Pattye Benson

Community Matters

Education Degree no longer a requirement for PA School District Superintendents. With a graduate degree in management, business, finance or law, you could be a Superintendent

We all remember Chester Upland School District’s well-publicized financial struggle to keep their electricity on, the doors open and their teachers paid a couple of years ago. Chester Upland and other PA school districts in similar severe financial distress were aided by the passage of Act 141 of 2012 (House Bill 1307). The recovery plan legislation allowed the PA Department of Education the ability to declare school districts in severe financial distress and to appoint a CRO (Chief Recovery Officer) to improve academic performance and bring financial stability to these districts.

Other changes to the Public School Code of 1949 by the PA Legislature at the close of the 2011-12 included an overhaul of Section 1073, which governs the selection of school district superintendents and assistant superintendents through amendments made by Act 82 of 2012 and Act 141 of 2012. Section 1073.1 provides ‘Performance Review’ requirements for superintendent/assistant superintendent employment contracts including the following points:

  • The employment contract for a superintendent/assistant superintendent shall include objective performance standards and assessment tools mutually agreed to in writing by the school board and the superintendent/assistant superintendent. The legislation treats superintendents/assistant superintendents in the same fashion as teachers and principals. Objective performance standards may be achievement on PSSA tests, achievement on Keystone Exams, attrition rates, graduation rates, financial management standards, etc.
  • The district’s board shall post the mutually agreed to objective performance standards contained in the superintendent/assistant superintendent contract on the school district’s publicly accessible Internet website.
  • The school board shall conduct a formal written performance assessment of the district superintendent/assistant superintendent annually.
  • The district’s board shall post on the publicly accessible Internet website the date of the superintendent/assistant superintendent evaluation and whether each of the performance standards contained in the agreement were met.

It does not appear that the new requirements affected the existing contracts of district superintendents/assistant superintendents. There was no expectation that existing contracts were to be opened and the new requirements added. However, going forward all new superintendent/assistant superintendent contracts would need to adhere.

By now, most parents and residents know that TE School District Superintendent Dan Waters is retiring at the end of his contract on June 30, 2015 and that the school board has launched a superintendent search for his replacement. The District’s contract with whomever replaces Waters will need to adhere to new provisions of the Public School Code.

The PA Legislature updated another section of the Public School Code – Article X, Section 1003 Eligibility in 2012. Given the current superintendent search in T/E, I found the new provision added of particular interest. Did you know that the requirement that prospective superintendents and assistant superintendents have experience in a classroom was dropped when the Public School Code was updated in 2012?

That’s right — Section 1003 (b.1) was added to the PA Public School Code which states that if you have a graduate degree in business, finance, management or law you can be a school district superintendent in Pennsylvania. According to the Pennsylvania Department of Education, the highest-level manager of school districts no longer needs to be a teacher or principal or have an education-related degree.

To be a school district chief, the law previously required a person to have a letter of eligibility, issued by the state Department of Education. To receive that letter, the person had to complete a graduate-level program of educational administrative study, which consisted of two full academic years. The candidate also needed to have at least six years of experience in education, including at least three of those years in a supervisory capacity.

The ‘eligibility’ section of the Public School Code, states that someone with a graduate degree in business, finance, management or law, along with four years of relevant experience in business, finance, management or law, can also be a superintendent. From what I understand, the change in the law occurred for several reasons.

By expanding the allowable requirements for superintendents, it gives area school districts a much larger pool of applicants for the top jobs. However, more importantly, individuals with business and finance experience are what a school district superintendent needs in the time of unprecedented budget cuts in public education. Although sec. 1003 (b.1) of the Public School Code is set to expire in 2015 – it states, “A person who is issued a commission by the department based on satisfaction of the requirements of this subsection may retain his commission after the expiration of this subsection.”

TE School Board Vice President Kris Graham serves as chair of the District’s superintendent search committee. A review of the job posting on the TESD website, indicates that the board is seeking applicants with school superintendent experience, a PhD in education and requires PA letter of eligibility. As of June 2012, the Public School Code does not require a superintendent to have educational experience, a doctorate in education or a PA letter of eligibility. The public was told by Graham that there were only five qualified candidates inside the District and only one who had applied (Dr. Richard Gusick).

Graham served as chair of the District’s Legislative Committee and Gusick served as the administrative liaison and I do not recall Act 82 or Act 141 of 2012 changes to the Public School Code (particularly those related to performance assessment in superintendent contracts or the change in state requirements for superintendents) discussed in any of the Legislative Committee updates presented at school board meetings.

