As superintendent decision nears, Glen Ellyn District 41 board candidates spar over search process

 
 
Updated 3/18/2019 6:55 PM
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  • Stephanie Clark

    Stephanie Clark

  • Kurt Buchholz

    Kurt Buchholz

  • Jessica Buttimer

    Jessica Buttimer

  • Ted Estes

    Ted Estes

  • Julie Hill

    Julie Hill

The Glen Ellyn Elementary District 41 school board will vote Tuesday to approve a contract with a new superintendent, but members remain tight-lipped about who they plan to hire.

The board will first meet in closed session and then could name the district's chief executive, ending a confidential search that began in late January.

Challengers in the school board race have made the selection process and the decision to replace Paul Gordon at the helm of the district campaign issues.

Three newcomers -- Jessica Buttimer, Ted Estes and Julie Hill -- are running against incumbents Kurt Buchholz and Stephanie Clark for three seats in the April 2 election.

The current board has not held community forums with the superintendent finalists, nor has it disclosed the proposed salary range or other contract terms for the district's next leader.

Clark would not comment on the prospective superintendent. Erica Nelson, the longest-serving member on the board, said she could not comment on the superintendent search before Tuesday's meeting.

BWP & Associates, a Libertyville search firm, received 30 applicants. The first round of candidate interviews began less than two weeks ago, and at the time, there were six finalists. Leaders of the Glen Ellyn Education Association also say the board has not invited teacher union leadership to take part in the interviews and meet the candidates.

"We will not release any names until we have an offer," Clark said in a Daily Herald Editorial Board endorsement interview. "We committed, and committed to the applicants, it would be a confidential search."

Buchholz said the board is adhering to BWP's recommendation in keeping the search confidential to attract "the best pool of applicants."

"It's not a transparency issue," he said. "It's an issue of protecting the rights of the people that are applicants in the process."

Running as a slate for their second term, Clark and Buchholz have refused to elaborate on why Gordon fell out of favor, drawing criticism from opponents in the five-way board race.

"They campaigned on transparency, and they haven't been able to back up their decisions in some of these cases," Estes said.

Clark and Buchholz have cited "personnel reasons" and his search for other employment as reasons for their silence on Gordon's removal. Gordon last week was named superintendent of a school district in Wenatchee, Washington.

"We did it for a reason to help our superintendent," Clark said. "I think that speaks volumes about how we work as a board. We could have just said, 'Sorry Paul, we're telling the public now because we're not going to take heat all year about this,' and we didn't, and we took a lot of criticism for it. So my hope is once we get a new superintendent in here, the community and some of the criticism that we're drawing will start to kind of smooth over, and we can all work together."

Clark and Buchholz have had long-simmering issues with programming evaluations and a curriculum overhaul first developed by Gordon's predecessor. But Clark has dismissed speculation that the new superintendent would be tasked with eliminating programs.

"We have no intent with anything," she said. "We just want a superintendent that's going to come in and evaluate what we're doing and make decisions that are best for kids, not be afraid to make decisions that maybe aren't popular with other people, but what is truly best for kids, and that's all we can ask."

Clark and Buchholz also wouldn't distinguish between their ideal leader and Gordon, but spoke generally about important attributes in a top administrator.

"He may or may not have these attributes ... but the reality is we're looking for a strong leader that focuses on our kids and focuses us on our data and can make hard decisions," Buchholz said.

Buttimer has rebuked the incumbents for parting ways with a "beloved" and "extremely effective" superintendent, calling the search for his replacement a "really compressed process."

"We have some really valid criticisms of what is happening there," Buttimer said. "Now I don't think that precludes us from getting an excellent candidate, and I have every hope, and I remain optimistic that we will get a really good superintendent. But no, I'm not happy with the process."

Hill said there's a sense of mistrust about the search.

"The process has been rushed," she said. "They voted that night to not renew (Gordon's) contract and hire that same night a search firm after a 20-minute presentation, with no background checks, with not enough time for all the board members to ask their questions, with no follow-up, no second interview."

But Buchholz said the process has been "well planned." Clark said a board majority last spring agreed to allow Gordon's contract to expire, but held off on taking action at Gordon's request.

"We made the decision last spring, and we would also be the board to hire the superintendent," Clark said. "That's what made the most sense. We have the experience and the history."

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