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Wichita school board sets salary range and timeline for superintendent search

Stephan Bisaha

The Wichita Board of Education plans to pay a new superintendent between $300,000 and $325,000 a year.

The board voted unanimously Monday to set the proposed salary range, as well as a rough timeline for the upcoming search. Consultants also hinted that this search process would be more open than the previous one, after which the Kansas Attorney General ruled that the Wichita board had violated the open meetings law.

Board members said Monday that the proposed salary is based on a market analysis of superintendent salaries in the Wichita region and at other large urban districts.

“We will negotiate, obviously, once a contract happens,” said board member Sheril Logan. “But that keeps us within what we know nationwide and in Kansas that superintendents are currently making.”

Superintendent Alicia Thompson, who plans to retire next summer, receives a base annual salary of $296,305. In addition, she receives a $780-a-month car and mileage allowance, $525 a month for “professional, civic and incidental expenses,” and a $25,000 a year contribution to her retirement, bringing the total package to $336,965.

“We want to make it so that it’s a wide enough (salary) range that we can find the quality that Wichita deserves … to have as a leader,” said board member Ernestine Krehbiel.

Board members met Monday with representatives of Iowa-based Ray & Associates, a consulting firm they hired to assist in the search.

Company president Michael Collins said school districts are getting fewer applicants than they did several years ago. Before the pandemic, a district the size of Wichita could expect between 50 and 60 applicants for a superintendent position; now the average is between 30 and 40, Collins said.

The Wichita board plans to survey students, employees and the community about what they want in a new superintendent. Next month, an online survey will ask residents to pick the 10 characteristics they think are most important from a list of more than 30 potential qualities.

Characteristics listed on Ray & Associates surveys in other districts include: classroom experience in a K-12 setting; able to work with legislators on key topics; a strong moral compass; experience recruiting and retaining staff; commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, and a private-sector background in addition to an educational career.

Consultants plan to hold a series of community meetings in January and post the application for internal candidates by Jan. 24. After an internal search, board members will decide whether to expand the search more broadly.

“There are a million ways to participate in this process this time,” said board president Stan Reeser.

During Wichita’s last superintendent search in 2017, the school board met in secret during an eight-day private session to interview candidates. The Wichita Eagle filed an open meetings complaint against the board. Nearly a year later, Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt issued a formal opinion saying that the secret session violated the open meetings law.

Board members selected Thompson in 2017 without hiring a search firm or conducting a regional or nationwide search. They did not name finalists or hold any public meetings where the community could question candidates.

This time, Ray & Associates is prepared to conduct a second round of meetings “for the community to be engaged with finalists,” Collins said.

“So the community has input now on the front end, and … legitimate input on the back end,” he said.

Suzanne Perez is a longtime journalist covering education and general news for KMUW and the Kansas News Service. Suzanne reviews new books for KMUW and is the co-host with Beth Golay of the Books & Whatnot podcast. Follow her on Twitter @SuzPerezICT.