It turns out the Billings community wants a superintendent who knows “the Montana Way” of doing things.
Representatives from the superintendent search firm McPherson & Jacobson reported this and other findings to the School District 2 board Monday night after a week of meeting with various community groups in Billings.
Along with a superintendent who understands the Montana Way, the firm found that people want someone who is a collaborator and a team builder, someone who can pull the board together and someone who understands state education laws and financing.
The various groups also identified what they thought were the biggest issues facing SD2. McPherson & Jacobson met with Realtors, city leaders, chamber of commerce members, union representatives, teachers, students and senior citizens — the biggest group to turn out, said Richard Sundblad, one of the McPherson & Jacobson representatives
The issues the groups identified included a lack of trust inside and outside the district, a fractured board, micromanagement from the board, unsuccessful mill levies, aging facilities, school boundaries, overcrowded classrooms and finances.
“They were pretty blunt in their assessments,” Sundblad said.
Working together, the trustees and the search firm representatives established a timeline for the board to cull applicants and then bring the top picks out to Billings for interviews.
The board hopes to have a list of candidates and to make its top picks in the next four weeks to six weeks, and to be interviewing candidates by the end of April.
Complicating the process are the May elections. Candidates running for school board — currently there are two — must file to run by March 29. Current trustees want to include the trustee candidates in the search and hiring process.
Also weighing on the board is the fact that it is relatively late in the season to be hiring a superintendent. Traditionally, districts in the hiring process have already interviewed their top picks by this point.
Two years ago, when trustees were searching for a replacement for then-Superintendent Jack Copps, the board had already picked its top candidates and had interviewed them during the first week in March.
As trustees worked Monday night with the McPherson & Jacobson team, they also grappled with what to pay their new superintendent.
Superintendent Keith Beeman was earning $160,000 before he resigned in October. McPherson & Jacobson representatives advised trustees to advertise a specific pay range to give themselves the flexibility they’d need when they negotiated a contract.
But more importantly, they said, by offering better pay the district will attract more and better candidates.
The team pointed to similar-sized school districts in Idaho, Wyoming and South Dakota that paid their superintendents upwards of $180,000. Expanding to like-size districts in Illinois and Colorado, superintendents are paid over $200,000.
Within Montana, SD2 — the state’s biggest school district — pays the highest superintendent salary.
Trustees voted to set the salary range between $155,000 and $180,000 as they advertise for the new superintendent.
“It’s gotta be there,” said Trutsee Connie Wardell. “I’d rather offer $225,000 and get the best that’s out there.”
Billings will be competing with the school districts in Bozeman and Helena, which are both currently seeking superintendents.
“It’s a tough market,” Sundblad said.