Pennsylvania legislators serving on the Education Committee fought hard for these 2012 changes to the Public School Code. I understand that our T/E school board directors can write the superintendent job description and applicant requirements, anyway that they wish. My question is why would they want to limit themselves to a superintendent applicant pool that is based on specific requirements that the PA Department of Education does not currently require? Wouldn’t they want to make certain that they had the best candidate for the job?

It is interesting to note that 1,000+ stakeholders in the TE School District returned the recent superintendent survey and that 74% of the respondents listed ‘leadership’ as the most important qualification needed by the new superintendent. The second most important qualification, cited by 58% of the respondents, was ‘budget & financial expertise’. Only 36% of the respondents believed that ‘teaching experience’ should be a requirement for the position.

The superintendent of a school district is the chief executive officer. The superintendent is the manager and he or she manages the fiscal and financial affairs, buildings and grounds, personnel, equipment, etc. A nontraditional candidate can offer a real benefit to a school district, including leadership, finance skills and knowledge about business or law.

As we learned from the survey results, T/E School District stakeholders placed leadership and expertise in budget and finances as the highest priorities needed in the next superintendent. The position could appeal to a number of people like a retired CEO seeking a new challenge. Or maybe there is a prospective candidate with management expertise and a law degree. An individual with strong financial and business management background could also be a good fit for the job.

Here’s my suggestion – I think my friend Neal Colligan should apply. An involved T/E School District resident, he has strong business/management background and finance expertise – BS in Accounting, MBA from Villanova U and has worked as a CPA. And he understands the District’s budgetary requirements and management climate. If you recall in 2013, Neal developed a plan that would provide health care benefits to the District’s aides and paras and help save their jobs from outsourcing.

Speaking of applying for the superintendent position, there is a short window of opportunity. The job posting for superintendent went up on the District website on July 1 and applications for the position will close on August 8, 2014. Why the rush? The start date for the job is not until July 1, 2015; I do not understand why the school board is closing the applications after barely a month.

To the TESD Superintendent Search Committee – please do not discount candidates because they do not have a doctorate in education or a superintendent letter of eligibility. For Neal and other qualified superintendent candidates, click here to apply.

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  1. Thats thinking farther out and beyond the obvious. I love it! Neal is perfect for this job and should apply. I can’t think of anyone with better academic credentials, business experience and rich, practical day to day knowledge of how things operate in this school district.

    He knows people, has helped people and has worked with people at just about every level in the district. His working knowledge and expertise make him a perfect candidate for this position.

    Go Neal!

  2. I can understand the consideration of an experienced business manager or personnel director of a district as a candidate for superintendent. I know a former business manager, without a teaching background, who is now a PA superintendent. But champion someone who has held no position or assumed no responsibility in the education field as the leader of education for 6,000 TESD students? Really?

    1. Yes, really.

      IMO, the T/E superintendent search should expand beyond only applicants with an PhD in education, teaching experience and a PA letter of eligibility. It was stated that there are only 5 ‘inside TESD’ candidates who met all these requirements and one applied. If you take away the letter of eligibility requirement from the TESD Superintendent job description, how many more insider candidates could there be?

      The point of the post was to suggest that there are possibly many more qualified candidates if you ‘think outside the box’ and widen the superintendent search requirements. Regardless of the updates to the PA Public School Code, TESD will not consider someone with a graduate degree in management, business, finance or law UNLESS they have a letter of eligibility which the job description states as a requirement. Using the requirements of PA letter of eligibility, doctorate in Education and teaching experience will certainly narrow the pool of candidates. This is exactly why the Pennsylvania legislature pushed so hard in 2012 to change and expand the state requirements for superintendents and assistant superintendents.

      As it now stands, IF someone applied with a graduate degree and experience in finance, management, business or law (such as Neal C.) were to apply for the superintendent position in T/E, they would not meet the stated requirements and presumably their application would not be considered.

      1. I am questioning the suggestion that someone with no experience in public education, however talented and degreed in some other field , should be considered for a superintendent’s position in a top 10 district like TESD. Some small or financially troubled districts might need to expand the pool of candidates by dropping the experience hurdle. I don’t think TESD is one of them. I wouldn’t want someone running an outside-the-box experiment with my child’s education.

        1. Keith, there’s good news for you. The retired Fortune 500 CEO with management, business and finance experience will NOT be hired as the next T/E Superintendent — that experiment will NOT happen in T/E. Why? Because he or she will not have a PhD in education and a superintendent certificate. No, my guess is that the next T/E School District superintendent has already been chosen.

