Warren BOE begins superintendent search

VINCENT – The Warren Local Board of Education on Wednesday approved a calendar for a superintendent search.

Superintendent Tom Gibbs has been in discussions with the Athens City school district about a position there and no formal offer has been made. But in anticipation of Gibbs’ departure, the board voted 5-0 after a more-than-two-hour executive session to post the position starting today.

“You can start that search and not have a letter of recommendation, but you can’t act on it until you’ve got it,” board President Sidney Brackenridge said.

Gibbs is also superintendent of the Fort Frye Local school district, whose board has scheduled a special meeting for 6 p.m. today at Beverly-Center Elementary School to discuss the matter.

While Gibbs, who was not present at Wednesday’s meeting, has not been officially offered another job nor accepted, Brackenridge said the board anticipates that will happen soon. The Athens City Board of Education’s next scheduled meeting is May 16.

The timeline approved at the close of Wednesday’s special meeting in the district administration office calls for resumes to be submitted through 4 p.m. May 28. The board will meet in executive session May 30 to review the resumes, then conduct interviews on June 3.

Final interviews, with community members included, would take place June 8, and a vote on hiring would be taken the week of June 10.

All that is contingent on Gibbs submitting a letter of resignation. He has said the board will know his plans by their next regular meeting, scheduled for May 20.

Before the board moved into executive session Wednesday, district residents and employees asked them to take swift action to find a replacement for Gibbs and prevent some principals from leaving as well.

“I am concerned that we are running out of time,” said Annette VanPelt, secretary in the Warren High School office and athletic department. “My worry is that we can’t get someone here that we need.”

VanPelt said without a superintendent, hiring for other positions that may be vacated could be delayed.

“How are we going to find people to replace them if they’re (prospective employees) already under contract?” she said.

The employees speaking at Wednesday’s meeting were reluctant to name the principals who might be leaving.

“There are multiple principals looking,” Barlow-Vincent Elementary fourth-grade teacher and district resident Chris VanNoy said after the meeting.

To the board, VanNoy said she was concerned the district would be losing good administrators and that could lead to the loss of good teachers.

“I believe we have administrators now that have a drive to make our district the best it is,” she said.

Brackenridge said having strong administrators can lead to the situation the district is facing.

“If you’ve got good people, people come looking for them,” he said.

Brackenridge added that he was hesitant to stand in the way of someone who sees an opportunity to improve their situation. Some of the district employees present agreed but said they thought a show of support from the board could make some of the administrators reconsider.

“I’ve met with them and all they’re saying is ‘we don’t feel the board is behind us,’ and that is what we will have to discuss in the executive session,” board member Bob Crum said.

Employees suggested workload as a major factor, pointing to the revamped Ohio teacher evaluation system that will be much more time-consuming, even for schools with a principal and assistant principal. They also mentioned the responsibilities of athletic director falling on administrators and other employees at the high school.

“I know we lost the athletic director full time because of money,” VanPelt said. “But those responsibilities moved on to other people.”

She pointed to Warren High School Principal Dan Leffingwell as one of those individuals and worried that could be a deterrent for a potential principal.

Leffingwell, contacted by phone, declined to comment on whether he was among those considering leaving. Other principals in the district could not be reached for comment.

Board member Bob Allen said he agrees a full-time athletic director is needed at the high school and he believed there was someone who could do the job without costs increasing significantly from the current setup.

Some of those present asked if the board was looking at internal candidates for the superintendent job.

“To my knowledge, we’re not looking,” Allen said. “I think we want the very best candidate and I’d hate to see us restrict or limit (our options).”

Asked whether there was any buyout or penalty in the superintendent’s contract for leaving before it was up, Allen said there was not but he would like to see that changed if another superintendent is hired.

“I think if you sign a contract, you should honor that contract,” he said.

Gibbs agreed to five-year contracts earlier this year with both Warren and Fort Frye to continue as superintendent for both, as he’s been since May 2012. Allen also noted that two other administrators in the district had five-year contracts and were considering leaving before they were up.

Another provision Allen said he would like to see in the next superintendent’s contract is a requirement that he or she live in the district. Gibbs is a resident of Athens County.

Board member John Nichols said many districts don’t require that so they don’t limit the field of potential candidates but he would have no reservations about doing so.