Superintendent search

The Clark County School Board is preparing to launch a national search for the district’s next superintendent. There’s only one way to interpret the move: Trustees believe no one in Nevada’s public education system has the ideas, track record of success or leadership skills to improve the nation’s fifth-largest school district.

Unless, of course, the national search is simply a ruse and political cover, and trustees have no intention of seriously considering anyone outside the Clark County bureaucracy.

That’s precisely what happened in 2005, the last time the School Board went hunting for a new superintendent. When Carlos Garcia resigned the post, a handful of wealthy local families, led by Jim Rogers, donated $55,000 to the district to help fund a national search, with the goal of finding a superstar reformer. The board refused the donation and the pressures that would have come with it, spending about $100,000 in taxpayer money to retain a headhunter who secretly located 39 candidates for the post. The School Board interviewed six.

But a majority of the trustees, who owed their elected posts to the school district’s employee unions, knew all along that they wouldn’t support anyone but the district’s interim co-superintendent, Walt Rulffes. Following the teacher union’s siren song that the district needed “stability, not change,” the board chased off every finalist but Mr. Rulffes — and gave him an annual salary some $70,000 higher than Mr. Garcia’s.

Now it’s Mr. Rulffes’ turn to exit. He’s retiring when his contract expires Aug. 30. Although he brought about a few changes that show promise — primarily a handful of “empowerment schools” that have more autonomy and a private funding component — he was hardly an advocate of major deconsolidation and merit pay, among other causes.

So the School Board could again spend $100,000 in search of a chief executive. Board President Terri Janison wants “an aggressive schedule” that has Mr. Rulffes’ successor in place and working by Dec. 1.

Why is it that no government entity, no matter how ravaged by a recession and out-of-control spending, is so poor that it can’t come up with six figures at the snap of a finger to pay tribute to the educational establishment and line the pockets of some well-connected consultant?

Why can’t the school district be among the first education systems to simply place notices and advertisements for the superintendent’s position in a variety of publications — not Education Week and the National Education Association newsletter, but listings that have a private-sector audience — then wait for the resumes to arrive? Why must the public pay top dollar to be kept in the dark about who might be hired to lead the valley’s public schools? This is an open-meeting and open-records state, after all.

If the board decides to pay full retail, it can only be construed as a commitment to seek out a candidate of the highest quality, and that trustees don’t appear inclined to promote from within. Why else would a school district making tens of millions of dollars worth of budget cuts jump to spend that kind of money?

This time, a national search had better result in serious change at the top.

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