      2. Pattye,

        Why do you think Neal is qualified? He’s not an educator. He’s never been part of CBA. He’s never formulated a curriculum. He has zero experience with state and federal education law . He may be a good business person. That however, alone, does not translate into being qualified to run a school district.

        1. The PA legislature changed the Public School Code in 2012 which was the purpose of this post. Before writing the post, I was not aware that the law had updated the requirements for superintendents and assistant superintendents in Pennsylvania. Removing the requirement that superintendents and assistant superintendents must have teaching experience, letter of eligibility, etc. originated in the Senate Education Committee during the 2011-12 legislative session. (Act 82 of 2012 and Act 141 of 2012). In writing the legislation that ultimately updated the Public School Code, apparently members of the Education Committee felt that the position of superintendent/assistant superintendent could be performed by non-educators in addition to educators. It was the Pennsylvania legislature that decided that individuals with graduate degrees in business, management, finance or law were qualified to serve as superintendents/assistant superintendents in Pennsylvania.

        2. The PA Legislature did relax the qualification standards in 2012, but they also recognize that anyone without an education degree is missing something important – the Law requires those business/management/finance people to complete a “leadership development program that meets the Pennsylvania school leadership standards under section 1217”. Maybe some school directors think it’s OK for their superintendent to run the district while they are getting on-the-job training.

  3. Today’s Inquirer Job Section ..Spotlight on Education Careers had ads with LARGE headlines for special ed directors and teachers, social workers even a principal. TESD ‘s was a small standard ad on the bottom of the third column …Can’t we afford a little better is for a SUPERINTENDENT !

    1. Yes, and the surveys go out in May, parents kids and stake holders are out for the summer, not paying attention, busy with other things and the decision is made in the fall.

      How about we slow this train down.

  4. Neal is the perfect candidate for this job!

    His volunteer service to the school district employees, parents and citizens over the years gives him the experience he needs, without having to worry about the baggage of favoritism within. He will be able to deal with internal conflicts in an independent fashion which will give him greater latitude to pursue needed change with new ideas.

    A fresh start with no alliances will give Neal the ability to bring about change. Neal will be able to institute new ideas to the district because he will be able to operate with objectivity. He won’t have to honor unwritten rules in an established culture which makes it difficult to bring about change.

    Neal can bring a new vision to the district with ease.

  5. The community survey also rated school administration and educational leadership and expertise as highly desirable qualifications. The full job posting announcement on the web site
    has a comprehensive and to my mind appropriate set of requirements. I do agree that a doctoral degree is not a necessary pre-requisite to those skills, though. Possibly a candidate would not have acquired the qualifications without it, though.

    The required qualifications are extremely demanding, and I totally share the concerns expressed here about the process. How much more is going on than the small classified ads that CHV saw in the Inquirer? Is the search committee really beating the bushes? Are they using the free search capabilities offered by the CCIU?

    1. Hi Ray,

      Pattye mentioned on this blog a few weeks ago that you had been invited to attend a meeting of stakeholders. She wrote that you received a call at 9 or 9:30 one evening inviting you to an early morning meeting regarding this issue the next morning. I’m wondering if you attended the meeting. If so, could you please write about it on community matters to let stake holders know what is happening. I would specifically like to know the community members picked by the board and administration to make this monumental decision that will effect every tax paying resident and parent in this district. Why can’t any tax payer, resident and citizen attend these meetings? I appreciate all the time and energy and expertise you bring to stakeholders but were there any citizens there with children in the district?

      It took U_CF 18 months to hire Dr. Sanville as their supt. Stakeholders were invited to meetings at the high school to express their opinions outloud and in public so nothing was behind closed doors making there no need for the Administration to interpret information to stakeholders. I would like for this process to be completely open to the public so stakeholders can think and interpret for themselves what is going on.

      1. SL:

        Pattye was correct, except that the meeting did in fact take place the afternoon after the call rather than the following morning. It was one of a number of “Focus Groups” conducted by the CCIU with various stakeholders: teachers, administrators, students, parents, etc. I got the impression that my Group of three was a bit of an afterthought: community members that have participated in Board and Committee meetings over the years. We all had children either now attending, or graduates of, TE. There were other resident Focus Groups, I think.

        The intended focus of the Focus Group was on the suitability of internal candidates. Our group was united in advocating for soliciting the broadest possible applicant pool and selecting from that pool a true leader with stellar educational, business and technology credentials. We felt that the free-to-Chester-County CCIU search services could add value.

