Jan Losh: School district should hire the local candidate
Are school boardmembers students of history? Summit School District history, that is. We’re weary of “those who don’t learn from history are destined to repeat it,” yet it rings painfully true with our superintendent hirings. With second-round interviews concluded and a selection anticipated mid-March, our heavy-hitter search firm’s work is nearly done.
With 14 years as a district employee, serving under six superintendents and with more than eight years as a human resources director in the private sector, my insights regarding search firms are experientially factual.
Search firms too often prove to be inept and obscenely expensive. Failed superintendent searches in recent history cost the district dearly – the least of which was the search firm’s fees for placing ill-suited candidates. Poor superintendent hires resulted in two contract buy-outs that assaulted the senses and robbed the district of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Sadly, the buy-outs were worth it: The damage of continuing with the wrong person at the helm would have been far more costly than the dollars lost. The buy-outs would not have been necessary if the wrong candidates had not been hired in the first place.
Another superintendent, while not bought-out, negotiated a lucrative post-employment benefits package that should never have been approved. During the past 20 years, Summit School District has enjoyed the service of only a single superintendent who, in my estimation, gave more than she took, and that takes us back to the ’90s. It’s a shameful track record.
With funding cuts to education, the new superintendent and school board need to rely less on consultants. It would be refreshingly responsible if the people hired to do a job would do the job rather than serving as highly-paid facilitators who hire consultants to do the jobs. But, alas, our current search firm will be paid a minimum of $17,500.
If only such processes and expenditures paid off, but that’s not the case. Don’t be fooled into believing that this time the search firm’s “process,” – such as a calendar of deadlines for posting the opening, gathering community input for a leadership profile, first- and second-round interviews, site visits and more – guarantee a successful hire. We’ve been there and done that repeatedly with dismal results.
Both bought-out superintendents were hired from equally thorough processes. Both were supposedly vetted by the search firms, and district representatives were escorted through on-site visits. If those search firms had truly done their jobs, they would never have recommended those candidates for interviews, let alone pawned them off on us. But we need to understand that search firms make money from a very real game of musical chairs. The more vacant positions, the more searches. The more poorly placed candidates, the more vacancies, ad nauseam. Each time the current board thinks itself wise in hiring a “better” search firm … there are more than enough from which to choose.
The district’s own human resources director should have been charged with partnering with administrative, teaching and support staff; parents and students; and community members to do our own profile and posting, resume screening, vetting, short-listing, interviewing, site visitation (not a show-and-tell orchestrated by the search firm for a feel-good, “seal-the-deal” experience). Oh, but when we hire consultants and search firms, we buy more than their services; we buy a scapegoat if things don’t work out – but at what cost? The district should be able to conduct a better hire than any firm we could pay to go through the motions for us.
Our saving grace is that this time, we have a superior candidate, a totally known quantity: Kerry Buhler, Upper Blue Elementary School principal. Regardless of how impressive any others may appear to be, we know that in Kerry we have a sterling candidate, and we couldn’t be more fortunate that she is willing to serve. There will be no culture misfit, no horrific ethics sagas, no one taking the district for a ride. This time, it should be a slam dunk to get it right.
Jan Losh is a 26-year Summit Cove resident who over the years has served as Breckenridge Elementary School Secretary, Dillon Valley Elementary School Secretary and Secretary to the Superintendent and Board of Education. She welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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