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Lame-duck school board shouldn’t rush to hire next chief

Post by TNT Editorial Board / The News Tribune on Aug. 28, 2011 at 1:41 pm |
August 26, 2011 5:44 pm

This editorial will appear in Monday’s print edition.

Tacoma School Superintendent Art Jarvis has announced that he’s retiring, but he’ll stick around until the end of the school year.

Carla Santorno

So why is the school board apparently fast-tracking selection of his replacement? On Sept. 7 it will publicly interview the sole in-house candidate, Deputy Superintendent Carla Santorno, and decide the next day whether to hire her or keep searching.

Two of the board members who will make that decision are lame ducks. If they hired Santorno, not they but their successors would have to work with her.

The current five-person board is guaranteed to have two new faces in early December – a 40 percent turnover in membership with the departure of incumbents Jim Dugan and Kim Golding. There’s no good reason why the interview with Santorno – and the decision whether to hire her – can’t wait for their replacements to be seated.

The four candidates for the two board positions, who will face off in the Nov. 8 general election (if current vote trends continue and the results certified Wednesday), are Dexter Gordon and Scott Heinze for Position 3 and Karen Vialle and Kim Washington for Position 5.

All four candidates are unhappy about the rush to hire the next superintendent, preferring that the new board make the decision.

• Gordon: “While the current school board has the authority to make its own decision on the hiring of the next superintendent, it would be prudent for the board to consult the four election finalists as part of the process. My preference would be to have a voice in the process.”

• Heinze: “I don’t understand the rush to hire a new superintendent. Given that the election will be decided in a couple of months and that the new board members will be held accountable for the performance of the next superintendent, I think that it makes sense to delay the hiring and leave the responsibility of that decision to the newly seated board.”

• Vialle: “While a laudable objective of filling the position with someone who understands the district, the process apparently was designed to consider only one candidate. . . .  I would hope that the school board would reconsider making a permanent appointment until December, giving new members the opportunity for input and to participate in the actual appointment of a superintendent who will ultimately report to them.”

• Washington: “I am very concerned about the haste in placing someone in that position. . . . I vote to wait until the election is over and all the new candidates elected have an opportunity to open the search to include and evaluate everyone who is interested.”

Santorno is, by many accounts, a sterling candidate who very well might make a fine superintendent. But rushing through what appears to be a done deal would do her no favor. She’d be answering to two board members who had no say in her hiring and might be resentful that they were cold-shouldered out of the selection process. Having a board invested in the next superintendent would better serve a district that will continue to have to make tough choices due to tight budgets.

If the current board does move forward in hiring Santorno, a short contract would be in order. President Kurt Miller says the board would negotiate an 18-month contract, giving Santorno a chance to prove herself and the new board members time to get acclimated to the district.

The best scenario: Go ahead with the interview, but hold off on a final decision until the new board members are seated. If Santorno is as good a candidate as the current board seems to think, she should have no problem passing muster with the newcomers.

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