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Search for Denver superintendent cost more than searches in 4 other districts combined

Months of searching for a Denver Public Schools superintendent resulted in a single finalist, and a cost greater than the total of similar searches in four other districts combined. 9Wants to Know asked the district to respond to multiple community concerns.

The search for Denver Public Schools' new superintendent is almost over, and after months of “rigorous” reviews of candidates -- the school board named a single finalist last week.

That finalist, the current deputy superintendent Susana Cordova, has been in Denver since the beginning.

Cordova graduated from a DPS school, and is the parent of a current student in the district. According to her biography, posted on the district’s website, she has also been a teacher and principal before moving into an administrative position.

Cordova was named as the sole finalist for the district’s top job after other candidates who the district said on its website “matched the qualifications” withdrew from the process in late November.

Those candidates’ names and qualifications were not made public. The district is expected to hire the superintendent on Dec. 17.

In all, DPS said it spent $161,375 on the search to find the new superintendent.

9Wants to Know surveyed other large Colorado school districts that also searched for a new superintendent in the last two years, and found that DPS spent more on its search than the others combined:

  • Jeffco Public Schools superintendent search: $46,370.97
  • Boulder Valley School District superintendent search: $43,510.32
  • Douglas County School District superintendent search: $43,923.33
  • Cherry Creek School District superintendent search: $11,000

Cherry Creek School District spent the least, and ultimately chose to promote the deputy superintendent, Scott Siegfried, in March.

Boulder Valley School District, Jeffco Public Schools and Douglas County School Districts hired the same firm to conduct their searches, Ray and Associates. The charges included the consultant fees and expense reimbursements for things like travel and lodging for candidates.

Boulder Valley and Douglas County schools each chose superintendents from out-of-state.

Rob Anderson is now the superintendent for Boulder Valley schools, and most recently worked in Atlanta.

Thomas Tucker was the superintendent of Princeton City Schools in Cincinnati, Ohio, and started as the new superintendent of Douglas County schools in July.

Jeffco Public Schools chose Jason E. Glass for the top job in 2017. Glass previously was the superintendent of Eagle County Schools.

DPS signed a contract for $80,300 with Dimension Strategies to set up community meetings, conduct an online survey and release a community engagement report. (Click/tap here to read that report: bit.ly/2Pn72fO)

DPS also selected HYA Associates to conduct the search for superintendent, and paid the firm $30,000 plus expenses.

RELATED | Denver Public Schools defends superintendent search firm

9Wants to Know asked multiple spokeswomen for DPS about whether the district considered hiring consultants that had lower fees. We received this response late Wednesday:

"The Board of Education invested in its first national search for a superintendent in more than 13 years in order to guarantee a process that was extensive, thorough and conducted with high integrity. Our finalist was selected following a recruitment effort involving 122 potential candidates and 41 completed applications. Throughout the community engagement process - which included more than 100 meetings and feedback from 4500 individuals - the Board demonstrated their commitment to engage with residents across Denver to listen carefully to the issues, concerns, and recommendations raised by members of the community. The board takes seriously its obligations to Denver taxpayers and is using the feedback from this initiative to inform the district’s work for years to come."

After announcing a single finalist, DPS heard from many concerned community members about Cordova’s perceived conflict of interest. Her husband, Eric Duran, is a senior vice president at an investment firm called D.A. Davidson.

On its website, D.A. Davidson describes itself as a “recognized leader in charter school financing” and said that since 1998, it has financed more than $2.5 billion for charter schools across the country. Duran is directly involved with charter school financing, according to the company’s website.

In an email sent to 9NEWS on Tuesday, D.A. Davidson said that since 2010 it had financed three bonds for charter schools in Denver, including two bonds for more than $37 million for Monarch Montessori School, and also provided financing for Highline Academy’s $8 million bond in 2011.

Highline Academy and Monarch Montessori are charter schools in Denver and have a contract with the DPS Board of Education that outlines the schools’ programming and performance goals.

DPS said that neither the district nor its leadership has any authority to influence the non-profit boards that operate the charter schools.

In an emailed statement to 9NEWS, DPS spokeswoman Jessie Smiley said: “When community members raised a concern about a potential conflict of interest involving the deputy superintendent and the firm that employs her husband, DPS thoroughly reviewed the claims and found no evidence to support them.”

The email further stated: “Under state law, approved charter schools are permitted to secure their own facilities and choose the companies they work with to finance them. DPS is not a party to charter facility agreements and is not involved in those decisions or deals.”

Samuel Doyle, president of fixed income capital markets for D.A. Davidson, emailed a statement Tuesday pledging not do work with the district or public charter schools in Denver if Susana Cordova becomes superintendent.

“In order to avoid any real or perceived conflict of interest, D.A. Davidson & Co. is committed to not undertake any financings with the district or any public charter schools in Denver during Susana Cordova’s tenure as the superintendent of the district,” the email said.

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