The San Dieguito Union High School District board opted to go with the search firm of Leadership Associates in a 3-1 vote as it looks to fill the vacancy left by outgoing Superintendent Rick Schmitt. The firm was selected out of five firms interviewed in a public session on May 20.
Board member Mo Muir voted against the decision, preferring instead the firm of California School Boards Association/McPhearson and Jacobson. Board member John Salazar was not present but had stated at the last board meeting that he was not in favor of hiring a search firm and would not support any candidate brought forward by a search firm. Salazar said he thinks the district should hire an interim superintendent until after the November election when the board’s makeup may change.
After deliberations, the board picked Leadership Associates for its good reputation in the state and nationally, as well as its knowledge of the district — the firm has helped San Dieguito on its last three superintendent searches.
Since 1996, Leadership and Associates has assisted school boards in their selection of superintendents in more than 350 California school districts. Locally, the firm is also currently working with the Rancho Santa Fe School District on its superintendent search.
The firm’s lead consultants on San Dieguito’s search will be Kent Bechler, a retired superintendent with a 32-year career in education, and David Verdugo, a recently retired superintendent from Los Angeles with 43 years of experience in education.
Bechler said he considers the firm’s work a way to continue making a contribution to public education, noting, “leadership really determines the success of the district.”
“No one ever likes to lose a superintendent but appointing new leadership is an opportunity to move the district forward,” Bechler said. “And the district will attract good candidates.”
On May 21, the board met immediately with Leadership Associates to begin the superintendent search for the right match and fit for San Dieguito, a process the consultants said would be rapid but comprehensive.
The suggested timeline is for the consultants to meet with stakeholders and do an online survey in June on the key attributes, skills and qualities desired in a new superintendent. Leadership and Associates will advertise the position nationally and the deadline for applications will be Aug. 8. The firm will review and complete background checks on applicants and the board will conduct interviews throughout August. The tentative start date will be in September.
No internal candidates are interested in the position, Superintendent Rick Schmitt said.
Muir questioned Leadership Associates as well as all of the firms interviewed if they would be up front with candidates that SDUHSD has a split board (often decisions are made with 3-2 votes), that there is an election in November for two board seats and that there will not be a consensus on the hiring of a new superintendent as Salazar has stated.
“It’s not a secret, it’s not something we would hide and it’s public information,” Bechler responded. “Candidates will know there’s a split board, that’s not as unusual as you think.”
Board member Amy Herman said that it would be a shame if the board does not appoint a new superintendent with a consensus vote. Both she and President Beth Hergesheimer said they did not understand Salazar and Muir’s preference to wait until after the election as even if the board makeup were to change, the goal of any member would be to provide the best leadership that they can.
“Mr. Salazar saying up front that he won’t do that job is not good boardsmanship and is disingenuous,” Hergesheimer said.
She said while the board may be split, they do have a unity and purpose in that that all want the same end goal, to find the best superintendent — “Why can’t that be now?”
Leadership Associates’ cost was the highest of the five firms interviewed and the board expressed a desire to work with them to lower the cost from $28,500 to the cost the firm charged in 2013 of $26,500.