Board debates merits of requiring doctorate, previous experience as a superintendent in candidates for new Shawnee Mission leader

The school board met Ray and Associates consultants Brenda Dietrich and Ralph Teran Wednesday about the search for a new superintendent.
The school board met Ray and Associates consultants Brenda Dietrich and Ralph Teran Wednesday about the search for a new superintendent.

Members of the Shawnee Mission School District Board of Education on Wednesday held their first substantive discussion with the consulting firm they hired last month to lead the search for a new full-term superintendent, a meeting that revealed potentially conflicting ideas about the profile of an ideal candidate for the job and what a new superintendent should be paid.

Additionally, the board and consultants grappled with the best way to involve school board candidates in the process given the fact that new board members will be sworn in just as the district is preparing to select finalists.

During the session, Brenda Dietrich and Ralph Teran, the consultants who will be leading the search for Ray and Associates, worked with the board to sketch out a rough timeline for the process in hopes of getting an offer made to a candidate in February 2018. Some of the milestones include:

  • Meeting with stakeholder groups, from local municipal elected officials to state legislators to PTA leaders and district staff, will be arranged and conducted in the coming two months.
  • A community-wide survey on the characteristics most desired by patrons in a new superintendent will be posted on the web this month and left open for approximately 30 days. That survey will be used to help develop a profile for an ideal candidate for the position.
  • The district will be developing the job opening notice for the superintendent’s position and placing it on a number of recruiting boards targeted at school administrators in the coming weeks.
  • The initial deadline for applications will be around the end of the calendar year. Ray and Associates plans to present the board with a field of 12 to 15 potential finalist candidates from the initial pool sometime the week of Jan. 16.
  • The board will then narrow that field to two to three finalist candidates and schedule interviews with them in early February. At that point in the process, the identities of the finalist candidates will most likely be made public.
  • The board will select its top choice for a new superintendent from among the finalists in hopes of finalizing an employment agreement by the end of February.

The board will be asked to approve a finalized timeline at its Sept. 25 meeting.

Though the bulk of the discussion Wednesday revolved around logistical issues, board members did begin early discussions about some of the characteristics that the Shawnee Mission community might desire in a new leader. Dietrich asked the board whether they would require candidates to have a doctorate to be considered for the position. Members including Deb Zila and Donna Bysfield argued that the community would expect a superintendent to hold that academic credential. But Brad Stratton, who will be the point person on the board for communication with the search firm, suggested that it might be wise to cast a wider net in seeking candidates. Of note, John Allison, the recently hired superintendent in Olathe, does not hold a doctorate, though he has completed doctoral coursework.

“I would rather cast a wide net and get a candidate who is on the upward trajectory in their career,” Stratton said.

Similarly, Stratton bucked the consensus view among other board members that candidates should have held the superintendent role in another district to be considered for the job in Shawnee Mission. He likened the possibility of a seasoned deputy at a large school district being a good fit for the job to a talented offensive coordinator on a football team being tapped to take a head coaching role.

The upcoming board of education elections were also a frequent item of discussion, with the November vote and January swearing in dates factoring in to the development of the timeline. Board president Craig Denny requested that Ray and Associates meet with all of the board candidates individually during its stakeholder interviews, given that they all have the chance to be in a decision-making position when the finalist pool is introduced in January. The board also decided to hold off on the presentation of the finalist pool to the board until the week following their swearing in Jan. 8.

“They’re already going to be drinking from the fire hose,” said SM North area representative Sara Goodburn.

Dietrich also presented the board with an overview of the compensation levels of the leaders of peer districts to gauge the salary level the district should advertise in its job opening announcement. Here’s the slide she showed with comparable salaries:


Goodburn, Zila and Patty Mach argued that $250,000 was an appropriate base salary level given pay at peer districts and the fact that the job was advertised for $250,000 during the search process that led to the hiring of Jim Hinson in 2013. (Hinson came on in 2013 with a base salary of $217,950, but received a $25,000 annual tax sheltered annuity contribution in addition to a $9,000 per year car allowance). Stratton pushed back, suggesting that it may be advantageous to advertise the position at a level closer to $235,000 to attract candidates earlier in their careers and seeking a chance to make their mark.