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Will School Board's decision diminish appeal for next superintendent?

District 833 School Board members have a big assignment ahead of them as they search a new superintendent early next year, a task some think will be complicated by divisions on the board and other factors.

The details of that search process are unclear and were not discussed by board members when they voted earlier this month to not renew South Washington County Schools Superintendent Mark Porter's contract, which expires June 30.

However, even before a search plan is laid out there are mixed opinions on how the board's handling of Porter's contract could affect the hunt for his successor. Some say the district's size and location make it attractive to administrators, while others argue top-flight candidates may hesitate given that the board's decision was not unanimous.

Marsha Adou voted against an extension for Porter. Adou said the position should attract "wonderful candidates" and she did not view the board's split decision as problematic for the upcoming search.

"We're a really good school district and we really don't have a lot of problems," she said.

Adou was joined in the vote by board members Leslee Boyd, Tracy Brunnette, Ron Kath and David Kemper.

Boyd, the board chairwoman, said after the Dec. 15 vote that board members "will be discussing" the search process, but has not elaborated on that. The board's next meeting is a workshop Jan. 12.

The board's action that created the superintendent opening is among many factors considered by applicants, said Gary Amoroso, executive director of the Minnesota Association of School Administrators.

Amoroso, a former Lakeville school superintendent, said a schools chief candidate wants to "have a good sense of dynamics," because a superintendent works closely with and answers to a school board.

"That is always part of the conversation," he said. "During the interview process, the candidate is doing as much interviewing of the board as the board of the candidate."

Amoroso said District 833's large size and location will be appealing to candidates. Above all else, he said, candidates are looking at how they align with the district's vision.

Amoroso said superintendent searches generally take at least a few months.

Laurie Johnson, who with Jim Gelbmann voted against ending Porter's tenure, said she does not know how the search will proceed or whether the board will seek an interim schools chief or a standard three-year agreement. Johnson said hiring an interim superintendent would be a mistake that would provide more disruption than stability.

Johnson said she doesn't know how they will attract a strong candidate to work for a board that is dismissing its superintendent at a time when the district is "firing on all pistons" and succeeding in many areas.

"I'm frustrated about what we're going to do next," she said.

Gelbmann said candidates' top concern could be the board's dynamics, which could make it difficult to find a high-caliber administrator.

Gelbmann said the district needs to "find the best person possible - who will agree to take the job."

Other factors could come into play, said Porter, who worked for the district when previous superintendents were hired. The district had a hard time generating a deep field of candidates the last time a thorough external search was used, he said, acknowledging that circumstances could be different next year.

Still, Porter, who expressed confusion over the board's decision on his contract and is not expected to have a role in the upcoming search, said "the functionality of the board" might be a factor. The effort also could be complicated because of compensation issues, he said.

Porter's compensation, including a $159,900 annual salary, is lower than is provided superintendents in some other comparable school districts.

"I think it could be pretty challenging," he said.

Scott Wente

Scott Wente has been editor at the South Washington County Bulletin since 2011. He worked as a reporter at other Forum Communications newspapers from 2003 to 2011.

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