Wichita school officials are preparing to search for a new superintendent after John Allison announced he is considering the top job in the Olathe school district.
Allison spent Wednesday touring schools and meeting with board members for a final interview in Olathe, a suburb of Kansas City. He is the sole finalist for the superintendent post there, officials announced Wednesday.
In a message to Wichita district staff members, Allison, a Kansas City native, said he “did not seek out this opportunity but agreed to be considered after a difficult and emotional process of reflection over the last month.”
Maggie Kolb, spokeswoman for the Olathe district, said the Olathe Board of Education plans to vote on its new superintendent at a special meeting Monday.
Sheril Logan, president of the Wichita school board, said Allison told board members this week that he sought the Olathe job in part to be closer to his aging mother, who lives in the Kansas City area. Allison’s father died in August after an extended illness.
“He’s been … moving back and forth between here and there trying to take care of her,” Logan said. “So that’s not a surprise to us that he’s trying to move back.”
Allison could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.
“He’s in Olathe,” said Susan Arensman, spokeswoman for the Wichita district. “His e-mail to staff is his statement.”
Olathe is seeking to replace Marlin Berry, who left the district in June to become superintendent in Rogers, Ark. Berry was Olathe’s superintendent for nine years.
Olathe is the second-largest school district in Kansas, with about 30,000 students. According to the Kansas Department of Education, Berry’s salary and benefits package for the 2015-16 school year totaled $261,919.
Allison, 52, became superintendent of Wichita schools, the state’s largest district, in 2009. He started his career as a teacher in the Shawnee Mission school district and worked his way up to associate superintendent for education services.
Before being hired in Wichita, Allison was head of the Mount Lebanon school district near Pittsburgh. From 2002 to 2007, he was deputy superintendent of the Grapevine-Colleyville Independent school district near Dallas.
Allison has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Kansas and a master’s degree from Emporia State University. He has completed doctoral course work in education leadership at St. Louis University and Southwestern College.
Allison’s gross pay last year was $264,148, according to district documents.
In his e-mail to staff on Wednesday, Allison noted his desire to be closer to family in Kansas City after his father’s death.
“The opportunity to consider a position that would allow me to continue to provide leadership for public education in Kansas while at the same time being close enough to support my mother was one I couldn’t ignore,” he said.
“I will be honored to continue serving Kansas public school students – whether I am invited to serve in Olathe or I remain your superintendent in the Wichita Public Schools.”
The Wichita school board voted unanimously last month to extend Allison’s contract for an additional year, through June 2019. Board members also approved a $3,441 bonus – 1.5 percent of his base salary – for Allison.
Logan, the board president, said in a news conference Wednesday that the board is “in a holding pattern” until Olathe leaders take action on Monday. Should Allison accept the job, he likely would finish the school year in Wichita, she said.
In the meantime, board members would quickly begin the search for a new superintendent.
“It’s certainly not something I was expecting to do in my tenure,” Logan said. “But it’s not undoable. We’ve done it before, we can do it again.”
Asked if the Wichita board would increase Allison’s financial package in an attempt to keep him in Wichita, Logan said, “Honestly, I am not going to answer that because I don’t know the answer to that. … We’re waiting to see what they decide.”
Board member Lynn Rogers, who was on the board that hired Allison in 2009, said his departure would be a loss for the district.
“I admire his work ethic,” Rogers said. “I really feel like he’s done a super job of building relationships with the business community and other districts throughout the state. He’s highly respected.”
Rogers said the superintendent guided the district through some of its toughest financial years, including the closure of several schools in 2012.
Allison took the helm of Wichita’s public schools shortly after voters approved a $370 million bond issue, which is scheduled to wrap up with a project at Robinson Middle School this spring.
“The direction that he – and we, as a district – went was a little different from what we had originally planned because of the financial crisis in the state. The cuts really took a huge amount of his time,” Rogers said.
“He did quite a bit on curriculum and discipline and those things. But I don’t think staff got to see how supportive he was, because we were always talking cuts.”
Logan described Allison as “a good listener” who stayed informed and current on issues facing public schools.
“John’s been a very good leader for us,” she said. “He brings new ideas and then allows people to plant seeds and then develop those ideas and move the district.”
Allison and his wife, Ramie, a teacher who began her career at Olathe’s Countryside Elementary, have two children who graduated from Southeast High School in Wichita. Their son, Cade, lives in Dallas. Their daughter, Cooper, attends Kansas State University.