Schools' Top Jobs Not So Attractive -- Districts Now Seeking Super Superintendent

Fiscal report

-- The Mercer Island School District found itself in need of a new superintendent when Corey Wentzell resigned earlier this month after a deficit of $540,000 to $1 million was discovered in the district's budget.

Tomorrow night, Mercer Island residents will get their first look at the state audit of the budget debt. The School Board will present the fiscal committee report and discuss the findings with community members at 7:30 p.m. in the Mercer Island High School auditorium, 9100 S.E. 42nd St. ---------------------------------------------------------------

Meet yesterday's school superintendent.

He was a former physical-education teacher and coach who moved up through the ranks to disciplinarian, assistant superintendent and eventually top dog. He delegated through his central staffers and had little contact with professionals outside educational circles.

Twenty-four Washington districts including Everett, Kent and Mercer Island are looking for new school chiefs. For most of those districts, that old-style superintendent wouldn't make the cut.

Communities want an "educational messiah," a "miracle worker," according to educational consultants and professional search firms.

The demands are such that fewer and fewer people want the job, said Janis Cromer, vice president of The McKenzie Group, a Washington, D.C., education consulting firm that trains superintendents.

"Boards hire people with great expectations. They want changes overnight," Cromer said. "It almost always turns out that expectations are so high they are hardly ever met."

The average tenure for superintendents among all U.S. school systems is 5.5 years. That average drops to 2.5 years for urban districts.

In 1990, almost half of the nation's largest school districts had superintendent vacancies.

Kent sent out 400 application forms and got 34 back. Twelve applicants met the district's requirements. The School Board is considering six finalists. Mercer Island has just begun looking for an interim superintendent.

Everett has attracted 84 candidates to replace retiring Superintendent Paul Sjunnesen.

There are promising candidates but the overall pool is shrinking, said Lee Pasquarella of Jensen-Oldani & Associates Inc., the firm hired by the Everett School District.

The Shoreline School Board decided to waive a national search and permanently retain Mary Anne Kendall-Mitchell, who was appointed interim superintendent last December, because she met the district's criteria and officials feared losing her to another district.

The Institute for Educational Leadership, The McKenzie Group and the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies developed the Superintendents Prepared program to expand the pool of candidates for large-city superintendents.

Working your way up the administration ladder is no longer adequate, Cromer said.

Superintendents no longer deal with just education issues; they face health concerns, family problems, crime and politics. They're asked to meet the increasing needs of a more diversified society and work more with government agencies and private business.

They need training to deal with the news media, work with school boards, rally communities and network with business leaders.