Richland superintendent search will be less transparent

By Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldMarch 6, 2013 

The Richland School District's search for a new superintendent will take longer and be less transparent than initially planned.

Richland School Board members discussed details of the search with consultants from the recruiting agency McPherson & Jacobsen during a special board meeting Tuesday.

Chairman Rick Jansons told the Herald that some of the changes to the board's plans are a tough sell, particularly having preliminary closed-door interviews with applicants.

However, board members said during the meeting that they want a large pool of candidates to consider and the new plan should provide that.

"Several individuals have already called us," said consultant Al Cohen.

The board began looking for a new superintendent Jan. 22, the same day it fired Superintendent Jim Busey. Busey violated the morality clause of his contract by having an extramarital affair with an employee at Jefferson Elementary School, along with pursuing relationships with other women who worked for or in the district.

The board also accused him of attempting to paint the district in a bad light by misconstruing information he threatened to release to the media.

Busey since has sued the district and the board members in federal court for discrimination and improperly firing him and is seeking at least $1 million in damages, plus back pay.

Board members and citizens spoke Tuesday of the qualities they want to see in a new superintendent, such as a someone with experience administering construction projects and a bond measure. District voters recently approved a $98 million bond that will build several schools and renovate other facilities.

Overall, though, most said they want someone who will foster the district's own innovations and not bring in a whole new agenda.

"To me, the biggest thing is we have a great executive team in place, so we need a strong leader who can let them do their job," said Vice Chairwoman Heather Cleary.

Cohen and fellow consultant Mike Boring said they are advertising the job both in the state and with national-level organizations.

The proposed timeline for the hiring process would give the board a first look at some names in mid-March but not a suggested list of people to interview until April 2. Initial and final interviews would take place in mid-April, with a hire sometime later that month at the earliest.

Jansons told the Herald the board originally planned to hire someone by April 10. However, after talking with the consultants, board members agreed to push the timeline out at least two weeks to give more time for candidates to get materials in, but also to vet them.

Those were some of the same reasons the board agreed to make initial interviews with suggested applicants behind closed doors. Boring said there are benefits to having an entirely transparent interview process, but that it could be harder for the board to ask difficult questions or get interest from other current superintendents.

"There are often things going on in school districts that can be threatened if someone is possibly leaving," Boring said.

Jansons said he was concerned that only two sitting superintendents applied to the district when they last hired for the position and others said they wanted to ensure there was a good hire.

"I really want a bigger pool," Cleary said.

Finalists for the position will still have to make a public visit to the district and have a final interview in an open school board meeting, said the consultants and board members.

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