Superintendent search picks up momentum: School board to interview candidates on March 11

Posted: Wednesday, March 04, 2009

The push to find a replacement for Donna Peterson, superintendent of the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District, picked up speed Monday. In January, Peterson announced she would be leaving the district after 10 years in the top administrative spot. Her last day will be June 30.

During its regular meeting held in Homer Monday evening, the nine-member board unanimously passed a motion that set the following schedule to find Peterson's replacement:

* Applications for KPBSD superintendent will be accepted until 5 p.m. March 9.

* Board members will have until noon March 10 to review the applications and submit the names of the top five applicants with comments to Tim Peterson, director of KPBSD Human Resources.

* Interviews will begin at 10 a.m. March 11.

"The 11th is the only day the whole board is available. The only day," Board President Sammy Crawford of Kenai said of the main reason for the schedule. "The second reason we really pushed is because, depending on who you hire, the pool is shallow so you want to get the best candidate, and the best candidates tend to grab jobs early."

The third reason, Crawford said, is that if an in-district applicant is selected, a domino effect takes place, creating another opening to be filled.

Currently, five completed applications have been received: two from within the district, one from within the state but out of the district, and two from out of state.

"There's another 12-14 (applications) that have been started, but not completed," said Joe Arness, board member from Nikiski who is chairing the superintendent search committee.

The interviews will be conducted in person or telephonically, depending on the applicants' availability. They will be held at the KPB assembly chambers in Soldotna and the public is invited to attend.

"We will provide an opportunity for people to submit after the interviews written response and we are allowing enough time for us to have the opportunity to look at that," Arness said. "And then, as a board, we can decide what to do next."

After the interviews are completed, the board can hire a superintendent, put off the decision until later or reopen the application period.

"Another alternative is that we could offer an interim contract to one of the candidates, just a one-year, try-this-on deal," Arness said. "We have a world of options."

The sooner a decision is made, however, the better, according to Arness.

"It's to everyone's benefit to provide for a smooth transition. Whoever is sitting in that chair the first of July needs to know so they can benefit by interacting with (Peterson)," he said.

One thing the district doesn't need is someone to make repairs.

"We're in a unique position because we're not looking for someone to ride in on a white horse and fix it," Arness aid. "Our district, by in large, is going along pretty well. It's not like we need to find somebody that can come in and change the course of the ship. We're trying to find someone to come in and continue in the direction it's going. And that's a great place to start."

One indication of the district's positive state of affairs is that no pink slips were issued this year.

"I'm pretty sure that since the borough was formed we've never known from one year to the next what our budget's going to be," Crawford said.

She credited the change to the Legislature's forward funding.

"Last year the Legislature voted for the money and the governor signed that we wanted forward funding and we have it, so we know a year ahead of time that the money's there," Crawford said.

Also at the Monday meeting, Melody Douglas, KPBSD's chief financial officer, presented the FY 2010 budget. The balanced budget totals $141.8 million. Douglas said some adjustments are anticipated. The board will take final action at the April 13 meeting.

"Our only concern is the borough's ability to continue supporting to the cap," Douglas said, referring to the state formula for education funding. "We had an excellent joint workshop on the district's budget with the board and the assembly and I felt like it was an excellent interaction."

Numerous personnel changes were approved by the board Monday, including the resignation of several long-time educators.

"I really call this a brain drain," Crawford said. "It's a true loss to the district. It's going to be difficult to fill those shoes, that's for sure."

With an eye toward who will pick up where those educators leave off, Liz Downing, board member from Homer, said world changes are impacting education.

"We're part of a global community, so being able to prepare students to compete locally and globally is what I'm personally looking for," she said. "Education is going to change in the next 10-20 years and I think we'll see some of the greatest changes that we've had in education in 100 years. I'm looking for someone who's going to prepare us for that."

A schedule of the superintendent search, as well as an opportunity to rank attributes can be found on the Web at

McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at

Expectations for a new superintendent are being communicated to board members from across the borough.

"Everybody is getting personal contact and there are a lot of comments on the (district's) Web site," said Vice President Sunni Hilts of Seldovia. "Every public comment will be taken into consideration."

Three characteristics top the list, according to Hilts.

"Comments on the Web site are coming up strong on integrity and ethics. I think that's a reaction to what we see all around us," Hilts said. "The unions were big on communication. People speaking personally want someone who understands our district or is quickly able to assimilate our district."

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