NISKAYUNA – The Niskayuna school board on Thursday weighed its different options for conducting a search for a new superintendent to replace outgoing leader Cosimo Tangorra Jr., selecting Capital Region BOCES leaders to manage the search process.
The board on a split 3-3 vote rejected a motion to solicit proposals from private search firms, which would have been considered alongside using BOCES for the search. After rejecting the motion to solicit private proposals, the board unanimously agreed to appoint BOCES to lead the search process.
During a presentation prior to the votes, Capital Region BOCES District Superintendent Anita Murphy, who in her role also manages superintendent searches for districts in the region, outlined the board’s primary options for conducting a search.
Superintendent searches generally fall into one of two categories: a closed or confidential search, where only school board members interview candidates; and a traditional or open search, where groups of community members, teachers and others interview candidates and offer input to the board.
Murphy advised the board that a closed search will result in a deeper pool of more experienced candidates, citing the concerns that sitting superintendents have about revealing their interest in a new job.
“Superintendents who have good relationships with their boards and communities are a lot more hesitant to enter an open search than a closed search, the stakes are high when you are telling the community, ‘I really love it and am happy here but I’m going to interview somewhere else.’”
Both the open and confidential search would start with a community survey on the general needs of the district, asking people to offer ideas about the strengths, weaknesses and needs in Niskayuna and the characteristics the public would be looking for in a new leader.
The ideas solicited through the public survey and focus groups will be used to develop a brochure about the district used to attract potential candidates for the job. Murphy also said the district could produce a video about the district, giving students and staff a chance to participate.
The key decision the board will have to make about the process centers on whether to use community members and staff in interviewing the final two to four candidates for the position, which would come after the board narrowed a larger pool of applicants through initial interviews. Murphy emphasized to the board that whether or not it involves the community in the interview process, the final decision is ultimately the board’s.
“The most important job that a board has is picking a superintendent,” Murphy said. “It’s the board’s responsibility to hire the superintendents; you are elected to do this.”
Board members asked questions about the different types of search and how the process would unfold but did not make a decision about what type of process to use.
Some board members were interested in soliciting proposals about how private firms would manage a search, but with one board member absent, the three board members who argued that BOCES presented an experienced and reliable option, and resisted the time that would be needed to solicit other proposals, ultimately carried the day in the split vote.
Board members Kim Tully, Howard Schlossberg and Jennifer Zhao backed soliciting private proposals, while board members Sarah Rogerson, Brian Backus and Aliya Saeed opposed the motion; board member Greta Jansson was not present.
“We have a team at BOCES that knows our district, that lives in our district,” Rogerson said.
Murphy warned board members that the candidate pool for superintendent searches has shrunk dramatically in recent years as fewer and fewer people apply for superintendent position. She said the position has become more stressful, politically charged and all-encompassing over time, turning many potential candidates from taking the next step to become a superintendent. She said in the past there may have been 80 candidate for a superintendent position but that searches now pull in 15 candidates, with only six people who are qualified for the job.
“Gone are the days when people are banging down doors to do the job, especially during the pandemic,” she said.
The board is also on a tight timeline, with Tangorra’s resignation taking effect Oct. 6. The board could appoint an interim if it can’t find a permanent replacement before then.