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School board to invite new applicants

Following the withdrawal of the three top candidates for the school superintendent position, the Ashland School Board on Thursday decided to re-post the position and screen new applicants — and will probably hire a headhunter to help.

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

The OSBA's executive search specialist Donna Herren told the board, "You have time on your side. 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. One, Steve Retzlaff 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.

"I'd look at it as a high-risk venture," said member Keith Massie.

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 headhunter. They can be expensive, a third to a half a year of the superintendent's annual pay or over $30,000, he added.

"That may seem like a lot of money," said 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 their help at no cost on a re-posting. A headhunter, Herren said, would have to be willing to work on the task with the OSBA.

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

The three finalists were taken on a tour of the district and interviewed by four committees last week. Chairwoman Carol Davis and another board member traveled to see the candidates at their jobs.

The school board "took input from the four (screening) committees about what they liked and didn't like and no one was a perfect fit," Davis said.

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.