Selecting a superintendent is one of the biggest responsibilities bestowed upon the Clark County School Board, and trustees say they are determined not to cut corners.
To them, that means paying an outside search firm almost $50,000 to recruit candidates nationally while simultaneously grappling with the fallout of cutting more than $60 million from its budget this year. And it means turning down offers from the business and philanthropic communities to assist in picking up the tab for the superintendent search.
Current Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky on Sept. 7 announced he will retire in June after 30 years with the district, five of which have been in its top leadership role.
Discussions about finding his successor began shortly thereafter. Trustees had to decide whether to use an outside search firm to conduct a national search or to handle the vacancy internally, as they opted to in 2013 by promoting Skorkowsky after then-Superintendent Dwight Jones abruptly resigned to care for his ailing mother.
Local education advocates and members of the business community made it clear they wanted a national search to be conducted and that they were willing to put up the money for it if need be.
“We did not want cost to hinder efforts,” said Paul Moradkhan, vice president of government affairs at the Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce, one of the organizations that offered to contribute money to cover the cost of a national search. “We were willing to help underwrite costs.”
The Rogers Foundation, during a school board meeting, also pledged to help cover costs. Other local organizations were approached but made no public commitment.
Moradkhan says the idea was to get multiple organizations to contribute money to make it clear that nobody was trying to buy the position.
“It was about being a good community partner,” he said. “The district is the largest supplier of employees in Clark County. We want the best quality candidates for superintendent.”
Trustees in October voted 4-3 in favor of considering outside donations to cover the cost of the search firm. They made it clear then that contributions would need to be transparent and capped.
Since then, the tide has shifted toward rejecting the financial help. Trustee Deanna Wright originally voted that the board should consider accepting outside donations but changed her mind after consulting with Michael Casserly, the executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools. He advised her that the burden of paying for a superintendent search should be the responsibility of the district and trustees, not third parties.
“Even amid budget cuts,” Wright said. “He cautioned that even though donors will say there are no strings attached, his experience has led him to conclude there are always strings attached.”
Other trustees have been even stronger in their opposition.
“I don’t want to take a penny,” said Trustee Linda Young during a previous board meeting. “Even if it were $3 or $10 or $100,000. I don’t want to take your money. … We come up with the money to pay for this ourselves.”
Wright believes paying for a search firm is just “the cost of doing business.” Comparing the almost $50,000 contract, which the trustees are expected to approve at tonight’s meeting, with any line item from the $60 million worth of cuts made over the last few months is unfair, she says.
Wright says the business community, as well as the general public, will have a chance to weigh in on the district’s next superintendent. While details on the exact process have not yet been determined, she anticipates a series of meetings where people can meet the finalists and weigh in.
Lumping the business community in with the general public doesn’t sit well with everyone. Glenn Christenson, chairman of the Community Implementation Council dealing with the state-mandated reorganization of CCSD, says some members of the business community feel trustees are not engaging in a meaningful way with them.
“They are not looking to make the decision,” he said, “but they do bring a lot to the table. They have lots of experience bringing key people to the state.”
Christenson would like the trustees to model their superintendent search after presidential searches at the collegiate level. The process used by the Nevada System of Higher Education Board of Regents during national searches includes the creation of a search committee comprising four to six regents and additional nonvoting advisory members. Those advisory members may come from the business community. They are involved in the process, but the decision ultimately lies with the elected officials.
“I think that’s a better way to do it,” Christenson said, adding that he is unconvinced by trustees who argue they need to mitigate influence from the business community. “You can only be influenced by people if you allow them to influence you.”