School Board Discusses Superintendent Hiring

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The Payson Unified District School Board decided Saturday to set up a screening committee to help sort through applications to replace retiring superintendent Casey O’Brien.

The board spent nearly three hours talking about the nationwide search with Karen Beckvar, director of leadership for the Arizona School Boards Association, conducting the search.

The board settled on a timetable that will close applications on March 12 and screen the applicants by March 20.

Board members and people serving on the five-person screening committee will then rank the applications. The board will consider those rankings in winnowing the field down to a group of probably two to five finalists.

Those finalists will appear at an open community forum on March 30, followed by interviews with the board on March 31.

After a sometimes-stormy tenure dominated by budget woes, O’Brien recently notified the board he’ll retire in June and probably move to southern Arizona to live on pensions from the state and the Navy, where he served as a fighter pilot.

Board president Barbara Underwood posted an open letter on the district’s Web site saying “these have been the toughest times financially in school history. With Casey’s guidance I believe we have made it through with the least amount of damage. We have benefitted from five years of Casey’s devotion, experience, vision and calm leadership. I am sad we will have to replace him.”

Board members Kim Pound and Rory Huff participated in Saturday’s session by telephone. Huff is working out of state and has not attended a meeting in person for several months.

The board elected to pay the Association $4,500 to conduct the search, about half of what a private head-hunting firm would charge.

Beckvar said the association will send notices of the position to some 900 administrators registered in the group’s job data bank as well as posting the position on its Web site and the Web sites of related groups nationwide.

Unlike a head-hunting firm, the Association won’t contact existing superintendents to tell them about the job opening, although the district’s teachers and administrators remain free to do so.

“We don’t call superintendents and tell them we think they should apply for this position because we don’t think you would like someone doing that to your superintendent,” said Beckvar.

Beckvar said the district should attract at least 20 qualified applicants, if response to superintendent jobs in similar districts provides any guidance.

Those candidates could run a risk in applying by raising questions with the current employers, which is why the district will only release the names of the finalists approved by the board after taking into account the ratings by the screening committee. According to state law, the finalists will also have to pay all their own expenses if they come to town for the two days of public forums and private interviews.

The board hasn’t yet determined the composition of the screening committee, but it will likely include teachers, administrators and community members. The only two people attending the Saturday session represented the group that supports programs for gifted and talented students.

The board raised some questions about an online survey Beckvar has already set up to gather community input.

Pound worried that the survey had no way to make sure someone didn’t file repeated responses, perhaps someone with “a grudge.”

“A grudge against who?” asked board member Matt Van Camp.

Beckvar agreed to shift the survey to a system that won’t accept more than one response from each computer.

To fill out the survey, visit http://login.

azsba.org/surveys and select “Payson USD Leadership Qualities Survey.”

Board member Barbara Shepherd said she thought the questions on that survey seemed so general that they wouldn’t provide much guidance.

Pound observed, “It’s very important we do a survey that’s fair — it’s (the community’s) superintendent and I want community involvement.” Beckvar said the Saturday forum had underscored the board’s desire for an intensive, very public process. “The board clearly sees value in involving others. They’re looking for the online survey, the screening committee and much wider involvement involving the forums for staff and the community.”

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