MADISON COUNTY —
SIDEBAR:The process of picking a leader
Former Madison Central High School Principal Elmer Thomas met opposition within moments after the board adjourned the July 26 meeting to announce its decision to hire him as the district’s superintendent.
Once the congratulatory clapping died down, a member of the Madison County Tax Watch group, Debbie Secchio, spoke out against the hiring of a candidate from within the district. She claimed that the $7,000 spent on the Kentucky School Board Association consultation services was a waste of money.
“I’m a taxpayer, and I was promised the best credentials and the best qualifications and the search committee to go way, way outside our borders,” she said
Thomas, an educator with 25 years of experience, rose to the top of a stack of 22 applications. Of the applicant pool, 19 were men; three were women; six were superintendents; eight were central office staff; five were principals; one was a member of an education organization; and two were retired or other.
KSBA consultant Mike Oder guided the board through multistep process that included creating a timeline; choosing the wording to advertise for the position; the selection of a screening committee within the confines of the law; and guiding the committee through the vetting process to provide the board “the cream of the crop,” Oder said.
The screening committee was comprised of two teachers, Stacy Brockman and Elaine Kresge, who were elected by teachers; one principal, David Gilliam of Madison Southern, who was elected by principals; two parents, Sara Smith and Angie Martin, who were elected by parent-teacher organization presidents; one board member, Becky Coyle, who was appointed by the chair; and one classified employee, Amy Carmichael, who elected by classified employees.
The committee took almost a month to call both listed and nonlisted references, examine applicants’ credentials and eventually create a short-list of three: Matthew Constant, assistant superintendent for Owensboro Public Schools; Robin Steiner, response-to-intervention coach in Fayette County Schools; and Elmer Thomas, principal of Madison Central High School.
When presenting its recommendations to the board, one teacher said at first she was skeptical about the money spent on the consultation services. But at the end of each committee meeting, members felt confident in the process and thought the money was well spent, board chair Mona Isaacs and board member Beth Brock recalled during two separate interviews with the Richmond Register.
“When you left (each meeting), you had no doubt in the decisions you made, in the cuts you had made and the people you advanced. There were no sleepless nights; you were confidant in what you did,” said Becky Coyle, who represented the board on the screening committee.
The board also took steps outside of the KSBA plan and included feedback from four focus groups made up of certified staff, classified staff, parents and principals/central office administration. A community survey also generated 776 responses between July 13-21.
The survey produced “a lot of good comments and valuable information” for the next superintendent, said Isaacs after the survey results were released. “I think every word needs to be read and considered – these are the things our next superintendent needs to hear.”
Just a few days before the July 26 announcement, Isaacs said the board had reached a consensus and that the chosen candidate was “an obvious decision for the board.”
However, to the surprise of the rest of the board members, board newcomer Mary Renfro (4th District) cast a dissenting “aye” as the motion passed 4-1 to hire Thomas on a three-year contract with a compensation package $143,000 a year.
That was $25,000 less than his predecessor, Dr. Tommy Floyd, who began a new position July 1 at the Kentucky Department of Education. Floyd’s $168,000 compensation package included nearly $13,000 in fringe benefits.
The board decided to “simplify the contract” and the new superintendent’s compensation package will include the same benefits afforded to other district employees.
The salary also was comparable to districts reporting student populations similar to that of Madison County’s 11,070 students. For example, the superintendent in Bullitt County makes $143,000 a year in a district of 12,752 students. In Daviess County, the superintendent makes $145,000 a year in a district of 10,831 students.
Early in the preparation process, the board advertised that the position’s salary would be commensurate with rank and experience.
Following the July 26 meeting, Renfro said she had a problem with Thomas’ $143,000 compensation package. She said $120,000 to $130,000 would have been more appropriate.
“I think it’s a lot of money for somebody without experience as a superintendent,” she said.
However, the four board members who voted to hire Thomas each said his interview helped sway their decision.
“If he does the things he says he’s going to do, he’s exactly what we want,” said board member John Lackey. “In my judgment, there was no real question amongst the candidates we got to look at as to who was the most qualified.”