Schenectady school board weighs ‘traditional’ vs. ‘confidential’ superintendent search

Decision about whether to involve district staff and community could affect candidate pool

Categories: News, Schenectady County

SCHENECTADY — As the Schenectady school board moves forward with a formal search for a new superintendent, board members will have to decide to what extent it wants staff and the public to be involved.

Board members during a work session on Wednesday listened to a presentation from Capital Region BOCES District Superintendent Anita Murphy about the board’s different search options. They range from a “traditional search” that includes an opportunity for members of the public and other interested groups to interview superintendent candidates to a “confidential search” that restricts interviews to mostly school board members.

The search process Murphy outlined for the board would likely begin with meetings engaging members of the public and different groups of district staff to develop ideas on what makes Schenectady special and what kind of leader the district should seek. That input informs the district’s job posting and a brochure included as part of its efforts to recruit a new leader. In a traditional format, Murphy said people representing staff groups, community organizations and the general public – a group organized by the board – would have a chance to interview candidates directly and report back to the school board. In a confidential search, candidates’ interactions with people outside the board are limited to ensure candidates’ secrecy is maintained. Murphy said potential candidates don’t always want it known they are searching for a new job and that some people won’t apply if the search process isn’t confidential.

“Lots of city superintendents, folks who are successful and comfortable in their jobs and have good relationships with their [school] board won’t enter a traditional search because their name is out there,” Murphy told board members.

Murphy said the board could choose a mixed search that involves others in the early planning stages and includes a small group of stakeholder representatives in some final interviews. Board members highlighted the importance of including a diverse group of people from within the district and community.

“I mean diverse in many different ways,” board member Bernice Rivera said.

Murphy and the board discussed some groups that would be represented: teachers, parents, students, central administrators, paraprofessionals and other support staff, other district workers, neighborhood organizations, community agencies that work with the district, city officials and others.

The work sessions operated as an information session, with board members asking questions but not discussing as a group what direction to head or laying out clearly the type of search they envisioned.

Murphy said a traditional search typically lasts about nine months, but that the board could tailor it to their own goals.

The school board is in the market for a superintendent for the first time in nearly a decade after former superintendent Larry Spring resigned abruptly last month in the weeks after schools closed. The board appointed Aaron Bochniak, a district official, as acting superintendent. The work session marks the board’s largest step into the search process.

While board members approve a litany of personnel decisions on a regular basis, the district superintendent is effectively the school board’s sole direct report and singular hiring decision. Murphy reiterated that the final decision comes down to the board.

“This is the most important job the board does and it is your job to pick the people you want,” she said.

The board also weighed its options in finding a consultant to lead the search process. The Capital Region BOCES conducts superintendent searches free of charge for member districts like Schenectady. The district does have to pay the cost of advertising the opening. Murphy said she has run about a dozen superintendent searches across the Capital Region in the last two years, noting that she didn’t think any district in the region had hired a private firm to manage a search in recent years. (Murphy presented the board’s options at the meeting and was not formally pushing the BOCES service.)

She said the board could hire a local firm to manage the search, which would cost around $15,000 to $25,000, or go with a national firm, which would likely charge between $25,000 and $50,000. Murphy said private firms can operate more as head hunters who actively recruit candidates, potentially from across the country.

Murphy also warned the board that superintendent candidate pools have shrunk in recent years and noted a challenge in getting women to apply. She said years ago a district like Schenectady may have received 50 applications; now it may get 20 applicants or fewer.

“No matter who does the search you have to be prepared for that,” she said.

In response to a board question about requiring the next superintendent reside in the city, Murphy said that would limit the district applicant pool even further, particularly for candidates already living within commute distance of Schenectady and may not want to move a short distance to fulfill a residency requirement.

Murphy said she thinks it’s important school board members come to a consensus on a final selection; if they can’t come to agreement, she said, they can always repost the job and recruit more candidates.

“I believe it’s incredibly important to have a board coalesce around a candidate that everyone can say yes to,” Murphy said.

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