School board ponders going it alone

NASHUA – Recruiting candidates. Forming a search committee. Coming up with a competitive salary range. Negotiating a contract.

All of these things are part of the process when a school board is looking for a new superintendent.

The question that Nashua Board of Education members are pondering is whether they can do the search for a new superintendent on their own, or would be better off hiring a search firm to assist them through the process.

Tom Vaughan, president of the school board, said the board is considering doing the search on its own, utilizing some of the community surveys that were done during the last search in 2005.

In 2005, the school board in Nashua hired Illinois-based firm Hazard, Young, Attea and Associates to help with their search, a process that ended up costing about $35,000.

At Monday night’s school board meeting, the board heard from two firms that were also being considered for the search four years ago.

Representatives from the New England School Development Council, a firm based in Marlborough, Mass., and the New Hampshire School Boards Association both made presentations.

It’s not yet clear what hiring a search firm would cost, but Vaughan said the board is looking to avoid spending money that it doesn’t have to on the search.

“This is not a good budget year,” he said.

Both firms emphasized the need for community involvement and stressed the importance for giving people the chance to meet the candidates in the finalist stage, something the board did not do before hiring Julia Earl in 2005.

The board did not conduct a search in 2007, when it hired then-acting Superintendent Christopher Hottel as official head of the district. Hottel will leave in July for the superintendent position in North Andover, Mass.

The board has another meeting scheduled for tonight, when it is expected to make a decision on whether to hire a firm or go through the search process on its own.

That meeting is scheduled for 6:30 in the Lecture Hall at Nashua High School North.

Ted Comstock, executive director of the New Hampshire School Boards Association, said his firm would bring a unique local perspective, having assisted with the “vast majority” of searches in the state.

They worked with the school board in Manchester to find a new superintendent and are in the process of finalizing a search in Portsmouth, he said.

“We live here in New Hampshire, and we only do New Hampshire searches,” he said.

Art Bettencourt, assistant executive director of NESDEC, said his firm has a strong relationship with Nashua, having worked most recently on a facilities study in 2006.

Bettencourt said his firm conducts searches in all six New England states.

Both firms recommended including members of the community on the search committee, such as parents, city officials, teachers, administrators and even students.

They also both said it is important to consider any internal candidates for the position. Paul DeMinico, a consultant for NHSBA, said the school board in Goffstown avoided a search all together when it chose to hire an internal candidate.

DeMinico said a search could still be done, with internal candidates included, as long as the search remains confidential until the finalist stage.

“If you have internal candidates, you owe it to them and yourself to review that application and talk with that individual,” he said.

Both firms said they would be able to get the search completed before Hottel leaves for North Andover.

Bettencourt said the most effective advertising for the position would be in Education Week, which offers job posting in its publication, in addition to online job postings.

The board could also choose to create a pamphlet to promote the district to candidates, he said.

Bettencourt said in a minimum search, his firm could assist the board with recruiting a candidate pool and training members of the search committee.

Comstock cautioned the board that there are not as many qualified candidates as there used to be.

In Manchester, the school board received 24 completed applications. In previous years, the board might have seen 40 or 50 applications, he said.

“The market is really tight right now,” he said. “That’s really driven the salary levels up.”

Board member Robert Hallowell said he would want to see the board put their finalists out to the community in a forum setting, similar to what was done in North Andover when Hottel was a finalist there.

Board member Steve Haas said that while internal candidates should be considered, it might still be worth doing a search so the board is making sure it gets the best person available.