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Lincoln County School Board to begin superintendent search

The Lincoln County School Board has to start shopping for an appointed leader fast, because the price of superintendents is going up.

Mississippi School Boards Association Executive Director Michael Waldrop told board members Monday time would be a critical factor in their selection of an appointed superintendent to take office on Jan. 1, 2020, because candidates who meet qualifications under the new law will go fast. He urged the board to tackle the matter sooner rather than later during his presentation, in which he briefed members on new superintendent qualification requirements.

“You need to start thinking now how to go about transitioning from an elected superintendent to an appointed superintendent,” Waldrop said. “You can get into deep water.”

Waldrop pointed out there are 19 superintendent vacancies in Mississippi, with the MSBA helping conduct candidate searches for about half of those. The 2016 law changing all superintendents to appointed positions also mandates certain qualifications new superintendents must meet, and the pool of local and regional candidates will dry up quickly, he said.

Waldrop recommended the board first begin discussions with current Lincoln County School District Superintendent Mickey Myers to see if he is interested in the position. If so, he advised the board to nail Myers down early in the process. If not, he recommended the board go into search mode no later than January.

“To do a really good search, you at least need to allow three months. Four months is better,” Waldrop said. “A really good search will take six or seven months.”

There’s an obvious question that could simplify the appointing process, but neither Myers nor the board is quite ready to ask it — does Myers want the job?

“I’ll make that decision in a timely manner,” he said.

Myers meets the requirements for an appointed superintendent under the new law.

It requires at least six years of classroom or administrative experience, including three years at a school with an A or B accountability rating or a school that increased its rating by a letter grade in Mississippi or another state with comparable accountability standards. The school has to have maintained the rating during the superintendent candidate’s employment there.

Those requirements are waived for veteran superintendents or assistant superintendents who have served before July 1, 2017. Myers was elected in 2015 and has long experience teaching and administering in Bogue Chitto.

The board could appoint Myers if he’s interested, rate and compare its four principals for elevation to the position or begin an outside search.

Whatever option the board chooses, it will be entering a new era in school leadership in Mississippi. Superintendents and school boards have always coexisted, but on the first day of 2020 the highest power — the ability to hire and fire —will rest with the boards.

“Once you appoint a superintendent, the relationship is going to change,” Waldrop explained. “If you have an underperforming school district, there’s a clear line of accountability back to the board.”

Board attorney Jim Keith pointed out another interesting way the dynamics will change statewide — school boards from district to district, always entirely independent of one another, will now begin competing against each other for qualified candidates. He likened the future recruiting efforts to the hiring and firing of football coaches.

“Superintendent poaching is absolutely going to happen,” Keith said. “People are going to be competing for qualified candidates. Madison is open now — what would keep Madison from going to, say, Rankin and making their superintendent an offer?”

Waldrop pointed out one of the 19 vacancies now open is for the Tupelo Public School District, the 10th largest in the state. According to online salary records, Tupelo superintendent Gearl Loden makes almost $209,000 per year — almost twice Myers’ $110,000.

“If Tupelo offered (Myers) $230,000, it would be hard to say, ‘no,’” Waldrop said.

If Myers is the board’s man, another option they have to hide him from bigger districts is to accept his resignation and immediately rehire him on a contract just long enough to get beyond the Jan. 1, 2020 deadline.

The entire process is still up in the air.

“It may be up to (Myers). We don’t know yet,” said board member Joanna Posey. “We’ll have to have some long talks about it.”