Summit County: School board hires firm for superintendent search

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FRISCO – The Summit School District Board of Education selected Hazard, Young, Attea and Associates to conduct the search for the district’s next superintendent.

Millie Hamner retires at the end of the school year after 10 years with the district, seven of which she’s served as the superintendent. She was appointed from the assistant superintendent role when Lynn Spampinato was terminated more than a year before her contract expired – a move that board president Jon Kreamelmeyer said cost the district about $200,000. Kreamelmeyer said the new firm is not the same that selected Spampinato several years ago, nor does that event play into the board’s decision to hire a search firm this time around.

“It’s an apple and an orange,” Kreamelmeyer said. “There’s no connection or disconnection. It’s not uncommon for a district to hire a firm to screen initial candidates.”

At their Tuesday meeting, board members heard a presentation from the firm’s representatives, Rick O’Connell and Ellen Bartlett. O’Connell and Bartlett proposed a national search that includes the district’s internal candidates at the price of approximately $17,500, not including associate expenses and the expenses of flying candidates in for interviews – factors that could amount to about $2,000.

O’Connell said the search can be fully tailored to the needs of the district, but costs wouldn’t change much, as one of the biggest factors of the cost is to collect community data. Board members supported taking the opportunity to get a good picture of the district, its strengths and its weaknesses – and use that data to formulate direction for the new superintendent.

Board members were also considering working with the Colorado Association of School Boards, which proposed a similar, in-state search for $12,000. The district’s human resources director, Trisha Theelke, pointed out that CASB’s price tag didn’t include certain services that could add up to a similar cost if used to its full extent.

The firm’s national network and ability to reach out to many different candidates – including those without a traditional education background – was ideal for board members as well. O’Connell and Bartlett are former Colorado superintendents with connections, and they have colleagues searching in other states who can suggest candidates.

“Colorado has great people, but there could be someone in, say, Michigan, who wants to move to Colorado but can’t because they don’t know,” said Amanda Moore, student liaison to the Board of Education. “We may be missing the perfect person.”

The ability to stretch the search into the national market was appealing particularly to boardmember J Kent McHose and vice president Sheila Groneman.

“It’s important for the community to see we did a rigorous process,” McHose said. “It adds to the credibility of selecting an internal candidate if they’re matched against a national search.”

Kreamelmeyer disagreed. He suggested the community might be critical of not being fiscally responsible with the district’s limited funds. After casting a vote to select Hazard, Young, Attea and Associates, Kreamelmeyer said he voted to select the firm for unity’s sake. He still struggles with spending $17,500 on a search.

“I don’t think anyone on the board thinks they have a blank credit card,” he added. “They’ll scrutinize every step.”

Indeed, boardmember Allison Casias said she’d like to find ways to screen out-of-state candidates before flying them in for interviews to reduce additional costs to the district. But those discussions will come later in the process, as final negotiations are made, items of importance in the search are identified and a calendar of operations is laid out.

O’Connell highlighted that the firm’s expectation is for selected superintendents to stay for five years – they cannot apply to new positions within the firm before then. Kreamelmeyer said the average life expectancy of a superintendent is two years.

Board members also appreciated the references they received from the firm, who spoke of successful searches in Craig and Douglas County School District. The firm is currently contracted for a search in Telluride, which Casias questioned as a conflict of interest. But boardmember Brad Piehl said most firms want a positive reference so they’ll do what they can do make both districts happy.

“You might think it’s going to be hard, it’s going to be tricky, but somewhere out there there’s someone who wants to come and stay here,” Bartlett said. O’Connell added that Summit School District is managed well and its community offerings would be an easy sell to the right candidate.

The next step is for administrative officials to follow up with the firm’s representatives to get the process rolling.

SDN reporter Janice Kurbjun can be contacted at (970) 668-4630 or at

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