When Michael Bregy, outgoing superintendent of Community Unit District 300, led the charge that freed up millions of tax dollars from a corporate giant, Joe Stevens knew it wouldn't be long before another school district snatched up Bregy.
Bregy's lobbying efforts with the state legislature resulted in more money for the district, and Stevens, the board's vice president, figured that Bregy might soon be getting other job offers.
Sears in 2011 received a 15-year extension of its original tax deal, but the annual revenue the school district received from it doubled.
"That told our board that we were going to have a hard time holding onto him," Stevens said. "He was a brand-new superintendent and just jumped into that (campaign) with all kinds of vim and vigor. He got a lot of a national exposure unfortunately, I think, to the detriment to our district."
Bregy, 47, was ultimately recruited away from the district to North Shore School District 112, which on Tuesday approved a contract for him to become its next superintendent.
The Highland Park-based district will pay Bregy $240,000 a year, $40,000 more than he makes in Carpentersville-based District 300. He starts in late May to replace retiring Superintendent David Behlow.
Bregy, District 300's superintendent since 2011, said he was happy at the state's sixth largest school district where he has spent 14 years of his career.
But he accepted the job to run the much smaller school district because it was a chance for his interpersonal leadership style to really shine, he said. Other factors were the district's proximity to his family in Mount Prospect, and that the Highland Park-based district reminds him of the one he came from in Texas, with its high student achievement and community participation.
"I was not looking to leave. I wasn't even aware of any superintendent openings at all," said Bregy, who lives in Algonquin. "If you are a superintendent and a successful one in your district, you're just not looking."
District 112 is composed of more than 4,400 students and 620 staff members, as well as eight elementary schools, three middle schools and one early childhood center. Conversely, District 300 has about 21,000 students in 27 schools and 2,500 staff members.
A District 112 spokeswoman confirmed Bregy was selected from a field of 37 candidates. Linda Hanson, president of search firm School Exec Connect, recruited six of them, including Bregy.
While Bregy initially came across Hanson's radar after he took over as District 300's superintendent, it was his subsequent involvement with Sears and Springfield that showed her he was one to watch.
Sears Holdings sought to extend the life of a 20-year-old Economic Development Area that allowed a majority of property taxes typically paid to taxing bodies, such as the school district, to return to Sears for development. District 300 initially opposed extending the EDA, then sought a compromise. While Gov. Pat Quinn later signed legislation that extended the tax breaks for 15 years, District 300 would get about $3 million more in annual property taxes from Sears.
"He received quite a lot of media notice ... with a tax issue that he worked with the legislature with so that their district would receive money, and he was successful at doing that," Hanson said. "He just had a reputation of being a very strong leader."
From the six candidates Hanson recruited, the board picked three and eventually narrowed the choice down to Bregy.
"Dr. Bregy stood out as an engaging leader with an ideal set of experiences and a dynamic personal leadership style well-suited to leading our community at a very interesting juncture in its history," board President Bruce Hyman said in a statement.
Bregy will face a new set of challenges in District 112, which is in the midst of its own transition.
Next month, officials and the community there are expected to discuss the future of its older buildings, and financial and educational challenges.
District 300, meanwhile, is planning for life without Bregy.
The district has hired Rosemont-based Hazard, Young, Attea and Associates to find his replacement.
It's the same firm the district used to hire former Superintendent Ken Arndt and former Chief Financial Officer Cheryl Crates, Stevens said.
The board will meet with the firm Monday to explain what they're looking for in their next leader and to learn more about the recruitment process -- the board is interested in finding someone who will continue Bregy's example of putting more emphasis on education and less on finances, Stevens said.
"I think he's a wonderful man, he's a wonderful educator and I'm really sorry to see him leave," Stevens said of the outgoing superintendent.
Bregy has agreed to help with the transition of power, and the selection process will involve staff, the community and all interested parties.
The goal is to have someone in place by July 1.