By Heather Mullinix
The next director of schools for Cumberland County needs to be a salesman and a chief executive for the school system and be able to manage a $45 million enterprise with hundreds of millions in assets.
That was the consensus of a forum of community leaders and parents held last Thursday.
"I would like to see somebody who can act as the CEO of a $45 million company," said Carmin Lynch, 9th District commissioner, during the community leaders session. "I'd like the qualifications to include interpersonal skills and dealing with the public and so on and so forth."
Wayne Qualls, search consultant, said he agreed it was important the director be able to deal with a sizeable budget, and he believes there are many educators who can be CEO's, as well. Candidates with advanced degrees do receive training in managing budgets and facilities. There is also an academy for prospective directors offered through the Tennessee School Boards Association that includes such training.
Mickey Eldridge, executive director of Cumberland Good Samaritans, said she was speaking as a mother and grandmother when she said the greatest obstacle facing the next director was securing adequate funding for the school system.
"We've got to improve what we spend on education," Eldridge said. "The [Cumberland County Board of Education] will decide what it needs to improve the schools. We need someone with the experience of having to juggle those needs and to fight to try to get what the school system needs. There's nothing more important than education."
Lynch said salesmanship would be a key to securing funding.
"If there is a new program or need, it's incumbent on the board and the director to be able to sell that instead of demanding," Lynch said.
Qualls said the number one quality he thought was necessary was integrity.
"I think it's important that I look at candidates eyeball to eyeball and see how they handle the hard questions.
"You don't have to like the person in a leadership role, but you have to trust and respect them."
Others said it was important the new director recognize the importance of existing partnerships with local governments, such as the city of Crossville's Character Trait program and annual Sustainability fair; nonprofit entities; area businesses; and other educational institutions, such as the dual enrollment and dual credit programs offered through Roane State Community College and Tennessee Technology Center at Crossville.
Being able to manage responsibilities and delegate responsibilities appropriately was also mentioned.
Francis Carson, representing Downtown Crossville, Inc., said, "The director needs management and human resources experience. They need to know what they don't know and be willing to find that expertise."
There was also concern regarding the salary range for the director, previously discussed by the Cumberland County Board of Education as between $90,000 and $110,000.
Sandy Brewer, 3rd District representative to the board, asked Qualls, "Have we tied your hands with that range?"
Qualls said he felt the range was a great for a candidate from Cumberland County or a similar size school system. It might seem low to someone looking to move from a larger school system.
"But there isn't any place better than Cumberland County, and that balances that out," Qualls said, noting the low cost of living and the state of the school system in the county.
Larry Allen, 6th District commissioner, said, "You get what you pay for. If you disqualify a candidate on salary, the lessor candidate can cost you 10 times that. When you're hiring an employee, you take all that into consideration."
Qualls said he does discuss the salary range with candidates to see if they are comfortable with those numbers prior to making a recommendation.
"If they tell me yes and then say no to the board, you're one and done with me. I won't recommend them for a job again," Qualls said. "I try to deal with those issues before they get through the door."
According to Qualls, there are 22 applicants for the position of director of schools, with three of those having local education positions. Others have ties to the community.
He will evaluate the resumes and research each applicant to determine the top six candidates to recommend as semifinalists. The board may then choose to interview those six or may say they are not pleased with any of the applicants and the search will resume.
Qualls said he does feel there are a number of bonafide candidates in the pool. The six semifinalists may or may not include local candidates.
Vivian Hutson, 6th District representative, said, "The best person is who we want to hire."
Jim Blalock, 8th District representative, reminded those present there were 7,500 students in the school system, with parents, grandparents, taxpayers, commissioners and others all concerned with how to best serve the public.
"We've got to set all those things aside and think about the children," he said. "We want the best candidate, wherever they're from."
Allen said, "What I'm hearing is we all want the same thing. The board has a hard job. We need to take our time and make the right choice."
Six semifinalists will be named at the March 28 meeting of the board and a Saturday meeting will be set to interview each. The board may then decide to call two or three back for additional interviews. The board hopes to have a new director hired in time to spend a month with Director of Schools Aarona VanWinkle prior to her retirement June 30.
The school system is continuing to solicit input from the community on qualities and characteristics to look for in the next director. Visit the school system website, ccschools.k12tn.net, or use the link on the school system's Facebook page.