Superintendent options explored
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Following the announcement last week of the retirement of superintendent Joe Drake at the conclusion of the 2019-2020 school year, the Mount Ayr Board of Education took the first steps in the long process of finding a replacement at a special meeting held Wednesday, April 3.
Harry Heiligenthal, Associate Executive Director for Board Development from the Iowa Association of School Boards, attended the meeting to guide the board in determining needs of the district, identifying characteristics of an ideal replacement and considering their options to fill the vacancy.
Drake has served both the Mount Ayr and Bedford school districts as a shared superintendent for the past nine years, and he and Heiligenthal had met with the Bedford board for a similar planning session earlier in the day.
Drake attended the opening minutes of the meeting to offer the Mount Ayr board his thoughts on a successful shared superintendency if the two boards ultimately agree to continue this arrangement. A key component, he said, was having strong people in all leadership positions, such as business officials, transportation directors, buildings and grounds directors, food service directors and building principals. He added school boards and the public need to understand a shared superintendent cannot possibly attend all school or community events in both districts or belong to clubs and organizations in both districts. Another key factor is consistent on-going interaction with board members, school staff, and community members.
Upon completion of his remarks, Drake left the meeting so as not to influence any board decision moving forward.
Heiligenthal then asked the board to identify key characteristics of their ideal superintendent candidate. The resulting list included a commitment to the area (“not a steppingstone”), a thorough understanding of school finance and budgeting, leadership and communication skills that would gain the respect of the district staff and community, and a personable individual who would be visible in school buildings and in the community.
At that point Heiligenthal offered the board four options to fill the superintendent position: hiring a single full-time superintendent, continuing a shared superintendent arrangement, filling the position in-house with a superintendent/principal combination, or going with a part-time superintendent.
Considering money is a major factor in any hiring decision, Heiligenthal shared a chart outlining the cost of wages and benefits associated with each of the above options.
For example, by averaging the base salaries for superintendents in 10 districts larger than Mount Ayr and 10 districts smaller than Mount Ayr, Heiligenthal arrived at an estimate of $138,309 as a base salary for a new superintendent. Adding dollars for FICA ($10,166.95) and IPERS ($13,056.37) as well as for benefits included in the existing superintendent’s contract for health insurance ($18,978.36), tax-sheltered annuity ($1,500), cell phone ($350), dental insurance ($720), and professional dues ($849) brings the total cost of a superintendent to $183,229.58.
Therefore, choosing to hire a single full-time superintendent would likely cost the Mount Ayr district over $183,000.
In contrast, the existing sharing contract between Mount Ayr and Bedford sets the superintendent’s salary at $164,100. All other additional costs for FICA and benefits would remain the same as stated above, with the exception of IPERS which would increase to $15,491.04. The total cost of the current shared superintendent contract is $212,155.25, with each district equally splitting that amount at $106,078 each.
However, the State of Iowa offers school districts financial incentives to share personnel and services. In the case of the shared superintendency between Bedford and Mount Ayr, the state awards each district $55,040 in additional funding.
As a result, Mount Ayr and Bedford each pay $51,038 ($106,078 minus $55,040) to employ their shared superintendent.
A third option considered by the board was to fill the vacancy with a combination superintendent/principal (or other position). The wage and benefit package for a Mount Ayr principal currently totals $131,266.60. If the two positions were combined, the district would eliminate one $131,266.60 position in exchange for a $183,229.58 combined position, effectively filling the superintendent vacancy for $52,662.98.
With little discussion, the board dismissed the fourth option of hiring a part-time superintendent because the costs involved would likely far exceed those associated with either the shared superintendent or combination superintendent options.
Heiligenthal then asked the board to list advantages and disadvantages for each option.
Advantages for a full-time superintendent included focusing on the needs of a single district, being visible and involved in the community, exhibiting instructional leadership, picking up more administrative duties and increasing involvement with students and staff.
The single disadvantage was the $183,229.58 price tag, which, the board noted, is the equivalent of three teaching positions. With the school district budget already tight, the district would have to find places to cut to make up the difference between $183,000 and the $51,000 it currently pays in the shared agreement.
Advantages for continuing a shared superintendency included the considerable cost savings to the district via the state incentives, the opportunity to implement best practices from each district, the superintendent’s ability to gain experience with budgeting more quickly due to repetition of the budgeting process, and a comfort level with the concept of a shared superintendency based on the success of the past nine years.
The list of disadvantages of a shared superintendent echoed Drake’s earlier remarks, especially in the areas of visibility and communication within the district and community. While the board agreed Mount Ayr already has in-place a strong leadership team to support a new superintendent, that person would still need to learn and adapt to the unique characteristics, needs, and expectations of both districts.
Advantages of a combined superintendent/principal position included a significant cost saving in wages and benefits plus focusing solely on the needs of a single district and being visible and involved in the community.
The main disadvantages of a combined position all related to excessive workload, lack of availability especially in the areas of discipline and management, and uncertainty about the division of administrative duties. In addition, no state financial incentives are available for such arrangements.
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At Monday’s board meeting, members received a summary of the planning session from the Bedford board.
The summary indicated the Bedford board had seriously considered only a shared superintendent or superintendent/principal option, with the preference to continue the sharing arrangement.
It was noted Bedford’s list of advantages and disadvantages to each option were nearly identical to those listed by the Mount Ayr board.
It was decided Mount Ayr board president Brandi Shay and vice president Kim Lutrick would arrange an informal meeting with their counterparts in Bedford to continue the discussions for filling the superintendent position for the 2019-2020 school year.