With contract extension, Aspen’s school board hopes superintendent will stick around until retirement

360-degree review informed decision, officials say

Superintendent David Baugh participates in a Board of Education meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021, inside the Aspen School District offices.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

On June 27, the Aspen School District Board of Education unanimously voted to extend Superintendent David Baugh’s contract from 2023 to 2027, with added retirement benefits designed to serve as a retention bonus.

In the past, the board has extended its superintendent contract one year at a time; that was the case when John Maloy was at the helm. Why the long runway with Baugh?

Katy Frisch, the president of the Board of Education, said in a phone call on June 16 that the goal was to keep Baugh around through the end of his superintendent career amid “a lot of turnover in the administrative offices” and the awareness “that there are a large number of superintendent openings throughout the state.”

“We wanted to reward the hard work and dedication and incentivize it to continue,” Frisch said.

The extension through 2027 is based on Baugh’s target retirement age. Frisch said the aim was to “encourage” Baugh to stick around but that there wasn’t any worry or concern that he would leave earlier.

“We have to incentivize people to (stay), which I think we tried very hard to do at the teacher and staff level” via an agreement with the Aspen Education Association to introduce four new salary schedules with higher base pay as well as other details on additional compensation for teachers and other education support staff, Frisch said.

“We needed to do that (incentivization) in the administrative offices as well, so given that it is so competitive to find staff, it goes for the superintendent, just as well as it goes for the fifth grade homeroom teacher,” Frisch said.

As superintendent, Baugh is the only employee who officially reports to the Board of Education, which is why the board was the group that decided on these incentives; for the rest of the administrative staff, Frisch said incentives are under Baugh’s purview, not the board’s. “Our job is to approve the (agreement) with teachers and staff and to compensate the superintendent,” Frisch said.

District staff have wondered in both interviews and board meetings this spring about the retention component to the district’s “attract and retain” efforts; district officials have so far emphasized housing, pay and addressing climate and culture through policy and procedure.
That agreement Frisch referenced raised some staff’s salaries by thousands, while others who were already paid above the scheduled rates or had lots of extra educational credits saw minimal raises of less than $1,500. And, as one Aspen Middle School teacher said at a June 1 board meeting, “it’s not just about the money.”
The district has sent out some exit surveys for departing staff to complete. Stephanie Nixon, the president of the Aspen Education Association teachers union, requested at a June 1 board meeting that the district share a synopsis of the questionnaires so the district can better understand why staff members are leaving.

A 360-degree review conducted by the consulting firm Hazard, Young, Attea and Associates was “a critical part of the process” that informed the board’s decision to renew Baugh’s contract, Frisch said. It was a blind interview process, meaning the people who weighed in didn’t know who else also weighed in to prevent any meddling in the process.

The Aspen Times left two messages with Hazard, Young Attea and Associates; a representative declined comment Tuesday.

Baugh wrote in an email on June 15 that because he was the one being evaluated, he wouldn’t know exactly who was on the interview list and that “in fact, most of the other interviewees would not know either,” but he did have an inclination of who was involved.

“I believe that many of the leadership team were interviewed, (as well as) principals, cabinet members, and AEA (Aspen Education Association) and some parents,” Baugh wrote. “I believe many of the board were interviewed.”

It was “one data point of many” in the conversation about contract renewal, he wrote.

“The overall evaluation, and my contract amendment, was based on progress on my annual goals, with measurable goals and progress on most metrics,” Baugh wrote. “The climate and culture survey was another data point, as was the fact that we have done a significant amount of work in a global pandemic, including opening safely this year for the entire year.”

The climate and culture survey conducted this year indicated that educators felt empowered and valued but also grappled with “unhealthy” amounts of stress and cited a need for better communication and more transparency.