Listen Live Graphics (Indy)

After two very public courtships with school districts in the Southeast, it appears the only place Eugene White is headed is back to work as superintendent at Indianapolis Public Schools.

And that, he said, is just fine.

“Recently, there were two job opportunities in the Southeast that I was invited to pursue and I expressed interest in,” White said in a statement issued Friday. “While I interviewed in both cities, I was not extended a job offer. And that’s fine. Despite continuing to receive offers to interview from across the country, I am not looking for another position.”

White was a finalist for the superintendent positions in Greenville, S.C., and Mobile, Ala. Both job searches had their share of drama.

In Mobile on Friday, the five-member School Board initially deadlocked. White had two votes, a second finalist had two votes and a third finalist had the fifth vote.

After a 20-minute break, board members returned with a unanimous 5-0 vote. But it wasn’t for any of the three finalists. Instead, they elevated interim Superintendent Martha Peek.

That followed the drama in Greenville, where the 12-member board deadlocked for 14 hours March 24 and then voted 7-5 for an internal candidate just before midnight Tuesday.

In his statement, White said his focus is on IPS.

“I’m going to do what needs to be done in IPS,” White said. “I’m going to make sure we put the best programs in place to continue to improve the educational opportunities for our students.”

That was welcome news to IPS School Board President Mary Busch, a strong White supporter.

“I’m pleased that he is coming back,” she said. “I want him to come back, and let’s pick up where we left off.”

White’s job search began in early March, when he acknowledged he was a candidate in Mobile and Greenville. He interviewed and was picked as a finalist in both cities and, awkwardly, said in both cities that the job was his first choice. He expressed little reservation in repeated public comments about leaving IPS.

White said at the start of the process that he wasn’t unhappy in his job at IPS but that he had long planned to end his career in the Southeast, close to his hometown of Phenix City, Ala.

Annie Roof, board member and frequent White critic, said she has concerns about White’s commitment level.

“Is his passion going to lie with IPS?” she asked. “I think that we still need radical changes in IPS. If the status quo stays the same, I don’t know how we’re going to get there.”

White’s job hunts, Roof said, have been a distraction.

“It took him out of the office and out of the district,” she said. “I feel like March was a month when we accomplished very little.”

The district is faced with mounting pressure to change. In December, the education-focused Indianapolis nonprofit The Mind Trust issued a report calling for the mayor to take control of IPS, for a deep cut in administration and for more autonomy for schools.

Also, the state is in the process of taking over four chronically failing IPS schools. Next year it will hand off Manual, Howe and Arlington community high schools, along with Emma Donnan Middle School, to outside organizations to be run independently.

Mayor Greg Ballard, who is partnering with The Mind Trust in an effort to double the number of charter schools in the city, just hired Jason Kloth as the city’s first deputy mayor for education.

“I’ve had a positive working relationship with Dr. White and his team and look forward to continuing to work alongside him in my new role,” said Kloth, who helped launch Teach for America’s Indianapolis region and worked nationally for the group.

White is about to roll out his own district reform plan, in answer to The Mind Trust, within the next two weeks. David Dresslar, the executive director of the Center for Excellence in Leadership of Learning at the University of Indianapolis, said flirtations with other jobs shouldn’t hurt White’s ability to advocate for IPS or pitch his approach to reform.

“I think people can understand his desire to be closer to home,” he said. “I think he is still a very credible voice. He is still the leader of the district. In that regard, I think everyone is eagerly awaiting his plans for budget cuts and improving the district.”

Call Star reporter Scott Elliott at (317) 444-6494.