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Ashland tries again to fill superintendent's post

After all three finalists withdrew their names for consideration as the next superintendent, the Ashland School Board likely will re-post the job and screen new applicants — and may hire an outside recruiting firm to help.

An official of the Oregon School Boards Association on speaker phone during Thursday's meeting told the board it has two options: hire an interim superintendent for the year, or re-post the job for three or four weeks and go through the long screening process again.

The board last Saturday offered the job to Mercer Island Superintendent Gary Plano, but after contract negotiations broke down, he withdrew Wednesday. The board's second choice withdrew Monday.

"You have time on your side," said OSBA executive search specialist Donna Herren. "You don't need to think interim."

There are 31 candidates in OSBA's database for interim work, she added, and it would be a one-week process to find one.

All board members favored restarting the search for a permanent superintendent, as did three principals in the audience. Steve Retzlaff, principal of Ashland Middle School, said, "We are in the middle of a lot of work and I question if it could move forward" with an interim schools chief.

"Momentum is important," said Patty Michiels, principal of Walker Elementary.

Board member Jim Westrick suggested the board could look at top resumes for interim work, perhaps finding someone "young and from Oregon ... who would have the benefit of proving himself and getting the full superintendency with a long contract."

Westrick cautioned that re-posting the job and screening candidates "frankly could have the same outcome," underlining the wisdom of using a recruiting firm. Such firms can be expensive, costing more than $30,000.

"That may seem like a lot of money," said board member Keith Massie, "but it may be a bargain. If we use a headhunter, he should start immediately. I strongly support it."

The district spent $15,000 for the OSBA's help in advertising and promoting the job the first time, but will get its help at no cost on a re-posting. A recruiting firm, Herren said, would have to be willing to work on the task with the OSBA.

Westrick cautioned that a recruiting firm "might not like our process of putting them through the meat grinder with the four committees" of faculty and community members screening the candidates.

Chairwoman Carol Davis said the board has no plans to alter the screening process and that "community involvement is very important in selection."

Herren said any of the 13 previous applicants would be welcome to apply again.

"We have nothing to lose in re-posting it," said member John Williams. "We have lots of time."

While apparently unanimous on the re-posting plan, the board decided to table a vote until its regular meeting Monday evening. The OSBA effort would start Tuesday.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.