By Bill Short
The Millington School Board has voted unanimously to ask the Tennessee School Board Association to assist in its search for a new superintendent.
Board members took the action during an April 19 special called meeting on a motion offered by Larry Jackson and seconded by Mark Coulter.
Dr. David Roper, superintendent of Millington Municipal Schools, has announced that he intends to retire on Aug. 1.
“After a lot of deliberation and prayerful consideration,” he said, “I’ve decided it’s time for me to move on and turn the reins over to somebody else to follow me.”
Expressing concern about “public perception,” board member Chris Denson said shortly before the vote that he thinks using TSBA to “vet” and “appoint” candidates for the position puts the board “in the right place.”
And Chairman C. J. Haley noted that the members will be “involved” when the candidates go through the interview process.
Board member Cody Childress said he would like for someone to be hired by July 1, so Roper can have 30 days to help the new superintendent through the transition.
While calling that “a great idea,” Coulter said he thinks that person will have to give 30 days’ notice to a current employer. And Denson said that “kind of goes hand in hand” when a “truncated” period of time is being considered.
When Haley said the board can “negotiate” how long the search and application processes should last, Childress said he thinks TSBA will work according to the board’s “time line.”
Roper cautioned the board members to be careful about “setting up a scenario” where residents can “fire questions” at the finalists. When the board starts interviewing candidates, he said, it is careful to ask each one the same questions.
Roper noted that some municipalities invite the finalists to attend an informal “meet and greet” event, where residents shake their hands and engage in “small talk.” He said that sometimes includes a board member showing them around the community to say, “Here are our schools.”
“But not one of these gotcha moments,” he added, “where somebody from the community asks some off-the-wall questions.”
School Board Attorney Debra Owen, who attended the meeting, said that, for “community input,” TSBA will meet with residents on the “front end.”
“It is to gather information about the system, the challenges that the superintendent’s going to face and what kind of qualifications the community would like,” she noted. “It is not shooting questions at the candidates.”
During a work session immediately prior to the meeting, Owen said there is a “blackout window” around the Nov. 6 election date. Under Tennessee law, the board will not be able to enter into a contract with a new superintendent between Sept. 22 and Dec. 6.
“If you don’t get through this process by Aug. 1,” she noted, “you can beg Dr. Roper for a temporary extension, or you can appoint an interim superintendent.”
But Owen said the board must first decide whether it will allow an interim superintendent to be a candidate for the full-time position.
While some people believe that gives the interim an “unfair advantage,” she said others think that person should be able to do the job without having to “worry about pleasing everybody” in order to become the full-time superintendent.
Owen said her law firm disagrees with TSBA’s view that the school board “may” conduct a search but is not “required” to do so.
She cited the state statute, which says each board will adopt a “written policy” regarding the method of accepting and reviewing applications and interviewing candidates for the position. She noted that the board’s current policy is “consistent” with the statute.
Although the statute lists an undergraduate degree as the only requirement for a superintendent, Roper suggested that the board follow its current policy, which gives preference to a “licensed educator.”
Owen said the policy requires a minimum of three years of “successful experience” in school administration or “comparable” management experience.
It also states that the board’s job is to choose the person it believes can “effectively translate into action” its visions and policies, the goals of the community and the professional staff.
Owen said TSBA offers two levels of assistance. One costs $6,500 and the other $11,500.
She acknowledged that TSBA does the “background work,” but the board must still have meetings to “set the criteria” and conduct interviews.
“There’s still a lot for the board to do, and you will ultimately decide,” she said. “You will still be in control.”
Although TSBA recommends a four- to six-month time line for the selection process, Owen said she thinks it will help the board do it in three months.
She said the “primary advantage” of using TSBA is to do a “broader” search. If the board wants a national advertisement for superintendent, TSBA has the “resources” to get that out quickly.
Owen also said the board will want to hire a new superintendent “contingent on working out an agreeable contract.” She noted that her law firm helped the board with Roper’s contract and will do so again.
By Bill Short