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Top school jobs tough to sell

By Kimberly Atkins

MCAS and No Child Left Behind regulations aren't making life tough just for teachers and students - they're making it harder for Bay State schools to find bosses, too.

``Who wants to come to a state where the bureaucracy has set you up to fail?'' asked Richard Warren, senior consultant for search firm Future Management Systems, which has run school superintendent searches in dozens of Bay State districts.

The search for a replacement for Boston Public Schools Superintendent Thomas Payzant is expected to draw a rich pool of qualified applicants from around the nation, but in other Massachusetts communities, school officials say they are struggling to find and keep good school chiefs.

The officials blame the high cost of living, rising turnover rates and stricter accountability standards.

``Seventy-five percent of Massachusetts schools will be declared `underperforming' based on No Child Left Behind standards'' over the next decade, said Glenn Koocher, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees, which conducts superintendent searches across the state.

Warren said that a few years ago, superintendent searches in the state drew 40 to 50 applicants on average. ``Now we work very hard to get an applicant pool in the mid- to high 20s,'' Warren said.

The chilling effect is felt even in the state's best-performing districts.

``It's a more difficult job for (recruiters) these days than it used to be, particularly with financial constraints and MCAS pressures,'' said Paul Denver, school committee chairman in Needham, which just began its search for a new superintendent for next school year.

And good people don't come cheap. Nationwide, superintendents earn an average of $125,000; in Massachusetts the average is $122,000, according to the nonprofit Educational Research Service.

Close to Boston, recently deemed the nation's most expensive city, school officials have to find ways to lure applicants from other, cheaper states, and that means offering more cash - even when budgets are tight.

``We are under no illusion that we can say, `Hey, look at our oceanfronts' and therefore pay someone less,'' said Dan Yaeger, school committee chairman in Swampscott, where the district offered a $140,000 salary to new superintendent Matthew Malone to lure him from San Diego. ``It's hard to pull someone away from another area of the country when that area has a better cost of living.''

— Kimberly Atkins
Boston Herald


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