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Search to start over for Manchester superintendent

New Hampshire Union Leader

March 27. 2013 11:28PM

MANCHESTER - The school board's search for a new superintendent will "start over" after one candidate withdrew at the last minute and the other two failed to gain a majority backing Tuesday evening.

Mayor Ted Gatsas said the search firm will be asked "to find out what the candidate pool would look like" if the $140,000 to $170,000 salary range was raised.

During the closed-door meeting, the board was split almost equally between the two remaining finalists and beginning another round of searching.

"We shouldn't settle for somebody," said Mayor Ted Gatsas, who chairs the school board. "We should make sure we have selected the right person ..."

Nearly 80 people applied to replace Thomas Brennan, who is paid $165,500 a year and is leaving June 30 after four years. Brennan said Wednesday that several people, including some administrators and school board members, asked him to reconsider his decision to leave his post, but he said "it's time for me" to go.

Mark Toback, superintendent of schools in Hoboken, N.J., said he withdrew his name from consideration Tuesday evening before the school board interviewed him. Toback, who said Manchester treated him fairly, declined to give a reason.

"That's something I prefer to keep confidential, personal," Toback said in a phone interview from Hoboken.

The other two finalists - Geoffrey Gordon, former superintendent of Port Washington, N.Y., and Vincent Cotter, retired superintendent of the Colonial School District in Pennsylvania - failed to win over a majority of school board members. Gordon didn't return a phone message and Cotter couldn't be reached.

"I think the general consensus was we should keep on looking," Ward 7 school board member Dave Gelinas said.

"We're looking for the best candidate, the best person and the best superintendent," Gelinas said. "I believe we were all prepared to vote for a candidate (Tuesday) night and that candidate hasn't arrived."

Gelinas said he was told a new superintendent could be named by the end of April, but others were skeptical of that timetable.

"If we get this done by the end of June, we'll be lucky," said Ward 9 school board member Arthur Beaudry, a member of the search committee.

Beaudry said he was ready to vote for one of the two finalists

"I'm very discouraged we didn't pick out a candidate," he said. "Literally hundreds of hours some of us have put into this search. It seems all for naught."

"The two finalists would have done a good job here," Beaudry said. "They were both no-nonsense individuals. They weren't going to put up with the politicians, at least that's what I got out of it. ... That scared some people."

Brennan is the highest-paid district chief in the state. According to a 2010 national survey by the Educational Research Service, the average salary for a district with 10,000 to 25,000 students was $178,786. (Manchester has slightly more than 15,000 students.)

Brennan said he has kept out of the search process but suggested a bump in salary would attract better candidates.

"I know people don't want to hear that," he said. "If they were able to come to some consensus on a higher salary, you would see more applicants who have urban experience in medium to large school districts."

Search Committee Chairman Ted Rokas, school board member from Ward 5, released a statement on the search process.

"We are committed to the process and committed to getting it right," he said. "Simply put, we are unwilling to settle for anything less than the very best. We will work with the search firm the committee has engaged to find the right fit for the district."

Rokas said the search committee among other things was going to "review the feedback from the various community groups and stakeholders and start over."

He said "all of the gentlemen we interviewed were competent and brought something new and different to the table. This decision is by no means a reflection on them personally."

Union Leader Staff Writer Ted Siefer contributed to this story.

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