Opting again to hire a consultant and appoint a community advisory committee, the Flagler County School Board took its first steps Tuesday in what will likely be an eight to nine-month process of replacing Superintendent Jim Tager–and the board’s third search in in five years.
The board will hire the same consultant, Andrea Messina of the Florida School Board Association, who helped the board toward its decision to hire Tager just over two years ago. Tager is essentially term-limited: he is required to retire by next June 30. He is a participant in a the Florida Retirement System’s deferred retirement program. By law, he must be out of any FRS-participating employer for at least six months. He’s decided not to contend for his position even if the board were interested in hiring him back, thus clearing the way for a search for his outright replacement.
But Tager, who welcomed school district staff back at the Flagler Auditorium on Monday, said today he is eager to serve out his three-year contract: he will not resign early. He has no intention of being a lame-duck superintendent, nor of projecting the perception of being one.
School Board members are not interested in paying two superintendents during an overlap period: that would be pricey. So Tager’s set tenure will, to a large extend, define when the board will time its interviews and the hiring of the next superintendent. School Board member Colleen Conklin said that in many cases, applicants who are currently employed as superintendents will themselves be working to the end of their school year elsewhere, coinciding with Tager’s end date. She is looking at spring candidate interviews.
Only three of the five board members attended today’s special session on the superintendent search, what will from here on be a set monthly special meeting or workshop ahead of the normally scheduled workshop for the first week of the month. (Board Chair Janet McDonald was on a family emergency, Trevor Tucker was hung up in traffic, driving down from Jacksonville. He made it for the 3 p.m. workshop.) So Conklin requested that the bulk of the discussion be deferred to when all board members were present.
McDonald on Monday emailed board members her preferences, including the hiring of Messina (who was charging boards $14,000 for the service in 2018) and the establishment of a community advisory panel, with each school board member appoint three individuals. (McDonald’s three suggestions: Fire Chief Don Petito, Rev. Don Schultz and Laurie Alter, the auditorium board president.) McDonald is recommending the appointment of an administrative advisory committee made up of school staff.
“I would like to have all/most items completed and selection made/accepted by Feb 2020 at the latest,” McDonald wrote in her email, “so adequate overlap transition time can be planned into Supt Tager’s busy spring schedule.”
But that would assume the hire of a superintendent four months ahead of Tager’s end date, which may raise timing issues: board members consider one month ample time for a transition.
Community panels have been used in both the last two hiring rounds that resulted in the appointments of Jacob Oliva and Tager. The panel felt a little marginalized in the case of Oliva’s hire, which was perceived as a done deal from the start. The panel may have been a bit more instrumental in the hiring of Tager.
School Board Attorney Kristy Gavin spent the bulk of the 35-minute special session outlining the series of variables board members must consider as they take on what’s generally considered one of their most consequential responsibilities: school board members hire and fire only two people, the board attorney and the superintendent. They are also the only two people who report directly to the board. The hires usually reflect the board’s character.
One of the main points Gavin stressed was the “ultimate goal for your selection date.” She also discussed whether board members will be interested in conducting site visits where the candidates are currently working, what qualities will define the hire, what kind of “soft skills,” such as an ability to lobby, to usefully engage with politicians, to deal with parents, will be required, and what sort of salary range board members will be comfortable with. Many other issues are detail-oriented, and may be left up to the consultant. The board will have to decide whether its own human resource department or the citizens’ advisory board will short-list candidates for interviews.
Issues the next superintendent must contend with include what appears to be a resumption in growth and the district’s plan to ask voters to approve a new local tax levy to supplement state funding.
Conklin asked Tager, who sat at the board table quietly throughout, to give his thoughts on the hiring process he went through and asked him to what extent he’d be willing to be involved in the process to hire his replacement. “Whatever I can do to help,” he said.
The board is expected to approve a consulting contract with the Florida School Board Association at its Aug. 20 meeting.