Two Seattle School Board members announced Wednesday that they would like to extend Interim Superintendent Larry Nyland’s contract by one year instead of two.
Board President Sharon Peaslee had previously suggested forgoing a search to replace former Superintendent José Banda, and simply extending Nyland’s contract at least through June 2017. That idea was criticized by some parents and activists who objected to the fact that Peaslee’s proposal, made public the day before Thanksgiving, didn’t give the public enough time to weigh in.
Peaslee first proposed a vote for Wednesday’s board meeting, but then delayed it for a week — until Dec. 10 — to allow more public comment.
The board discussed the possibility of a two-year contract extension at its regular board meeting Wednesday evening, as well as an amendment filed earlier in the day by board members Sue Peters and Betty Patu that would extend Nyland’s contract by just one year.
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Peters, one of the two board members who proposed a one-year extension for Nyland, said community engagement is not just something the board should aspire to; it is mandated by policy.
“We cannot push that aside when we’re making important decisions,” Peters said.
Peaslee said the board had planned to vote last month on what firm to use in a superintendent search. It decided to delay the vote until after the board’s evaluation of Nyland, which it finished last week. In it, the board praised Nyland, saying he stepped in with a “calm demeanor” and has met their expectations. Nyland fits what the public has previously said it wants in a superintendent, Peaslee said.
“We are not trying to pull a fast one,” Peaslee said. “We are not trying to do anything under the radar. We are not even trying to curtail public comment.”
Board member Marty McLaren agreed.
“I think it highly, highly unlikely that a search could yield a candidate so well suited to the challenges (as Nyland),” McLaren said.
Even with the delay, Peters and Patu said, Peaslee’s proposal does not fulfill the intent of the board’s policies on community engagement, which call for meaningful family involvement and transparent communication. They say their amendment is a compromise that would give the district stable leadership, as well as a chance for more public input.
Under their plan, the board would extend Nyland’s contract through June 2016 — one year beyond the expiration of his current contract. The board would review his performance next fall and decide then whether to extend it again.
This will allow flexibility and time to get to know Nyland better, Peters said.
“If we cut the public out of what we’re doing, we lose their trust,” she said. “But right now we only have four months of experience (with Nyland) to draw from. It would be helpful to have more.”
Several parents and activists brought up the issue during a public-comment period early in the meeting. Among them was Deb Escher, who urged the board to vote against hiring Nyland now.
“If our interim superintendent is indeed the best candidate, let that be the result of a thorough and at least regional candidate search and selection process,” Escher said. She said she has heard plenty of talk and ideas from Nyland but has seen no actions that warrant a “fast-track” job offer.
Parent Kate Martin told the board it should consider extending Nyland a three-year contract, but that it should build in time for at least a year before Nyland leaves. Nyland has said he will stay if the board wants him to, but that he is unsure whether he would remain superintendent as long as he did in Marysville, where he was superintendent for nine years.
Martin suggested finding a superintendent who is invested in Seattle for the long haul, and who can spend a year learning the ropes under Nyland before he retires.
“Maybe we (can) take a little more time identifying suitable candidates in our own backyard, as well as beyond,” Martin said.
Nyland, a Seattle native, came out of retirement to lead Seattle Public Schools in August after Banda left to run the Sacramento City Unified School District.
The board will vote Dec. 10 on whether to extend Nyland’s contract.
In its meeting Wednesday, the board elected new officers: Sherry Carr as president; Peaslee as vice president; and McLaren as board member at-large.