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Our view: District dust finally settling

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The timing of two recent District 833 School Board decisions may have been coincidental, but it certainly was symbolic.

In one action late last month, board members came to terms with outgoing Superintendent Mark Porter through a resignation agreement that puts an end to their troubled separation.

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Porter leaves the district where he spent more than 30 years - the last three as superintendent - with a severance package. But most of the financial benefits he earned in the agreement were explicitly afforded him in his contract, which the board had approved, and were guaranteed him even had he left the position on different terms.

There was no windfall payment in exchange for Porter waiving his right to sue the district over any contract disputes. Instead, the package generally seems reasonable - both for him and for district taxpayers - when considering an alternative scenario of costly litigation.

Still, it marked the end of a difficult period for the district. The experience ought to have taught board members the importance of doing their homework before ousting a superintendent - including, at the very least, being familiar with an employment contract they approved just years earlier.

Lesson learned, we hope. It's time to look forward.

After approving the Porter agreement, the board swiftly moved on to offer Keith Jacobus, the incoming superintendent, his contract. At first glance Jacobus' starting salary of $178,000 may seem like a lot of money to offer someone new to the district and the job, but factors outside the control of District 833 dictate that salary as much as anything. For better or worse, that's about the average salary for a superintendent of a large suburban school district.

Residents and parents in the South Washington County Schools also ought to feel good about the decision to hire Jacobus. He has a variety of experience and, perhaps, the ability to lead by getting buy-in from district staff and teachers. A good superintendent should not have to drag people along but have them willingly join the team and work together.

In interviews, Jacobus implied that he chose District 833 as well as the other way around; that bodes well. At 54, he is likely to have success here based on his experience and would stay and perhaps finish his career here. Stability and continuity are qualities greatly needed in the district.

He has the right mix of skills in finance, with experience in helping to design and market school levy votes, an issue facing the district in coming years. His master's degree in computer technology suggests an understanding what kids need in the classroom. However, we appreciated his comment that while technology is important, the cost is also a consideration and commitment should be made to technology that will last.

Interestingly, Jacobus is a recognized expert in brain research and said this will help him lead his staff to address the "achievement gap." We look forward to hearing more from him on that.

All superintendents, when interviewing for the job, say they will be visible in the community, including attending night and weekend events. We hope Jacobus makes it obvious he is following through on that commitment.

Welcome to South Washington County Schools, Keith Jacobus. It's time to move forward with you at the helm and students' best interests in mind.

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