Superintendents search narrows to four candidates

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OXFORD — The superintendent search committee for the Oxford Hills School District is expected to recommend a candidate to the Board of Directors next month.

The committee has narrowed the field of candidates to four, and at least one will be recommended to the Board of Directors to fill the position to be vacated by Superintendent Mark Eastman, who is retiring June 30 after 15 years as head administrator.

“It could be either one person or a neck-and-neck horse race. We may bring in two candidates. Let the board decide,” board Chairman Ron Kugell said Tuesday. He said the identities of the four candidates will remain anonymous at least until the reference checking is done.

The Board of Directors may accept the search committee’s recommendation, modify or reject it, or go back to the drawing board to find a new superintendent, Kugell explained.

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Kugell said the candidates are all “regional” and include men and women. Originally there were nine applicants, seven of which came from Maine and two from other undisclosed New England states, according to Eastman.

Kugell said he was somewhat surprised by the limited number of applicants for the job.

“I was surprised there weren’t more. I think one of the major things is right now, today, a superintendent’s position isn’t a comfortable one,” said Kugell of what he called “serious” budget cuts coming in during a “negative” time. “An established candidate can weather that kind of thing.”

 Very few superintendent positions are open currently in this state, according to information from the Maine School Management Association and other school organizations. In addition to the superintendent’s post at the Oxford Hills School District, positions are open in Unity, Millinocket, Anson and Vinalhaven. At least two are only part-time jobs. All have a start date of July 1.

The Board of Directors appointed the search committee a year ago. The committee set up an advisory panel made up of representatives from the school’s professional staff, teachers association, mid-management, central office, the parent-teacher organizations, at large members and representatives of Vocational Region 11 to screen the applicants.

“In all, 16 people were on the interview committee. We tried to be inclusive,” Kugell said of the advisory panel. Each member was apprised of legal and ethical restraints while serving on the committee and were told that anyone who felt they could not comply with the restrictions such as not disclosing candidate names should withdraw.

Ads were placed in two regional and one national publication, asking for applicants with proper Maine superintendent certification to oversee the eight-town district. The job description said the district offered a competitive salary and benefits commensurate with qualifications and experience.

Last year, the Board of Directors unanimously approved a 3 percent salary increase for Eastman, saying not only did he deserve it but the district must remain competitive when it began to search for his replacement. Eastman’s salary was raised from $100,000 to $103,000 following several years with no pay raise.

“He’s one in a million,” said Kugell, who served on the search committee that found Eastman in the 1990s when he was serving as superintendent in Mars Hills.

“When Mark was hired I was chair of the search committee,” he said. “I did the site visit at Mars Hill and I learned what a great potential he was. You don’t have to go to New York to find a good candidate. He was right up there in potato country.”

Kugell said the interviews of current candidates is just one part of the process to narrow the field of candidates. The site visits where the search committee members can talk to a candidate’s colleagues and others in the community, is also important.

“The interview is just a part of it. More important is the site visit where you talk to people that work with the candidate day in and day out. You talk to people in the community. He (Eastman) rose to the top in the process,” Kugell said.

ldixon@sunjournal.com

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