Board approves hiring search firm

Simms' resignation accepted

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— Accepting Superintendent Cyndy Simms' resignation was a quick formality Monday for the Steamboat Springs School District Board of Education.

Figuring out how to replace Simms was not as easy.

The board's two options for finding a new superintendent are posting the open position and collecting and analyzing applicants or hiring a national search firm to do the legwork for the board, President Paul Fisher said.

While posting the position is less expensive, it necessitates a huge commitment from the board and doesn't ensure the district will attract the attention of the best candidates, Fisher said.

Hiring a search firm, which will cost in the neighborhood of $20,000, gives the district a much better chance of getting what it wants, he said.

"I'd love to go with a search firm," Fisher said. "I don't think the board has the time to go through the interviews and everything else we're going to get (from applicants)."

Fisher solicited proposals from the two national search firms considered by the Mercer Island School District -- Simms' soon-to-be employer.

Both firms recommend confidentiality once the field of possible replacements is narrowed down to a half-dozen or so. Confidentiality is necessary to protect applicants who aren't hired from being subjected to rumors and scorn within their respective communities, Fisher said.

Steamboat Springs Education Association President Mike Smith expressed serious concern about a confidential hiring process.

"You're asking people to be awfully trusting (of the board's decision-making)," Smith said. "There is still a major trust issue in this district."

Both search firms strongly promote broad input from district stakeholders within the community, Fisher said.

Stakeholders will be involved in the hiring process, just not its entirety, board member Paula Stephenson said.

"With the search process, we're not saying we don't want community or teacher input, but I don't think we need them every step of the way if we have (agreed upon) parameters," Stephenson said.

Stephenson and fellow board member Tom Sharp said having SSEA, District Accountability Committee, principal and administrative team representatives join the board during the confidential portion of the process could be valuable for all parties.

Smith agreed.

"I certainly think that would help alleviate some of the concerns (teachers) might have," Smith said.

However, the five board members will make the final decision, Sharp said.

Smith said he's also concerned about the cost associated with hiring a search firm and the salary that will be necessary to attract a qualified superintendent to the district.

"For districts that we compare to, Cyndy (Simms) is pretty much underpaid," Smith said. "We are going to need to increase the superintendent's salary."

Simms salary is $104,000, but increases to about $115,000 through a tax shelter. Smith estimated a $10,000 to $30,000 salary increase for Simms' replacement.

That salary increase, plus the cost of a search firm, adds up significantly in a time of state budget deficits and looming salary increases through the Knowledge & Skills-Based Pay plan, Smith said.

"We're going to be looking at possible cuts," Smith said. "I'm going to have to go back to my constituents and (tell them) where the money is coming from."

Sharp and Stephenson said the board is still committed to the KSBP pay plan, and Finance Director Dale Mellor said any search firm costs will come from the current budget, which is in excess, not deficit.

The conversation, heated at times, cooled almost as quickly as it flared up.

"It's my job to help build bridges between you guys and the teachers," Smith told the board. "If we're going to continue to build trust, I need to bring these issues up with you so I can give answers back to (the teachers)."

The board voted unanimously to use a search firm, but didn't decide which firm to use. The board plans to hire a firm at next week's board meeting so the hiring process can be completed as soon as possible.

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