The East Baton Rouge Parish School Board has been seeking public input as the board rewrites its six-year-old strategic plan. The assumption seems to be that residents will be more supportive of the school system if they are given a seat at the table as the board charts the system’s direction.

We hope board members keep this principle in mind as they seek a replacement for outgoing Superintendent John Dilworth, who plans to leave when his contract expires next June.

Baton Rouge Area Chamber President Adam Knapp has suggested that just one candidate’s name be made public, after which the board could accept or reject the choice. Knapp said promising candidates might not apply if they knew their names would be made public.

School Board Vice President Tarvald Smith said he favors a more open process in which interested candidates complete public applications that the board would review as they narrow the field of finalists. Some other board members have said they are still trying to decide how open the search process for the next superintendent should be.

There’s a sad precedent among Louisiana‘s public bodies for secretive practices in picking top administrators.

School boards often resort to these practices, as do the governing boards involved in higher education.

A search committee tapped by the Lafayette Parish School Board to find a new superintendent recently met without posting public notice of the gathering — a move that appeared to be a violation of the Louisiana Open Meetings Law.

The Lafayette Parish School Board, like the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board, is considering how transparent its search process for a new superintendent should be.

We have long heard the argument that good candidates will be discouraged from applying for top administrator posts in public education if their names are made public when they apply for such jobs. The assumption is that many of these administrators will be politically compromised with their current employers if the candidates are known to be seeking another job.

We’ve seen no data to support this assumption, only vague anecdotes. The fact that an administrator is being strongly considered for another job actually might help his standing with his current employer, affirming his talent and skill.

The public has more to lose when searches for public school superintendents are not transparent. If the public doesn’t know which candidates were considered, how can it be confident that the best person was picked for the job?

Can anyone say, based on performance results, that administrators picked through secretive searches are more talented and do a better job than administrators picked through open searches? We haven’t seen any hard data supporting the wisdom of secretive searches on this point, either.

Voters have every reason to be skeptical when the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board asks for public input on its strategic plan, yet considers secrecy in searching for the superintendent who will be responsible for executing the plan.

Voters in Lafayette Parish should be equally skeptical of an secrecy involving the Lafayette Parish School Board’s search for a new superintendent.

School boards can’t hope to engage the public as an active and equal partner in public education if they treat voters like children, keeping them in the dark when important decisions are being made.