The Searcy School District will probably have to offer a salary of $180,000 to $190,000 to be competitive and draw good candidates for its superintendent position, according to Dr. Ken James, one of the two consultants handling the district’s search for a replacement for Diane Barrett.

Barrett, who is retiring in June, is making $169,422. James told the Searcy School Board at a meeting earlier this week that if it were asking him for an acceptable range, he would suggest raising it by a little over $10,000 to $20,000.

“You want to attract somebody that has done a good job, has a good record, so what is it going to take for that person to leave where they are?” James asked.

James said one of his other colleagues, Dr. Kieth Williams, always says, “Twenty years ago, you’d leave a job for a thousand dollars, 1,500 dollars or 2,000 dollars. People just don’t do that any more. If they are comfortable where they are, what is it about Searcy that is going to attract them? It’s going to be a financial package plus everything you got going in Searcy. That’s going to be a factor.

“‘Do I move from my district for $5,000? Do I sell my house? Do I buy another house? Do I move my family? … All those things enter into this conversation. Most folks, and the ones you want to attract to come to this job in our opinion, I think, are going to be people that are going to have some incentives to look at this job because if they are making a good salary right now where they are and they have a good working relationship with the board, what is it that is going to make them move?”

School Board President Dr. Michael Liles said what has worked well is to have a superintendent tied to a salary schedule.

“But you kind of need to know where the candidates are yearwise,” Liles said.

James told Liles that most of the candidates Searcy is going to attract are going to have many years in the position. Seasoned, successful administrators are what James said he assumed the board would want to consider.

“A proven leader that can pick up and grow this district to the next level,” he said. “What is the next level for the Searcy School District? You have had tremendous growth here and tremendous leadership. What person is going to get us there?”

School Board member Jimmy Simpson asked about other incentives superintendents may get that would be in addition to their salaries. James said the salary schedules handed out by the consultants just included salary information but some districts do offer extra allowances and incentives. James said three-year contracts are becoming more and more common for superintendents in Arkansas.

School Board member Dr. Brent Blakely said that “looking at these numbers, for us to be competitive in these ranges, we would have to have somebody with at least 20 years’ experience with our salary tied to the index factor. Am I reading that correctly? Or we change our index.”

If the board wanted to get the salary index changed, James said there is a process it would have to go through to do that. It would have to go through the personnel policy committee. James noted that there are several districts that go through the salary index and there are some that negotiate salary with the superintendent.

Bobby Lester, the district’s other consultant from McPherson and Jacobson LLC, said in some cases school boards will match a salary if their superintendent gets an offer and they want to keep them. “It’s kind of like how it works in baseball, I guess,” he said.

Blakely said he leaned toward increasing the index factor, but also sees the advantage of an open negotiation while he is concerned that it could go awry.

Simpson said he was concerned that the district may lose a couple of candidates based on the salary on the scale.

James said Searcy wasn’t a training ground for superintendents and the district should be able to attract a seasoned one.

Lester said what he thinks the board needs to do is find a salary it is comfortable with, whether on the scale or not on the scale. “We are going to have to have that in order to advertise this thing.”

A motion was made and passed to advise the personnel policy committee that the board was going to change the superintendent’s salary schedule to be competitive.

A handout passed out to board members listed the salaries paid to some Arkansas school superintendents for the 2020-21 school year. Some listed were Lakeside, which pays $223,000; Marion, $206,000; Alma, $187,000; and Greenbrier, $197,000.

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