ACSU plans strategy for hiring new school chief

MIDDLEBURY — The Addison Central Supervisory Union (ACSU) school board last week officially launched its search for a new superintendent, agreeing on a salary range, length of contract, the makeup of a screening committee for candidates, and a basic timetable for selection of a finalist expected to be on the job by next summer.
The ACSU is in the market for a permanent replacement for former Superintendent Lee Sease, whose contract the board elected not to renew for the 2011-2012 academic year. Gail Conley is serving as interim superintendent this year while officials look for a new top administrator.
A four-person subcommittee made up of four ACSU board members has spent the past several weeks laying groundwork for  the search. At a board meeting last Wednesday, Nov. 16, the subcommittee introduced consultant Robert Stevens, who will spearhead what will be a national hunt for the new superintendent.
Stevens, a former principal of Mount Mansfield Union High School and former executive director of the Vermont Principals’ Association, has engineered around 10 successful searches for principals and superintendents throughout the state.
“This is an important decision for you,” Stevens told ACSU officials, adding they should be prepared for some long hours — particularly when the search rounds to a conclusion next March or April.
“But we are going to have some fun,” he added.
First on the agenda, Stevens said, will be composing an advertisement for a new superintendent. He said that ad should first be posted locally and in the local media, then disseminated nationwide through Schoolspring, an advertising service for educators.
Districts routinely post ads for administrative vacancies during October and November, according to Stevens. He suggested a deadline of mid-January for receiving applications.
“The heaviest look at advertisements generally takes place for hirings in March, so you should be able to finish (the process) in February,” Stevens told the board.
The ad, according to Stevens, should be succinct and include basic details about the job, required qualifications, salary range and some details about what makes the ACSU and its seven member towns special or unique.
With that in mind, ACSU board members voted unanimously on several components of the next superintendent’s compensation.
First, they agreed to offer a salary range from $112,000 to $117,000 per year. The position currently pays $110,000, which happens to be the average salary for superintendents in Vermont, according to Stevens.
Officials conceded the need to bump the current salary a little in order to attract qualified candidates in what is a competitive field.
Mark Perrin, ACSU board chairman, noted the superintendent is accountable to nine separate school boards as part of his or her regular administrative duties. He said he was concerned that being accountable to so many boards could prove intimidating to prospective candidates.
“Can you give us any feedback on how potential superintendents might feel about even applying, seeing as how they could apply to a supervisory union that has three school districts in it for $110,000, versus ours for $110,000?” Perrin asked Stevens.
Stevens called the Middlebury area “a gem” in the eyes of many candidates, but agreed that the salary could be sweetened as an added inducement.
“To find very strong superintendents and/or principals is difficult,” Stevens said.
Conley agreed.
“I think we need to hire someone with experience, and hopefully with some Vermont experience, and I’m afraid $110,000 won’t attract people to apply,” said Conley, who had recommended to the ACSU business manager that $118,000 be budgeted for the post next year.
“In Addison County, $110,000 doesn’t seem too competitive,” Conley added. “It will be very tough to attract applicants, I am afraid, if we are at $110,000.”
Stevens presented a list of 2011-2012 salaries for Vermont superintendents throughout the state. Annual salaries ranged from a low of $49,996 in Battenkill Valley to $140,000 in SAU 70, the school district that encompasses Norwich, Vt., and Hanover, N.H. The other Addison County superintendents’ salaries, according to the Vermont Superintendents Association, are $112,440 in Addison Northwest, $105,750 in Addison Northeast and $100,000 in Rutland Northeast.
The board felt the bump to a range of $112,000 to $117,000 was appropriate.
ACSU board members also voted unanimously to:
•  Offer a three-year contract, rather than the year-to-year pact that has historically been offered to the ACSU superintendent.
•  Not stipulate in the ad a requirement that the new superintendent be a resident in the ACSU.
•  Form an 11-member “screening committee” to help review candidates’ applications and conduct interviews. Stevens anticipates the panel will hold a total of seven meetings during the search process, with the final gathering culminating in the recommendation of a finalist. The ACSU board decided that the screening committee will be made up of up to three teachers, selected with input from the unions; two principals and one ACSU administrator; one support staff person; and four ACSU board members. Those board members — who have already been involved in the early stages of the search process — will be Peter Conlon of Cornwall, Lorraine Morse of Middlebury, Carol Ford of Ripton and Natasha Causton of Shoreham.
Conley will serve the committee in an advisory capacity.
ACSU board members also agreed the search should ideally produce three finalists. They determined they would likely forego visits to the finalists’ current school districts in order to save on expenses, and that they will seek to involve the public in interviews once the finalists’ names become public.
Stevens cautioned board members they won’t be able to please everyone, no matter how transparent and inclusive they try to make the process.
“You are going to get some criticism; trust me,” Stevens said.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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