        I think that the Board heard some of these thoughts, but it’s not clear from the timeline published by the district that they are allowing enough time to follow through very effectively.

        1. Thank-you Ray.

          I find it odd that you “think there were other resident focus groups.” Why are groups meeting in secret without one knowing about the other.

          What teachers, parents, students and administrators did they pick? Why can’t any stake holder who wants to participate attend meetings and contribute to the process.

          To me, it seems like this decision was predetermined and now it’s being orchestrated to give the appearance that it wasn’t predetermined.

  6. Jim Buckheit, executive director of the PA Association of School Administrators said that some large districts, which have multiple administrators such as assistant supt. and curriculum directors, could manage someone at the top not having the educational background.

    We don’t have an assistant supt. position but we do fill a curriculum director position and there are many administrators plus support staff at the West Valley Road office.

    Supporters of the legislation say business and finance experience are what a school chief needs in this time of unprecedented budget cuts.

  7. Pattye is right – it won’t happen – It’s too out of the box thinking to be considered in this provincial school district. My guess is Guisick is the one – they would never let an outsider in to see where they are hiding all the dead bodies (those critical thinkers, questioners, who ‘stir the pot’ because they want what is best for kids). The old guard has already filled in the new guard, no paper trail needed!

  8. Tom Templeton an assistant executive director for the Pennsylvania School Boards Association, sees the legislation as a positive move.

    A nontraditional candidate can bring a wide range of leadership, finance skills and knowledge to the job – and knowledge about business or law is important, he said.

    Knowledge about education and student achievement is something that can be learned when the person has a “real drive to improve the organization,” Mr. Templeton said.

    “I think it can be a real benefit to a school district,” he said.

  9. Sorry to say that Dan Waters had (past tense) big shoes to fill.
    However he’s been on the high horse for to long. Guisick stood the test. He put up with Dan. Together they hold a lot of dirty secrets. However this district needs new direction and change. Someone to come in and bring it back to the very top.
    An outsider is just what everyone wants and needs.
    Our children are the best they can be because most of the parents want them to be that way. We don’t want mediocre.
    If we continue to settle for it, districts that do think outside the box will continue to beat us in rankings. Decreasing our property value. All the while the board votes to pad $$ administration and look down upon the core hearts of the school. The teachers, the aides, the custodians.
    All to save money yet pad the pockets of people who have done disservice to us, the tax payers. Who suffers? The children.

    The good part is the tax payers will vote the school board out of office.
    The bad is our kids are stuck in schools with the best teachers being treated with less than what they deserve.
    Respect. Dare to be different T/E!

  10. not sure the best teachers are being treated with less than they deserve, as you stated.. but the more I think about this the more I think this should not be an inside hire.
    Maybe the transition will be a little less smooth, but the qualified person will manage it.

    1. The taxpayers trust the school board and the school board trusts the administration. This is backwards I think. The administration works for the school board and the taxpayers elected the school board. People keep saying that we need change but the same people get elected to the Board and then they turn around and bow to whatever Dan Waters wants.

      We will get a new superintendent and as others have suggested, it will be the anointed insider and we will still have the same school board. a vicious cycle. TESD is not the school district it once was. And yes, it is a good District, but great, I don’t think so.

      1. Chesterbrook Resident says, “TESD is not the school district it once was”.
        I curious what measures are being used to justify this pronouncement. Have student test scores fallen? Are graduation rates falling? Are there fewer national merit scholars? Have taxes increased above the norm? Is the district using funds inefficiently?

  11. I’d still like to know why alumni of our school system are not eligible for teaching jobs in our district..

  12. MV,

    An aide told me in the spring of 2013 that Dr. Waters will not hire anyone in the community or anyone related to current employees in the district anymore because he doesn’t want them to report to other community members and parents about what goes on in the schools.

    Of course I don’t know if this is true or not and that is why I have not addressed it to you but you keep asking. And Dr. Waters, as the Supt. of this school District can hire whoever he wants to hire. This is why it is so important that as many citizens, residents, taxpayers and parents get involved with the decision for picking the new Supt. as possible. Because the Supt. can do whatever he/she wants to do.

    1. SL said, “Dr. Waters, as the Supt. of this school District can hire whoever he wants to hire”. That’s a bold statement and completely wrong. The school board, not anyone in the administration, must approve by a majority vote in open session every new hire. The school board has the final say as to whether any class of candidates can be excluded from the hiring pool. The superintendent can only make a proposal as to who should be hired.

