Bozeman is starting its search for a new public school superintendent a bit late in the game, but the school district’s strengths will still attract good candidates, says one search expert.
“Bozeman has a great reputation,” said Bob Vogel, governmental relations director for the Helena-based Montana School Boards Association.
School districts usually prefer to start their searches by Feb. 1, Vogel said, but “the March-April time frame is right in the ballpark.”
Kirk Miller, Bozeman’s superintendent the last five years, announced Tuesday that he had accepted the executive director’s job with the School Administrators of Montana, starting July 1. Miller said he hopes to win better funding from the Legislature for Montana’s public schools.
The Bozeman School District immediately posted the job opening on its own website, the School Administrators of Montana’s and Montana School Boards Association’s. The postings set April 25 as the application deadline, but gave no salary range.
Superintendent searches are now under way in Billings and Helena, both larger districts that are offering more than the $131,300 that Bozeman has been paying.
In Billings, the state’s largest school district, the board is offering $155,000 to $180,000. Helena is offering $135,000 to $155,000.
Vogel said the fact that Miller has a good reputation and the reason he’s leaving will affect how candidates view the Bozeman job.
“It’s not like there’s been turmoil and the superintendent is leaving for some other reason,” Vogel said. “All that is going to make Bozeman attractive.”
Denise Hayman, Bozeman School Board chair, said rather than hire a private search firm, as the board did five years ago, trustees want to hire MTSBA to assist them. Technology makes it easier to advertise the search nationwide and to speed up the entire search, she said.
Issues like salary haven’t yet been discussed, Hayman said. The School Board will hold a special meeting Tuesday, March 20, to decide how to proceed.
“We have to speed things up because we need to hire somebody by July,” Hayman said. Despite the need to move quickly, she said, the community and employees will still have a chance to meet with finalists and offer their opinions.
Vogel said MTSBA would charge only about $3,500 to assist Bozeman with its search, compared to $15,000 for a private search firm.
Helena already is interviewing four finalists. In Billings, the school board has hired a private search firm and collected public comments about the challenges facing the next superintendent.
The Billings Gazette reported that those challenges include a “lack of trust” inside and outside the district, a “fractured” school board, micromanagement by the board, mill levies rejected by voters, overcrowded schools and finances. Billings’ previous superintendent was on the job little over a year when the split board voted to terminate his $160,000 contract, citing a failure to negotiate union contracts and low morale.
In Bozeman, by contrast, the public almost always passes bond issues and routinely approves annual tax levies. The school board trustees get along famously, and the consensus negotiations process with employee unions has built a lot of trust. Elementary schools here are getting crowded because Bozeman is attractive to young families and enrollment has kept growing, while statewide enrollment has fallen.
Gail Schontzler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 582-2633.