EMMAUS, Pa. -

The East Penn School District has begun the task of finding a new superintendent to replace Dr. Thomas Seidenberger, who plans to retire in June at the end of the current school year.

On Monday night, the recently-reorganized school board unanimously voted to pay the Pennsylvania School Boards Association up to $6,000 to do a nationwide search for both a new superintendent and a board secretary/executive assistant to that superintendent.

Cecilia Birdsell, Seidenberger’s executive assistant and board secretary to the school board, also is retiring. Seidenberger has said she has served East Penn for 40 years.

Seidenberger has been East Penn’s superintendent since June 2007.

He first announced his intention to retire back in September, but did not say when he planned to leave the district.

Alan Earnshaw, the school board’s new president, called PSBA’s executive search proposal “a very reasonable expenditure for a quality service.” He said placement and executive search services usually charge “at least an order of magnitude more than this.”

Board member Francee Fuller noted PSBA is only charging East Penn $6,000 to fill two positions. It is charging $4,500 to find a superintendent and $1,500 to find an executive assistant.

District officials said PSBA already has advertised for candidates, acting on prior authorization from the school board.

The search will continue “until we get the right candidate,” said Earnshaw. “If our first round of advertising does not produce the quality candidates we’re looking for, then we’ll go back for more.”

Former board president Charles Ballard predicted East Penn won’t get information about any initial candidates until sometime in January.

“But we won’t necessarily have candidates until we’ve gone through the winnowing process between us and PSBA.”

Demographic study authorized

The school board also voted to pay the Pennsylvania Economy League up to $16,000 to do “a comprehensive analysis of demographics and community growth patterns and generate projections of public school enrollment in the East Penn School District.”

That study will develop projections for the next 10 years, data that will be used to help East Penn make decisions about the district’s future school, program and staffing needs.

Seidenberger said the non-profit economy league will start that study in early January and complete its report by April or May. The economy league has done such studies for more than 150 individual school districts.

Explaining why the study is needed, Seidenberger said “now that the economy is heating up” the district expects to see more homes and apartments being built, which will mean more children in the schools.

He also said homes are being sold at a faster rate: “The average time a house is on the market has dropped pretty significantly over the last year.” He explained that is relevant because senior citizens might be selling homes to younger families moving in.

Those doing the study will visit each municipality in the school district to find out what housing developments already have been approved and what parcels of land might be developed into future housing tracts.

“It’s a good time for us to do this, because I’m transitioning out and it will be a great tool for a new superintendent,” said Seidenberger.

Ballard praised the work of the economy league, saying its produces quality research reports. “We’ve had some demographic analyses in the past that were not up to what I consider professional standards. The Pa. Economy League will do a great job for us.”

“This is a very low price for what they’re proposing to do,” said new board member Ziad Munson, who added he has run a research center that has done similar demographic studies.

Class sizes may spur district policy change

Seidenberger presented the board with a school-by-school administrative report that shows the average elementary school class in East Penn has 24 students, a number that has not changed for the last several years.

He said “a hot button area this year” is Macungie Elementary School, which has 31 children in a fourth grade class and 33 in a fifth grade class. Another is Wescosville Elementary, which has 30 children in a fourth grade class and 29 in a fifth grade class. The report shows a fifth grade class at Willow Lane also has 29 children.

But other than that, said the superintendent: “We seem to be okay, better than what most parents would suggest.”