The Olentangy school board will conduct its next superintendent search in near-secrecy, holding interviews in closed executive sessions with candidates invited to apply by board member Dimon McFerson.

The Olentangy school board will conduct its next superintendent search in near-secrecy, holding interviews in closed executive sessions with candidates invited to apply by board member Dimon McFerson.

No search firms will be used because board members on Oct. 28 decided they want to protect applicants' identity until the search process names two finalists. McFerson, who headed the search committee earlier this year, told other board members Tuesday the best candidates are people happy with their current jobs and that's why inviting them to apply for the Olentangy job makes the most sense. Otherwise, they likely would not apply at all.

Board members decided to schedule executive sessions after Thanksgiving. McFerson said he has some candidates in mind, but added he has not promised anything to anybody and it takes all five board members to select a superintendent. Board member Jennifer Smith did not attend the meeting.

The last search was suspended in June after the two finalists withdrew their names from consideration. The district and a Franklin County search firm it used had publicly released the names of the top five candidates in May. McFerson told other board members on Tuesday that's not a good way to proceed, because it can lead to problems for candidates in their own districts.

McFerson said he began his own private work a couple months ago looking into possible candidates after discussing the matter with board president Scott Galloway.

"I'm kind of acting like a search firm," he said. "I've been assured by (legal) counsel that's OK."

He also said conducting a search in this invite-only manner with executive sessions will not violate the state's sunshine law since he's the only board member approaching prospective candidates to come to the meetings. Other board members could offer names, too, he said after the meeting.

"The route we went the first time wasn't successful," board member Teri Meider said. "I think we need a different process. I really like this idea."

McFerson said the previous search used forums and other processes to gauge the community's input, and that information is still available.

"We don't have to have an open process (now) to hire a superintendent," he said.

Galloway and board member Julie Wagner Feasel also liked the idea.

"The most important thing to me is finding the best candidate," Galloway said.

In other matters at the meeting, the board received and approved a five-year financial forecast and an enrollment update.

"The forecast looks really great right now," treasurer Rebecca Jenkins said. "It could change. We don't know what the economy will be (and) does the state cut any funds?"

According to projections, the district will have a healthy carryover balance averaging from $18.5-million to $29-million between now and 2011.

Expenses are expected to outstrip revenue by 2012, with revenue of $161-million that year and expenses at $170-million. The cash carryover could drop to $3.8-million by 2013.

"Operational balances, not cash balances, should be monitored and utilized as the trigger for future action" such as levy requests or cutting expenses, Jenkins wrote in her report to the board.

Enrollment will continue to grow, although it is not expected to grow as quickly as in the past, representatives of DeJong-Healy consultants told the board.

Factors such as declining housing starts will play a role in what happens with enrollment. Current enrollment in the district is 14,271 students. Enrollment is expected to peak at 20,123 students by the 2018-19 school year.

The board hired Michelle M. Seitz as principal of Walnut Creek Elementary School effective Nov. 1. She has been serving as acting principal and will be paid $76,355 a year. Principal Melissa Rosato resigned because of health reasons.