Cape Elizabeth suspends search for new school chief

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CAPE ELIZABETH — The School Board has called off its search for a new top administrator and Howard Colter will remain interim superintendent until further notice.

The superintendent search has stretched more than a year, with deadlines extended to increase the number of applications. School Board members, parents, teachers and some school administrators have been conducting the search.

The board set a date in January as the original deadline for applications. That date came and went, with Feb. 15 set as the new deadline to increase the pool of applicants.

Earlier this month, an Advisory Screening Committee reviewed and ranked applicants, and those who made the first cut were sent to the full School Board.

The board trimmed the applicant list, and an Interview Committee, comprised of teachers, administrators and the board, interviewed five candidates the week of March 7.

School Board Chairwoman Elizabeth Scifres, citing the candidates’ right to privacy, declined to identify the five candidates, or three who were deemed qualified for a second interview.

On Tuesday night, the School Board suspended its search.

“At this point, despite thorough and exhaustive efforts from a variety of stakeholders, we have not found the best match for our community,” the board said in a prepared statement. “To be clear, several of the candidates interviewed were strong contenders that were seriously considered. The role of superintendent, however, demands a certain balance of experience, leadership, and synergy that is custom to the needs of each school district. It is not a one-size-fits-all job.

“In considering the options before us, the School Board unanimously agreed that the best choice at this point is no choice. We believe we should not settle for anything less than the (best).”

Colter, who had expected to stay as interim superintendent until a new superintendent could start on July 1, has agreed to remain for another year.

“The board extends its deep gratitude to Howard, as his work in Cape Elizabeth has been nothing short of exemplary. With the issue of next year settled, the board will explore different search strategies and continue its pursuit of the right leader for Cape Elizabeth Schools,” the board statement said.

The search for a new superintendent has been difficult, to say the least.

The job became available in January 2016, when former Superintendent Meredith Nadeau announced her resignation after five years.

About a year ago, two final candidates for the job dropped out of consideration in quick succession. Colter was hired, and the search for a permanent replacement was reopened.

Scifres on Wednesday listed several qualifications needed in the next superintendent: central office administrative experience, communication skills, and a collaborative team builder.

Administrative service needs to include previous or current roles in a superintendent or assistant superintendent role, or as a curriculum director.

“Not a building principal looking to make that leap,” Scifres said, and “someone who has been there, who knows what it’s like to be a classroom teacher.”

Budget concerns

The decision to suspend the search comes as the board and Colter are tweaking and prioritizing line items in a proposed $24.7 million budget for fiscal 2018. The proposal is up 1.6 percent from the current operating budget of $24.3 million that was approved by voters in June 2016.

If the $24.7 million sum is approved, the property tax rate may be $12.85 per $1,000 property valuation. That’s an increase of 3.6 percent from this year’s $12.40 per $1,000 property valuation.

Lisa D. Connell can be reached at 781-3661, ext. 183 or lconnell@theforecaster. net. Follow Lisa on Twitter: @connell_ld.

Interim Cape Elizabeth Superintendent of Schools Howard Colter, second from left, on Tuesday, March 28, reviews the proposed fiscal 2018 budget with School Board members Susana Measelle Hobbs, left, Jo Morrissey and Chairwoman Elizabeth Scifres. Colter will remain on the job through June 2018 after the board suspended its search for a permanent school chief.