Bourne School Board Meets With Superintendent Search Groups
By: Diana T. Barth
Bourne’s School Committee sat Monday, ready to listen to three organizations that were vying for the job of assisting that committee with its search for a new school superintendent, replacing Edmond W. LaFleur who announced he is retiring as of June 30.
As the members discussed what they wanted to learn from the search experts, board member Christine Crane noted that several residents had asked her why, in the midst of a budget crisis, they would even think about hiring search consultants rather than undertaking the search themselves.
After hearing from the three groups, committee members said they had the answer to that question: the search process was far more complex, and far more time-consuming, than they had even contemplated. Given that the majority of the committee members are gainfully employed volunteers, having expert help looked to be worth the expenditure, if Bourne were to attract viable candidates.
Before committee members began interviewing search groups, they turned first to Administrative Assistant Mary Jo Coggeshall, a former school committee chairman who served on the search committee that helped select Mr. LaFleur.
She outlined the process that search committee followed, one that took a full year and used the expertise of one of the search groups that was interviewed this week.
That group began by talking with the teachers’ union, the PTA, the then-full-time selectmen, and others, to come to a consensus as to what kind of person the district wanted.
This committee will only have six months to complete the process, something the committee found was possible, but meant a tight schedule.
School committee members had two major issues they wanted to explore with the experts.
One was whether the current requirement that a superintendent live in town would limit the pool of candidates, particularly in this economy, which could make it difficult to sell a home to move to Bourne.
Another was whether the publicity surrounding the recent deficit would make the search more difficult.
All three search groups said they could work with the residency restriction, as long as candidates understood the requirement upfront, but acknowledged that, aside from the slow real estate market, some younger superintendents might not want to uproot their own children from the schools they were currently attending.
The school committee discussed the possibility of giving the successful candidate two years to relocate.
The expert who fielded the question as to the town’s accounting difficulties told committee members that it would be important to discuss that issueupfront, and any others like it, with the candidates. Since the schools were dealing responsibly with the problem, he did not think it would be a major stumbling block.
The first group interviewed by the school committee was from the Cape Cod Collaborative’s Center for Executive Search. The two men who represented that group—Joseph Gilbert and Peter J. Cannone—are both retired Cape Cod school superintendents, Mr. Cannone having served as head of Sandwich’s schools.
The center has performed about 15 searches over the past four and a half years, the committee heard, many on the Cape.
They provided the committee with a draft schedule, saying that there was adequate time for the search, but no time to spare.
Given that most superintendents have a clause in their contract that requires 60-or 90-days-notice that they are leaving their current job, the Cape Cod Collaborative group suggested the committee might want to identify a candidate by April, allowing a newly hired superintendent to start around July 1.
School committee members also looked at the type of advertising usually done when searching for a school superintendent.
Typically, brochures are prepared, presenting the school district to the candidates, and outlining requirements.
They said they hoped to present the town with 10 to 18 candidates, helping to interview them and narrow the list down to three.
At that time, they said, site visits would be necessary, something that would provide an opportunity to talk with the candidates’ associates: teachers and fellow administrators, among them.
James Hardy of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees made a similar presentation, and talked about the 150 or more searches his group had done over the past years, and then discussed the focus-group process and online surveys that could be used to help narrow the criteria for candidates who would be a good fit for Bourne.
He said his group would also help school committee members with the topics and questions that would make the interview process more successful.
The New England School Development Council, the group that worked on the search for Mr. LaFleur, was represented by Arthur L. Bettencourt and Bruce E. Willard.
NESDEC, which has some 400 affiliate cities and towns in New England, has been performing executive searches since 1982, the men said. They added a discussion of electronic advertising media to the mix of what school committee members were learning.
They also talked about how a school committee could establish a salary range.
After listening to the presentations, the school committee moved into executive session. Any decision they made as to a choice of consultant will be announced at the next school committee open session.
That decision may very well be based on cost. Estimates for the consultants’ fees ranged from about $10,000 to $18,000, depending, in part, on the type of advertising the committee selects.
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