Board keeping schools chief search in-house

NASHUA – The school board is going it alone in its search for a new superintendent.

The board voted 6-2 at Tuesday night’s meeting not to hire a firm to assist in the search for a replacement for outgoing Superintendent Christopher Hottel.

On Monday night, the board heard from representatives of two search firms, both of which said they could provide the board with assistance in networking, recruiting candidates, advertising and negotiating a contract.

On Tuesday night, most members of the board said there were no services put forth by either firm that the board couldn’t do itself.”I didn’t really hear anything compelling from either organization that they were going to do anything that we couldn’t do and that we really shouldn’t do,” said board member Robert Hallowell.

Hallowell said candidates who are looking for a superintendent position know where to look for advertisements and will still apply for the position, even without a firm in place.

Board member Charlie Katsohis said he had already spoken with community members and former school employees who were willing to assist with the search in whatever way possible.

“We have citizens who are involved in education, who are involved in the business world,” Katsohis said. “We can bring them in, get started tomorrow.”

Along with Hallowell and Katsohis, board members Dennis Hogan, Sandra Ziehm, Jack Kelley and President Tom Vaughan voted in favor of doing the search without a consultant.

“Having gone through it before, I can’t see paying someone to tell us how to do something we’ve already done,” Kelley said.

Board members Steve Haas and William Mosher disagreed and voted against the motion.

Haas said it was “foolish” to try to save a few thousand dollars when the board is making the most important decision it can possibly make. The search firms have expertise and contacts that the board does not have, he said.

“I understand it’s a difficult economic time, but we’re investing in the future,” Haas said.

It is unusual for school boards not to hire a consultant when looking for a new superintendent.

In 2005, the school board hired Illinois-based search firm Hazard, Young, Attea and Associates to assist them in a search, which ultimately cost the district about $35,000.

New Hampshire School Boards Association, one of the firms interviewed by the school board Monday, recently worked with school boards in Manchester and Portsmouth to look for a new superintendent.

NHSBA provided a rate of $12,000 to $14,000 for a superintendent search.

Even though the board is choosing not to hire a firm, there will still be costs for advertising, for transporting finalists to the district and for sending board members out for site visits.

Hallowell said that if the board later finds it needs the help of a search firm, it should reconsider its decision.

The board spent the rest of Tuesday night’s meeting discussing what process it should use going forward. The most immediate decision for the board is advertising the position.

Some of the language from the advertisement used in 2005 was reviewed and some changes were considered. The board is looking to get an advertisement completed and out into various publications sometime next week.

Kelley said the district’s human resources staff should be able to handle getting advertising into the right places, where those interested in the position will see it.

The board will also have to decide on a salary range for the position. Hottel is earning $150,000 this year. Manchester Superintendent Thomas Brennan is the highest-paid superintendent in the state, earning $155,000.

Once resumes start coming in, Hallowell suggested that the board review all of them.

Once narrowed down to the 10 best candidates, a search committee made up of board members, district staff and residents could select the top finalists, he said.

There was general consensus among the board that once the top four or five finalists are selected, those names should be made public with opportunities for people to meet them.

That was not done during the last search in 2005, when the board made Julia Earl’s name public only after the decision was made to hire her. No other finalists were named.

Board members also brainstormed about some of the qualities they want in a superintendent.

Ziehm said she wants someone willing to make a long-term commitment to the district.

Haas said he doesn’t want someone who is going to come in and implement change that is going to stop the progress the district is making.

“I don’t want someone to come in and turn the whole world upside down,” he said.

Associate Superintendent Ed Hendry said he has had several staff members express concern about that happening.

Katsohis said he had already spoken to some internal candidates who are interested in the position. He said they should be encouraged to apply for the job, too.

Hottel will remain superintendent in Nashua until July, when he takes over in North Andover, Mass.