Voorheesville seeks new superintendent in tough market

VOORHEESVILLE — Since Voorheesville’s school superintendent, Brian Hunt, announced he is retiring at the end of the school year, the district is seeking a new superintendent.

The search will be confidential because the pool of applicants is small, riling some who are used to community and staff involvement in selecting school administrators.

At the March 11 school board meeting, the board said that, unlike previous searches for a new superintendent and save for two forums that took place on March 7, no other stakeholders — teachers and community members — will have a role in the hiring process.

The school board was told by the Capital Region Board of Cooperative Educational Services, which the district has hired to help with its search, that the pool of applicants is limited; in order to drum up qualified candidates, the search must confidential. That way, qualified, already-employed superintendents, assistant superintendents, or principals looking to apply for the job will have some cover.

Doreen Saia, the board president, said that BOCES made it clear there were two concerns it had about finding a new superintendent for Voorheesville.

The first was that the search had to be confidential.

“But the second is: This is a seller’s market right now — period,” Saia said.

There are too few candidates for too many positions, she said, and so those candidates can pick and choose which interviews they want. “And they know that they are a sought-after commodity,” Saia said. “So we are not in the driver’s seat on this.”

As a small school district, Voorheesville will attract some candidates but not others, Saia said. “And as a small district with effectively no commercial base, we have a limited ability to compensate our superintendent.”

When Hunt was hired in 2015, his starting salary was $140,000. He oversees a district with 1,164 students.

Timothy Mundell, superintendent of the Berne-Knox-Westerlo Central School District, was hired in 2015 at a starting salary of $125,000. He oversees a district with 762 students. Guilderland’s Marie Wiles was paid $175,000 in her first year as superintendent, in 2010. She oversees about 5,700 students.

Among other local school districts some of the starting salaries of superintendents have been: Bethlehem, with 4,518 students, $175,000 in 2016; Schoharie, with 930 students, $130,000 in 2015; Schalmont, with 1,900 students, $157,500 in 2013; North Colonie, with 5,448 students, prorated sum of $174,166 in 2010 (full-year salary: $190,000); and South Colonie, with about 4,800 students, prorated sum of $168,900 in 2008.

Also during the March 11 meeting, Saia tried to clear up issues that had occurred during the March 7 forums. Representatives from BOCES facilitated two forums that day in order to receive feedback about the qualities and characteristics that people felt the new superintendent should possess. One forum was for Voorheesville’s teachers; the second was for the community.

The issue that arose was that BOCES representatives did not tell teachers the only chance they would have to offer input about the search would be the March 7 forum. However, there is also an online survey.

Four years ago, when Hunt was hired, teachers had been part of a search committee. Kathy Fiero, president of the Voorheesville teachers’ union, told The Enterprise that this is the first time teachers have not been a part of a search committee for the district’s superintendent.

At the second forum, on the evening of March 7, the community was going to be told about the confidential search without the teachers having any knowledge of it. “I’m not sure what happened on their end,” Saia said of BOCES’ failure to notify the teachers they wouldn’t be involved in the search. “I just think honestly, they’re running too many searches at once, and they got their signals crossed.”

By the time of the second forum, Saia said, “we were in an impossible situation, because [BOCES] did not — and I agree — [BOCES] did not want to get out in front of the teachers and provide information to the public that the teachers had not heard at the afternoon forum.”

However, she said, no one wanted to cancel the community forum and deny the public its opportunity to weigh in on the search. And, the decision was made to hold the meeting and then to contact Fiero afterward to inform her about the confidential search.

During the public-comment portion of the March 11 meeting, an understanding Fiero responded to what had happened a few days earlier, but made it clear that the blame for failing to notify the teachers does not lie with BOCES.

“I appreciate the acknowledgment that maybe a ball was dropped, and I appreciate the phone call explaining … the rationale for a confidential search,” Fiero said to the board. “However, I guess I’m on the same bandwagon that I’ve been on for a year about communication. In my mind, we are not BOCES employees, we’re your [district] employees. And so, I think there’s not a question in my mind [where] communication should have come from, and I think that needs to be reflected on.”

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