New law requires BOE to post superintendent’s job

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Andalusia Board of Education doesn’t have to conduct a search before hiring a permanent superintendent, but it is required by state law to post the job for at least 30 days, the executive director of the Alabama Association of School Boards told local board members Monday night.

Sally Howell of the AASB conducted a board training workshop following Monday night’s meeting. The training portion ended with a discussion about hiring.

In May, the board hired Ted Watson as interim superintendent. A new law passed this year, HB79 not only requires that the an opening be posted for 30 days, but also that ” a vacancy in the position of city superintendent shall be filled by the board within 120 days after such a vacancy occurs.”

For the local board, those 120 days end on Sept. 24, 2010.

The law states that if a county school board fails to fill a position in 120 days then the state board of education shall make that appointment. It does not include similar language for city boards.

Howell said the local board first must decide “to search or not to search.”

She said she advises all school boards to conduct searches “unless there is someone the board is 100 percent behind.”

“Sometimes, after a search, board members are more comfortable in knowing they made the right decision,” she said.

Many boards feel they can’t afford the cost of a search, she said. But the cost of the search is nominal, she said, when compared to the full budget or the cost of terminating a superintendent if a board makes a bad decision.

She also advised against what she described as a “sham search” in which a search is conducted even though the board has privately already made a hiring decision.

“If that’s the case, then go with it,” she said.

She said boards may run their own searches or contract with a private company to run the search. If a board conducts a search, all applications received are public record, she said. If a private firm runs a search, board members will only see the applications of the finalists chosen by the private firm.

If the board does its own search, she advised that applications go to the board attorney and not to the central office to avoid any chance that information in applications would be shared.

“It’s not enough to be right, it’s gotta look right,” she said of searches.

All interviews must be conducted in public, she said, and advised that candidates be given questions up front. But it is vitally important for board members to define what they seek in a superintendent before starting the search, Howell said.

“It’s like group car shopping,” she said. “If you don’t know what you’re shopping for, you’ll go to the lot and go in five different directions if you don’t take time to have the conversation up front.”

Because the statute doesn’t say specifically what will happen if a city board fails to make a hiring decision in 120 days, the Andalusia board is in “unchartered waters,” Howell said, adding that she would not advise seeking an attorney general’s opinion on the matter at this point.

Instead, board members asked if she would discuss the issue with state superintendent of education Dr. Joe Morton.

Board member Joe Nix said he was not in favor of appointing an interim superintendent because he believes it created an “unlevel playing field” for two other administrators in the Andalusia system who might wish to apply for the superintendent’s job.

Howell agreed, but said the issue cuts both ways.

“An (interim) individual might make decisions that rankle the board,” that would cause him or her to not get the job, she said.

Board member Amy Dugger said the board needs to have a “well thought-out” plan for its hiring process and stressed that it should be working now to avoid the need to make a quick decision under time constraints.

No action was taken on the issue.