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Wood County BOE seeks estimate on search cost

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By Michael Erb, Parkersburg News and Sentinel

PARKERSBURG - The Wood County Board of Education has asked for a cost estimate on the upcoming search for a new superintendent.

West Virginia School Board Association Executive Director Howard O'Cull presented the school board with an overview of the process Monday night, leading the board through a 64-page document which gave examples of how other school systems had conducted similar searches.

O'Cull said the association could aid the board in the search for a replacement for Superintendent Pat Law who will retire when his contract expires at the end of June. The School Board Association conducted the superintendent search which led to Law's hire by the school board in 2010.

Board members asked O'Cull to review the process used by Wood County Schools in 2009-10 and to present them with an updated cost for a similar process today.

O'Cull said the roles of the superintendent and the board have changed over the year with an increasing amount of overlap. By state law the superintendent is considered to be the chief executive officer or CEO of the school system while the board is tasked with developing policy.

"It has become more of a working or collegial relationship that needs to happen between the board and the superintendent," O'Cull said. "The role of the superintendent is largely in leading the board in good decision making."

As part of the search process, O'Cull recommended the board review its own policies, goals and mission statement for the school system. The board also needs to consider county demographics, finances, emerging needs within the school system, personnel and enrollment.

"I'm sure these are things that are already in the back of your mind," he said.

O'Cull said he could not give the board a cost-estimate Monday for the process because the board had multiple options for tweaking the process, such as allowing for public forums, additional meetings, focus groups or even citizen interview panels.

Board members disagreed on how they would involve the public. During the last superintendent search the board held a public forum where community members submitted questions to screened candidates. Those candidates then answered those questions publicly.

Board member Jim Fox said he would be uncomfortable with a process wherein select groups were offered the opportunity to address the board or candidates, saying he believed that would lead to other groups feeling excluded. Board member Tad Wilson disagreed, saying certain groups, such as the local teacher and service personnel unions, would have a vested interest in the process and deserved more consideration. Wilson also said community and business groups, such as the Chamber of Commerce, also should have a chance to speak.

"We don't have a recommendation," O'Cull said. "This is actually a local board decision. Whatever you decide in this area, you've got to be pretty united on."

The discussion was tabled for a future board meeting.

O'Cull spoke briefly about the importance of establishing a timeline for the process. Such searches typically take eight weeks, he said. Board members said they would like to have a new hire in place up to two months before Law leaves the school system in order to better learn the school system and the demands of the job.

O'Cull also said he believed Roane County Schools was in the latter stage of a superintendent search while Pocahontas County Schools was considering starting the process.

The search process will be discussed at the board's Jan. 28 meeting.