It took no time at all on Sept. 1 for the Riverside Elementary School District 96 Board of Education to narrow their choice in search firms to two. 

But it took nearly a half hour for the board to make the difficult decision of choosing the team of former District 96 Superintendent David Bonnette and former Lyons Township High School District 204 Superintendent Dennis Kelly over the Iowa-based search firm of Ray and Associates to find the district a new superintendent.

“We’re very excited about working with the district, with the community, with the staff, with the board to hire an outstanding superintendent who will come into the district and who will provide some longevity and stability.” Bonnette said.  

Although the board voted 6 to 0 (Mary Rose Mangia was absent) at the special meeting to hire Bonnette and Kelly, it was not an easy decision.

Board members were uniformly impressed with the presentation of Ray and Associates made on Aug. 18 and would have been happy to hire them, but the chance to two locals held in high esteem conduct the search was something that most board members did not want to pass up.

“We have a unique opportunity with Bonnette and Kelly here,” said board member Rich Regan. “These two individuals were widely regarded professionals in their field and they have a vested interest, as residents, in the success of our search here.”

The key factor might have been comfort level and trust board members have with Bonnette, who was hired as temporary consultant by the board last spring and conducted the searches that brought a pair of co-interim superintendents, Patrick Patt and Griff, Powell and a new curriculum director, Meryl Brownlow, to the district.  

School board President Jeff Miller said he was impressed with the national reach of Ray and Associates and their thorough and well thought out search process.

Miller said that the choice was hard, because the strengths of Bonnette and Kelly and Ray and Associates were so different. But he slightly preferred Bonnette and Kelly, in part because of the work Bonnette did for the board in the spring and in part because of their familiarity with the district’s needs. 

“I like the fact they’re local and they can sell our district to any of the candidates they find,” Miller said. “Their interests are totally aligned to ours.”

Board member Randy Brockway also pointed to the local ties of Bonnette and Kelly and the work Bonnette did for the district in the spring.

“When you have that much buy-in in the community you can’t go wrong,” Brockway said. “During a difficult time for the board, Dr. Bonnette really stepped up. He just really shined there.”

Shari Klyber was the only board member to state a clear preference for Ray and Associates in the discussion before the vote, although Lynda Murphy seemed to be leaning that way.

Klyber liked that Ray and Associates is a well-established search firm with vast experience.

“They do this all the time,” Klyber said.

Both Klyber and Murphy said that they thought Ray and Associates would cast a wider net for candidates. Klyber also suggested the district pay the Illinois Association of School Boards, which also bid to conduct a full search, to supply a list of potential candidates. 

And Klyber and Murphy said that they wanted Bonnette and Kelly to actively seek community involvement in the search process.

Klyber also convinced fellow board members to require Bonnette and Kelly to visit the eventual finalist’s school district — what’s commonly known as a site visit — as the final step in the hiring process.

Powell said that he thought Bonnette and Kelly would accept those conditions.

Rachel Marrello also favored Bonnette and Kelly, noting that Ray and Associates, with a bill of $16,000 before expenses, would be the most expensive choice. Bonnette and Kelly said that they would do the search for no more than $9,000.

Marrello also liked the local ties of Bonnette and Kelly and the work that Bonnette did in the spring.

“If we went with Bonnette and Kelly, it would be a low-risk decision because the worst that could happen is that they brought us no candidates we liked, and we get [Patt and Powell] for another year,” Marrello said.