Command decision

Whitson's exit may spur vital ruling on direction of school district

It spends over $300 million – more than twice the general fund of the consolidated city-county government. It transports, feeds, nurses, monitors, polices, disciplines and educates over 31,000 of our young. It spends more time with them than some parents do. It is, by far, the largest and most important local bureaucracy.

Yet, for over a year the Richmond County school district has been without a permanent, full-time superintendent. And now the interim superintendent, James Whitson, has announced his retirement.

Assuming the status quo, it’s possible the district could head into the coming school year, again, without a permanent full-time super.

The district has done the right and compassionate thing, of course – giving Superintendent Frank Roberson all the time he needs to recover from emergency brain surgery on Feb. 24, 2011. Nor has the Board of Education acted solely out of humanitarian aims; Dr. Roberson is a dynamic leader with a bright vision to match his glowing eyes. You couldn’t have been in his presence long without having his optimism and drive rub off on you.

But to this point, his recovery has only allowed him to toil a maximum of six hours a week. Long-term, this giant ship will need more captaining than that.

School board President Alex Howard says the district will know more in a week or so, after meeting with physicians in the case. But it’s clear a decision must be made shortly after that as to who will take the wheel going forward.

We fervently hope Dr. Roberson is able to step up and step back into the leadership role he’d been handed in only August 2010.

Regardless, this vessel is simply too large, expensive and essential to too many people’s futures that it cannot be allowed to founder.

Should the need arise for a new commander, the timing is both crucial and delicate. In fact, it soon will be too late to expect to be able to attract a worthy national candidate and get him or her wooed, signed and put in place by late summer. So it’s critical to get cracking on it shortly.

It’s regrettable interim Superintendent Whitson is leaving, but all agreed he’s done yeoman’s work in dual roles as interim and assistant. In addition, his retirement may be the catalyst for much-delayed decisions on the future direction of the district.

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