Answering the Call

Seattle's new superintendent was just down the hall.

THE UPSET WINNER in Tuesday's recall election is an immigrant with a distinct accent, a last-minute candidate who says inexperience counts, and who is acting in his current role. It's not Ahnold in Callyfonia, however. It's Raj in Seattle, elected as the city's new school superintendent.

After all four finalists for the job had recalled themselves, withdrawing their r鳵m鳠in the face of a contentious community reaction to each of them, the Seattle School Board ended its nationwide search Tuesday, Oct. 7, for the best possible leader by selecting an unannounced candidate down the hall. India-born Raj Manhas, 55, a banker who became the district's chief operations officer two years ago and rose to interim superintendent after the spring resignation of Joseph Olchefske, was given a one-year contract as the board decides what to do next.

Its half-year, $63,500 search produced divisive results and left no candidates standing. Despite what the board called thorough background checks on its finalists, several had inaccurately inflated their r鳵m鳬 and one was involved with a school district undergoing an FBI investigation for financial fraud. The board also wanted a new boss with an educational background but got one with a financial history, like Olchefske, whose lack of oversight left the district $35 million in the hole.

Board members nonetheless insisted they were pleased with the search. "Frankly," said board president Nancy Waldman, "it has worked the way I hoped it would." The selection process, she said, got people's attention.

But then, so does a traffic accident. And board member Mary Bass seemed to think it was a mishap of sorts. Hers was the lone vote to oppose hiring Manhas, asking he be retained on an interim basis and reconsidered for the permanent position following next month's election. With four seats on the ballot, the board's majority rides on the outcome.

Manhas said he was humbled by a job he couldn't have imagined landing when he arrived here 30 years ago as a foreign student, "not knowing a single soul in this city, and this community adopted me from that day." He graduated from the University of Washington, "and from that point on, to [now] be running the Seattle Public School system, I can say this community has given me so much that I cannot describe in any words. . . . "

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