Bonnie Washuk/Sun Journal

Lewiston School Committee members Paul Dumont and Leah Poulin and Superintendent Leon Levesque try operating a hydraulic arm made by Lewiston Middle School students in their science-technology-engineering-math class. The tour was given Monday night before the committee talked about the hiring process for a new superintendent. Levesque is retiring in December, 2010.

LEWISTON — Searches for school superintendents in state are becoming more frequent while the pool of applicants has shrunk, a Maine School Management Association representative told the Lewiston School Committee Monday night.

Educators who used to apply, principals or special ed directors, are not because of the increasing responsibility of superintendents. “And they feel safe where they are,” said Sandra MacArthur of MSMA. “Consolidation has discouraged people from moving up.”

The committee heard from the MacArthur as it began looking for a new superintendent to replace Leon Levesque, who is retiring in December.

MacArthur outlined tasks the committee will face as it forms a search committee, advertises, interviews candidates and hires.

She recommended forming a search committee not larger than 10 to 12 people.

 “Are you going to pay the candidates’ travel expenses, flight, car rentals, hotels, meals and mileage?” she asked. In Maine most districts do not pay for travel expenses during the first round of interviews, she said. She suggested they consider video conferencing to save costs.

Committee members will have to think about the salary range and benefits they’ll offer. Average superintendent salary in Maine is about $100,000, with some going as high as $130,000, MacArthur said.

During the interviews, “who’s going to ask the questions?” she asked, saying it’s important to be consistent with questions asked of all candidates so accurate comparisons can be made.

She also recommended offering a three-year contract, saying candidates would not want to relocate for less.

And don’t send out letters to unsuccessful candidates until a contract is signed, MacArthur said. When a candidate is chosen, how will the announcement be made to the staff, the community. “It’s important,” MacArthur said. How the announcement is made will “impact how the community reacts.”

Committee Chairman Jim Handy agreed. “It’s good to acknowledge up front that there’s anxiety that surrounds the selection of a school leader.” It’s an important decision, he said. Levesque has been “an exceptional leader serving our children and our families,” Handy said. “We shouldn’t be looking to fill Lee’s shoes, but we should be looking for the best candidate.” Handy said he wants the search process “to be as broad as it can be, as open as the law allows with input from the broadest aspect of our community.”

Committee members agreed to hold a workshop to discuss the search process at 6 p.m. Feb. 3.

MacArthur handed out books with information about hiring a superintendent. “This will cure insomnia,” she joked. She approved of the time the committee has to find a replacement. “You are getting a good, early start.”

In other business, the committee unanimously voted to extend the bus transportation contract with Hudson Bus Lines for one year. State law says the transportation contract can’t be longer than five years, and it has been five years, Levesque said. Maine Education Commissioner approved of the extension because it will save money. Hudson agreed to another year at the same rate, Levesque said.

In a report from committee student representatives, Hana Ahmed and Robert Lemieux said Lewiston High School students don’t like the new traffic pattern in front of the high school that created a drop-off lane for single vehicles.

Students suggested going back to the way it was before, Ahmed said. “Most of the people I talked to said the same thing, they don’t see a change in the safety,” Lemieux agreed.

Levesque said the old pattern had too many lanes of cars dropping off students, with drivers making unsafe U-turns and not paying attention to crosswalks.

“It was quicker traffic going through there,” but not as safe, he said. Levesque said he’d relay the students’ report to Principal Gus LeBlanc.

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