BEDFORD — With the impending retirement of Joe Drake at the end of the 2019/2020 school year, Mount Ayr and Bedford community schools are searching for a new shared superintendent. Drake has been the superintendent at Bedford for 27 years and the shared superintendent for 10 years.
The two school boards kicked off the search during a special joint board meeting Wednesday evening in Bedford.
Trent Grundmeyer of Grundmeyer Leader Services, the firm that recruited Deron Stender for Creston Community Schools’ superintendent position, presented the boards with the process the firm uses to recruit, vet and help hire a candidate.
Grundmeyer emphasized that the best candidate on paper might not be the right fit for the communities and that GLS has several mechanisms to help the boards make the most appropriate choice for their situation.
“In the end, the most important thing is to get the right person to serve both your districts well,” Grundmeyer said.
The first of these is a community survey that will ask residents of both districts to choose personal and professional skills they find important in a superintendent. The respondents also have the opportunity to write in characteristics they feel will be essential to the position.
The responses to this questionnaire will help Grundmeyer and the board form a list of essential characteristics to share with applicants and eventually the interview questions.
Long-time Bedford board member Rodger Richie asked how the boards can discover whether the candidates have the necessary background in finances to keep the two schools on solid ground.
“Where in all this do we talk about finance and the ability to keep the school operating and meet all these standards?” Richie said. “This a big concern I have because I’ve seen some of these small schools because of somebody not knowing the finances they went out of business.”
Grundmeyer assured the boards that since this is an important part of the job for a superintendent in small schools, it will almost certainly come up in the responses from the community and, even if doesn’t, the boards are free to add areas they feel are important. He stated his firm will help the boards craft questions to address the issues found to be the most vital to the community.
A unique part of the interview process will be Grundmeyer’s use of mixed interview groups. The boards will choose approximately 20 individuals to represent each school, including teachers and support staff, students, parents and community members to sit on a panel. Each panel member will fill out an electronic rubric, or score sheet, during the interview, which GLS will synthesize and present to the boards during the closed session following the interviews.
The last half of the meeting was used as a work session to answer some essential questions so that Grundmeyer’s firm can begin the search.
Salary range, benefits, contract term and a moving allowance were discussed. A range from $140,000 to $165,000 will be offered for a base salary for a three year term with a variety of benefits including paid health insurance, retirement and annuities to be negotiated with the final candidate.
After some discussion, the boards chose to include a moving allowance in the package. Grundmeyer informed the board that it is illegal to require the superintendent to live in the district, but that adding an allowance would encourage the new superintendent to move to a community within one of the school districts within a specified time frame.
This payment will be based on actual cost of moving and will be paid by the district where the new superintendent chooses to live.
The timeline for each step was solidified. The survey will be available to the public from Oct. 14 to Nov. 10. Active recruitment using the top six to eight characteristics deemed important by the boards acceptance of applications will run from Nov. 22 to Dec. 31.
The two boards will meet with Grundmeyer or his associate Kevin Fiene 6 p.m. Jan. 8 to narrow the field to six to eight candidates and develop the interview questions, and a live video interview with the top candidates will be held Jan. 22. These sessions will be closed to the public to allow anonymity for applicants who may not be ready to publicly announce that they are seeking a new position.
The top three candidates will be invited, with their families, to a tour of the districts and a formal interview with the mixed groups and the boards Feb. 6. Grundmeyer suggested that due to the nature of a shared position, the boards might want to split this day into two sessions, one in each district.
“I think that sounds really good,” said PJ West, a Mount Ayr board member, “I was thinking about how that would work and that seems like a good solution.”
After the day-long interview process, the two boards will meet in closed session to discuss the candidates and choose the top contender. The boards will have the option to make an offer at this time. An open session will follow to announce the decision.