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San Dieguito Union High School District board mulls how to fill top post

The San Dieguito Union High School District (SDUHSD) board is weighing its options on how to move forward replacing its leader after receiving the news of Superintendent Rick Schmitt’s departure for the San Ramon Valley Unified School District.

SDUHSD Board President Beth Hergesheimer, Vice President Joyce Dalessandro and trustee Amy Herman would like to see a new superintendent in place by July 1, while trustees John Salazar and Mo Muir would like to see an interim superintendent until after the November election in which two board seats will be up for grabs and the board makeup could potentially change.

Salazar made it clear he would not support any candidate for the new superintendent position before the election.

The board is expected to decide on whether or not to hire a search firm at a special board meeting on Friday, May 20.

At a special meeting on May 10, Superintendent Rick Schmitt went over the board’s options to appoint a short-term or long-term interim superintendent, conduct its own search or hire a search firm. The search firms could focus on solely internal candidates or expand to a nationwide search — both options would involve parent and staff engagement.

After announcing his departure on April 26, Schmitt met with Hergesheimer and they prepared a request for proposals (RFPs) to send out to two superintendent search firms: California School Boards Association and Leadership Associates. The firms have until May 18 to respond to the RFP.

Muir said she felt that the whole board should have been involved in the RFP process and requested the addition of an East Coast firm to the mix and to send out RFPs to a total of five to six firms to give the board more options.

“This is a district that has many facets and a lot of depth, a lot of different things going on and a lot of moving parts,” Muir said. “Two firms just isn’t enough.”

Salazar said he is against hiring any search firm.

He said his concern is that the last time the district hired a search firm in 2013, they spent $26,500 and they ended up hiring Schmitt, who was on staff. He said while he supported hiring a search firm at that time, he wouldn’t make that decision again.

“I think these search firms are incestuous in the sense that they go off and tell superintendents ‘Why don’t you leave this position and come over here’,” Salazar said. “It’s a scamy thing where the taxpayers are overcharged for an under-needed service. I do not at all support it.”

Hergesheimer said she did not want to circumvent the search firm process as the last time she didn’t know who she wanted until they had interviewed all three candidates and saw who else was out there. The process was important for Schmitt to emerge as the best candidate, Dalessandro agreed.

Schmitt said if no internal candidates are interested in the interim superintendent position, another option would be to bring in a retired superintendent for a term, possibly someone with local knowledge of the district. He said he has heard from a number of retired superintendents in the area who are aware of the district position.

He said that no internal candidates at SDUHSD have said they are definitively interested in the position.

“Some have expressed interest but they have more questions than interest,” Schmitt said.

Dalessandro said the only time she would be in favor of an interim superintendent is if it is a short-term assignment because the leader that they choose is unable to come right on July 1.

“I really believe we need stability in this district. I really believe for the sake of staff and students and programs and everything having to do with the San Dieguito Union High School District, we need a superintendent in place who will be accountable for everything that goes on,” Dalessandro said. “I want to see a real superintendent sitting in your seat on July 1.”