Published Jan. 22, 2021
By ALICIA KRUEGER
At Carmel Unified School District’s Jan. 20 school board meeting, interim superintendent Trisha Dellis announced her plan to finish her contract and retire on June 30, 2021, leaving the board to begin the search for the district’s sixth superintendent in the past six years.
“With two new board members, there is a new dynamic with different personalities and priorities, and with the new grouping, it really feels like they need to go through the process of finding a person they feel really good about,” Dellis says. “I love it here and love the people who work here, but it has been a difficult time for everyone, and I didn’t anticipate that part being as intense as it has been. Now is the right time for the district to start fresh with someone new. I’m hoping it will help the community heal and move forward together.”
After Dellis’ announcement at the latest board meeting, the board members made a motion to conduct a superintendent search and an additional motion for a public board meeting except with only one agenda item called a “special school board meeting” that will be scheduled and conducted within the next two weeks in order to discuss the parameters of the search.
Board member Karl Pallastrini explained that at such a meeting, the board will decide what type of search they want to conduct and how they want to do so. Various options, including hiring from within the district, hiring locally, hiring within California, hiring on the west coast and hiring nationally, are on the table. Additionally, board members will decide if they want to hire and utilize a search firm to find candidates to fill the superintendent position, potentially costing anywhere from $20,000 to $30,000.
“One of the advantages to using a search firm is that they are a neutral entity,” Pallastrini says. “A big search firm will be able to survey and gauge the community to understand what they want. And if it is coming from them, people tend to be more honest and open about what they truly think.”
If a search firm is necessary the board would describe the superintendent position and what they are looking for in terms of filling it, and about two to three firms will apply. The board would interview such teams and, ultimately, select the best firm for the job. From there, the firm would survey the community, search for candidates, vet three to seven selected candidates and present two to three of them as finalists. Finalists would then go through an extensive interview process with parent, student, administrative, business and resource representatives.
Should a search firm be used, Pallastrini says, current district employees would be eligible to apply within a larger national, state or regional search and would, therefore, be competing with a larger applicant pool.
A search firm would not be necessary if the board decides to hire from within the district as the position would be posted to current employees only.
“I would like to hire from within,” noted board member Anne-Marie Rosen at the Jan. 20 meeting. “I think it is all about synergy, especially within this district because it is so large and so diverse. It requires a special somebody and that special somebody needs to know what is going on here.”
Other board members have not noted their preferences thus far.
“This district is built on relationships, and we’ve got some rebuilding to do,” adds Carmel High School teacher Bill Schrier, president of the district’s California Teachers Association chapter. “I am a big advocate of hiring from within because if you hire from within you know the candidate’s character.”
After Marvin Biasotti, the CUSD superintendent of 15 years, retired in 2015, the then school board hired Leadership Associates to act as the search firm and hired Scott Laurence in the spring of that year. After working as superintendent for two years, Laurence left the district on paid sick leave in 2016, receiving a $100,000 payout and chief human resources officer Karen Hendricks stepped in as the acting superintendent. Once Hendricks’ stay ended, the district opted for another national search and hired Dr. Barbara Dill-Varga in 2017.
According to California’s tenure laws, public school districts are required to either sign teachers and administrators onto a tenure contract or dismiss them. After working for CUSD for two years, Dill-Varga signed her tenure contract, but in May 2020, she was put on paid leave receiving $312,084.60 in wages and benefits until May 2021, according to Transparent California, and was replaced by now interim superintendent Trisha Dellis, who, like Hendricks, had previously served as CUSD’s chief human resources officer.
“This is a difficult district for fit,” Pallastrini says. “Most districts aren’t constructed like this one. Most districts don’t have three very different communities like we do. It is hard, not impossible, for someone to come into the community without a background like that.”