Iowa City superintendent is finalist for Omaha post

School board approved new contract with Murley this week

Gregg Hennigan
Published: December 7 2012 | 1:02 pm - Updated: 1 April 2014 | 3:06 am in
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UPDATE: Iowa City school district Superintendent Stephen Murley is a finalist for the same position in the Omaha, Neb., school district.

Murley is listed as one of three finalists for the job on the Omaha school district’s website. He is scheduled to be in Omaha for a public “meet and greet” Dec. 11.

Murley, 46, came to the Iowa City school district in summer 2010 after 11 years with the Wausau, Wis., school district.

Just this past Tuesday, the school board approved a new three-year contract with Murley, paying him a base salary of $192,000. Negotiations lasted several months longer than normal.

Murley said Friday that protracted process and his being in the final months of his original deal played a role in his interest in the Omaha job, saying there was "a little apprehension on my part" with how things were unfolding in Iowa City. He also referenced his contract situation when asked how he would reply to criticism for interviewing for another job after less than three years in the Iowa City school district.

"I've got a level of responsibility to my family in addition to a level of responsibility to the school district," he said.

Iowa City school board President Marla Swesey said Murley told her of the Omaha job on Thursday night. She declined to say whether she would have liked to have known Murley was interviewing elsewhere as the Iowa City school board negotiated with him.

“Whatever happens in Superintendent Murley’s employment plans, the board and administration remain committed to ongoing district initiatives and ensuring that every child in the Iowa City Community School District is provided an excellent education,” she said, reading a statement she had prepared.

Murley explained that he did not notify the board earlier of his Omaha application because he saw it as separate from the Iowa City negotiations.

“They were moving on parallel tracks, but I guess I didn’t see them as being related to one another," he said. "I didn’t leverage one against the other.”

Murley said he was recruited to apply in Omaha. He said the district is going through similar challenges as Iowa City and he thinks his experience would serve him well there. The Omaha district's size – it has 46,000 students to Iowa City’s nearly 13,000 – and innovative ways it uses magnet schools are other attractions, he said.

The Iowa City school district currently is facing several major issues, most of them related to rising enrollment and a resulting debate over how the district is handling that growth. A special election is scheduled for Feb. 5 to vote on what is called a revenue purpose statement to give the district the ability to borrow ahead on up to $100 million in sales-tax revenue for building projects.

Murley also is working on a comprehensive facilities plan to help guide decisions for years to come.

“I think that the timing is a little difficult for us given the revenue purpose statement vote for us in February,” said school board member Tuyet Dorau. “I understand that an opportunity has been presented to him and I do not begrudge him taking advantage of that opportunity.”

Board member Sarah Swisher said Omaha would be lucky to get Murley and she does not want him to leave the Iowa City school district.

“I think Superintendent Murley has brought a lot of talent and inspiration to the district not only with his own work but with the team of administrators he’s assembled,” she said.

Murley said he and his family are happy in Iowa City and regardless of what happens in Omaha, he's committed to the mission of the Iowa City school district. Murley is married and has two sons in the Iowa City school district, plus one in college.

The other finalists for the Omaha job are Carey M. Wright, the chief academic officer for the District of Columbia Public Schools, and Mark Evans, superintendent of the Andover school district in Kansas. There were 68 candidates for the superintendent position.

Omaha school board President Freddie Gray said the person picked for the job is to be announced Dec. 17. She said the start date would depend on when that person can complete his or her current position, but the board expects the person to be with the district by the start of next school year in August.

The board wants the superintendent-to-be to occasionally travel to Omaha to establish a transition with the interim superintendent, she said.

Former Des Moines school district Superintendent Nancy Sebring was hired by the Omaha school district this past spring but resigned before starting after the release of sexually explicit emails she had sent and received on her work email account.

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