Amid a mounting backlash from parents and teachers, Sonoma Valley school board trustees postponed a decision this week on whether to hire former Santa Rosa schools administrator Socorro Shiels and make her the highest-paid superintendent in the county.
The proposal called for a $225,000 annual salary, plus a $10,000 tuition reimbursement and $400 monthly car allowance.
Although the board postponed its decision, it is still committed to hiring Shiels, board member Sal Chavez said.
“The national search with more than 30 applicants across the country ended in us finding a candidate that we felt confident hiring then — and hiring now,” he said Wednesday.
A day earlier, more than 200 people packed the school board meeting at Altimira Middle School. Before board members headed into the closed-doors portion of the meeting, 15 people addressed them, the overwhelming majority speaking against the hiring of the former Santa Rosa City Schools superintendent.
When the board came out of the closed meeting more than an hour later, President Britta Johnson told the crowd the decision would be postponed until May 8. Johnson didn’t explain why she was pulling Shiels’ hiring and contract from the agenda.
During her three years at Santa Rosa City Schools, Shiels guided the county’s largest school district through two successful bond measures and a major change in the way the state funds schools. But her tenure also was marked by a relationship with teachers that often had been lukewarm, if not frosty.
She stepped down in 2016 to become one of four new directors at the California Collaborative for Educational Excellence, a state agency that advises districts under the state’s new accountability system. When she left the district, Shiels was making an annual salary of $190,968, up from $177,277 when she started in 2012.
Her successor, Diann Kitamura, currently is paid $200,000 annually to oversee the district of 15,100 students, more than three times the size of Sonoma Valley, which serves 4,100 students.
The Valley of the Moon Teachers Association has been a vocal opponent of Shiels since Sonoma Valley Unified announced in late March it planned to hire her. The union criticized the proposed salary and benefit package, calling the proposed contract a “slap in the face” to school employees.
“The contract fails to take into account that our district was nearly declared insolvent by our fiscal watchdog, Sonoma County Office of Education, just a few months ago,” said union representative Janet Hansen, reading a letter of opposition into the record Tuesday after the board postponed its decision.
“The contract fails to acknowledge that you have a fiduciary responsibility to spend the money wisely for this district,” she said.
Chavez said a committee will work on modifying the proposed contract. The new contract should be posted on the district website for the public to view by the evening of May 3
“Due to the large amount of public comment before closed session we decided it would be best to work responsibly toward a more acceptable contract,” he said.
Staff Writer Eloísa Ruano González contributed to this story.