Ripley School Board Invites Further Misgivings With Zero-Notice Hiring

The Ripley Central School board left us speechless last week.

In the course of one meeting, the district accepted the resignation of its superintendent, hired a new interim superintendent, heard a consultant’s report that suggested creating a separate position of school principal and then filled the very newly created position of school principal. It is unlike any hiring process we have ever seen before. There was neither notice given that an administrative position was available nor were resumes received from anyone other than the people hired. It may have been the fastest-moving changeover of school leadership in Chautauqua County history.

It doesn’t appear the school board did anything illegal. It doesn’t appear the board had to give legal notice that it was looking for a principal, though it is customary to do so. An advisory opinion on the state Open Meetings Law website states there is nothing in the law that deals specifically with agendas. There is also no requirement that a printed agenda be followed. So, the board was free to hire a principal even though it wasn’t on the printed agenda for the meeting in question.

Still, we have serious reservations about the process the board used in hiring Kirby Oldham, Ripley Central School’s new principal. Actually, we wonder if it can even be called a process since Oldham’s hiring more closely resembled a 4-year-old picking out a toy at Wal-Mart than it did a rational search process to fill a high-level administrative position. No one outside of the school board knows anything about Oldham’s qualifications. No one knew the position existed until the meeting where Oldham was hired — and Oldham prepared the report creating the new principal’s position! Robert Bentley, school board president, said Oldham is popular with staff, but said very little publicly about any other qualifications.

Filling a position in the same meeting the position was created is not the best way to conduct business. Oldham may have turned out to be the best candidate, but how does the school board know that given the process it used? Without a proper search, without inviting interested candidates to apply, how can the board be so sure it found the right person? How can it know it got the best candidate at the best price?

It reminds us of the process to replace Karen Krause as district superintendent several years ago, though the district took about a month in naming Dr. Lauren Ormsby as Krause’s replacement. The lack of process then resulted in the district’s current mess — a vote of no confidence in Ormsby by the district’s teachers and Ormsby’s abrupt resignation. Process is important. For proof, look no further than the classroom. Teachers make students show their work so that teachers know a child is learning the proper way to solve a problem, even children solving the simplest math problems in the earliest elementary grades.

It’s too bad the Ripley school board didn’t learn to show its work.