The Carson City School District Board of Trustees on Monday night directed the Nevada Association of School Boards to begin advertising its superintendent’s position.
Superintendent Richard Stokes previously announced his retirement for June 2022, leaving the seat open for the first time after nearly 30 years. Carson City makes one of at least three active district superintendent searches occurring in Nevada, with Washoe and Clark counties also seeking to fill their top posts.
The board’s special meeting on Monday was led by hosting firm NASB Executive Director Debb Oliver, who began by reviewing results from the community survey, held Oct. 27 to Nov. 5, seeking feedback on desired characteristics in the school district’s search for the incoming superintendent.
Results showed 339 responses were received in English and 13 responses were received in Spanish. Based on the English survey, approximately 59.2% have lived within the district for more than 10 years and 19.9% for five to 10 years.
Oliver said “integrity” emerged as the top trait written in among a list of important leadership or personal qualities, including “accountable, community involvement, clear communicator, caring, common sense, creative thinker, decision maker/decisive, dedicated to the values of the work, educational leader, fiscally responsible, high integrity, high expectations, honest, listener, moral, patient, proactive and responsive.”
She then asked the board members to whittle down their top three qualities from the survey results for candidates to better understand what they sought in their sole employee. The board also laid out minimum qualifications, including a master’s or advanced degree, cumulative educational leadership as a superintendent, principal or district office or comparative leadership and experience with labor and bargaining groups, among others.
“This is a district that is growing rapidly,” Trustee Mike Walker said. “This person is going to have to be a community leader.”
Determining the position’s salary, however, became a major point of discussion and would be defined as more than a number for CCSD’s chief executive officer. Board members mulled over an appropriate range that is viable for the district’s budget and reputation as a high-achieving performer in the Silver State.
They also worried any potential range could detract from applicants’ interest since historically, Nevada’s salaries remain relatively low compared to others in the nation. Stokes has been receiving $178,000 plus benefits, but that follows a nine-year history of going without a pay increase, at his request, Trustee Laurel Crossman told the Appeal on Tuesday.
“It wasn’t huge, but it demonstrates his ability and his willingness to give back to the district,” she said.
Stokes began with the Carson City School District as human resources director in July 2001 and became its superintendent for its 2008-09 school year. In his top position, he started with a salary of $126,000. District Chief Financial Officer Andrew Feuling said it was frozen for the next five years and he then received a 1% pay increase in 2014-15, then had another freeze until 2017-18. Crossman said former board President Ron Swirczek asked through the board’s public meetings to give Stokes a raise through a three-year contract with incremental increases.
“He was starting a new contract at that point and with that contract, the board recognized his salary was not in any way comparable any local superintendent because it hadn’t changed in eight years, so then that year they bumped it to $168,000,” Feuling said.
When Walker became president, Stokes would continue working and his salary slowly has gone up to about $178,000.
Carson City’s salary compares to Lyon, Douglas and even Elko’s position, which averages now at $180,000 and was raised by $20,000 about a year ago through negotiations, Oliver said Monday.
“We have a superintendent with 14 years of experience in the district and we’re paying him $178,000 and potentially looking at someone who has not been a superintendent yet and we’re going to offer him or her potentially the same salary or above,” Trustee Richard Varner said. “I’m not saying that’s right.”
But members agreed whatever the final outcome, they wanted a quality candidate with experience and should consider internal and external candidates.
Trustees said the level of commitment Stokes set has been rare and set a precedent that might be harder to follow today, usually without resulting in increases.
“I know from my personal experience, when we go to events, Mr. Stokes is there before I get there and there after I leave, and that’s not associated with the district, and we’re going to expect that level of involvement,” Walker said. “It’s a thankless job that requires lot of hours.”
Crossman suggested starting on the lower end of the salary range and hinted that it all depends on negotiations as well, with Walker adding the board should remain open to offering a median salary so candidates don’t reject the job because the figure is too low.
The school board also examined the interview process itself, contemplating how to interview the candidates, whether virtually or in person and began processing the type of questions they would like to ask applicants.
Oliver said previous searches ultimately have resulted in attracting up to 25 candidates with NASB assisting in ranking candidates as outlined by the school board’s established minimum criteria.
“I think this is the most important job we have, and we need to be hands-on,” Walker said, expressing concerns about involvement from the start of receiving applications from interested candidates.
Public comment on the item addressed seeking candidates who would serve Carson City’s diverse populations, the use of data in the candidates’ decision-making and representatives on the NASB hiring committee who would ensure candidates meet the board’s minimum criteria.
“I think we need to take care of our Latino population,” resident Richard Nagel said. “I think it’d be a disservice not to have someone used to dealing with Latino or diverse populations or getting them enrolled. I would like to see quantifiable questions so when the guy comes or the gal comes up, you ask them can you see quantifiable, continuous improvement?”
Resident Bepsy Strasburg said she hoped to see candidates who would be broad thinkers and can think “outside of the box” and be innovative enough to help local stakeholders understand different solutions. She asked the board to make sure applicants set measurable goals to help the public education system improve.
Although the timeline is still to be determined and once the interviewing process was complete, board President Joe Cacioppo said he would like for a contract to be in place by April, although the new superintendent doesn’t necessarily have to start by then, to allow for the transition to occur in May and June.
For information about the position, view the school district's website at https://www.carsoncityschools.com/cms/One.aspx?portalId=801611&pageId=67731114