Oct. 6, 2004 - The Marana Unified School District governing board selected a high ranking staff member from the University of Arizona's College of Education to lead the search for its next superintendent.

At a Sept. 27 meeting, the board approved 4-0 the proposal submitted by J. Robert Hendricks, an associate dean for professional preparation in the College of Education at the University of Arizona. He was also superintendent of Flowing Wells School District.

Hendricks, who is an associate professor in educational leadership at UA, had the second lowest bid of seven organizations that submitted proposals to the district. He estimated that he could carry out the district's scope of work at a cost of $14,000. The organization Search Solutions had the lowest bid, with an estimated cost of $13,500.

Hendricks will use a community outreach group to ensure the selected candidate is representative of the entire district, Interim Superintendent Jane Pryne said. The use of the outreach group, though, falls outside the minimum scope of work required by the district and will cost an additional $2,700, bringing the total estimated cost of the search to $16,700.

Pryne said the use of the community outreach group is worth the cost because it ensures the district will select a superintendent who will be compatible with all facets of the district.

The planning process for the search is already under way and, ideally, the district will have finalists available for interview in late February or early March, Hendricks said. It's advantageous for MUSD to get an early start on the search because there's a tendency for school districts to undergo a "hiring frenzy" in early winter, making the market for qualified superintendents increasingly competitive.

The seven proposals submitted to the district were analyzed by Pryne, Chief Financial Officer Dan Contorno and Business Manager Lisa Cartier. The district officials scored the consultants based on six qualities, such as the organization's qualifications, experience and cost. The highest scores went to Hendricks with 279 out of 315 possible, Ray and Associates, which scored 258, and Search Solutions with a score of 214. These three consultants were then interviewed by the MUSD board in a Sept. 22 executive session.

Upon reviewing the consultants raw scores, a Northwest EXPLORER reporter noticed that Cartier had given some companies more than the total possible points for that category. For example Hendricks received 17 out of 10 points for the completeness of the proposal response and Search Solutions received 18 out of 15 points for the competitiveness of their fees.

The district's community relations coordinator, Tamara Crawley, said when the scores for the companies that received more than the total possible points were readjusted, the same three companies retained the highest scores.

Pryne acknowledged that any of the companies which scored highest would likely have been successful in the selection of the district's next superintendent. However, Hendricks' experience as superintendent of Flowing Wells School District from 1983 to 1996 made him an attractive candidate for the district, she said.

"For one thing, he's been a superintendent, and until you've been in a superintendent position you don't have a working knowledge of what the job requires," Pryne said.

In addition, his experience at UA gives him an extensive network of individuals in the field of education throughout Arizona to draw from as candidates for the position, Pryne said. Also, his close proximity to the district would reduce travel costs and ease the communication process with the board.

Hendricks agreed with Pryne that his familiarity with Tucson and Marana and connections in the field of education would be an asset for the district. He did not dismiss the notion that the next superintendent could be an individual from within the district, though he emphasized that the decision rests with the board alone. From his experience, he said the board generally has two options when considering candidates from within the district. It can give preferential treatment and guarantee all in-house candidates an interview, or it can consider all applications with equal weight.

"If they're a good and qualified candidate, (in-house candidates) will naturally bubble to the top," Hendricks said.

In an interview, board member Dan Post said if he retains his position as a board member through the November election, his intention would be to consider all qualified applicants equally.

The board selected Hendricks despite the fact that he's conducted considerably fewer searches than the other top scoring consultants.

According to Search Solutions proposal, the organization has assisted in superintendent searches for 20 districts. Ray and Associates proposal included a list of 34 recent searches and several past searches. In contrast, Hendricks has conducted only three superintendent searches.

Pryne pointed out that the districts Search Solutions had worked for were considerably smaller than those in Hendricks' experience. The largest district it conducted a search for was Tempe Elementary District with an enrollment of 13,000 students. On the other hand, Hendricks has conducted searches for Gilbert Unified School District with an enrollment of 30,000, and Amphitheater Unified, which has an enrollment of 17,000. Marana has more than 13,000 students.

Had the district selected the Iowa based consultant Ray and Associates, the search may have cost $18,000 plus an additional $7,995 for travel and other expenses, according to its proposal. Another aspect Pryne considered when comparing Ray and Associates with Hendricks is the number of searches each would be conducting at any given time. She said Ray and Associates works with several districts at once and the district could benefit from Hendricks' special attention.

Hendricks added that he has experience in conducting searches in unique circumstances. In the middle of Hendricks search for a superintendent at Amphi, the board was recalled and Hendricks had to continue the search with a new board.

Marana schools could face a similar situation this November when the terms of board president Janice Mitich, and board members Post and Debbie Schmich expire. The sitting board members face three challengers, Mel Kaster, Maribel Lopez and Pat Teager, endorsed by a group called "Take Back Our School District," which has the objective of replacing the current board members.

The group emerged following the board's acceptance of the resignation of the popular former superintendent, Rick Lesko. Betty Tankersley, a first grade teacher at Desert Winds Elementary and organizer of "Take Back Our School District," said the group is skeptical of the board's selection of Hendricks because of his association with former district administrators. Hendricks has worked with former MUSD Superintendent Wade McLean at the UA's Educational Leadership program. Tankersley said she and others in the district are unsure about the board's motivation behind selecting Hendricks, and it may represent a conflict of interest.

"Since they want to do a national search, we feel like it would have been better if (the board) would have gotten someone who's not so closely tied with the district," Tankersley said.

Post defended the board's decision by saying Hendricks' personal connections can benefit the district and do not represent a conflict of interest. He also said Lesko's resignation was in the best interest of the district, even if it costs him his position on the board.

Because the final decision of who will run the district rests with the board, the deliberation about candidates will not begin until the board is selected, Hendricks said. Once a candidate profile has been selected, he will advertise the position and begin the recruitment process, but he will hold on to that information until board membership has been established, either in November or January when the new board takes the oath of office.

"The most important thing I can do is keep the process really, really clean and proceed with objectivity," Hendricks said.

Hendricks' main objective is to find a candidate who will fit the needs of the board so a similar situation does not emerge where the district is divided by the resignation of the superintendent.

For that reason, it's critical that the community be involved with the process as well as the board, Hendricks said. Pryne said the community will be involved in two aspects of the search, creating the profile of the position and doing a blind screening of the candidates' resumes.

A community outreach group consisting of 50 people will create the profile of the position. It will be made up of community leaders, as well as district administration, faculty and staff. At an Oct. 16 meeting, Hendricks will divide them into focus groups of five or six people. Each group will create a list of personality characteristics and professional background qualifications the ideal candidate would have. The end result of the community group's efforts will be the profile of the next superintendent, which will then be subject to the board's approval.

The next phase of community involvement will consist of a blind screening of the candidates' resumes. In this process, the community will evaluate the potential superintendents' resumes after all identifying characteristics have been removed. The board will be able to consider the community's input when selecting which candidates to interview.

When attracting candidates, Hendricks said he will not hesitate to inform them of the current situation in the district.

"The major challenge is the fairly recent divisiveness that has emerged in the district," Hendricks said.

On the other hand, Hendricks said the district has much to offer the next superintendent, including strong teachers and administration, and students who approach learning enthusiastically. Though, he said the district may confront difficulties when recruiting out-of-state candidates because Arizona does not offer competitive benefits and the travel expenses to the district will be higher.

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