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School Board Debates Timeline for Choosing Supt.; Allocates Funds for Major Construction

By Jorge Casuso

Start laying the groundwork to search for a new superintendent and assistant superintendent but make sure it's the new school board with three members elected in November that gets the process rolling.

That was the message delivered by the School Board Thursday night during a spirited debate over how much of a say the current board should have in choosing replacements for Supt. Neil Schmidt and Art Cohen, the assistant superintendent of business and finance services. Both will be retiring in June.

"It's already time for us to get going," said board president Todd Hess. The board, he said, "needs to discuss what it is we are looking for in a superintendent."

"I do not support this at all," board member Margaret Quinones shot back. "It needs to be the new leadership, the new board that's going to be here. Even picking a search firm is a reflection of a board and its values.

"I heard candidates and members of the community say the top priority is the management," said Quinones, who is stepping down and running for the Santa Monica College Board of Trustees. "I think you've heard the community loud and clear."

Supt. Neil Schmidt warned against starting the process too late, saying that it is important to pick a search firm as soon as possible.

"To have a community discussion without having a search firm, usually your search firm would be uncomfortable with that," Schmidt said.

Some board members worried that waiting too long could put them in a crunch.

"This board has an obligation to begin this process," said board member Pam Brady. "The community will have input."

"I feel that the earlier we can get a search firm on... the better off we're going to be," said board member Julia Brownley.

Board member Brenda Gottfried, however, worried that the search firm could set the tone, perhaps even predetermine the outcome of the selection process.

"Search firms have a reservoir of applicants they're looking to place so that they can get paid," Gottfried said. "That initial request for proposal and selection of a search firm is going to be very, very important."

In the end, the board agreed that it has to start looking for a search firm in order to meet the deadline, but that they should wait until three new members are sworn in after the November election before any major decisions are made.

In a separate item the board voted on several major construction contracts that were hard to come by because of a heated building market.

"It's a sellers' market," Brownley said. "In some cases there are not enough bidders. This has been a long time coming."

"In some instances we got no bids," Cohen said. "We had to go out and bid again."

The projects include:

· $1,227,810 to modernize the athletic fields and track and the parking facilities at Malibu High School.
· $7,594,488 for architectural, finish and structural work; electrical work and mechanical work, and hazmat abatement and monitoring at Grant and Rogers Elementary Schools, Lincoln and Adams Middle Schools and Olympic High School.
· $2,594,931 for modernization work at Webster and Point Dume.

The board approved budget limitation agreements for the contracts that limit project cost overruns to district directed-changes and unforeseen site conditions.

"This board has been working to get the deferred maintenance funds to where we ought to be," Hess said. "We have to pay now to preserve our future."

The board also approved a short-term position for a construction manager. The job, which will last a year to a year and a half will pay $70,000 annually plus some basic benefits.

"We have to recruit someone for a short period of time, so we feel we have to be able to offer a little bit more," said Cohen, noting that the salary was about $5,000 over the going rate. "I'm not too hopeful we'll be successful."

In another action, the board voted to adopt a new job description for the District Elementary Librarian. The funding for the position is in the budget and was previously used to hire a floating credentialed librarian and to contract for librarian services.

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