School Board makes surprise move, announces interim supe at Tuesday’s meeting

Morgan Hill Unified School District Board of Education member Ron Woolf speaks during a meeting Tuesday evening.

The Morgan Hill Unified Board of Education made a bold and united stand Tuesday, keeping it in the family and appointing Steve Betando as the interim superintendent for the departing Wes Smith, who notified the district last week that he will be leaving at the end of June.

Instead of rushing to hire a permanent replacement, the Board announced that Betando, MHUSD’s Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources, agreed to accept the top position for as long as he is needed.

“We will spend our last few months working hard with Wes and then we will turn our energies toward the direction of Steve,” said Board President Don Moody, who thanked the newly-appointed interim supe “for your willingness to work with us.”

Betando, who joined the district as an interim assistant superintendent in January 2012 and held that role until coming aboard full-time in his current capacity six months later, was delighted for the opportunity, considering it “an honor to be in Morgan Hill.”

Betando has not signed his contract yet and his new salary has not been determined, according to Executive Secretary to the Superintendent Julie Zintsmaster.

Smith, who is making $198,200 in his final year with the district, accepted an offer April 20 to serve as the Executive Director of the Association of California School Administrators effective July 1.

“I thank the trustees for trusting me to help you with the transition and helping the district with the transition,” said Betando, who previously worked as an assistant superintendent in the San Lorenzo Valley, Fremont Unified and Stanislaus Union school districts.

Smith’s last official day with the district is June 30.

Although the meeting agenda called for a discussion on the steps for hiring the next superintendent, the Board instead focused on the importance of promoting from within and not jumping to a snap decision of looking outside the district.

“I think it’s the right thing to do that we have appointed an interim superintendent,” said trustee Ron Woolf, who has worked with 11 superintendents in his 35-year education career. “I think the interim superintendent should be appointed for a minimum of one year.”

His fellow Board members agreed.

Determining Smith’s permanent replacement “is not something we want to rush,” trustee Rick Badillo added. “I think we’re in good hands.”

Vice President Shelle Thomas liked the idea of having someone in place who is familiar with the district and the direction the Board wants to move in. She even shunned the idea of bringing in someone from the outside who may have different ideas.

“For me right now, there isn’t somebody else out there who’s going to come in on their horse and rescue us,” Thomas said. “I want to keep it moving forward and I don’t want somebody new to the district to come in and superimpose their vision on a vision that really we’ve worked through these last 3.5 years.”

Those “3.5 years” were all under Smith, who offered his best advice on the search process for the next superintendent. Smith said that it was “late in the season” to find a top quality superintendent and that most districts start their recruiting process as early as January.

“This community and this Board value community input and you’re going to want the search firm to go through those steps,” suggested Smith of not rushing to find his replacement by the start of next school year. “It’s probably going to take you four to five months (to get the adequate community input.)”

The Board expanded that timeline even further when they asked Betando if he’d be willing to work on an interim basis through at least all of the 2013-14 school year. Betando obliged and added there would be no hurt feelings if another superintendent candidate was brought on instead of him after the search process was completed.

Trustee Claudia Rossi believes Betando is already the right man for the job. She liked the fact that he started in education as a teacher in the Franklin-McKinley and Salida Union school districts. Rossi also thought it was beneficial that Betando served as a vice principal and principal in the Stanislaus Union School District during his education career that dates back to 1984.

“I’m very happy with our transition plan,” Rossi said. “I do question a process where you are looking everywhere and then you end up hiring the person you had here all along.”

Morgan Hill resident and parent Roy Bannister offered his input, asking the Board to find someone “who is going to stay the course” and “who really wants to put their roots in the community and stay in the community.”

“Let’s find somebody who is going to stay here five to 10 years,” said Bannister. “There’s a lot of issues. There’s a lot of concerns.”

MHUSD replaced former superintendent Jim Crow with Carolyn McKennan in 1996. Both served nine-year terms. McKennan’s successor, Alan Nishino, served for four years from 2005 to 2009 before Smith took over. Smith’s 3.5-year tenure is the shortest since the original superintendent, Dr. H.M. Nicholson, lasted just one year in 1966.