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School board targets superintendent choice before April election

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DECATUR — The search for the next Decatur school superintendent will stick to its original timeline with the intention to select a candidate before the next election following a discussion Thursday during a special meeting.

The board asked representatives from search firm Hazard, Young, Attea and Associates whether it should delay making a hire until after the April 4 election to give between two and four newly elected members a chance to at least provide input on the selection.

Consultant Bill Attea said he will advise Board President Sherri Perkins if any potential candidates express concerns about taking the job before knowing who will be on the board when they would start in the position.

“Candidates might not accept not knowing who their boss will be,” Attea said. “One member can change the composition of the board.”

The board will have another discussion on the issue depending on what the search firm finds out, Perkins said. The search firm is now scheduled to begin lining up a slate of candidates to present to the board in late February.

The possibility was raised of waiting to make the selection until after the election but before the newly elected members are seated, giving them a chance to at least provide input on the decision. New board members will likely start in early May after election results are certified.

“Waiting for the new board could allow us to recruit a better slate of candidates,” Attea said.

The discussion was part of a workshop intended to provide the consultants an opportunity to report with the board about their findings regarding the strengths and weaknesses of the district. The search firm is the same one that assisted the district when former Superintendent Gloria Davis left.

“It was an opportunity to hear from the community and bring the information back to you,” consultant Paul Swanstrom said of a process that included a community meeting in December.

Attea said each group that the consultants met with last month to gauge the state of the district raised the issue of the search timeline and who will select the next superintendent.

Former Superintendent Lisa Taylor resigned last spring to take a job as high school principal in Heyworth. Bobbi Williams and Michael Dugan currently are serving as co-superintendents.

Following Taylor's resignation, Perkins said the board intended to proceed with the search between January and March, which is considered an optimal time for searches. She said the search firm is guiding the board in a beneficial direction.

The upcoming election is the first time board member Dan Oakes remembers the potential exists for up to four new board members to be elected at the same time. Candidates include incumbents Alida Graham and B.A. Buttz, along with challengers Beth Creighton, Courtney Carson, Al Scheider, Kendall Briscoe and Beth Nolan.

Perkins said the board agreed to the timeline for the search in November. During the latest discussion, board member Brian Hodges expressed reservations about proceeding as planned.

“If we do it now, the community could be upset and good people will not apply for the job,” Hodges said. “We want the right person to apply for the job.”

Under the current timeline, a slate of superintendent candidates would be presented to the board following a meeting Feb. 28. Interviews would begin in early March with the process taking three to four weeks and the announcement of the selection made during the March 28 board meeting, a week before the election.

“The desire is to have the best superintendent we can and the best fit,” Graham said. “It doesn't matter who is sitting in these chairs to hire the best candidate.”

Current board members would know the community, issues and situation better than those who would be coming into the position, Attea said. Not being able to select the choice for superintendent with at least a 5-2 vote would appear to be a potential disadvantage for the district, Attea said.

Board member Fred Spannaus, who along with T.J. Jackson is not seeking re-election, said he would favor the selection being made with at least a 6-1 agreement on the board.

“This board shouldn't kick the can down the road with its responsibility to move forward,” Spannaus said. “We should set a high bar and agree among ourselves or go back to the drawing board. We need to show a strong consensus.”

Buttz said he was elected to a full four-year term and does not intend to quit being part of making decisions early, especially the superintendent selection.

Attea said the board has no right or wrong way to approach the search process. He said it's up to them how to proceed and decide what they think is best for the district.

After gathering feedback from various groups, including community members, business leaders, staff members, parents and students, Attea said the board should consider updating its strategic plan. A comprehensive update of the strategic plan hasn't been completed in nearly 15 years, Perkins said.

“Part of that plan is short-term and long-term goals,” Perkins said. “We would need time to meet with several groups over an extended period of time.”

Based on the feedback, Attea said the board appears to lack the focus needed to move forward with a positive vision.

“Without focus in the district, nothing is going to happen,” Attea said. “There needs to be a common vision.”

A high level of frustration toward the board was felt within the community, Attea said. He talked with the board about the need not to micromanage the day-to-day operations of the schools, as the board has at least been perceived of doing that.

As part of its planning process, Perkins said the board will be considering curriculum changes while developing comprehensive reading and math programs a top priority.

The strategic plan is something Perkins said the board will be interested in working with the next superintendent to develop.

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