Ahmadi, currently the Assistant Superintendent of Instruction for the Fremont Unified School District, will succeed Superintendent John Casey, effective with his retirement June 30 after eight years at the helm of Pleasanton schools.
Casey's current base salary is $227,000.
Ahmadi, who has extensive background in education and also served as Fremont schools' director of elementary education, received an enthusiastic round of applause at Tuesday's school board meeting. She introduced her husband, family and a number of Fremont school district administrators and teachers who joined her at the contract-approval ceremony.
Although her starting salary will be just $7,000 less than Casey's base pay, her total compensation package will be much less, according to Pleasanton school board President Chris Grant. He said there were other concessions in the contract that reduce the amount of the contract by about 15 percent per year.
"We also have made some adjustments, and this is in light of the budgetary situation and the challenges in every school district," Grant said. "There are modifications to the 401(k) contribution, modifications in the life insurance benefit, and modifications to the car allowance, all of which have a larger impact, closer to $26,000."
Grant explained that Ahmadi will receive $600 per month in car allowance, for a total of $7,200 a year, while Casey received $12,000 a year; she will receive a $500 term life insurance policy, as opposed to Casey's $5,000 term life; and Ahmadi will not receive the $10,000 annual annuity that was part of Casey's contract. In addition, she agreed to five furlough days, which will add up to another $4,900.
Grant said the board had put a lot of effort and thought into the hiring, including involving more than 200 people to create a profile of what they wanted in a superintendent.
Board members were clearly enthusiastic about working with Ahmadi.
"I think it's going to be fantastic," said Board Member Jaime Hintzke, who said she's already worked with Ahmadi in a professional capacity.
Grant said the board went to Fremont to meet behind closed doors with board members there and asked "'What's she really like?'" and that the board gave her an "unbelievably glowing" review.
He recalled a conversation with former School Board President Juanita Haugen, who told him, "There's no decision within your school district that's more important than choosing your superintendent."
Grant said he's excited about the hiring.
"When you talk to her about education, students, she says every student needs the opportunity to reach his or her potential," he said, adding she's very team oriented.
"Our district is very lucky to have you," Board Member Valerie Arkin, who headed the search committee, told Ahmadi.
For her part, Ahmadi promised to live up to the board's hopes for her.
"I know I have huge shoes to fill," she told the board. "I will do my best to live up to your expectations."
In an interview with the Pleasanton Weekly after the meeting, board members acknowledged that hiring a top candidate is a competitive process, and that the $220,000 contract agreement was based on expert advice from the search firm, Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates, Ltd. (HYA) and outside legal counsel, which have more experience with superintendent salaries across California.
"It was an employment agreement that was competitive and took into consideration the economic belt-tightening of our school district and I think should be viewed by our community as more favorable in light of the economic times, but also gets us a very well-qualified superintendent to lead the district," Grant said.
Hintzke said Pleasanton residents expect the school board to spend what it needs to in order to get the best possible person for the job.
The board anticipates it will pay nearly $30,000 for the search, the full amount it agreed to in its contract with HYA. Although it turned out that the "right" candidate was found less than a half hour away, HYA's search was nationwide - even international - bringing in at least one candidate from Canada along with others from Texas and the Midwest.
But not everyone agreed with the school board's decision to hire Ahmadi now.
Alex Sutton, head of the Classified School Employees Association (CSEA), wondered why the board didn't opt to go without a superintendent for a year and make use of the assistant superintendents instead, or to go with an interim superintendent from within at a lower cost.
"It was a concern among the closest members," he said, adding that many of them have lived in the district for a long time.
Still, Sutton said Ahmadi has had experience in negotiations, and thinks she's starting with the right ideas, like touring schools.
Close to 10 of her current coworkers - including the president of the Fremont Teacher's Union and CSEA members - came to the Pleasanton school board meeting, and at least one wept over the departure when Ahmadi stood to speak to the trustees.
After the board's vote on Ahmadi, it moved to other budget matters, including layoffs that will hit 16 full-time teachers, despite concessions agreed to by the CSEA, which recently approved three furlough days this year and six for the 2010-11 school year.
Board Member Pat Kernan said he appreciated the cooperation from the CSEA.
"You were in a no-win situation and I apologize for putting you in that situation," he told Sutton at the board meeting. "I thank you deeply for these concessions."
Some positions scheduled for cutbacks, such as library clerks and tech support people, could be saved by the Pleasanton Partnerships In Education Foundation's CORE (Community OutReach for Education) campaign.
Concessions made by the teacher's union will save the district $4.6 million, enough to get through the upcoming year, but the board is facing another $6.5 million in cuts for the 2011-12 school year. It is once again considering asking voters to approve a parcel tax that could bring in $4.2 million to $4.4 million.