Discussing next steps: School board works on timeline, qualifications for new superintendent

Published 8:12 pm Friday, September 28, 2018

The Troup County Board of Education met Thursday night with representatives from search firm McPherson & Jacobson to discuss the next steps in its superintendent search process.

The meeting lasted around two hours and included discussions on the qualities the school board is looking for in a superintendent, compensation for the next superintendent and a timeline for when the job would be filled.

The school board initially told McPherson & Jacobson that it would like to hire a new superintendent by the beginning of January, but backed off that quick timeline after seeing how fast the hiring process would have to move. The plan is to start advertising the job quickly, likely within the next week.

“What would be the timeline where we’re starting here, the first of October, to get the best candidate?” asked Board Chairman Kirk Hancock.

James Hutto, who is leading the search for McPherson & Jacobson, said his concern with a three-month timeline is that some of the best candidates are going to be current superintendents or assistant superintendents. 

“My concern would be if it’s a sitting superintendent who is the best person. That person would probably feel pretty bad about leaving his or her district in the middle of the year like that. Now, all of a sudden, they are going to have to hire an interim and go through a search, whereas in July you might have a better shot.”

The board also had to consider two new board members, Becky Grubbs and Tanya Jones Cameron, who will rotate onto the board in January. Ted Alford and Alfred McNair will be rotating off the board. Neither Alford or McNair attended Thursday’s meeting.

“We would hate to have executive session interviews that they can’t sit in, and yet they have been sworn in and would vote, so we need to consider that timeframe as well,” said Board Member Cathy Hunt. 

The board elected to choose an open start date, which could be later in 2019, rather than pick a date at the beginning of January. The preferred timeline is to hire someone at the end of January, although the exact dates of the process were being reworked and had not been finalized.

McPherson & Jacobson also walked the board through its process, which will include video interviews with semifinalists that will be shown to the board and numerous stakeholder interviews.

The school board was also asked to pick the top five characteristics it values in a superintendent. The board called out 29 total characteristics and then narrowed it down to these five:

  • Open to all discussion with all stakeholders, willingness to being involved in the community
  • Experienced with a record of success
  • Personable/approachable/professional
  • Strategic planner/implementation of strategic plan
  • Visionary

Bringing in all stakeholders and being involved in the community was the overwhelming top choice. 

“I think in these five characteristics there’s more emotional intelligence than any I’ve ever seen [in other searches],” Hutto said.

The board also discussed how much the new superintendent should be paid, although no consensus was reached. According to information distributed at the meeting from the Georgia Department of Education, Troup County paid previous superintendent Dr. Cole Pugh $167,783.94 this past year. After seeing what other counties were paying superintendents, the board questioned whether that number was still competitive.

Hancock asked if the board would agree to having outside funding brought in to help make pay competitive, rather than having taxpayers fund an increase in pay.

“There are 30 other counties in Georgia that pay within $5,000 or $2,000 of us,” Hancock said. “If we can distinguish ourselves a little bit more, we might get someone who we wouldn’t have gotten otherwise. We could call it an enhancement in salary, not performance based.”

Hutto recommended that the board be careful with any performance-based incentives.

“You have to be very careful. I’ve seen this backfire because teachers are out there working. The research is clear, the most important adults are those teachers. They are in the classroom with the kids every day,” Hutto said. “You have to be a little careful if the superintendent is getting a bonus because test scores have gone up or accountability ratings. You’ve got to be careful about that.”

Grubbs, a former educator agreed to that assessment, noting the community’s reaction to the financial portion of the resignation agreement reached with Pugh. Hancock agreed that perception was important and said the increase in pay could be based on other factors, such as a satisfactory rating from the board. 

The board discussed surrounding counties and what their superintendents make. Superintendents in Harris County ($182,361.20), Muscogee County ($189,386.69), Carroll County ($203,593.64) and Coweta ($207,240.12) make more than Troup County pays, according to information from Georgia Department of Education. Superintendents in Meriwether County ($132,584.58) and Heard County ($147,491.44) make less.