School Board Names Screening Committee

Two dozen administrators, teachers and community members to rate candidates for superintendent’s job

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School employees make up about half of the 24 people who have agreed to screen candidates for superintendent of the Payson Unified School District.

The school board named 24 people to a screening committee that will review applications from school superintendent candidates and assign a numerical score to each application. The five school board members will consider those scores in selecting two to four finalists by the end of next month, said board president Barbara Underwood.

The screening committee members will then presumably attend a luncheon with the finalists and attend open community forums featuring those finalists, said Underwood, who assembled the committee from names submitted by board members.

“I had a wide variety of names,” said Underwood.

“I tried to represent the whole community, the tribe, each of the schools, somebody from administration. Then I tried to hit some people in the community that I thought would be an asset to helping make the selection — people with kids, people without kids.”

Teachers and school administrators accounted for the bulk of the nominees. But the committee also includes well-known people like Payson Water Department head Buzz Walker, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church Pastor Dan Tantamonico, Payson Town Attorney Tim Wright, Payson Regional Medical Center CEO Chris Wolf, Tonto Apache Tribe member Vivian Burdette, financial adviser Kevin Dick and others.

The district is seeking someone to replace retiring Superintendent Casey O’Brien this summer.

Whoever lands the $90,000 to $105,000 job will have to cope with a dwindling budget and new state requirements that impose escalating penalties for schools that don’t boost student test scores.

Some critics of the process have complained that the board didn’t let people know they could seek membership on the committee and worried that the membership will be limited to acquaintances of board members.

Underwood said most board members offered only a handful of names, so most of the people selected came from the list that she drew up originally. Out of about 30 people suggested by board members, some 24 agreed to serve.

“I think we have a good variety of people. What I’m hoping was that everybody will see something different, so you would say ‘Wow, what did they see I didn’t see?’”

She said it makes sense to put many teachers and other district employees on the screening committee.

“The bottom line is, if you were going out for an editor, you’d want the people in the newspaper who know what it’s all about to have a voice. I think the employees who work with a superintendent — they know what they would like to see. But you also want a variety of people who know education.”

The screening committee will meet March 20 to individually go through all the applications and give each candidate a numerical score.

The committee won’t talk about the applicants as a group and won’t rank them. The committee members probably won’t even know the names of the candidates, but will see the applications and read their answers to half a dozen questions. The district’s consultant suggested the screening committee members not see the names of the applications to protect the confidentiality of those who might not want their home districts to know they’re applying for another job.

The board members will then consider the individual scores awarded by screening committee members when they settle on two to four finalists.

The district will then release the names of the finalists, who will appear at an open community forum to discuss their views on March 30.

Wolf, head of the medical center, has agreed to host a luncheon for the candidates, which will most likely include the screening committee members.

The board will also consider comments and reactions to the finalists not only from the screening committee members, but from anyone else who attends the open forum, said Underwood.

Superintendent Screening Committee

Kathie Manning (district business manager), Jessica Plain (Payson Elementary School teacher), Tim Wright (Payson town attorney), Wood Eldredge (Pinetop police chief, resident), Barbara Fitzgerald (district administrator), Mary McMullen (Payson Association for Advanced Learners), Kristi Ford (former board member), Linda Ansick (JRE teacher), Vivian Burdette (Tonto Apache Tribe member), George Connolly (PHS teacher), Kevin Dick (financial adviser), Pat Heizer (RCMS teacher), Halli Kinnick (PHS teacher), Jan Parsons (Senior Circle), Todd Poer (district maintenance supervisor), Barb Quinlan (RCMS teacher), Marti Shipley (PES teacher), Dan Tantamonico (pastor, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church), Anna VanZile (PHS assistant principal), Buzz Walker (Payson water director), Chris Wolf (hospital administrator), Joni deSzendeffy (district technology department head).

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