The search for a new Papillion-La Vista schools superintendent ended close to home Wednesday.
School board members voted 6-0 to hire Andrew Rikli, a 39-year-old assistant superintendent from the Westside Community Schools in Omaha.
“All I can tell you is, I'm a very lucky guy,” Rikli said shortly after getting the call.
Rikli will start July 1, replacing retiring superintendent Rick Black.
Rikli emerged from a list of 57 applicants as the person board members felt was most capable of leading Nebraska's fourth-largest school district.
Board President Valerie Fisher said he stood out for his visionary thinking and his knowledge of the Papillion-La Vista district and its strengths. He also knew about the Learning Community and the surrounding area, she said.
“We think he's going to help us as a district — combined with our community members, our staff, our parents and students — to really move to that even greater level, the next level,” she said.
Board Vice President Mike Jones, chairman of the search committee, said Rikli's broad experience gave him the edge.
The board passed over Ted DeTurk, West Point Public Schools superintendent, the other finalist. DeTurk leads a district of about 850 students.
“I just felt like the depth of experience with Dr. Rikli was a better fit for this district,” Jones said. “I think he'll hit the ground running for us. The Board of Education is extremely excited to see where he can take a very high-functioning district into the future.”
Board members voted to approve a three-year contract with Rikli that will pay him $200,000 the first year. He is currently paid $129,711 as Westside's assistant superintendent for administrative operations.
Details of his contract with Papillion-La Vista have yet to be drawn up, reviewed by the district's lawyer and signed by the parties, Fisher said.
Jones said Rikli will receive a $7,500 annual car allowance, which is $2,500 more than Black receives, plus life and health insurance. Rikli's contract will not include a performance bonus, which was added to Black's contract last year.
Jones said the salary for Rikli is reasonable and in the middle range for area superintendents. Black's base salary, including the bonus, is about $220,000.
Rikli has been an administrator in Westside since 2004. Before to that he worked for the Nebraska Department of Education and was a teacher in the Lincoln Public Schools.
Westside enrolls about 6,000 students; Rikli's new district has about 11,000. Both districts have comparable state test scores and demographics.
Westside students edged out Papillion-La Vista on last year's state math and science tests. Papillion-La Vista students demonstrated greater proficiency in reading and writing.
About 29 percent of Westside students come from low-income families, based on federal school lunch guidelines, compared with 23 percent in Papillion-La Vista.
On the ACT college entrance exam, Westside's 2012 graduates scored an average of 24.3, compared with 22.7 in Papillion-La Vista. The maximum score possible is 36.
Board members spent about 45 minutes deliberating and negotiating in a closed session Wednesday evening before announcing their pick.
Before that, they took the opportunity in open session to quiz Rikli on some of his positions, among them the Learning Community and the Common Core State Standards, which Nebraska has not adopted.
Rikli said the Learning Community has “a noble goal at its heart,” but he called it fundamentally flawed. Busing children between schools, which the Learning Community administers through open enrollment, has not been proved to raise achievement, he said.
Although the education cooperative's early childhood programs show some promise, he said, creation of the Learning Community reduced the state aid going to the 11 member school districts.
He said Papillion-La Vista officials have to do what they can to minimize the negative impact of the cooperative on their district.
Rikli said he's “deeply distrustful” of federal and state mandates, and if the district is opposed to the Common Core, it should try to influence state lawmakers and the Nebraska Board of Education to reject them.
He said, however, the district must have a “Plan B” that prepares the district for their adoption should they be mandated like the federal education law, No Child Left Behind.
Rikli said he and his wife, Amy, shouted for joy at the news he'd won the job. He said they will begin looking for a home in Papillion-La Vista to join the community. They have three children: Sam, Meredith and Adrianna.
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