Butler County bucks national trend of school superintendent resignations

U.S. survey shows education leaders plan to leave or have left key roles.

Butler County local school leadership is so far bucking a national trend that is seeing record levels of turnover among superintendents, especially since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Early in 2022 a national survey of public-school superintendents revealed nearly half of the respondents said they were considering or planning to leave their job in the next two to three years. And earlier this month another survey showed half of the nation’s largest school districts, which collectively represent 12.5 million students, have had a disruption or change in leadership since March 2020.

Additionally, the Rhode Island-based ILO Group’s annual report showed the proportion of leadership churn amongst the nation’s largest districts has increased 46 percent when comparing the two years before the pandemic began in March 2020 and the two years following the onset of the pandemic.

But during the same period, the ranks of Butler County superintendents in its 10 public school districts has stayed largely intact.

Madison Schools, with the hiring of Jeff Staggs as its leader in 2021 are among the current three districts — along with Monroe and Ross Schools — to have had turnover in the top job since COVID-19 shuttered all Ohio K-12 schools through the spring of 2020.

On Saturday, Edgewood Schools Superintendent Russ Fussnecker will retire, adding to that relatively low turnover rate in about three years for local schools.

ExploreEdgewood school district names interim superintendent

Officials at the Washington, D.C.‐based Education Advisory Board, who released their survey in February, said school leaders told them the stress and pressures of dealing with the pandemic since its onset in March 2020 wore them down.

But the newly crowned “dean” of Butler County superintendents said sticking with the same job even through the historic tumult of the pandemic, has its advantages.

“I think the job of being a school superintendent is certainly a challenging one,” said Billy Smith, veteran leader of the 10,000-student Fairfield Schools.

ExploreFairfield Schools superintendent is now longest-tenured of Butler County’s top education leaders

“However, I would argue that being a school superintendent for a long stretch of time in the same district can lessen the challenge due to the fact that you have time to build relationships and trust with the entire school community,” said Smith, who with Fussnecker’s coming retirement now owns the longest stint as superintendent in the county.

In Ohio, superintendents are hired by publicly elected school boards who then oversee their employment contracts as well as their district leader’s daily operation of local public schools.

In most cases, the tenure of a local school leader can be shortened or ended with a simple majority of a five-member school board deciding to move on from a superintendent and paying them for the remainder of their employment contracts. Such employment terminations, however, are rare.

Longer employment for district leaders used to be more of the norm in past decades with Hamilton Schools Janet Baker’s tenure of nearly a quarter of a century before retiring in 2015 as the best local example of that former trend.

Smith, however, said “unfortunately, many school superintendents aren’t given the opportunity to serve for a long period of time.”

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