Go Back to the Drawing Board, from a Jeffco Dad

A Jeffco Dad shares his letter to the board:


To: Ken Witt, Board President; Julie Williams, 1st Vice President; John Newkirk, Board Secretary; Leslie Dahlkemper, 2nd Vice President; Jill Fellman, Board Treasurer;
CC: Jared Polis, US Representative, CO District 2; US Senator Mark Udall, US Senator Michael Bennett; State Representative Tracy Kraft-Tharp, District 29; State Senator Rachel Zenziger, District 19; Members of the press;
Subject: Please reconsider selecting Daniel McMinimee for Superintendent
Context: On Tuesday, May 27th, the Jefferson County Board of Education will hold a special meeting to hear community feedback on the appointment and proposed contract for the superintendent candidate, Daniel McMinimee [source: http://www.boarddocs.com/co/jeffco/Board.nsf/Public#]. This appointment is controversial for numerous reasons, some of which I state below.  I strongly urge the board, whom this letter is addressed, to reconsider appointing Mr. McMinimee as Superintendent for Jefferson County Public Schools and to find a more qualified candidate. I have copied my state and federal representatives and senators as well as the local press so that they are informed of how I and others in this community feel about the school board’s decision and to discuss with the community at-large.
Mr. Witt, Members of the Board,
Please go back to the drawing board.  Please do your due diligence when considering a candidate for Superintendent to present to the community.  Let me explain my assertions first by stating the known facts followed by how these facts are perceived by me and others in the community:
  1. This board paid Ray and Associates $40,000 of our tax money to fund a national executive search for a new superintendent for Jefferson County Public Schools.
  2. Of the 60 or so names provided by Ray and Associates, you chose only one candidate with no prior experience as superintendent anywhere.  Additionally you chose a candidate from neighboring Douglas County.  We’ll get to perceptions shortly.
  3. This board is proposing to offer Mr. McMinimee a 5-year, $280,000 per year contract.  The terms of the contract are 2½ times the term length and nearly 40% per year higher salary than Cindy Stevenson’s last contract.  Even when we account for inflation the remuneration is 30% higher.
  4. The current salary is comparable to the Douglas County Public School Superintendent, Elizabeth Celania-Fagan, who oversees a district smaller than Jeffco.  Compared to Denver Public Schools, McMinimee will earn 30% more for a comparably sized district.  However, more alarming, he will earn $30,000 more than Chicago’s Superintendent and $64,000 more than New York City’s Public School Superintendent, two of the largest school districts in the country. [source:http://www.douglascountyclassrooms.com/storage/documents/Walk_Flyer-2-23-12.pdf]
Let’s consider these facts with perceptions:
  1. Superintendent searches by previous boards involved in-person interviews with more than one candidate [source:  http://www.supportjeffcokids.org/how-much-vetting-did-they-do-as-a-board/].
    To my knowledge, Mr. McMinimee was the only candidate interviewed by this board.   I think the community deserves a full explanation of the interview process and how many candidates (and from where) were interviewed in person by every member of the board, not to mention the rationale for spending $40,000 when the board chose a candidate down the road with no experience running a school district. More troubling, a 3-2 vote to accept Mr. McMinimee clearly suggests uncertainty and a clear bias among certain board members. For a key position such as superintendent, a unanimous vote, particularly among a divided board, sends a positive message to the community that they have found a worthy candidate.
  2. For a candidate with no experience at the helm of a large school district, offering Mr. McMinimee a 5 year term is inherently risky.  Of course, the contract provides a remedy that allows the board to terminate him.  However this remedy comes at a steep cost for taxpayers – a full year’s salary – a minimum of another $280,000.  Nowhere in my experience in business has a contract as liberal as this been offered to candidates with little relevant experience.
  3. Mr. McMinimee’s track record in Douglas County in the course of the past few years is disturbing.  Reports from numerous news outlets including all local television news stations and the Denver Post have reported on the exodus of skilled, experienced and effective teachers, the low morale of the teaching staff who remain, and the frustrations of parents with children in that district.  More troubling is the perception that Mr. McMinimee will bring the same executive practices here to Jefferson County.  I for one am deeply concerned that teachers, principals, and staff that I know on a first name basis who have skillfully taught my children will be forced into a Hobbesian Choice and opt to leave because of ill-conceived, banal policies that have no demonstrable positive outcomes.
  4. Mr. McMinimee’s annual salary will be the second highest for all superintendents in Colorado, dwarfed by $350 going to Ms. Celania-Fagan for her role in Douglas County.   However the key distinction here is that Ms. Celania-Fagan has previous experience as superintendent, and presumably deserves the proportionate premium.  Moreover, New York City Public Schools has over 1.1 million students.  One would assume that an individual administering a district of that size would be paid commensurate to magnitude of its complexity and diversity.  However, that is not true in this case.  Our district is roughly 13 times smaller and Mr. McMinimee will receive a salary approximately 30% higher.
  5. Mr. McMinimee’s contract is completely remiss of any MBOs or other measurable incentives tying remuneration with outcomes.  Consider, for example, teacher retention rates, student graduation rates, or as the majority of the board is wont to do, district wide improvement in standardized assessments on parity with teaching evaluations (I would strongly caution the board to avoid this metric for both Mr. McMinimee and teaching staff).  Imagine if a CEO of a similarly-sized, publicly traded company in the commercial world was simply paid a handsome salary without clear, measurable goals built into the compensation plan.  Shareholders would be less than pleased.
Using the publicly traded company metaphor a moment more, I am a shareholder in Jefferson County Public Schools.  I am investing 3 children into it along with a share of taxes.  We are all shareholders and should be given the same voice as every other shareholder.
I’ll conclude with a quote from Thomas Paine that some on this board may know and possibly have cited in their political lives:
A body of men [and women] holding themselves accountable to nobody ought not to be trusted by anybody. [brackets are mine]
Mr. McMinimee is neither qualified for the position nor warrants the remuneration you propose.  Your credibility as a board is in peril of losing substantially greater credibility and trust with our community. I urge you to reconsider and start over.
Lastly, let me make this clear:  I am in no way affiliated with the JCEA or Jefferson County Public Schools.  I am a parent of three children attending public schools in this district. Over the course of several years, I have met many outstanding teachers, principals and staff in the district who I’ve had the privilege of teaching my kids.  Not only are these good people, they are dedicated, skilled and effective educators.  They deserve an executive that will support them in their mission rather than pursue deleterious policies documented in the press that Mr. McMinimee has been involved with in Douglas County. As a parent and shareholder in this district, I expect that the board to listen to and take into account the wide range of opinions held by this community – not just a small contingent of like-minded people who share your views.
Jim Earley, M.A.,
Westminster, CO