Let the Search Begin

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Westbury Superintendent Eudes Budhai speaks at a board of education meeting in June, 2019. His contract expires June 30, 2021. (Photo by Frank Rizzo)

Thoughts on the next person to lead the Westbury schools

As plans for a national search for a superintendent for Westbury Union Free School District gets into high gear, I have been having spirited verbal exchanges with friends of mine regarding the necessity for such a search at this time. Some are saying that it is imprudent for the board of education to agree to such a search, which will cost the district almost $20,000, when the current superintendent, Eudes Budhai, is doing such a fine job, referencing a recent change.org petition that garnered more than 1,500 signatures urging the board to renew his contract. Others wonder why a national search is conducted every time the district changes superintendent.

If my recollection is correct, this is only the second time in more than 20 years that a national search for a superintendent will be conducted in this district, that being the search for Dr. Constance Clark-Snead, who replaced Dr. Robert Pickney, whose contract was not renewed by the board of education when it expired in 1999. Pickney was hired by the district in the summer of 1993, replacing Dr. Charles Swensen.

Westbury resident Chester McGibbon talks during the same June 2019 meeting. (Photo by Frank Rizzo)

When Clark left the district in July 2010, assistant superintendent of Business & Management Services Dr. Mary Lagnado was appointed as interim superintendent, and was subsequently granted a five-year contract in 2013. However, she was forced to resign her position in 2017 with one year left on her contract. Board members split 4-3 to accept her resignation, and agreed to a payout to her of more than $700,000.

According to Board President Robert Troiano, Budhai, whose contract expires June 30, 2021, is encouraged to allow the board to consider him as a candidate through the selection process since the aim is to assure the school district that the most capable applicant is hired, which will serve his interest as well.

Although I fully understand these points of view, I am a bit ambivalent as to how foolproof national searches are; “insiders” versus “outsiders” so to speak. Are we tempted to cross a stream to find water? Since it is relatively easy for a new person to step on known landmines, is it more prudent to stick with home-grown candidates that know the politics and the climate, and perhaps build on the weaknesses that such individuals may display? How trusting are glowing recommendations that often accompany outside candidates? Trust can also be important for an outsider coming into a district full of total strangers; will precious time and resources be wasted during the “getting to know you” process vs. someone who can “hit the ground running”? Is the district satisfied with the “bang for the buck” from the precious national search?

These are thoughts that come to my mind while not discounting the benefits that may be gained from someone with a different mindset; a candidate who sees things from a different perspective, exceptional skill set, and no axe to grind—not beholding to local powerbrokers or special interests. Hence my ambivalence.

Chester McGibbon

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