Board hires contractor for superintendent search
Fairfield school board approved a contract with Ray and Associates Inc. Monday to conduct a search for a school superintendent.
The board had invited four search teams to make presentations about services, fees and the process used to search, screen and recommend applicants to the district. The board interviewed two search teams March 19 and two more March 24, and voted 4-1 to hire Ray and Associates at the end of the second presentation meeting a week ago.
“We preferred the process presented by Ray and Associates,” said board president Jennifer Anderson.
The approved contract provides a base fee of $6,000 to Ray and Associates with expenses billed as they occur. Travel, lodging, meals, postage, fax, photocopying, long distance phone charges and other search related expenses the district would reimburse. Advertising expenses also will be billed to the district.
The two consultants from the search firm, Linda Brock, a retired Fort Madison schools superintendent, and Ned Sellers, spent Monday in Fairfield meeting with stakeholder groups.
“We met with a student group, administrators, support staff, teachers and a parent/community group,” said Brock.
Each of the five groups met with the consultants separately. Brock and Sellers wanted to hear the groups’ opinions about desired traits in a superintendent. Fairfield High School Principal Aaron Becker said the student group consisted of juniors and seniors, most of them serving in student government.
The consultants also conducted interviews individually with six of the seven school board members as of Monday.
The board and consultants worked out a timeline for the search Monday, the screening and interviewing process, selected advertising venues and set the new superintendent’s salary at $153,000 with the same benefits currently in place, which includes single medical insurance coverage.
Fairfield’s outgoing Superintendent Art Sathoff is being paid $139,900 this school year. Sathoff’s contract with Fairfield was set at $144,000 for school year 2014-15 and at $149,040 for school year 2015-16. He has been hired to take the superintendent’s job in Indianola beginning July 1, with three-year contract at $200,000 a year.
Brock and Sellers provided a superintendent base salary comparison chart of similar-sized Iowa school districts.
“These district were chosen for comparison because they are similar in student enrollment,” said Brock. “These are for the current year; figure a 3 percent increase for next school year. The actual average base salary is $156,087 this year among districts of similar size.
“We recommend setting one salary rather than a salary range in your advertising,” said Brock. “You can adjust up or down depending on a candidate’s experience.”
Board member Joe Carr said he did not want to rule out any potential candidates because of setting a salary too low.
“I want the best candidates to apply, and there needs to be an incentive for someone to uproot their family and move,” said Carr. “If people think getting someone new means we can lower the salary — well, that hasn’t happened in 10 years.”
Sellers said one of the constituents in a stakeholder group earlier in the day had said the district salary offering should not be a hindrance to applying for the job.
The longer a superintendent is in one job, the more depressed the salary becomes, said Brock. Offering a higher salary to new candidates is most commonly done.
The school board also decided to use any no-cost venues to advertise the position, including Ray and Associates website; the Teach Iowa website; the National Association of Schools; and one paid venue, American Association of School Administrators website and newsletter. The district will pay $385 for 30 days of advertising with AASA.
The board rejected placing paid ads in the Des Moines Register at $1,673 for two weeks running only Saturdays and Sundays; Education Week for 30 days at $745; and Linked-In for $195.
The deadline for superintendent applications is April 30.
The board also agreed that the five groups of stakeholders the consultants met with Monday also would be included in the final candidates’ interviews May 20-21.
Online community survey
The consultants suggested extending today’s deadline for taking an online survey, because of the district’s spring break last week. The board agreed.
All residents are encouraged to take a survey to select 10 out of 33 desired characteristics in a superintendent. The survey is available at Fairfield Community School District’s website, fairfieldsfuture.org with an extended deadline of 5 p.m. Thursday. A place for additional comments also is available at the end of the survey.
Brock and Sellers will return to Fairfield for a meeting with the school board at 5:30 p.m. April 8 to review the online survey results and finalize a superintendent profile for a promotional flyer and online application form.
“The longest meeting will be where we finalize interview questions and procedures with you,” said Brock. “Semifinalist candidates are presented to the board, and we’ll assist in selecting finalists for the interviews.”
That meeting is scheduled for May 9. Interviews of the semifinalists are scheduled for May 15.
One board member walks out
Six of the seven school board members participated in Monday’s board meeting, with Carr, Anderson, Phil Miller, Jeremy Miller, Kate Van Pelt and Rich Metcalf present. Jerry Nelson was absent Monday.
“Last Monday, we had a presentation by two search firms, including Ray and Associates,” said Anderson. “We had interviewed two other firms the previous week. We held discussions and wanted to come to a consensus.”
“Jerry forcefully walked out of the [March 24] meeting — he said ‘adjourned’ as he left, but his motion failed for lack of a second motion,” said Anderson.
“He wanted to hire another firm other than Ray and Associates, but the vote was 4-1.”
Phil Miller and Jeremy Miller had not been present at the March 24 meeting and Monday was the first time they heard about Nelson’s decision to not participate.
“Jerry talked with Art [Sathoff, not present at Monday’s meeting], Friday, and said he’d have no part of the superintendent search,” said Anderson. “He talked about a conspiracy.”
Anderson said she consulted with the Iowa Association of School Board about any legal consequences of a board member not participating in the hiring of a superintendent. She also called Nelson.
“I talked with Jerry and told him according to his oath of office and Iowa Code, he is not doing his job,” said Anderson. “According to Iowa Code, he is neglectful in his school board duties.
“Jerry said fraud was going on and he’s researching the issue,” said Anderson. “He had another event to attend tonight. He may rejoin the search at some point. We want him to be a part of this.”
Carr said going into the March 24 meeting with the second round of search team presentations, he had no pre-conceived notions of which firm to hire.
“We’d only seen two other firms at that point,” said Carr.
Phil Miller asked Brock and Sellers if this was a unique situation.
“I’ve not experienced something like this before,” said Brock. “We’ve seen divided school boards before, but you don’t seem divided.”
Everyone agreed the sooner Nelson rejoined the process, the better.
Nelson did not want to speak on the record about the issue when contacted today.