Few apply for Butler Area superintendent post

| Saturday, March 15, 2014, 2:39 p.m.

The committee searching for a Butler Area school superintendent warned applicants that the district faces upheaval in the next year or so, with enrollment declines and other sweeping changes driving the possibility of school closures, the committee chairman said.

A new superintendent will have to bargain a new teacher contract.

“We prepared them a little bit,” said Al Vavro, school board member and head of the search committee.

“It's not a pleasant situation. We're at the crossroads, when you have to look at having neighborhood schools or a quality education. With the way the budget is situated, it's very difficult to have both.”

Of the five people who applied for the job, South Butler Superintendent Dale Lumley has emerged as the top finalist to replace Michael Strutt, who retires June 30.

The number of applicants surprised some experts in education staffing.

“I was amazed, I would have thought they would have attracted 30 or 40 candidates,” said Vic Marrone, a search consultant who has led several recent superintendent searches, including in the Mars Area and Leechburg school districts. He was not involved in the Butler search.

“We wish we would have gotten more (applicants),” Vavro said. “But it's the quality of the candidates, not the quantity.”

Lumley, who met with the search committee Wednesday, did not return calls for comment.

Lumley earns $140,261 as of June 30 in a district with 2,500 students.

Strutt earns just over $153,000 in a district of nearly 7,500 students.

The school board meets Monday and could decide to begin negotiations with Lumley toward a contract.

When the Mars Area School District was looking last year to replace Superintendent William G. Pettigrew, who retired in December, it had 33 applicants, Marrone said.

Marrone is heading a search for a new superintendent in Slippery Rock, and he said he's already heard from five potential candidates.

With a March 25 deadline, he said, he expects 20 to 30 applications.

He said Leechburg had about 20 applicants to replace Jim Budzilek, who left in August to become Mars' superintendent.

The specter of school closings might have scared off applicants, said the executive director of the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators.

“That's probably the biggest, third-rail issue in school districts, closing buildings and realigning attendance boundaries,” said James Buckheit.

“That causes more grief, more hostility among parents and the community than anything.”

Strutt said the district posted ads with the Pennsylvania School Board Association, Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators, Penn State, University of Pittsburgh, Duquesne University and Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

The district also sent an email to all 500 state school districts and advertised in the Tribune-Review and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

The ad also appeared on the Monster.com job search website.

Strutt said the search committee decided not to advertise nationally because it preferred someone familiar with state education initiatives, including Keystone exams and staff evaluations.

“I think that's the advantage of Dr. Lumley,” Strutt said.

“He's very familiar with the district. I know he can hit the ground running.”

Lumley, 57, of Summit became South Butler School District superintendent in September 2010.

He spent 25 years in the Butler Area School District as an English teacher, assistant principal and principal.

He was assistant superintendent for the Gateway School District in Monroeville before moving to South Butler.

Of the five candidates, said Vavro, Lumley and Jay Burkhard, an assistant superintendent in the East Pennsboro School District, emerged as the two finalists.

Burkhard withdrew from consideration when his district named him superintendent.

Vavro did not name the other finalists, saying he did not know if their school districts were aware they were applying for the job.

Vavro said the district wants a superintendent in place soon so the person has a say in replacing Assistant Superintendent Carolyn Cornish and Business Manager Cathy Rodgers, who are retiring June 30 along with Strutt.

Bill Vidonic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5621 or bvidonic@tribweb.com.

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