School Board Wants Big Search Committee

Superintendent salary set at $90,000 to $110,000 as board seeks open process

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The Payson Unified School District will likely invite as many as 25 school and community leaders to help the school board pick a new superintendent by reviewing and scoring the applications.

The board also decided to advertise the job at a salary of $90,000 to $110,000.

The consultant heading up the search seemed initially taken aback at the notion of such a large group reviewing and assigning a numerical score to the 10 to 40 applications she predicted the search for a new superintendent will draw.

The board needs a new superintendent to replace Casey O’Brien, who recently announced he will retire in June and return to southeastern Arizona.

However, most board members said that in a small town, the application process, including a community forum to introduce the finalists, will build relationships and support for the schools.

Board member Kim Pound said, “the public likes to have buy-in. People want to feel like

it’s their school district. This isn’t Mesa, this is a town where everybody knows everybody at the store.”

But board member Barbara Shepherd said she preferred a small selection committee. “Since when did this become a public thing? The board is responsible for hiring the superintendent. If five people elected by the public can’t interview this person, then what are we doing here?”

Karen Beckvar, director of leadership development for the Arizona School Boards Association who is heading up the search, had initially recommended a small screening committee of maybe five people. Those committee members would read all the applications received and each person would assign a numerical score to each applicant. The board could then use those scores as one factor to consider in settling on the finalists and making the hire.

Beckvar said the district might want to black out names and give each applicant a number if a large screening committee reviewed the applications.

She said most of the applicants will probably already have jobs as school principals or district administrators and may face complications if their districts know they’re looking for work. Therefore, most districts only release the names of applicants once the board winnows the field down to three to five finalists.

“We’ll have to consider the issue of confidentiality” if the board elects to have a large screening committee, concluded Beckvar.

Board member Rory Huff, participating by telephone, said that previous superintendent searches used a screening committee of 30 or 35 members of the community.

“It narrowed down to three or four finalists so quickly it was mind-boggling,” said Huff. “If we only name five people to the screening committee, we’re really hobbling ourselves.”

Shepherd persisted, “the more people you have on the screening committee, the more disagreements you’ll have.”

But board president Barbara Underwood said the screening committee members won’t rank the candidates in order of preference or even debate the relative qualifications. Each committee member will simply assign each application a score, then let the school board make the decisions.

“I do believe it’s important to bring in different parts of our community” in reviewing the candidates, said Underwood.

In the end, the board agreed to contact 27 people board members had recommended for the committee — including community leaders, elected officials, school principals and people active in various parents’ groups. The board will then consider how many people to put on the committee based on who proves willing to serve.

The board also approved a glowing description of Payson, and the job qualifications and the qualities they seek in a superintendent. All that information will go into a brochure that the Arizona School Boards Association will publish on its Web site. That will include links to state school board associations all over the country.

The association will also notify a long list of school administrators who have asked for notifications of open superintendent positions.

The board debated the required 20-item list of personal experience, personal characteristics and professional skills sought in applicants.

The board agreed on a top salary range of $110,000 after reviewing a list of salaries paid to superintendents in other Arizona districts of roughly the same size.

Beckvar recommended posting the salary range with the job. “It doesn’t help the district to have a candidate with a lot of experience who expects $50,000 more than you’re willing to pay,” she said.

The board agreed to boost the minimum salary range for the position from the present $85,000 and to raise the upper range from $105,000 to $110,000.

Beckvar said principals who have never been superintendents might expect the bottom range of the salary, but experienced superintendents from other districts will likely expect an offer at the upper range.

Huff supported shifting the range upward by $5,000.

“I want the best and the brightest. I don’t want to split hairs if it’s the difference between a superior person and an average person.”

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