Carla Santorno will take the reigns as chief of Tacoma Public Schools, after the school board voted four to one to appoint her for the interim superintendent position.
Santorno has served as deputy superintendent for Tacoma for the past two years, and will be the first black female leader of the district, and the first female superintendent in the district’s history.
The decision was made in spite of some negative feedback from community members, as a cost-saving and stabilizing measure for the district during extremely difficult financial times.
Santorno will begin working as superintendent-elect (interim) alongside current Superintendent Art Jarvis during his last six months on the job.
After that, she has signed on for a 12-month interim role in which she will face board evaluations every six months, with an option for a larger superintendent search after 12 months on the job.
“She is the best choice for inside the district and at the state and national level,” said Board President Kurt Miller prior to voting Oct. 13. “I’ve been able to watch Carla for the last two years,” he said, rather than the two hours they would spend interviewing new candidates.
After former Superintendent Charles Milligan resigned in 2007, the district hired Jarvis out of Seattle to fill the interim role while the board conducted a national search.
The board spent months, countless meetings, community input sessions and thousands of dollars on the search, and ultimately hired Jarvis on for the permanent position.
A majority of the board members agreed conducting a full national search would be costly in a time when money is scarce, and may be daunting for the two new board members who will join the team after an election next month.
Board member Debbie Winksill was the only member to state she believed the new members should have a voice in the matter. She also cast the one dissenting vote.
Board member Catherine Ushka-Hall stressed she had heard much public comment on both sides of the debate. She said her reasons for hiring Santorno for an interim role was to help eliminate the learning curve that would come with an outside candidate and to recognize the existing strengths within the district.
“I think we should promote from within – we do have talent in Tacoma,” she said.
Board members stressed that time was of the essence, and funds were short to pay for a full search. Hiring Santorno now allows her to learn her new position while Jarvis is still available, and also frees up time for Jarvis to have a strong presence in Olympia during the legislative session.
New board members will have a say later in Santorno’s term if she is not performing up to par, and be able to choose to re-evaluate at that point.
“I disagree with any argument that we can take the time” to find a new superintendent, said Board member Kim Golding, who is finishing out her term on the board.
“Who would know better at this point what needs to be done next other than the person who is working on it right now.
“The cost (of a search) is astounding to me. The money that would be spent in a search could be better spent elsewhere – or not spent at all.”
Santorno said she does not take the role of superintendent lightly.
“I want those people who have voiced their concerns to know that I’ve heard it. I really want people to know I started as a teacher, and I know that work. My primary goal as superintendent is to make sure we have that support in the classroom. And I’m optimistic about the work that we need to do.”