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IPS board aims for a quick search process without an outside firm to select the new superintendent

Indianapolis Public Schools board members hope to have a short hiring process without an outside search firm as they look for the next person to lead the state’s largest district.

School board president Michael O’Connor told Chalkbeat that the board hopes to announce a formal process for selecting a new superintendent next week. Ideally, he said he would like to conclude the search around March.

The search follows the departure of former-Superintendent Lewis Ferebee, who was nominated to run the school system in Washington, D.C. His deputy, Aleesia Johnson, took over as interim-superintendent this week.

The timeline for replacing Ferebee is ambitious. It took Denver about five months to hire a new superintendent last year, the nation’s capital has been without a chancellor since last February, and the board president in Shelby County Schools, which includes Memphis, expects to spend eight to 18 months searching for a new leader. But New York City was able to fill its top education post by early March after the previous chancellor announced her retirement in December 2017.

O’Connor said he is seeking input from three newly sworn-in board members before finalizing the details of the process. Two of the new members oppose some of the district’s recent reforms that were supported by most of the board, which could make the superintendent search more contentious. But O’Connor said there already appears to be consensus on some issues.

The board is likely to skip hiring an outside search firm, which can be costly, in favor of getting the word out through resources like state and national superintendents associations and local universities, O’Connor said.

O’Connor did not provide details on how extensive the national search might be, but he said the board would ensure that potential candidates knew the district was hiring.

“Whatever we do will be national in nature, just because the nature of where we’ve been over the last five years has created a national profile,” he said.

Indeed, using an outside firm can be costly. The Denver school district spent more than $160,000 on a search process, including paying $30,000 to a search firm, that resulted in a single finalist: a deputy superintendent.

Newly elected board member Susan Collins said the superintendent search would incorporate input from community members as well as board members. “Nothing will be without public input,” she said. “We absolutely have to have public input.”

The short timeline and absence of a search firm could suggest the final candidate will be local or someone that board members are already familiar with, such as Johnson, a former charter leader who joined the district in 2015. Johnson has said previously that she will wait until the board announces a search process to decide whether to seek the position permanently.

Hiring a superintendent quickly could be especially attractive since the district is at a pivotal moment. After voters approved two tax referendums to increase school funding, the next leader will be charged with negotiating a new teachers contract and carrying out planned budget cuts and school closures that helped win business community support for the tax measures.