      1. Oh, Keith, you have to be kidding! The approval “by a majority vote in open session [of] every new hire” is part of the Consent Agenda and never discussed.

        1. Thanks Ray, I knew raises and bonuses for administrators are slipped and hidden in consent agendas. I didn’t know the approval “by a majority vote in open session of every new hire” are too. It’s nice to know citizens have someone who is paying close attention.

          As far as the search for the new Supt., I would like the Board to give consideration to candidates who live in the district. Employees who serve in the district they live in have a real stake in the outcome of every decision they make. They are tied to the community in a way non district employees are not. They know and support our businesses and social establishments, and they pay the same taxes we pay.

          We refer to candidates as outsiders when they do not belong to the pool of candidates (or the one candidate) who currently serve in the district. In reality, Neal is the perfect insider candidate because he lives in the district he wants to serve in and better yet, he won’t have the same baggage and internal strife to deal with that inherently comes with choosing from within the ranks because he won’t have to abide by an established culture with unwritten rules that only current employees will have to honor.

        2. Hi Ray,
          I’m not sure what discussion one would expect at the voting meeting. Rarely, do we publicly discuss new hires at UCF. Personnel matters are sensitive and for that reason, all hiring discussions are appropriately held in executive session.
          Prior to the voting meeting, the candidate resumes were screened and phone interviews on a portion were conducted. A few of the better candidates were called in for a face-to-face interview. It could be that one or more members of the Board sat in on the interviews. This happens at UCF on occasion and the rest of the Board respects the opinion of our colleague. It could be that the resume of the recommended candidate was distributed to the Board ahead of the vote for their review. This is done at UCF. It could be that the candidates were discussed by the Board in a closed personnel committee meeting, via email or phone prior to the vote. If there is a question about a candidate, the question is, most likely, posed to the hiring supervisor ahead of the pubic meeting. If there is concern about a candidate, the candidate is probably withdrawn from the public agenda until the concern is addressed.
          But in every case the decision to hire, by Law, is made by the Board; not the Superintendent.
          What’s interesting to me is that some posters on this blog assume the worst and make wild statements without any factual basis. [“the Supt. of this school District can hire whoever he wants to hire”]

        3. O.K. Keith, fair enough.

          Looking over my comment again, I can see how someone (especially a Board Member, even though an outside our district Board Member) could label my statement as bold. I suppose it is Bold, especially with no factual data to back it up.

          I believe what I say but I’m not willing to share why on a public forum so I withdraw the comment.

          Thanks for making me aware.

    2. Shining, if that is true I am roiling in my shoes.. While he can hire anyone he wants… does HE have final say i don’t know, but if a pattern of discrimination against our own finest kids developes then that could be ugly too… What a creep.. ( if this is true).. still a creep if not. :)

  13. Interesting conversation…as always. It’s true….Pattye and I have become friends. I like the point you’re making and agree….this is an important community position. As such, it would be beneficial to cast a wide net in seeking qualified applicants. The change in the State requirements opens the door to other qualified individuals with interest in seeing our local educational franchise succeed at the highest levels. I hope the selection committee has an open mind.

    It seems from the discussion that many believe that the candidate has already been selected…I’ve heard the same. My interaction with Dr. Guisick has all been positive. I first met him at one of the “EIT Investigation” meetings the SB held for community involvement. I didn’t know who he was and he sure didn’t know me but he was helpful and informative and articulate. I’ve seen him in action at many meetings and he is a competent individual with great knowledge of his area of focus (curriculum). In addition, he’s always willing to talk about “stuff” as it relates to our educational system. He’s taught me a lot and I value his opinions. I don’t know the level of his financial acumen. This seems to be a focus of the community as far as the results of the survey reported. In my opinion, the District has some excellent department managers….folks who have been in their respective positions for many years and have a deep understanding of our District, the requirements placed upon us by the Commonwealth and the challenges that face us moving forward. Also, IMHO, I continue to be puzzled by the District’s chain-of-command….for lack of a better term. The Board/CEO/area managers relationship seems to be out of balance. Who is creating long-term strategies and goals. who is representing the various constituencies (students, employees, parents, taxpayers)??? I’ve watched closely and tired to educate myself in the District’s business model but I do not have an answer. We, as voters, have a roll to play in the system and it’s future. However, this selection of a new Superintendent, will have a profound impact to all of our stakeholders. My hope is that this is an opportunity for positive change while maintaining peek performance. We’ll see….

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