Aspen school board hires Chicago firm for superintendent search

The new Aspen School District turf field on Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2019. (Photo by Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times)
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

Plenty of issues and tasks face elected leaders representing the Aspen School District, but none are arguably more important than hiring its next superintendent.

The five-member Board of Education will be responsible for making that key hire in the coming year. Three of those members — Susan Marolt, Dwayne Romero and Susan Zimet — will be involved in the hiring process. However, two of them, Sandra Peirce and Sheila Wills, are leaving because they are serving the final of their two four-year terms.

Enter six candidates who are vying for those two openings in the November elections — Katy Frisch, John Galambos, Patsy Kurkulis, Jonathan Nickell, Jim Pomeroy and Bettina Slusar. On today’s page A3, the BOE hopefuls address the issue of hiring a new superintendent.

At its Oct. 7 meeting, in the meantime, the Board of Education agreed to hire Chicago-based Hazard Young Attea Associates (HYA), which also was behind the district’s hiring of Chief Financial Officer Linda Warhoe earlier this year. The board picked HYA over two other search firms for the superintendent job.

“They’ll be able to hit the ground running a little quicker than somebody less familiar with the district,” Peirce said at the meeting.

Likewise, Warhoe said she had a good experience with HYA after it contacted her about the CFO opening.

The board has budgeted $18,000 to $22,000 for the search firm, according to board President Dwayne Romero. A job posting will come out during the winter holidays, with the goal to hire a new superintendent by the spring.

“Winter break — that is the optimal time for garnering attention from candidates,” Romero said outside of last week’s meeting.

The amount budgeted also will cover HYA’s surveys, in-person discussions with Aspen School District personnel and residents, and possibly hosting focus groups, Romero said. The search will be nationwide, he said.

“They will come back to the district with a list, and from that list we will be able to cull it down to the final list of candidates, and from that we’ll make a final decision,” Romero said.

The district currently is under the leadership of interim Superintendent Tom Heald, who most recently was second in command to then-Superintendent John Maloy. Heald said for the time being he has not given consideration to putting his hat in the ring for the permanent post.

Maloy retired from the district June 30 following the board’s announcement nearly one year ago, on Oct. 25, that it would not be renewing his contract. Maloy’s three-year rolling contract dated back to June 7, 2010.

As part of his exit, the Board of Education agreed to pay $70,000 for one additional year of service, on Maloy’s behalf, to the Colorado Public Employees’ Retirement Association, which entitles him greater pension benefits through PERA. The district paid Maloy nearly the same amount for his sick, personal and vacation days, according to Romero.

Maloy had his supporters and detractors, and ultimately the board sided with the latter after a contentious year involving personnel matters and a parents group formed to oust the superintendent because of his management style, academic performances and declining staff morale.

The board also hired Denver-based consulting firm Wilson Foxen to conduct a climate and culture study, results of which were not a ringing endorsement for ASD leadership. For example, 24% of those staff members who took the survey said they did not find senior leadership — defined as the superintendent and the Board of Education — as being “effective.”