Lee School Board members not surprised by Moss's departure
Although Lee County Superintendent Jeff Moss didn't confirm until late Thursday evening that he plans to take the same position in Beaufort, S.C., the local school board members he works with said they generally were not surprised when they learned the news Friday morning.
“I was one of the people who spoke with the (South Carolina) interview team, and I think they were very, very pleased with all the other interviews they had throughout the day," Board of Education member Linda Smith said. "... I just had that inner feeling that he was going to get it, and that he is what they were looking for."
Moss was approved in a 9-2 vote as the new Superintendent of Beaufort County Schools on Thursday night, shortly after which he told The Herald he planned to take it. Moss later said the move was based entirely on positive factors in South Carolina — the attractiveness and size of the district, as well as the combined factors of a higher salary and the fact that as a 30-year North Carolina employee, he'll be able to start drawing retirement.
Moss has faced criticism for his and other administrators' salaries and new, sometimes costly technological programs, like providing laptops and Rosetta Stone language software to students. Moss also came under criticism in October of last year following a political forum, where he allegedly cursed during a heated exchange with a group of conservative attendees. Although some of the exchange was said to be captured on video, Moss said at a speech shortly after that "at no time did I use profanity on that tape."
However, Moss said there was nothing about the local atmosphere that drove him away.
"I think Lee County's a great place," he said Friday.
School Board Chairman Lynn Smith said Moss will have to terminate his existing contract before he can sign on with his new, prospective employers, and Moss said Friday that while the decision is ultimately up to the lawyers negotiating his new contract, he hopes to remain in Lee County until the end of June as long as the school board is OK with that arrangement. Smith said that decision could come as soon as the next meeting, set for 6 p.m. March 12 in the board's chambers at Lee County High School.
To fill the position, Lynn Smith said, the school board will have to vote on one of three options: the board can appoint a current Lee County Schools employee, open the position up to applications from Lee County Schools employees only or launch a national search.
"Obviously we'd like somebody as quick as possible," he said. "But I'd say if we have somebody in six months, we'd be lucky, if we launch a search."
At this point, the board members who did voice a preference said they would like a national search. Lynn Smith and Tamara Brogan said they'll wait to speak about their preference until Moss officially resigns and they have a chance to speak with fellow board members. Mark Akinosho said he hadn't given it much thought, but that if Moss did stay on until June, the board should have enough time for a thorough local or national search. Linda Smith and John Bonardi said they'd prefer a national search, and Cameron Sharpe and Wendy Carlyle couldn't be reached for comment.
"It's our job to select the person who's the best fit for Lee County," Bonardi said. "With all we've got going on, and where we want to go, I would certainly want to consider the widest group of applicants possible."
Any candidate must meet two legal requirements, Lynn Smith said: a superintendent's license and at least five years of experience in education. Other than that, Smith didn't get into specifics, but said he would like a superintendent with a strong resume, character and integrity who can carry on the success the district has had in graduation rates and test scores during Moss's tenure.
"This is a testament to what we've accomplished in Lee County in the last five years," Smith said about the news of Moss's departure for a district twice as large as Lee County, not to mention a salary in the range of $215,000 a year. "... That's why he is able to move forward, based on the record he's compiled here."