The pieces started to come together Monday night for a second Omaha Public Schools superintendent search.
The Omaha school board voted 12-0 to seek proposals from consultants to conduct the national search to replace John Mackiel, who is retiring.
Board members also voted unanimously to work with state and national school administrator organizations to identify candidates to be the district's interim superintendent.
In addition, the board amended Mackiel's contract to ensure that the longtime superintendent will remain through Aug. 31 before leaving for a job with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
The board took action on those items after meeting in closed session for an hour and 40 minutes.
Key questions remain unanswered, however.
It's not clear how long the search might take or how long an interim superintendent might serve. The board hasn't said whether in-house candidates would be considered for the interim job. And it's not clear if the timing of the search would mean that the four new board members to be elected in November will weigh in on who will lead Nebraska's largest school district.
The board hired Nancy Sebring, who served as superintendent of Des Moines Public Schools, earlier this spring, but she resigned June 2 after a scandal involving racy emails that she sent through her workplace account.
Board members voted Monday night to tap the Nebraska Council of School Administrators and the American Association of School Administrators to help find candidates for the interim job.
Those organizations have extensive experience finding interim superintendents, said Freddie Gray, board president.
Mike Dulaney, executive director of the Nebraska group, told the board that he could put the word out to his counterparts in other states to identify retired superintendents who might be willing to serve temporarily. That won't cost the district anything, he said.
Daniel Domenech, executive director of the American Association of School Administrators and a former superintendent, said districts often hire interim superintendents to serve an entire school year while the board searches for a permanent superintendent.
“The one thing the board would not want to do is to rush themselves,” Domenech said. “This board probably realizes more than anybody else how incredibly careful you have to be and how important it is to take the time to vet the candidate.”
He said the OPS board is “definitely at a disadvantage” launching a superintendent search in the summer.
Most superintendents want to start July 1 so they can help plan for the coming school year, Domenech said. But that doesn't mean the OPS search won't be fruitful if the board remains patient, he said.
The association represents more than 13,000 educational leaders in the United States and around the world. Domenech served as superintendent in Fairfax County (Va.) Public Schools from 1997 to 2004.
Marcia Herring, who provides search services through the Nebraska Association of School Boards, said the timing of the search shouldn't be a big obstacle.
Districts can be forced into searches any time during the year for a variety of reasons: retirement, illness, changes in family circumstances or disagreements with a superintendent.
It's important that the OPS board develops a timeline and follows it, she said.
Herring said the debacle with Sebring shouldn't discourage applicants. “This is a very, very unique situation,” she said. “It is not reflective on Omaha. It is an individual's choices.”
Gray said the second search should go quicker than the first because some initial work is done. The board already took public input, which was used to help create a profile of preferred characteristics, Gray said.
“We're going to honor those as we did before,” Gray said.
Those characteristics included strong communication skills, high expectations for OPS students and leadership experience in a diverse school district.
Gray declined to say whether the current OPS board or the one elected in November should pick the new superintendent.
Domenech and two metro Omaha superintendents said potential candidates might balk at accepting the job from one board and then working with four new board members. Herring, however, said outgoing board members are valuable because of their familiarity with the district.
Even if a new superintendent is selected this fall or winter, that person may not be able to start until summer 2013, Gray said. Superintendents' contracts typically require them to give 180 days' notice to leave their jobs.
“Quite frankly, just like any other position, if somebody is ready to move, they'll be ready to move,” she said.
Gray said the board hasn't decided what parameters to place on an interim superintendent; for instance, whether that person should come from inside or outside the district, or whether that person could apply to become the permanent superintendent.
Domenech said there's nothing wrong with appointing a capable person from within the district.
“And if that person wants to apply for the job, well, hey, what better way to see whether this person can do the job,” he said.
The OPS insider drawing the most speculation for the interim position is ReNae Kehrberg, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, but she hasn't announced her intentions. She was a finalist for the job when Sebring was selected.
OPS has four other assistant superintendents: Dennis Pool, general and administrative services; Jerry Bartee, business services; Thomas Harvey, student and community services; and Janice Garnett, human resources. A number of other administrators in the district hold certificates with a superintendent endorsement.
Beginning the search in January and letting the new board engage in the hiring process would let the candidates know “that they're being hired by the people that they're going to be working for,” Domenech said.
Martha Bruckner, Council Bluffs superintendent, questioned whether the timing of the board's decision mattered. If OPS waits for the new board members to take office, the superintendent still would face the possibility of board turnover within two years, after the next election, she said.
Jennifer Tompkins Kirshenbaum, a school board candidate in OPS Subdistrict 12, said a typical hiring timeline seems to line up with a spring decision.
“The new board can look at all the information and everything that has taken place ahead of time so that they can make a good decision,” she said.
World-Herald staff writer Jonathon Braden contributed to this report.
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