The Senate Site Superintendent Hire: Slow it down & do it right

Superintendent Hire: Slow it down & do it right

Posted in 2012, Featured on Monday, September 17th, 2012 at 4:33 PM 11 Comments

By Stuart Adams
Utah State Senator, District 22

Like my colleagues, I am also curious as to why the State Board of Education feels such urgency in filling the vacant seat of Utah’s State Superintendent. It seems odd that such an important position can be filled so quickly, unless of course they have already made the decision and are simply going through the process for show.

Here is why I find it odd.  When one of our state universities selects a new president they spend months in the process.

* Utah Valley University‘s last search committee convened on August 16, 2008. They announced their three final candidates seven months later in March of 2009.

* The University of Utah’s search ended on Jan. 17, 2012, after an eight-month search that began May 17, 2011.

* Weber State University began looking for a new president on April 18 of this year. They still have not selected a new president, but hope to have their final 3 candidates selected by the end of October. That would put them at a seven month search.

The University of Utah runs with an annual budget of $451 Million. UVU’s budget is $153 million .  Weber State’s is $123 million.

The annual Public Education budget in Utah is $3.6 billion.

You’d think a statewide superintendent of public education would merit at least as much consideration as the president of a university, right?

Even local school boards spend at least as much, if not more time and effort than the state does in selecting new superintendents. Provo School District spent more than four months and hired a headhunter to find their new superintendent. Park City School District’s superintendent Ray Timothy has submitted his resignation, but the board has decided that it will be next year before they hire a replacement because it “does not feel it has sufficient time between now and the November election to conduct a thorough nation-wide search.”

Both of these districts felt it was necessary to conduct a national search to look for the best of all possible candidates. However, the State Board of Education has fast-tracked the process.  They think that $1,200 is too much to spend on national advertising and so they have limited their search net to a few online postings and an email to about 25 agencies and organizations.   Mind you, the person who is selected to do this job will control Utah’s $3.6 billion education budget. The University of Utah spent eight months to find someone they felt was qualified to manage $435 million. But $1,200 is too much to spend to try and find qualified applicants?

According to Debra Roberts, Utah State Board of Education Chairwoman, the selection process this time will happen slightly faster but be “nearly identical to the process use to hire the past two state superintendents, Patti Harrington and Larry Shumway.”  You can read her explanation of the process here.

This speed is apparently habitual. Superintendent Patti Harrington announced her retirement on March 6, 2009. Finalists were all selected by May 18.   Before that, Superintendent Steven Laing announced his retirement in March of 2004, Patti Harrington was appointed on June 1st.  (Incidentally, both Superintendent Shumway and Deputy Superintendent Martell Menlove were on the final slate of candidates when she was selected.)

For every month that a selection committee spends in looking for a university president, the USOE spends about one week of searching and consideration for candidates for their key administrative position.

According to Chairwoman Roberts, the selection process will be even faster this time in order to “accommodate the Board’s wishes that the new superintendent be in place soon” so that that person can be “up to speed when the Legislature begins to meet in late January.”

Really? Martel Menlove and Judy Park already do a fabulous job communicating with us.  If they, or someone else in the office were appointed in an interim position, what would be the harm?  Surely, there is enough internal talent in the USOE to keep the ship afloat during the upcoming session without rushing to fill a position that will control a multi-billion dollar budget and affect children all over the state.

How the Board of Education hires a superintendent is clearly up to them, but this fast-tracked process seems to me to be a mistake worth correcting  (something with which we in the legislature have had experience, from time to time).  I hope the Board will listen to reasonable concern expressed by my colleagues, the Deseret NewsSutherland Institute and others.

The Utah State Board of Education should not follow the pattern they have in the past. They should do an extensive and exhaustive search to find the most qualified candidates for our new state superintendent. Utah’s students, teachers and taxpayers deserve no less.

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11 Comments to “Superintendent Hire: Slow it down & do it right”

  1. Karen Lundgren says:

    I totally agree…and the same for district superintendents. I find it interesting that the district superintendents get the job, stay in a couple of years…then retire with full benefits. Thus setting the next one up for short working term and full benefits. Our schools spend way too much at the top for a few years of work and a lot of retirees …. instead of at the classroom level on supplies… or on better food. Or on paying the janitors and maintenance folks better. I have no issues with those who have made it to the “top” to be rewarded…but I believe they should work many more years before taking cushy early retirements.

    • Susan Wilcox says:

      Karen – this is why teachers are still having to spend so much of their own money on supplies. We fight so hard for the money, but districts eat it up on their trendy projects and workshops, and LITTLE of it goes into the classrooms where it belongs. We need to CUT DOWN the district jobs altogether and give TEACHERS the money they need – not only in their salaries but in supply money. It gets cut, their salaries go up very little, and even if SALARIES went up they’d be spending it back on their students. Teacher LOVE kids. They wouldn’t survive otherwise – especially in Utah. We have served WELL – and so our district and state people BOAST about how much we’ve been able to achieve (because of the goodness and extra dedication of the TEACHERS…) with so very little on each head. Utah teachers HAVE no union – it has NO power – we are still rock bottom. We need superintendants in district and in the state who will DO something about this. The teachers won’t strike – they have NO support – nowhere to go. We just have to eat it and work 2 jobs, for the sake of our children. Utahans need to put their money where their MOUTHS are – in FAMILIES and CHILDREN. Have you seen the Chicago strike and read about what salaries THEY are protesting? We will never see Utah teachers stand up like that – they are whimps about that – because they don’t know how to survive without their paychecks. Something has to be done about MONEY ALLOCATION – where does it all GO from legislature to inside the desks of our students?!?!? Teachers only get $250 tax credit in our federal taxes for donating to our classrooms….it needs to be $1,000 because that’s what we SPEND to do a great job per year!!

