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Search firm says interest in Hamilton County Superintendent position is "very low"

The search firm looking for a new superintendent says finding candidates for Hamilton County Schools' top position is proving harder than it's been in past similar searches (Photo: WTVC)

The search firm hired to find a new Hamilton County superintendent says there isn't much interest in the position.

It's now been more than a year since Superintendent Rick Smith stepped down.

The search firm looking for a new superintendent says finding candidates for Hamilton County Schools' top position is proving harder than it's been in past similar searches.

The low interest is something school board member David Testerman anticipated even before Superintendent Rick Smith stepped aside.

Last year at a school board meeting, he said, "It will be very very hard to find a qualified superintendent to replace Rick Smith. Who would want the job?"

Three months after the Ooltewah Rape scandal, Smith unexpectedly retired on March 14th of 2016.

In October, the school board hired the most expensive of three search firms to find someone to fill the job full time.

Through and open records request, NewsChannel 9 received a copy of two letters Coleman Lew and Associates sent to school board chairman Steve Highlander.

The company told Highlander it has reached out to nearly 700 people who may fit the position. The company has four phone interviews set up next week with potential candidates, but says interest in the job otherwise has been soft.

Jared Bingham with Chatt 2.0 met with Coleman Lew in December about the search. He says the low response could be because of the timing.

"A lot of superintendents at this time of the year are working on budgets and it's a somewhat of an awkward time to start applying to different districts," he said.

One of the candidates told Coleman Lew they were no longer interested because of the "compensation situation."

When Smith left, he was making around $178,000.

According to Knox county records, it's school district has a slightly larger but has a similar budget to Hamilton County's.

It pays it's superintendent $226,000.

Bingham says, "You just have to find someone that is would embrace the challenges that are inherent to this position right now and finances wouldn't be a factor. Candidates like that are far and few between."

Not to mention the challenges the new superintendent will face, which Bingham says to an outsider looking in may seem daunting.

He listed the Ooltewah scandal, the tragic Woodmore crash and the possibility of signal mountain school separating from the district as some of those challenges.

According to Coleman Lew's letter to Doctor Highlander, Interim Superintendent Kirk Kelly is the only internal candidate who has applied.

Doctor Highlander says he asked Coleman Lew not to disclose any other names except Kelly's until there is an official candidate list.

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