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Published: Thursday, 4/27/2006

TPS takes first steps to replace Sanders

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER

The five members of the Toledo Public Schools board have some homework to do in their search for a new superintendent to replace the departing Eugene Sanders.

By a week from today, each member must draft written profiles detailing the characteristics of the person they would like to see become the district's next superintendent and turn it over to a Milwaukee headhunter firm hired to conduct a national search.

The board met yesterday morning with Nancy Noeske, president of PROACT Search, Inc., and discussed an "aggressive timetable" they hope will produce a new superintendent by Sept. 1.

Ms. Noeske recommended advertising for the position from May 14 to June 16 and then holding a series of meetings - the first of which will be focus group sessions on May 30 and May 31 with the district's union leaders and teachers. The board of education would later hold public forums to gather input from the community.

A Blade review of salaries paid to urban school superintendents in Ohio and nationwide indicates the Toledo Public board should expect a case of salary sticker shock when it goes shopping for a new superintendent. A new superintendent will probably cost more than its current, a problem for a district cutting millions from its budget for the third consecutive year and which recently closed six schools to help reduce a $12 million deficit.

Mr. Sanders - whose resignation is effective Aug. 31 and who has been offered the chief executive job running the Cleveland public schools district - is paid a base salary of $147,767 annually, but his total compensation equals $194,179.

A 2004-2005 national study by Educational Research Service in Arlington, Va., found the average annual contract salary for superintendents at districts with more than 25,000 students was $179,774. The average superintendent at a school system with 10,000 to 24,999 students made $147,767 per year during that time period. Toledo Public is the area's largest district with about 30,000 students.

Superintendents often receive more compensation than just a salary: stipends for cars and tax-deferred annuities are also among the perks. Some contracts also contain bonus incentives for improving student performance on state-mandated tests or meeting federal standards.

Rosa Blackwell, superintendent of Cincinnati public schools, is paid $197,500 annually, receives an $800-a-month car allowance, and gets $6,400 a year for "professional expenses."

In Cleveland, former chief executive Barbara Byrd-Bennett was paid $270,000 in annual base salary. She was also eligible for "performance compensation" each fiscal year up to a maximum of 28 percent of the base salary - or $75,600.

In addition, the Cleveland district made yearly payments for her into a tax-sheltered annuity. In 2002, that amount was $11,000; the following year it was $12,000.

Toledo Board President Darlene Fisher admitted it will be a challenge to find the right candidate at the right price.

"We will most definitely have to stay within the range [the current superintendent] is paid," Ms. Fisher said. "We have to be very close to that figure, especially because our employees haven't had a raise in several years."

Ms. Noeske said a new superintendent will likely not come to Toledo for less than Mr. Sanders' compensation.

"I have never had salary as an issue in recruiting," Ms. Noeske said.

Board member Robert Torres, who emphasized his desire for the board to consider "nontraditional candidates" for the superintendent's post, agreed with Ms. Fisher on the salary constraints.

"My expectation is that it should not deviate from the current [pay] level," he said.

Board member Larry Sykes asked Ms. Noeske yesterday when the board should begin to discuss salary for the new TPS superintendent.

"It's going to be hard to get a sitting superintendent, one with experience in building and renovation, one that has a proven record in being able to negotiate with unions, one that can pass levies, and one who appeals to the public," Mr. Sykes said.

He said applicants will probably want $200,000 or more - especially given the problems the district is facing, such as declining enrollment, mounting deficits, and divisiveness among board members.

Ms. Noeske recommended against advertising a salary.

"The first question [applicants] ask is never about salary," she said. "They ask what is the board is like. It's really important for the board to work together on this, because a candidate will not take a job with a 4-1 or 3-2 vote."

The board yesterday discussed using an advisory committee, as it did in 2000 for the search that ultimately yielded Mr. Sanders.

Mr. Sykes said it is important to be clear with people on such a committee that they do not make the final decision. He also asked Ms. Noeske about the effect of people "lobbying" for the job - even before applications are being accepted.

About six people have started a grass-roots campaign to promote Earl Murry, a University of Toledo professor, for the superintendent's job at TPS.

Longtime TPS critic Don Mullen, a factory worker, said publicly during the board's meeting on Tuesday that he is applying for the superintendent position.

Ms. Noeske said public lobbying "undermines the entire process because candidates, if they think the community is supporting someone else, they will not even apply."

Former Toledo Councilman Louis Escobar told The Blade yesterday he is also interested in the job and is considering applying. Mr. Escobar, who is now interim coordinator of the multicultural student center at UT, was on City Council from 1998 to 2005 and was its president from 2003 to 2005.

By looking at nontraditional candidates - meaning people who are not superintendents elsewhere or who spent years in school district administration - Mr. Torres said TPS will "cast a lot wider net."

Rob Delane, director of school board development for the Ohio School Boards Association, said attracting candidates from the private sector is difficult because chief executive officers of large private corporations generally make much more than public school superintendents.

Contact Ignazio Messina at:

imessina@theblade.com

or 419-724-6171.



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