The normally rote process of searching for a new school superintendent took a major detour last week at Riverside Brookfield High School. The consultants hired to conduct the search told the school board several surprising things including recommendations that:

The school board first hire a new principal and delay the search for a new superintendent for a year.

The school board then consider hiring only a part-time superintendent.

And, in framing its recommendation, the consultant suggested the newly constituted board needed more time to work through issues dividing it.

Steve Humphrey, of the search firm, Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates Ltd. told the school board last week that his firm recommends that District 208 Interim Superintendent David Bonnette stay on at least until January, 2011 and perhaps until July 1, 2011. A surprised Bonnette later said he was willing to consider that possibility.

“We think the interim superintendentcy will serve you well at this point, based on the stakeholder’s reports,” Humphrey said. “We recommend that the interim superintendent continue. To date your interim superintendent has done a great job.”

Humphrey said that Bonnette has been an important stabilizing force at RB since he took over from former RB Superintendent/Principal Jack Baldermann. Baldermann resigned last year after a year in which he had let his state certification lapse for more than 11 months and less than a year after he had admitted having an affair with a school staff member.

Bonnette, the former superintendent at Riverside elementary school District 96, took over as interim superintendent on July 1 and has been credited with bringing calm and order to the administration at RB. Baldermann had served as both superintendent and principal and this summer the school board decided to separate the two jobs.

Two weeks ago Humphrey and two other consultants spent two long days at RB interviewing a wide range of people including current and former school board members, teachers and other staff, and community members. The consultants met with the school board at a committee of the whole Oct. 7 and it was apparently at a closed session that night where they first broached the idea of asking Bonnette to stay on for another six months to a year and to hire a new principal before hiring a new superintendent.

Humphrey said that his firm’s recommendation was based on the unique needs at RB. He alluded to divisiveness on the school board that some have seen as an impediment to hiring a new superintendent.

“This recommendation would permit a relatively new board to mesh, define its priorities,” Humphrey said. “You guys have been together for a short period of time. It will give you the time to talk more, develop common goals, common direction, go through some strategic planning or visioning processes that would bring a clearer focus for you and the community.”

School board members seemed to like the recommendation, but took no formal action to accept it. They will meet next week at a committee of the whole meeting, tentatively scheduled for Oct. 29, to further discuss the recommendation but seem likely to adopt it.

“They determined and made a good case to us that we have a greater need right now to establish a principal in the building and continue with the work of rebuilding things at the district level, meaning the board and the superintendent’s office with the personnel we already have on hand,” said District 208 school board President Jim Marciniak. “Our biggest need at this point is to establish educational leadership in the building. That’s where the real action is here, in the educational task and that’s where we need to provide some leadership. That’s really where we have the leadership void right now. Not to say that Tim Scanlon’s not doing a good job as our interim principal, but Jack Baldermann was regarded as a more effective principal than a superintendent, to be honest, and that’s where his leadership is missed.”

Scanlon says he supports the search firm’s recommendation.

“I wholeheartedly endorse it,” said Scanlon who served as assistant principal under Baldermann before taking over as interim principal on July 1. When Scanlon was named interim principal he said that he expected to do the job for only one year.

Bonnette, who is 69, said he would be willing to serve as interim superintendent for an additional six months to a year.

“Personally this isn’t something that I have looked for,” Bonnette said. “This isn’t really anything that I expected to come out of this by any means, but it makes some sense.”

The consultants recommended that the board aim to hire a new principal to start work on July 1, 2010 and delay the start of a search for a new superintendent until next November. The consultants recommended that the board consider at that time whether to hire a full time or part time superintendent.

Early discussions with board members indicate a definite interest in hiring a part time superintendent. Such a move would save the cash strapped district money. Some former school members, who were interviewed by the consultants, questioned whether a one school district such as RB really needs a full time superintendent along with a principal.

“That’s certainly been a part of the discussion,” Marciniak said. “That’s not the first time that that idea has come up in this whole process.”