Does the next District 200 superintendent have to live in the district?
That’s one of two key questions the board of education faces as Oak Park and River Forest High School embarks on its search for a new district leader.
There’s no board policy requiring the superintendent live within the district, which covers the villages of Oak Park and River Forest. Supt. Attila Weninger, who was hired from Lyons Township High School in LaGrange, moved to Oak Park shortly after taking over. Still, the issue of residency factored into deliberations during the last search in 2006, board president Dietra Millard recalls. She and Jacques Conway are the only current members who were on the board at that time.
Millard said members had one finalist in mind but that person could not guarantee moving to the district. She recalled the person’s reasons were “very legitimate.”
“We had a discussion about it as a board, and the general majority of the board felt that the person should live in the community. So that candidate was passed,” Millard said at the Nov. 3 board meeting. “I’d like to raise that because I believe that is something that was not raised ahead of the search last time, and I think if we don’t decide tonight, we would need to decide before we proceeded with a particular search firm.”
The board ended up passing on its three initial finalists that year – Marion Hoyda, a superintendent of a consolidated school district in Tinley Park, Kevin O’Mara, principal of Ridgewood High School in Norridge, and Louis Cavallo, an assistant school superintendent in Romeoville. The board chose Weninger from a new pool of finalists in spring 2007.
The majority of the board believes residency should not be a requirement for the current selection. John Allen is the only board member adamant that the next superintendent live in the district.
“I’m a supporter of this as a requirement,” he said. “At that management level, you have a stake in the community. It’s not just a job. To me, you have to have a stake in the community. You have to have a feel for it, and you can’t get a feel for it unless you live hear, pay the taxes, shop at the grocery stores, make friends here and live here.”
Conway, though, disputed making residency a requirement, especially given the poor state of the economy.
“I don’t think it’s fair to our pool to say that you have to move into this community. I don’t think where they live is going to make a difference as far as whether they’ll make an effective superintendent. If he or she wants to commute from an hour a way, that’s on them.”
Ralph Lee noted that teachers are not required to live in the district, and said he doesn’t think it’s necessary for any school employee to be required to do so. Terry Finnegan argued that making residency a requirement would limit the search.
“I would prefer that at some point this person may fall in love with our district, but I don’t care where they sleep,” he said. “I think the superintendent would be here an enumerable amount of hours anyway in doing the job.”
The other question facing the board: How open do they want the search process to be?
Millard noted that previous searches have been conducted fairly openly. That, she added, will also factor into which firm they end up hiring. Seven firms initially replied and the board hosted a special meeting last week to narrow the pool. Members discussed the pros and cons of each group and summarized their likes and dislikes of their proposals. But members refrained from getting into the openness question, instead saving that discussion for when they meet to decide on a firm.
On Tuesday, the school board interviewed the firms and will vote on one Thursday.