Some candidates for top CCSD job want more money

Some job applicants say they need to be paid more than $270,000 a year to lead the Clark County School District, the fifth largest in the nation.

A firm overseeing the search to replace Superintendent Walt Rulffes told the School Board on Friday that performance bonuses should be given to bump up the salary to a more "competitive level" of $325,000 to $340,000.

"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," said Tom Jacobson of McPherson-Jacobson, based in Omaha, Neb.

The potential candidates are superintendents of major "metropolitan areas," he told the board.

Although School Board Vice President Carolyn Edwards agreed that $270,000 was too low, board member Linda Young said it was more than adequate in these hard times.

The board didn’t go ahead with the proposed salary range increase Friday but ordered a study of the salaries of other similarly sized school districts.

Edwards said $270,000 was "too low" to attract a top flight replacement. "I’m amenable to increasing it," she said.

Edwards suggested offering bonuses worth a 20 percent pay raise from $270,000. She said the district could set performance goals for the new superintendent such as increasing the high school graduation rate, attaining the annual performance goals of the federal No Child Left Behind Act, and reducing the number of remedial courses that district graduates take in college.

Young disagreed.

"Just about everyone I know in the community has taken a hit in terms of salaries and benefits," Young said.

District teachers and support staff have given up salary raises based on longevity this year. Many district employees are also taking additional pay cuts because of the decision to convert all 76 year-round schools to nine-month calendars.

Young questioned the motivation of the candidates asking for more money.

"If they’re going to come based on the salary, I don’t know if they’re really the people we want," she said.

Young and board member Sheila Moulton said Las Vegas was relatively inexpensive for a big city. "Our cost of living here is cheapo as far as getting housing," Moulton said.

The board decided to research the top salaries of the top 10 school districts before bringing back the pay raise for a vote.

According to a 2008 survey by the Council for Great City Schools, the average salary for a superintendent of a school district with more than 200,000 students was $286,000. The top salary was $327,500.

The school district in Modesto, Calif., with 30,000 students, is about one-tenth the size of Clark County, which has 308,000 students. It’s also looking for a new superintendent. Its search firm has advised its school board to offer a salary of $240,000 to be competitive, according to the Modesto Bee.

Rulffes was paid $307,632 in 2008, but has since taken a 20 percent salary cut. He would be paid about $246,106 if he works a full year, but has said he wants to retire as soon as the School Board can find a successor.

The board has set a goal of appointing a new superintendent in October. Its search firm has been talking to "stakeholders" to get their expectations of the next superintendent.

It has interviewed groups such as 100 Black Women, unions representing district employees, the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce, and local politicians and community leaders.

Lorraine Alderman, a candidate for School Board District D, and Kevinn Donovan, a Democratic candidate for Assembly District 22, said they felt snubbed that the search firm interviewed other School Board candidates and Donovan’s election opponent, Assemblyman Lynn Stewart, R-Henderson, but not them.

Alderman said the omission was an indication that the search firm was not up to the job.

Donovan said the "board is using the firm to politically sabotage candidates they don’t want to win and using the search firm to endorse candidates they want to win by calling them ‘stakeholders.’ What’s truly sad is all this is being done with taxpayer dollars."

Board President Terri Janison said the search firm was never directed to "speak to all candidates" running for office.

She said the firm was asked to speak to the two District G candidates, James Brooks and Erin Cranor, who are vying to replace her on the board.

Contact reporter James Haug at jhaug @reviewjournal.com or 702-374-7917.

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