A second possible timeline for a superintendent search was presented to the D21 school board last week, this one allowing for the new board to be seated before any decisions are made.

Six of the seven positions on the North Wasco County School District 21 board are up for election in May, and at least four will be new people. Two are vacant seats and two incumbents, board chair Kathy Ursprung and board member Robert Zule, are not seeking re-election.

The proposed timeline, presented by Pat Sublette, superintendent of the Columbia Gorge Education Service District, would have public listening sessions in April. All candidates for the school board would be invited to attend.

Sublette said that since Superintendent Candy Armstrong will not be retiring until June 2020, the board has an unusually long time to find her replacement. The typical window is just four to six months.

For instance, the Hood River Valley School District just learned its superintendent is leaving and is working to find a replacement by July, she said.

“The Dalles has more time, which is a huge gift, but it lets them gather input; it lets them do a lot of stuff before they even choose which method they want to use” to hire, Sublette said.

She outlined four methods: using an interim superintendent, promoting from within the district, having the board do the hiring, or having a search firm guide the process.

“The main thing is they’ve got over a year to find a new superintendent, and that’s a lot of time,” she said.

She said interim superintendents are usually used only when there is limited time to make a hire. Using a search firm is the most common, she said.

While a previous timeline, proposed by board members John Nelson and Bethani Studebaker, called for a board vote in March to put money in the upcoming budget to hire a consultant, Sublette’s timeline leaves that decision until August, after the new budget is already made and the new board is seated.

Nelson and Studebaker encouraged a thorough, 14-month process, based on warnings from another school district that rushed its process and had to replace the superintendent it hired.

Sublette said consultants charge for searches based on how many students are in a district. At about 3,000 students, she was told by several firms that costs for D21 could be in the $10,000-$15,000 range.

She offered some cautions to the board, including that she heard from two search companies that they charge more if they come in after a board does a search process in-house and doesn’t get the result they want. “Because there’s kind of a mess to clean up,” she said.

Also, she found one study that said superintendents don’t stay as long at a district if a search firm is not used.

Sublette said she found there may be more lawsuits for incorrectly performed searches if done in-house, since board members may not know employment law and what can and can’t be asked during an interview.

She said if a board decides to do the search and hiring itself, “It’s a ton of work for a board to take on.” She said that even with an internal hire, that person has better credibility after participating in an open search process.

Search firms work to determine what characteristics the community wants in a new superintendent. Information is gathered through online surveys, focus groups, and meetings with board members.

Under the timeline Sublette outlined, input for the search process would be gathered from September to November, and the search would begin in November or December.

That would take advantage of the peak hiring season, which runs January to June but is mostly done in February and May.

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