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Super search - WR seeks 5th superintendent in 7 years

Norwalk Reflector Staff • Oct 29, 2015 at 12:44 PM

COLLINS Western Reserve is in the middle of yet another superintendent search the fifth in seven years and this inevitably raises a number of questions. Is Western's situation unique? Is the district experiencing a long run of bad luck? Or, is it just facing challenges schools around the country have to tackle?

Mark Gagyi, a former Vermilion superintendent, joined the district in 2000 to replace Dennis Bahmer, who had served for three years in the position. Gagyi oversaw the building project that resulted in a new elementary and a renovated and expanded middle/high school.

When he left in 2006, Jerry Wolf was hired as a replacement, but shortly thereafter resigned for personal reasons, and the school board tapped Max Schoff, a retired superintendent from Perkins school district, to fill in for a year.

Another search was conducted and Don Barnes, a retired Michigan superintendent, was employed with the understanding he would devote five years to the job.

Barnes, however, handed in his resignation at the April board meeting due to family concerns, and now another search is under way.

Barnes leaves in the wake of Thursday's board meeting where 21 school employees received their pink slips.

Lowell Etzler was South Central's superintendent for 24 years and after his retirement, he served as interim superintendent in both Monroeville and Western Reserve.

Etzler said the unfunded mandates the state and federal governments put on schools creates "a tremendous burden" for administrators, as well as staff members.

Because voters "aren't too enthused about paying more taxes," he said, almost every school district feels the squeeze in one way or another.

Also, Etzler believes school boards have changed and while in the past they just made policy, today they get more involved with running the school, which can sometimes turn into a problem for the administration.

Gary Graham recently retired after 12 years as superintendent at New London, and he says administrators often use small rural school districts as "stepping stones" to better paying jobs in larger districts.

Also, the spread in pay between administrators and teachers has narrowed, and superintendents who work a 12-month year often do not make much more per day than some teachers who work a 9-month contract.

Graham said this discourages many educators from going into administration, especially when the additional training and job headaches are taken into account.

Bill Lally is the superintendent of the Erie, Huron, Ottawa Educational Service Center, and part of his job is to assist school districts in these counties who request his help in their search for administrators.

He has worked with Western on several job searches and said what has happened there could happen anywhere.

Lally agreed with Graham that the pool of people going into the administrative field is declining, citing that between 25 to 30 percent of superintendents being hired are ones who have already retired.

Saying, "It's kind of a tough time to be a superintendent," Lally points to the pressure on schools due to the declining tax base and increasing costs, which affect all schools.

Long-time Western Reserve School Board member Dale Daniels agreed. "It's tough to be a superintendent," he said, adding it is especially hard today when the public is more worried about sports than academics and as a society people say, "entertain me."

He said it takes a strong individual for the job and about the only way for a rural district to keep administrators for any length of time is for them "to make the community their home," since a superintendent can "move down the road into Lorain County and make $10,000 to 20,000 more a year."

When asked what person would be the "perfect fit" for the Western superintendent position, Daniels described somebody who first of all loves kids and is willing to be actively engaged in the community.

The individual also would understand budgets and money and be able to work with the school treasurer in the increasingly complex world of school finance.

Last of all, Daniels said it should be someone who, although he might not know all the answers, would know where to find them.

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