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Timeline Established for Superintendent Search

LAYING IT OUT: Mike Escalante, left, and James Guerra of JG Consulting/Escalante & Associates explain the timeline for the SMUSD’s search for a new superintendent at Tuesday evening’s school board meeting. Mitch Lehman Photo

The consulting firm charged with bringing forth top candidates for the position of superintendent of the San Marino Unified School District laid out its projected time line at Tuesday evening’s school board meeting that will hopefully meet the board’s intention of having someone under contract by the middle of May.

“Generally speaking, that is our goal,” School Board President Lisa Link told The Tribune on Wednesday morning. “That could, however, be delayed by several factors.”

Link explained that the board might want to schedule a visit to see one or some of the finalists in their current place of business, which could slightly alter the timeline.

On Tuesday evening, James Guerra and Mike Escalante of JG Consulting/Escalante & Associates revealed a plan that would meet the board’s deadline.

Speaking in open session, Guerra said community based meetings would be held by the end of February to determine a profile for candidates. From those meetings and other input, a job description will be generated as well as questions which could later be posed to candidates, according to Link. Guerra said that the application will be completed and the job will be officially posted by March 4, with applications due back on April 4.

Candidates will receive an initial screening by the middle of April. Guerra said he expected final interviews to begin around April 27, putting the board in a position to hire by mid-May.

The board is seeking a replacement for former Superintendent Dr. Alex Cherniss, who resigned in August, 2018 to take a similar position at the Palos Verdes Peninsula Unified School District. The delay in determining Cherniss’s successor was necessitated by the November, 2018 school board election, where seven candidates vied for three spots. Incumbents Joseph Chang and Shelley Ryan were re-elected and Corey Barberie outdistanced four other candidates to claim the third seat, which was vacated by Nam Jack. Given the board could have undergone a substantial makeover with an instant majority of new board members at that election, the board agreed to suspend the search for Cherniss’s successor until the results were final. Longtime district employee Loren Kleinrock, who is currently serving as interim superintendent, is under contract through June 30, 2019, but there is an option to extend, if necessary.

Escalante expressed a belief that his firm should hold a “closed” search, meaning that the identities of potential candidates remains confidential.

“This is incredibly important,” Escalante said. “The best candidates are those who are doing well at the job they are currently doing.”

Letitia Aranda, president of the San Marino Teachers Association, spoke during the public comment section and expressed regret that none of the data suggested interaction with the teachers union. Aranda mentioned that she hoped the next superintendent would have classroom experience and someone who was “not given authority, but someone who has earned authority.”

“Please talk to us,” Aranda said. “We have a lot to offer. We are in the trenches.”

Link later told The Tribune that the SMTA has been included on a list of stakeholders that will be invited to meet with candidates.

Assistant Superintendent of Business Services Julie Boucher then presented an agenda item that would call for a special election on May 14 to renew the parcel tax that is currently on the February 26 ballot as Measure R if it does not meet the 2/3rds majority vote on that date. The parcel tax brings $1.6 million annually to the San Marino Unified School District and directly supports 13.4 instructional and instructional support positions, according to the district. Measure R was first passed in 1991. The current annual assessment per parcel is $366.40 and residents age 65 or older can file for an exemption, as can homeowners of contiguous parcels and those homeowners with disabilities. By a unanimous 5-0 vote, the board approved the May 14 date, if Measure R is rejected on February 26.

Dr. Stephen Choi, the district’s chief technology officer, then presented strategies to enhance communications through social media, websites and the possible taping of board meetings.

“I want to make sure we are doing the best job we can to provide information to the community and to be responsive to the needs of the community,” Link said on Wednesday. Link also proposed a change to the public comment section that will allow more opportunities for community members to express their opinions on official matters.

“This is to encourage people to come to the meetings and talk to their school board members,” Link said. “We want to make it a rewarding experience for them.”

She also encouraged the public to communicate with board members outside of the meetings.

“School board meetings are meant for the board to conduct its business,” Link said. “That is the only place we can conduct our business. But the structure of the meeting and Brown Act restrictions do not encourage discussion with the public at school board meetings.”

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