Searching for a search firm: Sullivan BOE planning to vote on method to find new superintendent

Rick Wagner • Jan 24, 2019 at 9:34 AM

BLOUNTVILLE — If tentative plans work out, Sullivan County Schools would have a new director by about May 1, giving the new director two months to shadow retiring Director Evelyn Rafalowski.

Rafalowski is retiring after nearly 42 years with the school system, with four as director of schools.

The Board of Education discussed the search process during a called work session on Tuesday, with two basic options: using either the Tennessee School Boards Association or consultant Wayne Qualls — unless the board decides to do its own search or go with a higher-priced national search firm. The board plans to make a decision on how to proceed at its regular Feb. 7 board meeting.

Board attorney Pat Hull presented the board with options during the work session. They break down as follows:

— A TSBA search would be $6,500 plus some potential reimbursements, although a complete search in which TSBA handles most of the process could cost $12,000 to $15,000, Vice Chairman Randall Jones said.

— A Qualls search, headed by a former Tennessee education commissioner, would cost about $6,000 plus travel reimbursement.

— A national search firm, which Hull said would charge about $20,000 to $25,000.

— A school board search, in which the board would accept individual applications that would immediately become public record, which Hull said might dissuade some from applying. Hull said a local search would be more limited and could present issues. “Some people can fix their own car, some people can’t,” Hull said.

However, using a search firm has the advantage of keeping the identities of potential candidates under wraps, although Chairman Michael Hughes asked Hull to research how the “Sunshine Law” and open records law in Tennessee would apply.

Hull said he would not recommend individual members meet with candidates because it could open up a can of worms if an unsuccessful candidate alleged improper questions not allowed by law were asked — and that’s not to mention whether it would break the open meetings and records law outright, he said. 

Vice Chairman Randall Jones said generally with a search firm or group no names are public until semifinalists or finalists are named, and Hull and board member Mark Ireson said when school board members get resumes is when names go public. However, Jones said he would like for the board to see the resumes of all qualified candidates, not just the ones the search firm or consultant might choose as finalists.

“That might make it public, I don’t know,” Jones said.

Ireson said, “That’s (resumes and identities) public as soon as it shows up. If something shows up on our doorstep, it’s public immediately.”

Sullivan has used TSBA in recent searches, resulting in the hirings of Jack Barnes and Jubal Yennie, but waived its rules and chose Rafalowski without a formal search almost four years ago after the board chose her as the interim director.

As for the time frame, Hull said it probably would take at least three months for a search, and Jones said TSBA recommends four to six months.

Also, board members Randall Gilmore and Ireson suggested school board qualifications be moved from a minimum of three years of administrative experience to 10 years. Hughes said that policy was up for review in March, anyway, and that it could be passed in one reading on waiver of the rules at the Feb. 7 board meeting.

The maximum director contract in Tennessee is four years, although contracts can be one, two or three years. By law, any extension must be done at the end of the term of the existing contract, not before.

Hughes said the board could choose to appoint an interim if a new director can’t be secured before Rafalowski’s retirement.

Qualls did a recent Hawkins County director search and found the last two directors for Kingsport.

In Kingsport, the process has been that Qualls came up with one finalist, who the board approved. Those were Lyle Ailshie, who came from Greeneville but went on to become the deputy commissioner of education for Tennessee, and Jeff Moorhouse, who also was a Greeneville superintendent.

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