The Duluth School Board took its first steps Monday in its search for a new superintendent.
The School Board attended a Minnesota School Board Association workshop in the Duluth to learn more about how a search could or should be conducted. Board members were given tips on everything from what should be on the job announcement to community engagement to how to interview candidates and open meeting laws.
“We really believe hiring a superintendent is the board’s work,” said Sandy Gundlach, director of school board services at MSBA who taught the workshop. “So I encourage all members of the board to participate in the process.”
Gundlach went over best practices for conducting a superintendent search. According to Gundlach, most superintendent searches last three to six months. Last year many of them only took three months, but Gundlach said that was unusual.
“You have the time so there’s no need to rush,” Gundlach said. Current superintendent Bill Gronseth's contract with the school district ends in June 2020. He announced his resignation earlier this year.
Gundlach said the board's first decision should be whether to hire an outside consultant to handle the search or to have in-house staff members conduct it. According to district human resources manager Tim Sworsky, in the past, the district has used a combination of both. He also said part of the budgeting process for this year was to set aside money to hire a consultant, but he wasn’t sure how much was budgeted.
Gundlach said one downside to using a consultant is that it will cost the district more money, and gave an estimate of about $20,000 or more. She said one of the downsides of having the search handled completely in-house is that the staff member who is designated to handle the process has other duties as well. Larger districts, like Duluth, typically hire consultants, Gundlach said.
After deciding whether or not to hire a consultant, the next step would be to set a timeline for the entire search process from community input meetings to when to schedule interviews. Any discussions about the superintendent are expected to be public, open meetings. This includes discussing which candidates to interview — though names will remain confidential and only the names of those selected for interviews will be made public — the interviews themselves, the discussion on who to hire and the negotiation of a contract for the new superintendent.
“Make the process as transparent as possible,” Gundlach said to board members.
Candidates for consideration will be given an identification number or letter so board members can have an open conversation. Board members can request to see the names of all the applicants, which is considered private data in the application stage of the process, but Gundlach told the board “if you can’t keep a secret don’t look at the names.”
Gundlach said the MSBA’s best practices suggest a framework for the process, but the School Board makes its own decisions about how to proceed. Though, Gundlach said, whatever the board decides to do with the process and timeline, she wants them to try to come to a consensus.
“Some of this process can get contentious,” Sworsky said. “I think that it has always been really important that at the end of it all to show that you are going to support whoever is coming in no matter how the words went during the process.”
Gundlach said in an ideal world the decision to hire a superintendent would be a unanimous vote, but there have been times when it’s not.
No decisions were made during the more than three-hour meeting Monday as it was informational only and a time for board members to ask questions. Board chair Rosie Loeffler-Kemp said the workshop was definitely worth it and is excited about the possibilities.
“This is one of the most important focuses and decisions that a school board needs to make by doing a thorough, thoughtful process, involving the community and hiring the next leader of the district,” Loeffler-Kemp said.
But that process is going to take time, which Gronseth has given the board, she said.
“We hope that we have many wonderful candidates because we have very many successes going on right now, and we look forward to showcasing why this is a great district to come to,” Loeffler-Kemp said.