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Board hires search firm in front of standing-room-only crowd

Some supporters of Superintendent Mark Porter were forced to stand as residents packed the District 833 School Board meeting room Thursday night to express anger about his firing. The turnout coincided with the board's decision to hire a consultant at $18,500 to lead the search for Porter's replacement.

Board members in December voted not to renew Porter's contract on a 5-2 vote. Board Chairwoman Leslee Boyd and members David Kemper, Marsha Adou, Tracy Brunnette and Ron Kath voted not to renew the contract. Laurie Johnson and Jim Gelbmann voting against the measure.

During a workshop Thursday, the packed audience listened as Ken Dragseth, representing SchoolExecConnect, outlined to the board a search process for a new superintendent, with Gelbmann and Johnson saying they were opposed.

As the regular meeting got under way, Boyd, following board policy, said the board would listen to public comments but would not make any comments of their own.

Those who spoke said Porter is a man of integrity who deserved a job evaluation he didn't get. Others said that had they known beforehand that the board planned to end Porter's contract, they might have voted differently in the November election. Boyd, Kath and Gelmbann were re-elected.

Some said board members who voted against Porter had given no reasons why Porter's contract was not renewed.

The board later voted 5-2, with Gelbmann and Johnson opposed, to hire Dragseth's SchoolExecConnect, for $18,500, plus expenses, to conduct a regional and national search for a new superintendent.

After the vote, Boyd read a summary of a performance evaluation conducted during a closed meeting Dec. 15, just before the public vote not to renew Porter's contract. That summary is required by the Minnesota Open Meeting Law. (The Bulletin has questioned whether under law that summary should have been presented at a Jan. 12 board meeting; Boyd has said the board received direction from the Minnesota School Boards Association to present the summary at the Jan. 26 meeting.)

Evaluation forms were sent to board members a week before the Dec. 15 meeting. "Scores were then calculated and discussed in the closed meeting," Boyd said.

Six categories were covered including: education, instruction and staffing; finance and negotiations; district goals and progress; communication; relationships and leadership.

"Superintendent Porter scored highest in finance and negotiations," Boyd said.

In the categories of education, instruction and staffing and relationships, Porter generally scored well on questions related to district staff members.

Six board members felt Porter was unsatisfactory or needed improvement in "maintaining effective relationships with staff," she said.

Porter scored lowest in district goals and progress, communications and leadership.

In communication and leadership, a majority of the board scored him as unsatisfactory or needs improvement in all but one question in those sections, Boyd 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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