Super pay

Who, exactly, employs the company searching for the next superintendent of the Clark County School District?

The School Board -- read: taxpayers -- hired the Nebraska-based McPherson-Jacobson firm and gave it some directives and parameters to locate candidates interested in replacing Walt Rulffes, who plans to retire.

But it's sure starting to look like McPherson-Jacobson is also advocating on behalf of the applicants themselves, and not necessarily the interests of its paying client.

That's the obvious takeaway from a Friday meeting, where the search firm's representative told School Board members that some applicants want to be paid much more than the $270,000 salary the district is offering its next chief executive. "Some of the people we're talking to would have to take a cut in pay to come here. That's an issue with them," McPherson-Jacobson principal Tom Jacobson said.

But instead of telling those prospects, "Sorry, you're not going to be a good fit for this job," Mr. Jacobson wants the School Board to bump the salary range to a "competitive level" of between $325,000 and $340,000 per year.

Board members obviously weren't firm enough in explaining to McPherson-Jacobson that Clark County has been absolutely crushed by this recession. We have rising unemployment and falling tax collections. As Trustees Linda Young and Sheila Moulton noted during Friday's meeting, Clark County's cost of living has dropped in recent years, a fact that could turn a salary reduction for a well-paid, big-city superintendent into a net pay increase.

Trustee Carolyn Edwards was inclined to agree with Mr. Jacobson that the school district's current salary offering was "too low" to attract top-tier talent, suggesting performance bonuses for meeting certain achievement benchmarks. It's not a bad idea -- and it's probably more likely to draw private-sector candidates accustomed to performance-based pay, rather than lifetime government employees who want safe guarantees.

The board decided to research superintendent salaries at the 10 largest school districts before voting to up their own ante. They don't need to see what other systems pay to know what they can afford.

The School Board should not increase the base salary offered to Clark County's next superintendent. And trustees should tell Mr. Jacobson that if he wants to double-dip as an agent for prospective hires, he's fired.