With contract inked, new CUSD super gets ready for July start

According to the terms of his contract, signed at last week’s school board meeting, incoming Claremont Unified School District Superintendent James Elsasser, EdD will be paid $218,000 per year.

His paycheck is higher than that of his predecessor, Terry Nichols, notes CUSD board president Jeff Stark. However, because certain benefits were taken out of the current contract, the overall package is in line with past superintendents. The key items not included in Mr. Elsasser’s contract were a car allowance and life insurance.

“We put it into full face value. It was important for us to be transparent,” he said.

Mr. Stark shared the process of how the board determined the new superintendent’s salary. They looked at what superintendents are paid in the surrounding 10 school districts and strived to reach a median. The resulting figure is “quite a bit less than” what is paid to the head of the Bonita School District, which clocks in at about $268,000, but more than what is paid to Azusa’s superintendent.

“If you want people to stay, you do have to pay them for what they’re worth,” Mr. Stark said.

Mr. Elsasser’s contract, which covers the period from July 1, 2012 to June 30, 2016, includes the same benefits granted to any other management employee, according to the board president.

Mr. Elsasser has an allowance for job-related expenses, but must submit receipts for reimbursement on a monthly basis. Any expense exceeding $1500 requires prior board approval. 

The superintendent also has an allowance for professional development and, given the nature of his job, it’s likely he will attend more conferences than most management personnel. It’s closely monitored, with advance approval required for any event that takes the superintendent out of state or that costs more than $1500.

Mr. Elsasser has served as a district administrator before, as assistant superintendent of human resources for the Anaheim City School District and, before that, as director of classified personnel and special projects for the Los Alamitos School District. Prior to joining Los Alamitos, Mr. Elsasser was a teacher, assistant principal and principal in the Downey Unified School District.

Despite the new hire’s varied experiences, Mr. Stark said “being a first-time superintendent is very difficult.”

To help with the adjustment, Mr. Elsasser will begin his term by conferring with a Professional Development Coach, a process stipulated by his contract and funded by the district. It is likely that Mr. Elsasser, who is encouraged to select his own mentor with superintendent experience, will reach out to a superintendent from one of the districts for which he has worked in the past.

Along with the professional guidance of his coach, he will be evaluated by the CUSD board at least once annually, starting with the 2012-2013 school year.

Mr. Elsasser’s contract allows for 24 days of paid vacation per year, exclusive of holidays. The contract specifies the superintendent may “cash out” up to 10 accrued unused days in July at the end of the school year; the lump-sum payment is subject to normal withholdings.

The contract is very “bare-bones,” Mr. Stark says, noting that Mr. Elsasser was “all for” the agreement’s what-you-see-is-what-you-get quality.

“Jim is a hugely ethical guy,” he said. “I think he’s going to be a great superintendent for us.”

CUSD has experienced significant turnover among superintendents in recent years, going through 3 district heads—Sheralyn Smith, David Cash and Terry Nichols—since 2006. Mr. Nichols, notably, resigned in 2010 after less than 2 years in office, trading CUSD for the Duarte School District. Gloria Johnston has served as interim superintendent since that time.

Mr. Stark says he has high hopes the new superintendent will stay for at least a few years.

“I believe it’s a really good fit for Jim and for us at this time in his career,” he said.

The board president noted that things have changed from the time when a school district superintendent would stay with a district for a decade or more. Five years, he says, is now considered “a good run.”

“It’s not what it used to be. Superintendents come and go,” Mr. Stark said. “What happens is that after a superintendent has been at a place a couple of years and they’ve done good work, they’re in play—lots of different districts become interested in them. So lots of them go on to new challenges where the pay is higher.”

At the last school board meeting—which was packed with supporters of former Sumner Principal Frank D’Emilio—Mr. Elsasser got an earful of the district’s most recent challenge. Though emotions ran high as community members urged the school board to reconsider its decision to dismiss Mr. D’Emilio from the district, the new administrator was undaunted.

“I talked to him right after and he said, ‘You know, my kids turned to me and said, ‘Everyone was so nice,’” Mr. Stark said. 

Along with showing the community’s solidarity, the outpouring of support had another benefit, Mr. Stark said.

“It could have been that we introduced him in front of 10 people. Instead, we introduced him to a whole lot of people.”

Mr. Elsasser steps in to his new role helming CUSD in July, which will allow him time to get acclimated to the community.

“Each school carries its own culture and we don’t want that changed,” Mr. Stark emphasized. “We like the fact that there’s something unique about our schools.”

—Sarah Torribio



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