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Seattle School Board Weighs Options For Interim Superintendent Nyland's Future

Seattle Public Schools
Larry Nyland

One item on Wednesday night's Seattle School Board agenda drew a lot of attention when it was posted on the night before Thanksgiving: a proposal to open up talks to hire interim superintendent Larry Nyland on a permanent basis.

Ahead of Wednesday night's meeting, two board members floated another plan: extend Nyland's temporary contract into 2016, keeping Nyland at the district's helm on an interim basis for another year.

That proposal, from board members Betty Patu and Sue Peters, echoed the concerns of at least one influential district-watcher that Seattle school leaders had tried a back-door move to install Nyland permanently, without offering members of the public enough opportunity to comment.

A Search Would Be 'Insanely Destabilizing'

Board vice president Sharon Peaslee vehemently denied the charges the district was trying to "pull a fast one" in offering Nyland a contract through June 2017. She joined newly-selected board president Sherry Carr and board member Marty McLaren in speaking forcefully against opening up a search for a new leader when, they say, the district already has a perfectly-qualified administrator in the superintendent's office.

"It would be insanely destabilizing to do another national or even regional search at this time," Peaslee said. "Searches such as our last few are a spin of the wheel. They have a seismic impact that can damage a district to its foundation. People do not agree on the candidates or the final appointment. The board usually does not agree."

Board member Harium Martin-Morris also voiced support of a motion to offer a permanent contract to Nyland, apparently giving the proposal the four-vote majority it would need to pass at a special meeting of the board next week.

'A False Choice'

But Patu and Peters say it's premature to offer the job on a permanent basis to Nyland, who is Seattle's fifth school superintendent in 10 years. They offered what Peters termed a "consensus" plan to keep Nyland on for another year-and-a-half while keeping the door open to beginning a search for a replacement who might stay for longer than three years.

Nyland previously served as superintendent for the Marysville School District for nine years before retiring in 2013.

"I think a false choice has been put before us tonight, and that is if we don't do what is proposed in the first motion, we will have to do a 'national' search," Peters said, adding that the district could undertake a search with a smaller scope. "I still respect the fact that members of the board have already been involved in multiple searches and they might not have the interest in doing one right now. That, again, is why our proposal would address that, deferring a search to a year from now, or not at all."

"Four months," Patu added, "is not a long time to really get to know anyone."

'Why Is There A Rush?'

Board president Sharon Peaslee announced Monday the district wouldn't act on the motion to open up permanent contract talks until next week's meeting, and said during Wednesday's meeting the board would make an exception to a policy preventing public comments on personnel contracts.

The head of a parent group that's raised concerns about Seattle elementary schools rushing students through lunch and recess time was one of several public commenters criticized what she termed the board's haste.

"Why is there a rush to hire a not-yet-proven candidate," Deb Escher said, "but no rush to give our children a convenient time to eat?"

At Wednesday night's meeting, board members also selected a new slate of officers. Peaslee, who served as board president for a year, ceded the post to Carr. Board members then elected Peaslee as vice president.

Kyle Stokes covers the issues facing kids and the policies impacting Washington's schools for KPLU.