Sag Harbor School Board Debates Timeline For Superintendent Search

Sag Harbor Superintendent Katy Graves, left, will have to be replaced when she retires in January. Christine Sampson photo

During a special meeting on Tuesday night, members of the Sag Harbor School Board began debating the best path forward as they embark on a search for a new superintendent following the announcement late last month that Superintendent Katy Graves plans to retire, effective January 6, 2020.

In early May, the board accepted Ms. Graves’s retirement letter and voted to hire School Leadership LLC to help manage the search for a new superintendent at a base cost of $18,000. According to the contract, the district must also reimburse School Leadership for  as much as $1,500 for professional fees and $11,000 for advertising and printing.

School Leadership LLC has been used by the district in past superintendent searches, including the one that led to the hiring of Ms. Graves in 2014.

On Tuesday night, school board vice president Jordana Sobey — who led the meeting with board president Diana Kolhoff absent — presented two timelines for how the search could play out.  She encouraged a public discussion of the best path forward, noting the board would not be able to discuss the details of individual candidates publicly.

“Option 1” would have the board meeting with constituent groups beginning in September, with the process ending in December with the hiring of a new superintendent. “Option 2” also would begin the process in September, but it lays out a longer process for the search, ending in April of 2020 with a new hire.

Speaking of “Option 1,” Ms. Sobey said, “We have been informed that is not an ideal timeline for a search and we will not get a great pool of candidates.” She said School Leadership LLC prefers “Option 2” as the process that would yield more candidates. Ms. Graves also recommended the board have School Leadership LLC move forward with a closed search, which would allow superintendents currently working elsewhere to apply without threatening their current jobs.

“Your very best candidates are attracted to closed searches,” she advised.

Board members Brian DeSesa, Susan Schaefer and Chris Tice all agreed having the largest, and most qualified, pool of candidates was critical — as was ensuring community involvement — but felt unable to decide what was the best path forward due to questions they were unable to discuss in public session.

Board member Susan Lamontagne praised the board for discussing the issue publicly, even in its limited capacity. “I personally would like to see us avoid an interim if we can,” she said, referring to the hiring of an interim superintendent. “I think it is nice when you go right to your permanent person. If that interim is someone known to us already, it might be more interesting, but I think there are external factors affecting this and I wonder if there are alternatives to one or two.”

Ms. Sobey said, “I think I am hearing everyone would rather see the right candidate and have the right pool of candidates and that is where I am as well with the caveat of not being interested in a third-party candidate” to be an interim superintendent “and being distracted by that.”

Ms. Tice said the board could push forward with “Option 1,” but with an asterisk — but if it doesn’t find the right candidate, extend the search.

Ms. Graves added that one of the reasons she selected January as a retirement date was to give a new superintendent the ability to build his or her own budget. “But it would be great if you got someone in March and April and they can see the school when it is vibrant and working,” she said.

“I like ‘Option 3’,” said Ms. Sobey. “Why not try and see what we can get early on but we can always extend it and go with a larger pool.”

The board agreed it should give the community time to weigh in on the superintendent search and will resume the discussion at a future board meeting.