Stewart responds

The Warren County School District’s (WCSD) appointment of a new superintendent and the search leading up to haven’t been without controversy.

Questions over the number of candidates advanced for public scrutiny, fees paid for consultancy services in the search and the timing of a special school board meeting to appoint a new superintendent have arisen.

In an e-mail exchange Monday after the board voted to appoint Dr. William Clark as the new district superintendent, Board President Arthur Stewart responded to these questions.

Stewart outlined the role the Pennsylvania School Board Association (PSBA) played in the district’s hiring process. The board approved utilizing an “executive search” package of services from PSBA to aid in the search in February at a cost of $10,950.

“Two years ago, the board initiated the search without assistance spending several thousand dollars in advertising,” Stewart wrote referring to the district’s last superintendent search. “We obtained a small pool of candidates. We did not hire from that pool. We then hired PSBA to conduct a second search and we obtained a much larger and diverse pool. In that process we learned about the extensive network of contacts that PSBA brought to the table.”

Stewart said the district also looked to the work PSBA had done with the local intermediate unit when it was searching for an executive director.

“More recently, local intermediate unit IU5, of which WCSD is a member, went through an executive director search using PSBA services,” Stewart noted. “The IU board was well satisfied with PSBA’s work.”

Those positive experiences led the district to seek aid when it once again was looking for a superintendent after the departure of Brandon Hufnagel in February.

“Thus, in the current search, knowing that superintendents are in high demand, and with our experience two years ago, it was logical to hire PSBA,” Stewart said. “In addition to advertising and obtaining the pool of candidates, the PSBA handled all the reference checks. PSBA contacted 21 individuals at the two districts where Dr. Clark served as superintendent. Finally, PSBA spent several hours in the contract negotiation process with us. Dr. Clark was in significant demand with other districts and the PSBA gave significant help by providing data as to salary averages, other compensation norms and guidance on how to comply with the new law concerning superintendent contracts.”

Stewart also responded to questions of why only one applicant made it to the second round of the interview process and the public forum.

According to Stewart:

“Superintendents are currently in high demand in Pennsylvania.”

“The criteria we employed in our initial screening reduced the pool of candidates to five.”

“Two of the initial five interviewees took other positions.”

“When the board met with the remaining three candidates, the board was of the unanimous mind that two of the three did not meet either the experience or expertise components we were looking for.”

The timing of the district school board’s meeting to vote on the appointment of that single candidate was also viewed as questionable, but Stewart said the meeting was timed to reflect board schedules. The meeting was scheduled at the end of last week to take place at 8:30 a.m. Monday. The board had committee meetings scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. Monday already.

“We scheduled the meeting for this morning because I am leaving for vacation at 11 a.m. today,” Stewart said. “Donna (Zariczny, board vice president) and Mary Anne (Paris, board member) are already out of town. We weren’t sure if we would have a quorum this evening.”

Zariczny was not in attendance Monday morning and Paris participated by teleconferencing.