By Heather Mullinix
Local applicants for the position of director of schools are welcome, but the Cumberland County Board of Education is looking for the most qualified candidates, regardless of where they call home, the board agreed during a work session last week.
"The whole point of the search process is to get the top candidates," said David Bowman, 7th District representative. "If the local applicants are in the top, then we'll interview them."
Sandy Brewer, 3rd District representative, added, "We all have different opinions. I want to keep an open mind, and I may not get all that I want, but I want this board to be unified in the individual we choose."
Part of determining the best candidate may include seeking candidates with more than the minimum three years of experience in administration.
Jim Blalock, 8th District representative, said he'd like to see candidates with at least five years experience. "The purpose of that is to get a better feel of how they got started and how they've done in the job," Blalock said.
School board policy requires a director of school to have a professional educator's license; at least a master's degree in education, with a preference for a doctorate; at least three years of successful experience in school administration; and any other qualifications desired by the board. The director is responsible for all activities of the school district, including educational program, financial management, upkeep and maintenance of facilities, hiring and evaluation of school personnel and any other duties assigned by the board. These duties may be delegated with appropriate authority, but the director is ultimately responsible and accountable for these functions.
Richard Janeway, 2nd District representative, said he wasn't in favor of changing school system policy regarding the minimum number of years experience required, partly because of the time it would take to make the policy change and partly because of applicants it could disqualify.
"We don't want to eliminate a great up-and-coming person," Janeway said. "This is the minimum. We can have a preference for seven years, but in the evaluation process, those with more experience are going to have higher scores, anyway."
Also discussed was the compensation to be offered candidates. An actual salary figure would have to be negotiated between the board and a successful candidate, but some board members felt the board needed to discuss a salary range to help applicants decide if they wanted to apply.
"Salaries are negotiated," said Director of Schools Aarona VanWinkle. "They'll have a figure they're going to ask for. If you feel it's too much based on the salaries we pay, you can tell them that."
The director must be paid the highest salary in the school system, per state law, and there is a salary scale with minimum salary requirements, adjusted for the average daily membership of the school system. The minimum salary for a candidate with three years experience in administration and a master's degree is $51,615 base and an additional $20,020 for the school system's ADM. VanWinkle said the Basic Education Program funding formula generates $95,400 for the director of schools salary.
VanWinkle's contract sets her salary at $90,000.
"Anyone who applies will have to understand this county doesn't pay teachers as well as other counties," said Gordon Davis, 5th District representative. "The teachers would rebel if we were to bring in someone at $150,000."
Josh Stone, 4th District representative, said he had reviewed the budgets of surrounding counties and Cumberland County's director of school compensation was far below that offered in other school systems.
"We're not going to get top talent if we're not willing to pay for it," Stone said. "We can't be $20,000 less than the next lowest paying county. I don't see how we would get anyone to accept the job if they had other opportunities, and I think we all want a desired talent."
Dan Schlafer, 9th District representative, said, "Folks who are not familiar with what goes on in a school system don't realize how much a director does. They earn every cent of their salary."
He added that CEO's of corporations handling revenues of $45 million a year would make significantly more than $95,000 a year.
"We need to set a range, and I think applicants need to be aware of that," Schlafer continued.
Charles Tollett, 1st District representative, said, "We can't raise every salary to where we want it to be, but we can begin somewhere. The task before us is the director of schools."
There was also discussion of performance bonuses, something the state is encouraging, where a director could receive a bonus if the school system hit targets for academic gains. There was a question of how such a bonus would be received by other school system personnel.
Others noted that while Cumberland County may not be able to pay the most in terms of salary, it does offer a good living and work environment. Board members praised VanWinkle for the academic achievement in the school system and noted that would make the position an attractive position for applicants.
"You've done an outstanding job for Cumberland County in the time you've been the director," Davis said. "Things are already in place for the next person to hit the ground running. Personally, I'd much rather go into a situation like this than one where the board had removed a director."
Among accomplishments discussed were a graduation rate that had shown significant improvement in recent years, two schools recognized as reward schools by the state and students that consistently meet rising academic standards.
"We're not a school system struggling with meeting state standards," said Janeway. "We need to tell them how proud we are of our schools."
The board will consider the final job description at its meeting Thursday, which begins at 6 p.m. at the Central Office. The board will consider an advertisement flyer for the position that will include information about the position as well as community and school information. It will include information on how to apply for the position and could include qualifications and job description, though some board members felt that information would be better kept on a website posting.
Information on the application process, the flyer and qualifications and duties of the director will be posted on the Cumberland County Schools website, ccschools.k12tn.net, with links from associations such as the Tennessee School Boards Association and Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents. VanWinkle said the posting would also go out to every school so that teachers and administrators in the county would know how to apply if they so desired.
The application process will open Friday, Jan. 25. Applicants will send a package containing a letter of interest, résumé, transcripts, letters of reference and current professional references. Those must be received by 4 p.m. Feb. 22. No application package will be opened prior to Feb. 22.
Board members are scheduling public meetings to gather input from the community on qualities the next director of schools should have. Bowman has set a meeting for Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. at North Cumberland Elementary.