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.