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School superintendent candidate Walter Milton Jr. withdraws

The superintendent of the Springfield, Ill., school district has withdrawn from the search for the same job in Madison.

Walter Milton Jr. pulled his name from consideration for the Madison School District's superintendent job Tuesday evening, according to a statement the Madison School Board provided to the State Journal.

The decision comes amid questions about parts of Milton's background and how much the board knew about them before naming him Sunday as one of two finalists for the job.

At previous jobs he hired without conducting a background check a former business partner who had been convicted of child molestation, according to news reports. Milton also faced questions about submitting inaccurate resumes when applying for jobs.

Also, a 2007 New York state comptroller's audit found Milton had been overpaid while superintendent at a school district there from 2003 to 2005 and used a district credit card for personal expenses that he had not paid back.

The statement issued by the board after a two-and-a-half-hour closed-door meeting said Milton informed board members that Madison was "not the right fit."

The board announced Sunday that Milton and Jennifer Cheatham, chief of instruction for the Chicago Public Schools, were the two finalists. They were scheduled to meet community leaders, visit schools and attend a public forum on Thursday.

Cheatham will still be in Madison on Thursday.

"We want now for the attention to be on Dr. Cheatham and her qualifications and what she can bring to our district," school board member Ed Hughes said after the meeting.

The board had agreed to pay Ray and Associates of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, $31,000 to conduct the search.

Because the board met in private to discuss the candidates and interview seven of them, it's unclear what kind of biographical and background materials Ray and Associates provided to school board members about the candidates, including Milton.

"A lot of this rests on Ray and Associates promising to vet somebody," board member Maya Cole said as she left the meeting Tuesday.

Earlier Tuesday, Hughes told the State Journal that during an interview last week in Madison Milton provided the board with written materials to explain the financial audit and the hiring of his former business partner. Hughes said the board didn't spend time "cross-examining" Milton about his explanation.

Board member Mary Burke said the documents were offered at the end of the interview, which focused on Milton's work in academic areas, before being collected by the hiring consultant.

Milton defended himself against criticism over the audit and the hiring and said he was not at fault, Burke said.

"I certainly took him at his word on that and didn't look that closely at the materials," Burke said Tuesday afternoon. "We realize that perhaps what we were given was not a full accounting."

Burke added she expected the board would have additional opportunities to question Milton before making a final hiring decision.

Milton has declined interview requests from the State Journal. Ray and Associates did not respond to a request for the materials, and a spokesman for Milton said he could not provide them on Milton's behalf.

Board members Beth Moss, Marj Passman and Arlene Silveira declined to comment after the meeting.

Board president James Howard told the State Journal earlier this week that he was aware of the audit and satisfied with Milton's explanation of the circumstances. But Howard also said he didn't know about the other issues. On Tuesday Howard declined comment.