  2. Joel Coleman says:

    Has the outcome been unsatisfactory in the past? My understanding is that education leadership from the legislature has been included in the past and will be again this time, and that they were supportive of the previous superintendent.

    So the real question is this: why complain about the process if the results have been acceptable previously? Seems like grandstanding more than a legitimate concern. This is why the legislature gets the reputation of arrogantly appointing itself as a “super school board.”

    The constitution grants the prerogative and solemn duty of appointing a superintendent of public instruction solely to the State Board of Education. Consequently, my friends who are the few overly critical legislators (with whom I share many political ideas) currently speaking out should respectfully honor that commission and stand down.

    I’m grateful to the others who have expressed support in this critical matter, rather than scorn. We certainly do not take our job lightly as elected officials–although from the tone of our detractors it would appear they think we are somehow less qualified than those elected to serve on Capitol Hill. Legislators would do well to leave the governance of education to the constitutionally vested Board of Education, where it belongs.

    Joel Coleman
    State Board of Education, district 9

  3. Yes, Joel, the outcome has been unsatisfactory in the past.

    While I imagine that Superintendent Shumway has done many worthy things in his life, leading our schoolchildren down the primrose path of Common Core has not been one of them. Yet this is all he’ll be remembered for, at least by me.

    Right now, when the stakes are so high, while the entire nation is escalating its alarm about socialized common education that is not even legitimate or “rigorous” as it has claimed to be, right now we need better leadership, valiant leadership.

    If the Governor appoints Judy Park or another of the USOE’s cookie cutter Common Core yes-men, we will not have much of a chance of reclaiming Utah’s educational sovereignty over Common Core. So it matters. A lot. And rushing this vital decision does make it appear to be yet another predetermined outcome that denies the public any meaningful voice.

  4. Jeffrey Humpherys says:

    Joel, the legislature acts this way because the people are complaining to them and they are being asked to do something about it by their constituents. No offense to you (and I am personally grateful for the service you do), but nobody knows who their school board members are! I’ll bet you that less than 2% of Utah state residents can name their school board member. But, they do know who their legislators are, and so they go to them. The fact that the legislators are being hounded by their constituents is a signal that something is broken in how we elect our school board members. It is also a signal that the people are not happy with things, e.g., the disastrous common core roll out. Perhaps we need a primary so that school board members are out there stumping along with everyone else; either that or we need to place the USOE under the executive branch so that we can hound the governor and he can do something about it.

  5. Susan Wilcox says:

    We need to watch what our STATE SCHOOL BOARD is doing very carefully, and they need to have accountability like they LUMP onto teachers every year in their scrutinizing observations and declarations, and write-ups – that slow down the teachers FROM doing their jobs. Too many people at the top and not enough neighbors running our schools. I can tell you from experience – lots of it in MANY different states I’ve lived in – that public education is in trouble. We can’t take this job LIGHTLY – we have to have the right person leading our Utah schools, and most importantly KEEPING THE FEDS out of our decisions. Go to for some great info on what’s happening with our mandated courses in the schools. I don’t know why they are still training teachers to write lesson plans in college. We have no right to do this anymore. We have to read prepared scripts and have no choice in the books our kids are studying. WAKE UP UTAH…..

  6. Dana says:

    This letter does not seem like a grandstanding issue. It is commonsense and questioning combined. If so many people are upset by common core and issues of control from the top, including officials that do not listen to the concerns of parents, It would appear that all is not well.
    I do not hear disdain and scorn in this line of questioning but wonder at the process and the speed. I would ask,” are you afraid of those who ask questions and disagree with you?” Have you read the constitution? Is it the state constitution or the country’s constitution you are referring to? The country’s constitution does not “grant the prerogative and solemn duty of appointing a superintendent of public instruction solely to the State Board of Education. ” That is an inaccurate statement.

  7. Drew Chamberlain says:

    The process is clearly broken. Our public ed is mediocre at best. Perhaps the school system’s first pick should be our last. The salary should be capped at say, $70,000 so we can be assured that the prospect is in it for the service and not the money. Then find a business leader to take the job. To get a better result we need to change the process. This is a good time to start. Drew 801-913-4611.

  8. […] Surprising no one, the Board of Education selected Martell Menlove as the next Superintendent of Public Schools.   Some of us felt the rushed process was a mistake but concede that it is the board’s mistake to make.  When their selection was announced, Senator Stephenson – Senate Education Approps Chair said Mr. Menlove was a good choice and “now is not the time to express concerns, now it’s time for us to join together in working for better education.” Here’s the Trib article. […]

  9. […] Surprising no one, the Board of Education selected Martell Menlove as the next Superintendent of Public Schools.   Some of us felt the rushed process was a mistake but concede that it is the board’s mistake to make.  When their selection was announced, Senator Stephenson – Senate chair of Education Appropriations – said it’s time to join forces and work together. Here’s the Trib article. […]

  10. […] Debra Roberts of the State Board of Education spoke against the bill, stating that the process functioned well just as it was. Others have expressed different opinions on this process. [Here and Here.] […]

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