Fort Worth ISD is shopping for a new leader

Posted Sunday, Jun. 08, 2014  comments  Print Reprints
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HELP WANTED: 83,000-student school district in Fort Worth, Texas, seeks experienced, highly qualified and personable (see below) superintendent/chief executive officer willing to face and overcome typical but significant challenges of urban public schools much in need of improved academic performance.

Community commitment to schools is high, including $490 million recently approved for investment in facility construction and improvement. Owing to complications encountered in some previous capital investment programs, tight controls over contracts and expenditures will be expected.

State ratings for many district schools are high, but too many are not. Top administrative staff has key openings to be filled, including that of chief financial officer.

Successful applicant will be expected to recruit and hire a new CFO who is intimately familiar with the Texas methods and politics of public school finance, their recent changes and legal challenges.

Operating budget ($644.2 million in general fund spending in 2013-2014) is sound, but state legislators’ commitment to educational support is notoriously weak. The district’s fund balance was reduced by $9.5 million in the most recent budget in order to bring available dollars up to meet planned expenditures.

The successful applicant will be selected and supervised by a nine-member board elected from single-member districts primarily in Fort Worth (population 792,727 as of July 1, 2013; annual growth ranking 13th in the U.S.) but including parts of some neighboring cities and unincorporated areas.

The previous superintendent served the district for 40 years, the last two as superintendent. Several board members praised his work but in the end decided they could not get along with him and agreed to pay him almost $900,000 to go away.

Applicants must be adept at respectfully dealing with personality conflicts among board members, between themselves and board members and between their top administrators and board members, which is to say that the job is as politically sensitive as that of superintendent in any other major urban district.

At any time, five board members may end the employment of the superintendent. Elections are held every two years, with as many as five board members facing voters in each election. The superintendent must know that the head count of supporters on the board could change significantly at any election.

Salary is negotiable. It will not be hard for applicants to learn that the previous superintendent received annual pay and benefits worth $356,398.63, among the highest for any superintendent in Texas.

Applicants should know that the previous superintendent’s severance award included a “benefit payment” of $306,000. Much of that was due to his long tenure, during which time he built up a significant “terminal pay benefit” as well as accrued but unused vacation, sick leave and personal leave.

Board members knew when they hired him that, with his accrued benefits and high salary, his departure mid-contract would incur great cost for the district and its taxpayers and would be a perverse incentive for him to demand a buyout when things got tough. Applicants might not get such generous treatment should they be hired and then eventually not get along with the board, but they might.

Board members are aware that talent doesn’t come cheap. Publicly available search tools will make it easy for applicants to determine that superintendents at other major urban Texas school districts earn in the neighborhood of $300,000 annually plus benefits.

Applicants must give top priority to the district’s 83,000 students and must present a strategic plan to meet their educational needs. The previous superintendent’s plan is available online but may be changed despite the money and time invested in it.

The successful applicant will not be expected to perform miracles, although experience in performing miracles will be considered a plus.

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