Payson Unified School District (PUSD) will spend $58,000 to buy out Superintendent Ron Hitchcock’s contract and seek an interim superintendent to take over by Jan. 1.
Hitchcock had notified the school board that he won’t seek a renewal of his contract beyond June 1 of next year, after a rift developed between the superintendent and at least one member of the school board.
After a flurry of closed-door executive sessions in the past two weeks, the board at a public meeting on Monday, Dec. 2, voted to pay Hitchcock for the remainder of the school year.
The board didn’t indicate whether they already had someone in mind to serve as the interim superintendent.
The district will pay Hitchcock nearly $60,000 as he leaves, then also pay an interim superintendent a separate salary, said Kathe Manning, district business manager from her home in Phoenix on Wednesday.
“There will be no affect on the budget until the interim superintendent starts,” she said.
What this will mean to the district’s bottom line will not be clear until the interim superintendent position is clarified, but Manning said she believes the district will pay Hitchcock around $58,000, but said the precise figures were back in her office.
The PUSD board will discuss the details of the interim superintendent posting at its regularly scheduled meeting on Monday, Dec. 9.
The board will also have an open meeting on the 2013-14 school budget to assess if the district is hitting its budgetary goals and what changes it might have to the budget. The public is encouraged to make comments.
In an interview after Monday’s vote, Hitchcock tried to express how he felt.
“I went to a legal conference where the title was, ‘We love you, we love you, we hate you, goodbye’ — it was a very telling title,” he said.
Hitchcock also said his staff had known the end was in sight for awhile. They kept dropping off the same copy of an educational magazine on his desk. The cover had a painting of an old cowboy looking over his shoulder as he rode off into the sunset. The title? “How to leave with dignity.”
“I would come back from meetings and the magazine would be on my desk,” he said. “In some ways, it seemed like I was getting messages all over the place.”
At the Dec. 2 meeting, most board members looked relieved everything was over, except for Jim Quinlan.
He was the last to come into the meeting room after the closed session. He looked downcast and disappointed.
“In respect to PUSD and the superintendent I wish them good luck,” he said.
Hitchcock notified the board he didn’t plan to stay just 18 months into a tenure marked by profound, sometimes traumatic changes.
The board selected him unanimously after a nationwide search, praising him as “head and shoulders” above the other candidates.
The board gave him a pages-long “to do” list, that included coping with a shrinking budget, enrollment declines, sale of an elementary school site and adapting to state and federal mandates.
The reforms imposed will force the district to hold back third-graders reading at well below grade level; base teacher pay and evaluations in large measure on student test scores; completely overhaul the curriculum to conform to national “common core” academic standards; and cope with dwindling state and federal funding. The district also may lose state funding if student test scores don’t improve steadily.
Hitchcock introduced a swirl of change, starting with the hiring of an assistant superintendent with the title of student achievement director and the responsibility for bringing up test scores. He also pushed through the hiring or designation of a student achievement teacher at each school site, to mentor teachers, help principals conduct evaluations and focus on increasing test scores.
After a series of board retreats, he also overhauled the budget to provide the first faculty pay raise in several years, brought back all-day kindergarten despite the lack of state funding and adopted a staffing model that would, in theory, lead to both smaller class sizes and fewer employees at each school site. He moved to implement the staffing model more quickly than most expected, reducing the number of teachers’ aides and other employees while adding the student achievement teachers, volunteer coordinators and district administrators.
But problems with the board began to mount as the impact of the flood of changes took effect.
Hitchcock either demoted or shifted every principal, bringing in two new administrators. That shift may have contributed to deteriorating relationships with some board members and spread uneasiness through the district.
Hitchcock also implemented several board policies that put him in a high-profile dispute with Principal Will Dunman. First he implemented a board policy that barred administrators from supervising family members by shifting Dunman from the middle school to Julia Randall Elementary. Then Hitchcock moved to enforce a board policy barring administrators from serving as coaches. Dunman protested Hitchcock’s decision to not let him continue serving as the girls softball coach at the high school, which resulted in several confrontational board meetings. Hitchcock then attempted to suspend Dunman briefly for insubordination. Dunman got a lawyer to protest the discipline and the board in late August concluded Hitchcock hadn’t given Dunman a required notice of the proposed discipline.
However, Hitchcock said that long before the hearings involving Dunman, he had resolved to leave.
The board met in July in executive session to discuss an early renewal of Hitchcock’s contract. He said he expected the board to renew his contract, based on how many items on the board’s “to do” list he had accomplished. However, Board President Barbara Underwood stalked out of the executive session and did not attend the public session scheduled for the board to extend Hitchcock’s contract.
He asked the board not to take a vote at that point, since he said he only wanted to extend his contract if he had the unanimous support of the school board. He said after much soul searching, he decided he no longer had that support, as evidenced by a growing number of split votes and frequent board decisions to delay taking actions on things he recommended.