Their first attempt to hire a new school superintendent ended after four of five finalists withdrew, and Oak Ridge Board of Education members learned Monday that bumping the potential pay range up to $175,000 per year could attract new candidates and better reflect market conditions.
The board approved the recommendation to offer a higher salary in a 5-0 vote during a special meeting Monday. The board also agreed to have executive search firm Ray and Associates of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, contact previously interested candidates with the new pay information, reset the application deadline to March 1, and set a start date for the new superintendent of no later than June 15.
The potential salary range for a new superintendent had earlier been set at $140,000 to $150,000, but two finalists from a search that started in June withdrew, citing salary issues, among other things, and a third apparently would have had to take a $6,000 to $8,000 pay cut to take the Oak Ridge superintendent’s job.
Don Long, Tennessee regional search associate for Ray and Associates, said the $175,000 salary level could allow the Oak Ridge school system to attract high-caliber candidates. It would also move the school system from 13th to 6th in the state in superintendent pay.
“It just opens the door to a new level,” Long said, although he acknowledged that it could create some “sticker shock” in Oak Ridge, which hasn’t had to hire a new superintendent in a decade.
Long said candidates often want to earn an extra $15,000 to $20,000 per year before they agree to move.
“We’re going to keep this process going until we find a candidate that you are comfortable with,” Long said. “We have had a lot of interest in Oak Ridge.”
Also Monday, school board members hired former superintendent Bob Smallridge as interim superintendent. Smallridge was Oak Ridge schools superintendent from 1978-1998. He has agreed to serve as interim as long as he is needed or through June.
Smallridge will earn $10,000 per month, and he officially started Tuesday. Besides serving as Oak Ridge superintendent, he has also been an interim superintendent in Campbell County and Clinton.
The last superintendent, Tom Bailey, retired at the end of the year. He had been superintendent since 2002.