PLATTSBURGH — Since entering the education business nearly 50 years ago, Gerald Blair has watched the job of public-school superintendent change dramatically.
The difficulties associated with producing equitable spending plans, ensuring students are meeting state standards and keeping teachers and principals informed of increasing expectations have grown significantly for district leaders in recent years, according to the interim superintendent of Northeastern Clinton Central School in Champlain.
Blair, who began his career with a decade of teaching, was the superintendent of Lake Placid Central School from 1980 to 1997 and has since served as an interim administrator in several area school districts, including Chazy and Schroon central and Northern Adirondack in Ellenburg.
“I thoroughly enjoy the work,” Blair said. “I thoroughly enjoy being around kids, but I don’t know if I’d want to rise to this level starting out in today’s world.”
And it seems Blair is not alone with his sentiments.
According to a report issued by the New York State Council of School Superintendents, titled “Snapshot 2012: The 8th Triennial Study of the Superintendency in New York,” evidence shows “fewer educators are interested in becoming school district superintendents.”
The report points to the findings of a 2008 survey conducted by SUNY Albany, which indicate that the number of applicants per superintendent vacancy went from 43 to 26 in the previous 10 years.
“We’re seeing the same trend in the North Country,” said Champlain Valley Educational Services Superintendent Craig King, who serves as a search consultant to area school boards seeking superintendents.
King recently assisted Saranac Central School in its national search for a successor to longtime district leader Ken Cringle, who, last November, announced his plans to retire this July.
“We were advised by Mr. King to be prepared for a limited number of candidates,” said Saranac School Board President Tracy Allen-Waite.
“He informed us that, seven or eight years ago, the typical response for (a) superintendent search yielded many more applicants than today.”
Ultimately, so few candidates demonstrated interest in the position that, in March, the district terminated its initial search, and Cringle announced he would postpone his retirement for a year.
The school plans to begin a new search this fall.
“I’m concerned, (and) I think most superintendents are concerned that folks who could lead and who have the capacity to lead are making other choices,” said Beekmantown Central School Superintendent Scott Amo, who also recently announced plans to retire.
Amo intends to step down as district leader this summer.
In fact, many of the state’s current school superintendents are expected to retire in the near future, according to King.
The council’s report also discusses the results of a 2012 survey conducted of its own member superintendents, which indicated “that one-third, or almost 130 New York state superintendents, indicated their intent to retire by 2016.”
The same study revealed the two most common reasons individuals gave for hesitating to pursue their first superintendency: the scope of the role and having school-age children.
“The added challenges of APPR (Annual Professional Performance Reviews), increasing costs and decreasing state aid, the newly imposed tax-levy cap and unfunded mandates all contribute to stress above and beyond the scope of the role of a superintendent now as opposed to a decade ago,” Allen-Waite said.
And the challenge of balancing personal interests with the demands of the job can also turn people away from the role, according to New York State Council of School Superintendents Executive Director Robert Reidy Jr., Ph.D., who served as a superintendent from 1977 through 2009.
His council offers resources and professional development opportunities for superintendents and assistant superintendents, as well as an academy for prospective district leaders to learn more about the job and gain the necessary skills.
“As an organization, we are constantly striving to support the superintendents out there,” said Jacinda Conboy, who is general counsel to the organization.
Another factor that may deter some from pursuing the job, Amo noted, is the public exposure that comes with the role.
Whether it be at School Board meetings or in newspaper articles, he said, “we’re on display all the time.”
“The superintendent is kind of at the top of the heap, and I think a lot of people are thinking twice about ‘do I really want that; do I really want to go there?’” Blair said.
Still, King noted, there’s no question that there are qualified superintendent candidates out there — just fewer of them.
“In my experience as a School Board member, it is evident that there are a number of highly qualified educators throughout the many districts in our area and beyond that are more than capable of leading a district,” Allen-Waite said.
However, she noted, it’s a matter of enticing those people to take on the administrative role.
“We have to seek people out and tap them on the shoulder and tell them we think they have what it takes,” Reidy said.
In addition, Allen-Waite said, salary plays an important role in a superintendent search.
Schools must offer compensation comparable to that of leaders of similar-sized districts, King noted, if they wish to attract qualified candidates.
“A quality, competent superintendent makes a tremendous difference for kids and staff,” Reidy said.
During its recently terminated search, Saranac Central offered annual compensation of between $125,000 and $160,000.
“Our board gave a great deal of consideration to the range that we advertised,” Allen-Waite said. “My feeling is that we offered a competitive salary given the size of our school district.”
Still, Amo noted, the salary differential between an educator’s current assignment and a superintendent position may not be enough to sway her or him into taking on that much more responsibility.
“It’s a very, very, very demanding job,” Reidy said.
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WHO'S AT THE HELM
Public school superintendents make six-figure salaries, and at a time when diminished state aid, the tax-levy cap and voter pressure are trimming budgets to the point that programs and positions have been cut back and even eliminated, the Press-Republican decided it would be worth taking a look at just what the top job is all about. This is the second installment in a four-part series on the topic written by Staff Writers Ashleigh Livingston, Denise Raymo and Kim Smith Dedam. Tomorrow we look at ways to save money.