In any school district, the most important decision the board of education makes is hiring a superintendent. The superintendent is directly accountable to the board for all operations within the district: academic, administrative and financial. Effective leadership is the key to district success and improvement, both academic and financial.

At our June meeting, the District 96 board of education chose to extend Superintendent Jonathan Lamberson’s contract through 2013. In these difficult economic times, this decision was not made lightly, but because we believe that under Dr. Lamberson’s leadership the high academic and financial expectations of the board, parents and the community will continue to be met.

Dr. Lamberson was hired as the superintendent of District 96 in 2005. Since that time, the district has experienced measurable improvements in academic achievement across all grade levels and programmatic improvements have been made.

Our building principals have voiced to the board their appreciation of Dr. Lamberson’s skills and their confidence in his ability to lead the staff to provide the best services for our students.

In addition, Dr. Lamberson serves as the district’s business manager. Under his stewardship, the district has been recognized by the Illinois State Board of Education as one of the top-ranked, financially sound school districts in the state.

While many districts are cutting budgets and eliminating programs, with Dr. Lamberson’s expertise, District 96’s financial projections are sound and we can fund current programs and new initiatives for our students.

Next summer, the district will be involved in contract negotiations with the Riverside Education Council which represents teachers and staff. The superintendent plays a pivotal role in negotiations, and Dr. Lamberson’s positive working relationship with the staff and his knowledge of the academic and financial workings of the district will assist the board.

The board would not have hesitated to search for a new superintendent if that was in the best interest of the district. However, in view of Dr. Lamberson’s qualifications and proven record in the district, the board felt that Dr. Lamberson is the best person to ensure a continuing academically excellent environment for our children.

In renewing Dr. Lamberson’s contract, the board made a sound fiscal judgment. Illinois law requires that school districts employ an accredited school business manager as well as a superintendent.

Dr. Lamberson is certified to perform both of these important and required functions for our district. Very few superintendents are qualified to fulfill both roles. Consequently, comparable school districts generally employ two persons at a cost of about $100,000 to $150,000 for a business manager and about $200,000 to $280,000 for a superintendent with as many years of experience as Dr. Lamberson.

As an example, as of July 2008, LaGrange Highlands School District (896 students) paid its business manager $131,578 and its superintendent $201, 997.

The board also took into account the expense that would be incurred if a search for another superintendent were undertaken. The average cost of a superintendent search is $20,000.

In addition, this process is disruptive to the district during the transition period from the old to the new superintendent. Moreover, there are no guarantees of a successful search and, as a neighboring district recently experienced, if the new superintendent does not work out, an interim superintendent needs to be hired (for about $100,000 for 102 days) and the search process has to be repeated.

Finally, Dr. Lamberson is eligible for early retirement benefits from the Illinois Teacher Retirement System at the end of his current contract ending in 2010. If he chose to exercise this option, the district would be required, by law, to pay a substantial penalty.

Consequently, a search for a new superintendent would have exposed District 96 to a potential penalty assessment in excess of $300,000, payable in one lump sum to the state of Illinois. While a concern, this was not a deciding factor in the district’s decision.

The board is confident its decision to extend Dr. Lamberson’s employment in District 96 is in the best interests of the students, community and staff, academically and financially.

Nancy Jensen, president; Giles McCarthy, vice-president; Jennifer Leimberer, Mary Ellen Meindl, James Schraidt, Mary Stimming, Hareena Wakely, board members