Low turnout, late start impedes district search

05/15/2014

The truncated search for a new superintendent for the Shoreline Unified School District commenced to low parent turnout at scoping meetings as many stakeholders awaited the board’s decision about whether the current superintendent, Tom Stubbs, will be offered another year on the job at tonight’s regular meeting. 

The board chose to pursue two options simultaneously: considering voting to rescind their acceptance of Mr. Stubbs’s resignation, but also posting ads for a new person to start in July, knowing the search could be called off. 

Parents and staff together have submitted roughly 70 surveys about desired personal qualities and professional experience, some grudgingly and some fearful that results would be used to support Mr. Stubbs’s ouster.

“A lot of people don’t want to participate,” said Rhonda Kutter, the president of the West Marin-Inverness School Site Council. “We feel like our voices haven’t been listened to so far. Why submit more data now?”

In the early stages of the input process, three issues have been highlighted in meetings with Scott Mahoney, the consultant operating the search: how present a new superintendent would be for all stakeholders, white or Latino, northern or southern; how much superintendent experience the candidate would bring relative to salary; and what portion of full time the job requires.

If the board moves ahead with the search, the trustees will provide guidance on the latter two questions at tonight’s board meeting as they settle on a salary and number of days. At the last board meeting, trustees indicated they were interested in a $140,000 salary for a three-quarter-time position.

One employee at West Marin School suggested keeping the position with more secretarial support at half-time to reduce the unrealistic expectations placed on the superintendent. The trustees, however, seem like they will increase the number of days after hearing feedback from the last three superintendents.

Mr. Mahoney will argue to the board tonight that if the trustees are considering increasing the number of days, they should instead approve a full-time superintendent because the job is so demanding that superintendents usually work beyond the required hours. Potential candidates may be discouraged from applying if they know they will not be able to meet high expectations.

A lower salary, however, rules out most superintendents from Marin County and likely limits the search to Sonoma County applicants, where superintendents’ salaries are significantly lower. Mr. Stubbs’s contract for a half-time salary was for $75,970, although with 25 added work days, cash in lieu of health benefits and a stipend for car and cell phone, his total compensation was $112,400, said Susan Skipp, the district’s chief business official.

Starting the search so late in the year also presents difficulties. According to Mr. Stubbs’s contract, trustees agreed to give him notice of non-renewal before March 15. After a closed session on March 13, however, they unanimously extended the notice date by an additional 30 days until April 15. Beginning the search this month means many top-tier candidates have already taken jobs. The search process will comb those applicants passed over by other districts, or hope the appeal of heading a rural district stretched across two counties will be enough to sway strong candidates who did not apply earlier in the year.

Mr. Mahoney’s work has been roundly applauded for its methodical detail and quick adaptation to concerns as they arise. After late notice was suspected as a reason for low turnout at a parent meeting at Tomales High last Wednesday, Mr. Mahoney scheduled another meeting for this Wednesday. So far, he has emailed 171 superintendents or other candidates he hopes are interested in applying.

For the second week in a row, board president Jane Healy ignored emails from the press, now totaling seven without a substantial answer. Without acknowledging receipt or providing an explanation, Ms. Healy refused to provide information about the plan for how the board will debate rescinding Mr. Stubbs’s resignation, a process that has been criticized by parents and staff for its opacity. 

Nor did Ms. Healy did answer questions about why the board is conducting performance evaluations for the district’s principals, a task that should be the superintendent’s responsibility, according to recently approved board bylaws.

The Light filed its third formal letter warning trustees about threatened violations of the Brown Act—the state’s open meetings law guaranteeing transparency and public participation—on Wednesday due to a failure to disclose information about closed session topics in the agenda. At the last meeting, trustees threatened to discuss the superintendent search in an illegal closed session until, at the Light’s prompting, an inspector in the Marin County District Attorney’s Public Integrity Division advised the board against it.

 

The meeting at Tomales High begins at 4 p.m., with nearly 30 minutes allotted for public comment before trustees recess to closed session. Open session resumes at 6 p.m.