Steamboat Springs The Steamboat Springs School Board learned in August how expensive parting ways with a superintendent can be when board members bought out former Superintendent Donna Howell's contract for $270,000.
New School Board President Robin Crossan said Friday that board members have not discussed what contract terms - including a buyout clause - will be offered to superintendent candidates. But Bob Cito, head of the superintendent search division for the Colorado Association of School Boards, said the School Board should take a cue from other Colorado districts.
"You will not find many contracts over three years, and it's rare to revisit the contract until the final year of the contract," he said. "No-cause buyouts are becoming more and more popular in the state, but it's hard to say what the average buyout is like. : Buying out the entire contract wouldn't be the norm. Some people just say, 'Let me get on with my life, and you go on with yours.' Others fight it."
In 2005, after about 18 months on the job, Howell signed a four-year contract extension offered by a previous School Board. The guaranteed contract had no provisions for a no-cause buyout, which led to lengthy negotiations prior to her Aug. 10, 2007, buyout.
"The cost of the buyout is much deeper than monetary amounts that goes out there to the superintendent," said Cito, who is leading one of three search firms bidding to assist the Steamboat Springs School District in its superintendent search.
"It's energy that didn't go into other areas of the school district where it might benefit kids more," he said. "In my opinion - the money is what everybody focuses on - the real cost is to the community and students."
Cito said that with 176 school districts in Colorado, it's inevitable that relationships break down between School Boards and superintendents every year. In Northwest Colorado, the North Park and Summit school districts have also recently endured the turmoil of superintendent buyouts.
Former Summit Superintendent Lynn Spampinato left her job in 2004, citing irreconcilable difference between herself and the School Board, and she received a $210,000 severance.
Millie Hamner, who replaced Spampinato as superintendent after serving as her assistant, said she learned a lesson from her former boss when it was time to negotiate her contract.
"I did specifically say not to have a buyout provision in my contract," she said. "It didn't sit right with me to have taxpayers' money buy out my contract. I have an agreement with the board where we can mutually end agreement with either party."
School Board Member Denise Connelly said her experience in negotiating a buyout with Howell will play a part in how to proceed with the contract of the district's next superintendent.
"I think what we need to do is talk with our attorney and get him involved in the process because the school district's attorney didn't have anything to do with Dr. Howell's contract," she said. "We would get the advise of experienced people and take their advise under consideration."
Crossan said she would not discuss what she hopes to see - contract length, monetary amounts and buyout clauses - in the district's next superintendent.
"Until we all discuss it, I don't have a comment on it one way or another until we decide upon it as a group," she said.
Cito said forging a solid contract isn't as important as hiring a superintendent that best fits the needs of a community.
"If you have a careful search process and you find the right person, you won't have to go through these buyouts," he said.