Jeffco school board members agreed to advertise a $300,000 base salary for the district’s next superintendent — an increase from what the current superintendent is now paid — on the same night they voted to close a school as part of nearly $11 million in budget cuts.
At Thursday’s meeting, the board accepted the salary recommendation of Ray and Associates, the firm hired to conduct the search for a new superintendent. The same firm was hired by the previous board to lead the search that resulted in the hiring of the current superintendent, Dan McMinimee.
In January, the board voted to open a search for a new Jeffco Public Schools superintendent while McMinimee, hired by a board majority that was recalled in 2015, had six months left on his contract. McMinimee continues to lead the district during the search for a potential replacement.
McMinimee, who was hired in the summer of 2014, has a base salary of $220,000 with up to an additional $40,000 in performance pay and another $20,000 in benefits. In October, the board approved giving McMinimee $20,000 of his $40,000 in potential performance pay dollars, bringing his year’s pay to $240,000 plus benefits.
Gary Ray, the president of Ray and Associates, presented salary estimates for superintendents of other similar districts across the country to suggest the $300,000 amount.
Among the examples cited were an estimated salary of $318,000 for the superintendent of Austin, Texas, schools, leading a district of about 85,000 students, and an estimated salary of $327,000 for the superintendent in Memphis, leading a district of about 110,000 students.
Ray said that because of the size of Jeffco, which enrolls more than 86,000 students, the board should consider national salaries, not just those of neighboring districts.
“I do think it’s important that you have a salary that’s competitive so it sends a message that you know what the market is,” Ray said.
He also assured the board that the final salary amount would be adjusted based on qualifications. When McMinimee was hired, the base salary had been estimated originally at $280,000. Before his final contract was signed, the board adjusted the amount, moving some money into benefits and performance pay.
Board member Brad Rupert said he liked the chance to adjust.
“I want to make sure we have a number out there that is sufficient to start the conversation with the best possible people,” Rupert said.
Susan Harmon agreed, making a point to say, “We’re not making a job offer, we’re just putting an advertisement out there.”
The board’s discussion Thursday did not require a vote, but was intended to direct the search firm as it launches the application process to find a superintendent.
The discussion happened during a work session before the regular meeting in which the board heard hours of public testimony and then wrestled with decisions on school closures and other budget cuts. McMinimee gave the board with an alternate proposal that scaled back the originally proposed cuts.
The cuts that did move forward Thursday totaled nearly $11 million and along with other savings, gave the district $19 million toward the $25 million district officials want to commit to raise salaries for district employees.
When the board voted last month to launch a search for a new superintendent instead of renewing McMinimee’s contract, which expires at the end of June, board members said they didn’t have problems with McMinimee’s performance.
They cited concerns with the process under which he was hired with a split vote after being named the sole finalist, and questioned if another person would be better at the job.
Ken Witt, who served as board president in 2014 when McMinimee was hired, said Friday those are “hollow and baseless accusations.”
“I’m very proud to say we did include the community, solicited feedback and we used a national search process,” said Witt, who was swept out of office along with two other conservative board members in the 2015 recall election. “I think we did exactly what was appropriate.”
So far, the process appears it will follow a similar path under the same firm.
An online survey is expected to launch Monday so the public can weigh in on which qualities are important for a Jeffco superintendent. An online survey was also conducted in 2014.
Members from the search firm also will meet with some community groups and host focus groups. Then, as the search firm narrows down a list of finalists, the board will get to interview candidates. Ray reiterated what district staff had previously told the board — that candidates need privacy and it may not be possible to publicly name more than one finalist.