ST. PARIS – According to a story published on Tuesday in the News-Gazette of Urbana/Champaign, Illinois, Graham Local Schools Superintendent Kirk Koennecke is a finalist to become a superintendent in the Urbana (Illinois) School District.
The Urbana school board plans to choose a new superintendent from a field of three finalists by mid-May. The field was reportedly narrowed to three finalists from six recommended candidates.
Other candidates are Champaign (Illinois) Assistant Superintendent Jennifer Ivory-Tatum and Brian Metcalf, managing director of Impact at City Year Chicago, an education nonprofit aimed at helping students in high-need communities succeed.
All three candidates are being granted second interviews by the Urbana school board this week and the board anticipates it will formally announce its choice the week of May 12, according to the News-Gazette.
Koennecke has been Graham’s superintendent since 2016.
Prior to that, he was a high school principal in Ohio at Marion Harding and previously served as principal of Springfield High School. Koennecke is a former principal of Barberton High School, a former assistant principal at Bedford High School and a former assistant principal/athletic director at Richmond Heights High School. He has worked as a high school social studies teacher as well. Koennecke received his Education Specialist Degree and Superintendent Licensure at Wright State University. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Secondary Education from Ohio State University.
Graham hired Koennecke on a four-year contract in March of 2016 with a start date of Aug. 1, 2016 at a starting salary of $115,000. The salary range for the position, as defined by the district’s superintendent profile in 2016, was $105,000 to $125,000. In July of 2018, the Graham board passed a resolution indicating its members wanted to work towards a contract extension for Koennecke that would have been offered to him in January of 2019 – the earliest possible opportunity allowed by law. The planned offer was intended to extend Koennecke’s service at Graham to August of 2025, but the board has not yet officially entered into a new contract with him.
“This has been going on for about the last week,” Koennecke said Thursday evening of the Illinois district’s interview process. “They are still exploring the candidates. All I can say is this is an opportunity we are exploring.” Koennecke said his selection to be a candidate for superintendent in Illinois had occurred within approximately the past two weeks. Koennecke’s wife Susie is the executive director of the local Champaign County Chamber of Commerce after being named to the position in February.
According to the News-Gazette, three finalists were recommended by Minnesota-based search firm School Exec Connect, which the Urbana district is paying $28,000 for services that included sponsoring forums and creating surveys for community members to weigh in.
“It comes as no surprise to our board members that the Urbana (Illinois) school district would have Kirk as a finalist for their superintendent position, but as Kirk would support, our goals are not focused on who is doing them but why we are doing them,” said Graham Board President Ryan Pine in a prepared statement to the Urbana Daily Citizen on Thursday evening.
“Kirk, and his wife Susie, have made an immediate positive impact on our school community, and while we support Kirk during this process, the board is unanimous in our desire to continue our partnership. We understand there are opportunities that a school like Graham can’t compete with, and this is made only more real by our financial uncertainty. Maybe it is a sobering fact, but this has an effect on everything and everyone,” Pine stated.
Tuesday ballot issue
Graham is attempting for a fourth time to convince voters to approve a new 1 percent earned income tax for operating expenses. The earned income tax proposal appears on Tuesday’s ballot. All earned income tax attempts have occurred during Koennecke’s time as superintendent.
Graham voters currently pay property taxes as the local funding source for operations and infrastructure. The district has implemented cuts to operating expenses as a result of the previous levy failures. If approved, the five-year earned income tax is expected to generate $2.076 million annually. Following the levy’s failure in May 2018, $1.5 million in cuts were made to the district’s operating budget.
If the levy fails on Tuesday, Koennecke said during an interview in March, an additional $600,000 would be cut from the district’s operating budget, including more cuts across the board in all buildings for supplies, equipment and materials. He said the school’s transportation plan would be reduced to a state minimum busing model and the school would look at further staff cuts.
“As far as I’m concerned at this point, we’re already worse than lean when it comes to staffing,” Koennecke said in March. “To have to lose more people would be devastating.”
Despite the levy’s previous failures, Koennecke said he was positive about the district’s parents and level of understanding of the school’s financial need.
“I’m optimistic because I see our support growing and I see that awareness and engagement growing,” Koennecke said in March.
“This news (from Illinois) supports (the decision) that when we hired Kirk, our Board put trust in the right leader,” Pine stated. “We tasked the new superintendent, three years ago, with developing and implementing the district’s first strategic plan, and he has done just that. Over the last three years we have seen much growth. Moving forward, the direction for the Graham Local Schools will continue to be focused on the education our students deserve.”
The News-Gazette reports the Illinois district which is considering Koennecke is currently being led by an interim superintendent since early December after a previous superintendent was placed on paid leave for allegedly violating a number of board directives. An assistant superintendent was also put on paid leave for similar reasons. A deputy superintendent had already been on paid leave after allegedly trying to record a closed-session board meeting. Both positions have been occupied by interim assistant superintendents.
Brenda Burns can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org