PLAISTOW - The Timberlane Regional School District will be starting a national search today for a new superintendent, hoping to find the right candidate by July 1.

At a meeting last night of the SAU 55 Board, 15 Timberlane and Hampstead school board members voted to pay the New England School Development Council $30,000 to search the country for the right person to replace superintendent Richard La Salle, who announced two weeks ago that he will be leaving this summer for a new job at an educational nonprofit center. La Salle makes $138,679 a year.

Chairman Gregory Hoppa explained the board had four options to search for a new superintendent and they debated each one.

"We can perform a national search for around $30,000," he said. "Next is a regional search by the New Hampshire School Board Association that would cost $10,000 and take 12 to 16 weeks. The next process is an in-house search, which would cost about $2,000. I don't consider anything a coronation, but we do have the option to select an internal candidate if we have someone of merit."

Business director George Stokinger said the district budget could absorb the cost of any of the four search options without a problem. But Hoppa said the real issue for the district is time, since they need a new superintendent to start well before the next school year.

"Other districts have had five or six months to do this," he said. "We have a start date of July 1 and this affects the talent pool. But I'm opposed to putting in someone as an interim superintendent. You gain more time, but that person does not have the authority to do what needs to be done."

Board member Peter Bealo said the board shouldn't shy away from paying more for a thorough search.

"It will cost us more in the long term if we don't make a good decision," he said. "I have great difficulty with this committee doing all the work to hire a candidate. No one on the Timberlane board are seasoned HR pros that can hire executives. I don't believe we can do all of this ourselves."

And Jaye Dimando said it might be possible to get the done more quickly than they might expect.

"Derry started their search for a superintendent in January and had a new superintendent in March," she said. "We could give a deadline."

But some board members did not believe the search process was necessary at all.

"I'm a proponent of hiring from within," Judy Graham said. "Existing employees generally require less training. They're familiar with the staff, the facilities and the culture. They know the people on the board and they can hit the ground running. It will save money. I would not feel bad about making a decision tonight."

She did not name assistant superintendent Winfried Feneberg as her preferred candidate, but did imply that he should have the job,

But other board members urged caution, including Nancy Steenson.

"I don't think anyone here would buy a car without doing research first," she said. "This is so much more important. It would be irresponsible to make a decision without doing research and getting resumes. If we get resumes from in-house candidates we can give them an edge for those reasons. But we need to at least open this up regionally."

Though La Salle is leaving, he also gave his advice to the board.

"As you go through this process, there's a lot of optimism in the beginning but you're going to run into some realities," he said. "The state of New Hampshire pays about 40 percent less than Massachusetts and less than many other states in the country. There is a critical shortage of district administrators. If you look at searches done by local districts, the number of candidates is relatively modest. It's the same short list of candidates applying to the same jobs."

He warned that the district could do a national search and end up with the best candidate being a current employee.

But after the lengthy discussion, the board agreed to hire executive search company NESDEC to do a national search starting as soon as possible. The board will meet again on April 18 to start hiring discussion and also look over possible changes to the superintendent contract.

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