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The search is on for new superintendent

The District 833 School Board meets in a planning session with members of SchoolExecConnect, who have been hired to search for a new superintendent. Bulletin photo by Judy Spooner

District 833 School Board members are charting the path toward hiring a new superintendent, even while addressing lingering concerns about Superintendent Mark Porter.

Board members met Saturday with SchoolExecConnect to set a timeline for the schools chief search and hiring process, but they also debated whether to hold a public meeting to answer questions about why Porter's contract was not renewed in December.

Board member Ron Kath said there are "many emotions" in the district among people who are unhappy with the board's decision. He asked Ken Dragseth, who is leading the SchoolExecConnect search team, if holding a town meeting to discuss the decision would be appropriate.

Dragseth, who attended the workshop with search consultants Toni Johns and Bob Osland, said his firm was not part of the board's decision and it "would be ridiculous for us to be involved" in a public meeting about Porter's contract non-renewal, Dragseth said.

The decision was well-publicized by the media, Kath said.

The Minnesota School Boards Association and the school district's attorney advised against a meeting, said board Chairwoman Leslee Boyd said.

"There are so many outrageous statements out there" and many statements that were reported inaccurately, board member Marsha Adou said. "There were creative answers and solutions that never happened," she said.

She suggested that Boyd write a question-and-answer piece that could be posted on the district's website.

It's up to the board, Dragseth said, but candidates ask about awkward situations. "They understand," he said.

The board might be limited in what they can say, Osland said.

Any statement that would go on the website would need unanimous board consent, said board member Jim Gelbmann, that wouldn't have "one person's spin on it."

With no further support for holding a town meeting or posting comments on the district's website, Kath said the board should move forward without doing either.

The board and Dragseth continued to discuss the estimated 10-week hiring process, advertising for the position and deciding a new superintendent's salary.

The first step will be to set up an information page on the district's website where the community, students and district staff can get information on the search process, Dragseth said.

Also, focus group meetings facilitated by SchoolExecConnect will be held with district staff members, the community, school groups, teacher's union representatives, principals, assistant superintendents, Porter and individual board members.

SchoolExecConnect should be aware that there is a "climate" in the district where people won't say what they think because they fear it will be used against them, Boyd said.

Osland said facilitators would hear that in interviews and meetings with the results given to board members.

"Even if it's malicious, we still get the feedback," Kath said.

Two search ads will be placed in "Education Week," a professional education publication, at a cost of $2,800, according to Dragseth. Ads will be on the magazine's website for a month, he said.

Much of the recruitment will come as a result of "going after people," he said.

The current superintendent's salary package is $165,000 a year, which is probably where it needs to be, according to Dragseth, adding that candidates currently in management positions in larger districts would be recruited.

In 24 searches he has conducted, there were no final selections that didn't result in a contract, Dragseth said.

Judy Spooner
Judy Spooner is the longest-serving staff writer at the South Washington County Bulletin. Spooner, who covers education and features in addition to writing a weekly column, has been with the newspaper for over 30 years.
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