CUSD hopes for smooth supe search

Last time, it took two tries, a year, two interim superintendents and nearly $20,000 in consulting fees.

Now, the Chico Unified School District is hoping a professional matchmaker can snag a super superintendent at a time when the words “superintendent shortage” are making headlines in education journals and even mainstream media nationwide.

School board President Rick Anderson isn’t worried. “I think the right person is out there, and we’re well-positioned to have a good and effective search,” he said.

Supt. Scott Brown announced last month that, at nearly 58, he is resigning but will stay on until the district can find a replacement. The typical superintendent search takes four to six months.

The district has contracted with Del Alberti, of the California School Boards Association’s Executive Search Services. Alberti is himself a retired superintendent, retiring from the Lodi Unified School District in 2000.

CSBA will take out ads, receive applications, make up a brochure and probably do some head-hunting of people who didn’t even plan to apply. The school board has agreed to pay CSBA $16,000, plus expenses not to exceed $7,000, for the search.

Candidates must be capable of managing a tight $100 million budget, handling often-touchy district-teacher relations and deflecting constant community criticism.

The district will likely have to up the ante in terms of the new supe’s salary. The CUSD broke the $100,000-a-year barrier for the first time when it hired Brown at $115,000 a year plus a $6,000-a-year car allowance. Brown now makes $131,187. That’s about $2,000 more than the mean public schools superintendent’s salary in 2004-05, according to the nonprofit Educational Research Service. But superintendents are fetching $200,000 or even $300,000 in some urban areas.

“The board has not established a salary at this time for the new superintendent,” Anderson said. “I would suspect it would be more [than Brown’s].” Anderson also said he thinks the reason the last initial search failed was because the district wasn’t offering enough money. “When we increased the salary, that brought in a higher candidate pool.”

By one count, 82 percent of the nation’s 14,300 superintendents have reached retirement age, according to a study by Professor Bruce Cooper of Fordham University. More money to be made in the private sector plus the can’t-win stress placed upon school leaders make the job less enticing than the average citizen might think, experts say. To fight the shortage, some districts are hiring private-industry CEO-types or grooming insiders to take on the top post.

Last time, the CUSD’s search was narrowed to six finalists, who were interviewed by a board-appointed district liaison committee. The finalists’ names were supposed to be kept confidential, but someone leaked them to the media.

This time, Anderson said, there will be a Superintendent Search Advisory Council that, instead of narrowing the field, will interview finalists culled by the school board itself. “It’s a different function but more important,” he said of the nine-member group that will include an appointee from each trustee along with representatives from two employee unions, the management association and the PTA. “They will help us select our superintendent.”

“The entire process will be confidential,” Anderson added.

Members of the community are being asked to contact Alberti with input on what they’d like to see in a new superintendent. Specifically, the board wants to know what personal characteristics, professional skills and knowledge and experience people are looking for.

Before Brown was hired, the school board rejected the four candidates CSBA consultant Bill James screened from 17 applicants. The process cost $15,000 plus expenses, and then new trustees were elected and the search started anew.

The district, which was in the midst of budget cuts and teacher salary disputes, weathered two interim superintendents before Brown started work in July 1999.

Brown was picked from 18 applicants after trustees visited the home districts of three finalists.

His tenure has included successes in hiring and delegating, as well as criticism for being slow to embrace the idea of communicating with the community, especially via the media.

Alberti will be in town on June 6 and 7, with the District Office taking appointments on his behalf. (Call 891-3000 ex. 149.) Comments can also be sent to Alberti care of the CSBA, Executive Search Services, P.O. Box 1660, West Sacramento, CA 95691.