The school board was scheduled to vote Feb. 12 to narrow the list of finalists for Columbus City Schools superintendent to three people -- but it announced who they are Feb. 7.

The finalists are:

* John Stanford, the district's interim superintendent who was deputy superintendent under Gene Harris and Dan Good.

* David James, superintendent of Akron Public Schools.

* Keith Bell, former superintendent of Euclid City Schools and former deputy superintendent of Columbus City Schools.

The new superintendent will come aboard as the district is facing more than 160 layoffs and $21 million in cuts for next school year.

"It's definitely a huge responsibility being a superintendent of any school district," Stanford told The Columbus Dispatch on Feb. 7. "Columbus as an urban district is not unique in that it has challenges that it faces every year.

"We have a very strong leadership team that is very experienced and very talented. They know our students, they know our community and they know our teams in the buildings that work with our students every day."

Stanford was working for the Ohio School Boards Association when he was hired to be the Columbus City Schools' lobbyist in 2002. He left the district in 2007 to work for Gov. Ted Strickland as an education adviser before returning to the district as chief operating officer in 2011.

He later became a deputy superintendent and was named interim superintendent with the retirement of Good at the end of December.

"I know Columbus has its issues," James told the Dispatch. "I've been keeping up with its revenue issues and budget cuts and facilities.

"Those are things that I'm familiar with because I've dealt with those things in Akron."

James worked in Columbus for an environmental contractor, managing such projects as asbestos removal, when he became executive director of business affairs for Akron schools in 2002. He was appointed superintendent in 2008.

"I knew I wanted to come back home," said Bell, who worked as a teacher, principal and administrator in several central Ohio school districts before becoming superintendent of Euclid City Schools in Cuyahoga County in 2012.

He retired from that post in 2016 and works at Ohio State University as a diversity and recruitment specialist for the graduate-school program.

"I understand that opportunities don't present themselves without challenges," Bell said about the proposed budget cuts. "What you want to do is impact the classroom as little as possible."

The board is expected to conduct a second round of formal interviews with each of the three semifinalists, followed by a series of public events to give the district's students and staff members an opportunity to meet them. The schedule has not been announced.

The announcement of the finalists Feb. 7 seems to violate the state's Open Meetings Act which prohibits bodies from making decisions in private meetings, such as the one the board held Feb. 6 to discuss the candidate search.

The board also has held a series of closed meetings to narrow its list of candidates and interview them -- including secret candidates who never officially applied.

"We haven't decided (who the finalists are) because we don't make decisions in executive session because that would violate (state) law," board President Gary Baker said Feb. 7.

Baker characterized the list of three as a "recommendation" that he was expected to make to his fellow board members this week.

"I do anticipate that my colleagues would be supportive," Baker said, noting that all seven members have taken part in the process.

All three finalists were listed among the 19 candidates the district said in December had applied for the superintendent's post.

The Dispatch reported in January the board secretly had added at least four other names to the list and even interviewed candidates who were never identified.

District emails revealed the board had been allowing a search consultant to keep documents to usurp Ohio public-records laws and the board had been making decisions about narrowing the field in potentially illegal private meetings.

Baker said the board did not violate the state's Sunshine Laws during the process.

bbush@dispatch.com

@ReporterBush