The Day and by the fact that the search firm that was entrusted and paid to assist the board to vet the candidates did not do a sufficient job," said Laura Burfoot, who represented the New London Parent Advocates on the search committee. "The board should not sign a contract with Mr. Carter until these questions are answered and the community's confidence in his qualifications and integrity is restored."

c.young@theday.com

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