First reported 3/11/2010 12:01 p.m.

It was a little over a year ago that District 97 Superintendent Constance Collins interviewed for a similar job in another school district.

Fifteen months later, she’s a finalist to become superintendent in northwest suburban Lake County. Speaking to Wednesday Journal Friday, Collins did not want to comment about the position in Round Lake School District 116, but District 97 did confirm last Wednesday that she’s in the running.

“The board is aware that Dr. Collins has been named as a finalist for the superintendent position in Round Lake Area Schools District 116. However, nothing has been finalized yet, nor does the board know District 116’s timeline for filling this position,” Chris Jasculca, the spokesman for District 97, said last week.

Two District 97 school board members declined to comment on Collins job search. Other board members did not return calls.

In the fall of 2008, Collins was a finalist for superintendent at a school district in LaGrange. Another person was hired for that job. At the time, Collins said her decision to interview for the position was not a matter of any displeasure in working for District 97.

But to have a superintendent looking to work somewhere else doesn’t bode well for a school district, said Sharon Patchak-Layman, a former Dist. 97 board member who’s now serving on the Dist. 200 Board of Education.

“If someone is looking elsewhere or thinking about it, it’s hard to assess their commitment to their district. It’s kind of a wandering eye situation,” she said.

Patchak-Layman was on the board that hired Collins in 2005. She abstained from voting on the hire because, “I had more questions than I could get answered so I didn’t feel that I could vote either way.”

Patchak-Layman recalled that former Dist. 97 Superintendent John Fagan frequently turned down job offers when approached, telling suitors that he wasn’t interested and was happy where he was.

“You only start looking at other places when you’re restless, and when you’re restless I think it makes it difficult for the district to do that type of programming and planning that it needs to do,” she said.

Dist. 97 has set its sights on running a tax hike referendum to fund operations in spring 2011 after nearly a decade of dwindling fund balances, deficit spending and annual budget cuts.

Collins, who came to District 97 in July 2005 from a superintendent post in Zion, is the first woman and the first black to be superintendent of Oak Park’s elementary district. She replaced Fagan who was retiring. After signing a three-year contract here in 2005, she received another three-deal in 2008, which includes a salary bump each year. Collins is in the second year of the contract, earning about $201,000 this year.

DeWitt Kelly, co-chair of Lincoln School’s PTO, was unaware that Collins was interviewing elsewhere. Kelly said he hopes she stays, maintaining that Collins has done a good job in the district. He cited her introduction of PBIS (Positive Behavioral Intervention Support) to Oak Park’s elementary district as just one example of her contributions.

The possibility of getting a new superintendent while trying to pass a referendum next year is a concern for Kelly. But his frustration about that, he said, is directed at the District 97 school board, not Collins.

“I think it’s a question of judgment by the board in selecting any candidate that’s looking. The other concern is why the superintendent is looking elsewhere. What’s occurring or not occurring in the district to drive her to leave?”

Concerning the status of its search, Round Lake’s CEO Ben Martindale said, “The board looked at a variety of candidates, including internal and external, and is in the final stages of making a decision.”

The district, he added, looks to hire a superintendent to start July 1.

CONTACT: tdean@wjinc.com

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