Newton County School Board members voted Tuesday to use the Georgia School Board Association in their search for a new superintendent, with all members voting in favor except District 1 representative Jeff Meadors.
Following the announcement by current Superintendent Gary Mathews in late November that he planned to retire June 30, the board had to choose between three options in searching for the new head of the Newton County School System. They could conduct the search themselves, use Griffin RESA (an intermediate agency that serves a designated region of school districts, of which Newton County is a part), or use the Georgia School Board Association to conduct the search. The GSBA is who the school board used in their last search.
The GSBA will cost roughly $8,000, as well as mileage incurred during the search. According to GSBA Board specialist Jim Puckett, it typically would take just three trips from their offices to Newton County during the search. A search by Griffin RESA would be free; however, they have never conducted a superintendent search, while GSBA has conducted hundreds.
Puckett urged board members to look at the brochure that was created for the last superintendent search and add or take away as needed, he also said they would be sent an electronic survey that would allow GSBA to create a brochure so potential candidates know what the NCSS wants in their new superintendent.
According to a sample timeline from GSBA, it takes roughly three weeks from contract to the completion of the brochure, two weeks for printing, between six and eight weeks between the mailing of the brochure and the application deadline, two to three weeks for a review of applications and reference checks, before GSBA meets with the board to provide them with their top picks. The board will then schedule interviews with the hope that a new superintendent can be chosen by mid-April.
The board can decide if they want to reimburse out-of-town candidates for travel and lodging expenses and if they want to do their own credit and background checks, or if they would like GSBA to do them at the cost of roughly $50 per candidate.
Despite the cost, some board members say that GBSA’s experience outweighs the cost of them conducting the labor and time-intensive search.
“I voted in favor of GSBA because of their record,” said District 5 representative Abigail Coggin. “Ms. [District 3 representative Shakila] Henderson-Baker made very valid points in her statement for GSBA over Griffin RESA. This is not to say Griffin RESA or any other organization is not capable in carrying out a superintendent search in a positive fashion.”
Henderson-Baker said during the Tuesday meeting that she was not in favor of the NCSS being used as a guinea pig by Griffin RESA since they have never conducted a search such as this before.
“Our school system is in a unique situation,” said Coggin. “We are on the cusp of gaining ground in so many areas where a person with a proven track record needs to be the Chief Operating Officer of our schools. We also need to make this transition as smooth as possible. I feel GSBA will be able to provide us with the most qualified candidates available and help make the transition as seamless as possible because of their proven services.”
GSBA will not be choosing the new superintendent. They will merely find the applicants that have everything the NCSS is looking for and weed out the unqualified before presenting their results to the board. The public will also be asked for their input on the matter in the form of a survey that will be placed on the school system website at a future time. The goal is to find out what citizens believe are the most important qualities and qualifications for a superintendent.
District 4 representative Almond Turner also believed that contracting with the GSBA was the correct way to search for a new superintendent.
“There were over 240 searches that GSBA has already conducted over the years, and we have used them in the past,” he said. “That is not to say that Griffin RESA couldn’t do it, but as of yet they haven’t conducted one [superintendent search]. I chose GSBA because of their record and because it’s a very important position we have to fill in order to keep our school system going in the positive direction it needs to continue to move in. I felt that GSBA was the right one, and the money they are charging is not that much considering all they do for us in the search.”
District 1 representative Jeff Meadors, the one opposing vote, disagreed. After a conversation with the executive director of Griffin RESA, Stephanie Gordy, Meadors said that he believed she was “top notch” and, as a graduate of Newton High School, had an interest in the county.
“Dr. Gordy has a real interest in Newton County and would work well with us to find the right match for our next superintendent - at no cost to us, no cost to taxpayers, in a year we are asking for SPLOST to pass. If Griffin RESA is good enough for our board training, then they are certainly good enough to assist us, free of charge, in a superintendent search,” said Meadors. “It’s not rocket science. Our PR director is on salary and can assist with marketing and public relations. Our HR department routinely handles CBCs (criminal background checks). Certainly there is enough intelligence collectively for us to use our current resources, the free resources of Griffin RESA and pull off a search. We just paid out to GSBA in 2009 to do a search. These searches start at $8,000. They don’t end there. That said, I lost this vote to preserve taxpayer dollars, so I will get on board with the measure that passed and be a team player.”
Although board member Shakila Henderson-Baker and board chairman Eddie Johnson both voted in favor of using GSBA, they did not comment on their reasons for doing so.