Our View: Hire a search firm


— Hiring the right superintendent could be the most important decision the Steamboat Springs School Board makes during the next couple of years, and we urge the board to make use of a professional search firm to help it identify the best candidates.

The School Board voted, 4-1, last week to move forward with a request for proposals from professional search firms. Information about some of the potential firms will be presented at the board's Monday study session, and the board is expected to hold a special meeting later this month or in early January to hear proposals from each company.

Hiring a professional search firm to identify and recruit top executives can be an expensive undertaking, but it's one we believe is well worth the financial commitment.

Perhaps the single most important job of any school board is hiring - and building and maintaining a good relationship with - a qualified superintendent who brings experience, passion and a commitment to the school district and the community at large. Steamboat Springs has one of the highest-performing school districts in the state, and the expectations the community places on its schools can't be underestimated. Those responsibilities start with the superintendent and funnel down through the individual schools and classrooms.

An executive search firm will do much more than simply provide a list of candidates for the position. Good firms will spend time surveying the community and school system to identify the skills and characteristics Steamboat Springs wants in its superintendent. They will actively recruit candidates based on those results - seeking out those who are currently employed, not just those who are looking for their next job, or any job. They will advertise the position nationally. They will conduct thorough background checks on all qualified candidates. They will assemble lists of the best candidates. They will establish timelines and arrange interviews. The best search firms also will guarantee their results - meaning they will conduct additional searches if the original choice leaves after a certain period of time. And contrary to what several board members said last week, a good search firm will not charge applicant fees.

A lot goes into a comprehensive executive search, and it's unreasonable to expect a group of volunteer School Board members to dedicate the time and resources needed to conduct such a search.

It could cost the district as much as $20,000 to hire a firm. School Board member Denise Connelly questioned the need to spend so much money on work the board could perhaps do itself. We appreciate Connelly's fiscal restraint, and it's worth noting that she was president of the board that paid almost $300,000 to buy out former superintendent Donna Howell's contract. It's also worth noting that the new Steamboat Springs School District superintendent likely will be paid in excess of $150,000 a year.

Identifying and hiring a professional search firm is the right step for the School Board to take, and now is the right time to do it. Seek out the best candidates before someone else does.

That said, the School Board shouldn't overlook Dr. Sandra Smyser, the interim superintendent. We've heard from a variety of teachers, administrators and community members who agree Smyser was an excellent choice to serve as interim superintendent. And if she's interested in the permanent position, she very well may be the ideal candidate for the job. We encourage her to apply, and we hope the School Board - particularly its new members - will give Smyser fair and equal consideration.


another_local 9 years, 5 months ago

Search firm for 20K? That would be a bargain. It could well be more like 30% of a year's pay or 45K in total payment and expenses by they time the process is through. In addition to the search firm fee (which is likely to be more like 30-35K) there are expenses such as airfares, lodging and meals for finalists, travel for background research on candidates and attorney fees for the contracts (search firm and employment).

All in all, it is still a good idea even if the 20K number is unrealistic. (Maybe they can use the same search firm they used last time and get a discount?)


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