District 11 Superintendent Michael Thomas speaks during the 2019 Palmer High School graduation in May at The Broadmoor World Arena in Colorado Springs.

Six new superintendents begin leadership duties at public school districts across the Pikes Peak region Monday, the start of the fiscal year.

Some school boards went through bumpy rides in reaching their selections.

A March blizzard delayed the superintendent vote by several weeks in Lewis-Palmer School District 38 in Monument.

Academy School District 20’s first choice withdrew from consideration in April four days before she was to be confirmed.

Harrison School District 2’s board was deadlocked on a 2-2 vote in March on hiring existing district leadership but a few months later agreed on hiring the pair for the state’s first “dual superintendent” model.

Manitou Springs School District 14’s board hired Harrison D-2’s third finalist as its next superintendent.

The Colorado School for the Deaf and the Blind’s top choice for superintendent drew sharp criticism from deaf activists, who wanted a hard-of-hearing or deaf leader.

The job is tougher than it used to be, said Ken DeLay, executive director of the Colorado Association of School Boards, a trade organization.

“It’s a uniquely challenging position in this day and age,” he said.

Superintendents of large districts oversee budgets of hundreds of thousands of dollars and manage thousands of employees. Those in rural districts are faced with a teacher shortage and wearing multiple hats, often working as principals and teachers as well.

All are responsible for meeting educator accountability and student performance measures, handling parents and dealing with today’s complicated politics of education.

“The superintendent is one on the front line of sorting everything out while running a large organization,” DeLay said.

In smaller towns, the superintendent might be the highest-paid leader in the community, he said.

The reason: “You’re not competing with local business but with school districts across this state and around the country.”

Thus, a competitive salary is necessary to secure a great superintendent, DeLay said, one that will constitute “an investment” and “lead to not only better results for your kids, but also a leaner and more efficient budget.”

Several superintendents working in the Pikes Peak region earn base salaries nearing $250,000.

Keith Owen, superintendent of Fountain-Fort Carson School District 8, the region’s sixth-largest school district, appears to be the region’s top-paid superintendent, with a starting salary of $248,227 for the coming school year, plus benefits.

Owen has 12 years of experience as a superintendent and Deputy Education Commissioner for the state of Colorado, a factor in determining his compensation, D-8 spokeswoman Christy McGee said.

Experience, doctoral degrees and being a good fit for the district are among the considerations, DeLay said.

Michael Thomas, who became superintendent of Colorado Springs School District 11, the region’s largest school district, one year ago, was hired at a base salary of $245,000 under a three-year contract. His raise for the coming school year was not available.

That’s the same amount the new superintendent of Academy D-20 is receiving.

“I do not think superintendents in this state are overpaid,” DeLay said, adding that, in general, Colorado positions pay less than districts on the nation’s coasts or larger Midwest cities but more than southern states.

“I’d say with great confidence that every superintendent that’s doing a good job is earning every penny of what they’re being paid,” he said.

• Academy D-20’s new superintendent, J. Thomas “Tom” Gregory, the district’s deputy superintendent and chief financial officer since 2016, has a three-year contract with a base salary of $245,000, according to documents. D-20 is the region’s second-largest school district but is poised to take the top spot next school year as enrollment grows.

Gregory’s benefits include an annual medical exam up to $500, professional memberships up to $1,500, an additional $2,100 per month for functions and events, reimbursement for expenses and insurance.

Superintendent Mark Hatchell, who’s retiring after 12 years as D-20 superintendent, had a base salary of $248,342 for the 2018-2019 school year.

• The Colorado School for the Deaf and the Blind’s new superintendent, Nancy Benham, who has worked at the New York State School for the Deaf since 2016, will earn $150,000 under a one-year contract. She also received a $5,000 signing bonus, the contract states, and normal vacation, insurance and leave conditions for Colorado Department of Education employees.

Retiring Superintendent Carol Hilty’s contract for the school year that just concluded was for $132,999, up from $108,000 in 2005, when she took the job.

• Harrison School District 2’s new dual superintendents, Wendy Birhanzel and John Rogerson, who had been interim co-chief operating officers since June 2018, each will earn $170,000 annual base salary, under a three-year contract.

In addition to health benefits, vacation and insurance, the district will pay $500 per month to each for transportation; cover the cost of dues for memberships to professional organizations; pick up charges for district-owned phones, laptops and home Internet service; and pay expenses.

Former Superintendent Andre Spencer’s last contract, which ended June 2018, carried a base salary of $172,429, with stipends under a pay-for-performance system that now has been suspended and is under review.

While it might appear that having two superintendents is costing D-2 more money, board President Steve Seibert said that’s not the case.

Spencer, who quit in April 2018, had three assistant superintendents, who each earned upwards of $170,000.

“Collectively in salaries, that was close to $1 million,” Seibert said.

Birhanzel and Rogerson do not have assistant superintendents.

“Essentially we’ve taken four positions down to two,” Seibert said, “for a net savings that is far less than we were spending.”

Their salaries were based on a scale and took into consideration experience, he said.

The board’s decision to hire two leaders instead of one came out of a revolving door of leadership, he said.

“In the past, several turnovers of superintendents has been very disruptive to the philosophy, staff and structure of our district,” Seibert said. “Our thought was if we have turnover with just half of the leadership, we wouldn’t have the radical shifting.”

The culture and climate of the district has improved in the past year, he said, under the leadership of Birhanzel and Rogerson. Turnover was down 22% last month among licensed professionals from one year ago, and there was a 67% decrease in principal and assistant principal resignations last month, according to district figures.

“It feels like we’re in a really good position now,” Seibert said.

• Lewis-Palmer School District 38’s new superintendent, Kenneth Christopher “K.C.” Somers, who was principal of Columbine High in Littleton in 2014 and since September 2017 has worked as the learning community director for Aurora Public Schools, will earn $170,000 under a three-year contract. Benefits include $4,000 in moving expenses, a $5,000 automobile allowance, vacation, professional memberships and activities, other expenses and insurance.

He’s eligible for a $50,000 retention bonus for staying until the contract ends on June 30, 2022.

Retiring Superintendent Karen Brofft earned $190,032 last school year, up from $148,000 when she started in 2014. She had a similar contract, with a $60,000 bonus if she stayed until the contract ended on June 30, 2021.

• Manitou Springs School District 14’s new superintendent, Elizabeth Domangue, an assistant education professor at the University of Northern Colorado who worked for Harrison D-2 for eight years, including as a principal, will receive $130,000 annually, as per a three-year contract. Benefits include insurance, vacation, professional membership dues and transportation expenses.

Retiring Superintendent Ed Longfield, who had been in the job for 10 years, earned a $163,150 base salary for the school year that just ended, and similar benefits.

Contact the writer: 719-476-1656.

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