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VOL. 127 | NO. 181 | Monday, September 17, 2012

Support Given to Hire Schools Search Firm

By Bill Dries

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The countywide school board could start getting information from search firms this week and probably vote on a process for picking a merger superintendent by the end of October.

A committee of countywide school board members and community leaders is recommending that the school board hire a search firm and conduct a national search for the superintendent of the merged school system.

The group also voted Thursday, Sept. 13, to begin as soon as possible through the staffs of both school systems to get the qualifications of search firms in a request for qualifications process.

Committee chairman Chris Caldwell said he will see how much of that can get started without the approval of the full board. The full board could discuss that part of the process as early as the Tuesday, Sept. 18, school board work session.

The recommendations of the ad hoc committee on the search process go to the full school board for its approval and then the selection process would begin.

The board could change or contradict the recommendations.

The group’s work on a set of recommendations isn’t complete. The committee is still working out what additional standards or requirements it might want applicants to meet that it will also take to the full board.

The committee has heard estimates from two school board associations that a search involving a firm could take at least six months from its beginning to the hiring of a superintendent. The cost estimates range from $50,000 to $200,000.

The group was anxious to start making decisions at its sixth meeting after fielding advice from the Tennessee School Boards Association and the Council of the Great City Schools.

The ad hoc committee has seven school board members and six community leaders – one from the city and one from the county outside Memphis from business, clergy and among parents.

“Let’s do something,” said Bridget Chisholm.

With that the group debated a bit more and then began a series of votes that fill in some of the blanks on a process that is still tentative.

Still to come are decisions on timing. The one that is expected to prompt the most debate is whether to move immediately to a search or wait. Waiting for the search process could involve appointing an interim superintendent for the critical run up to the merger of city and county schools starting in August 2013 and into the merger.

“I don’t disagree with the thought process of having a national search,” said school board member David Reaves. “My deal is the timing of it. … Why does it have to be right now? We are going to inject a level of risk by doing it right in the middle of the combining of the two districts.”

Reaves argued that applicants for superintendent will want to know the size of the school system and what the structure of the school system will be post-merger and what decisions related to the merger a superintendent might be making before the merger.

That’s when some on the body began pointing to decisions the full school board has yet to make about the more than 170 merger recommendations from the consolidation planning commission.

“The board has got to decide what you all want,” said the Rev. Maxie Dunnam. “If the board doesn’t decide what you want, nothing we do around this table is going to amount to anything.”

Still others said the planning commission recommendations and the basics of the merger offer some ideas – at least enough to get the superintendent selection process moving.

“We have a variety of things that we know right now is not going to change because we are merging the two systems,” said Veronica Collins.

School board member Sara Lewis said the school board has to start making decisions on the merger recommendations.

“This board has got to do some work,” she said. “This board has not worked.”

The board is expected to get at least some recommendations on the planning commission blueprint from a working group of high level staff from both school systems by its October work session and voting meeting.

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