As harsh as it sounds, D. Ray Hill, the new superintendent of Anniston City Schools, wasn’t the Board of Education’s first choice. Board members wanted Matthew Alexander, approving him by a 4-1 vote. He wanted the job, so we thought. But then he declined to sign his contract.

Alexander decided last week to remain superintendent of Barbour County Schools. He even got a new contract there out of the deal. And that’s how Hill got the nod.

This, too, is harsh: this twist in the search for former Superintendent Darren Douthitt’s replacement is quintessential Anniston. Even when the much-maligned board recruits an impressive candidate to pilot its public schools, the deal falls apart. Negotiations go south in all lines of businesses, but this one particularly stings for a school system in desperate need for transformational leadership.

We sincerely hope Hill, who previously has served as superintendent of Macon County (Ga.) Schools, is up to the task. Anniston can’t afford another disappointment.

Left unexplained is why Alexander refused to sign his Anniston contract. Board President Robert Houston hasn’t told The Star why the deal fell through, but the Anniston schools community -- faculty, staff, parents and students -- deserve to know.

The answer apparently resides in the details of Alexander’s Barbour County contract, which included provisions for a unanimous board vote for termination and additional years added to its five-year length. Alexander said as much in an email sent to the Eufaula Tribune.

“The contract proposal and approval for five years, with one additional year for the next four years, including the requirement for a unanimous vote to terminate and a unanimous vote not to extend contract for one additional year for the next four years, was challenging for any school system to match, including Anniston City Schools,” Alexander wrote.

Houston also emailed the Eufaula newspaper, his response nearly a word-for-word copy of Alexander’s.

This inauspicious start to the next era of Anniston City Schools doesn’t encourage confidence. But we encourage all in Anniston to view D. Ray Hill not as a second choice but as what he is: the man responsible for piloting the city’s schools in a better direction. If he succeeds, Anniston succeeds.

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