After hiring a consulting firm to cull a handful of prospective superintendent candidates, the District 91 Board of Education is whittling that list as it prepares to hire a new district leader.

Board members met with five applicants earlier this month to conduct interviews for the position, and President Lois Bugajsky said the pool is strong. Though she declined to identify the individuals, Bugajsky said all five of the applicants are Illinois residents.

Superintendent Randy Tinder will resign from the post at the end of the school year. In anticipation of his departure, board members turned to a recruiting firm in September to find a replacement. The results of that search have since been turned over to the board, and the month of January will be devoted to interviewing the applicants.

District officials have been predicting a February announcement of the new hire.

“All of them sound very interesting,” Bugajsky said. “Hopefully we will find one the first time around.”

Board member Steve Johnsen said the field has been narrowed to two, possibly three candidates following the first round of interviews. Those individuals will be contacted for subsequent interviews, facility tours and other screening processes.

“I’m very hopeful,” Johnsen said. “We had very good interviews over the weekend.”

At the outset of the recruiting process, former Forest Park superintendent and consultant for Hazard, Young, Attea and Associates, Art Jones, said the district is in a strong position to find well-qualified applicants. Forest Park’s proximity to Chicago makes the area a desirable place to live in the Midwest, Jones said, and the district is in good financial standing.

District 91 isn’t facing any crisis situations, Johnsen said, and he too, pointed to the budget as a possible selling point to applicants.

“Our new superintendent is going to come in and operate with a budget that’s balanced and maybe do a few creative things,” Johnsen said.

In recent years voters approved a referendum to increase the property tax revenue collected by the K-8 school system that may allow administrators some flexibility in the coming budget season, Johnsen said.

The same consulting firm that helped identify prospective applicants met with community members, parents, business owners, teachers and students during the latter half of 2006. Those meetings were intended to allow for input from those demographics that will most likely work with the new superintendent. The district did not receive an overwhelming amount of participation in this process, but assured the public that its comments would be incorporated into creating a profile of the ideal candidate.