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Our View: Public's voice must be heard in search process

South Washington County residents upset over the District 833 School Board's move to replace Superintendent Mark Porter had legitimate reasons to look upon board members with confusion and suspicion.

The action appeared to come out of nowhere and surprised many inside and outside the school system. It was not preceded by a controversy that gripped the school community. It was handled poorly by board members who seemed to take a "trust us" approach and may have lost public trust in the process. We later learned that a possible contract non-renewal was on the minds of at least some board members for months, even if it wasn't on the public radar.

The process was problematic and the outcome was perplexing, so people had reason to be frustrated. Vocal objections and written petitions in favor of Porter did not reverse the decision, and the board is moving forward with the search for Porter's replacement.

The board, with help from a paid consulting firm, has laid out a search timeline. It suggests the hiring process will take a full four months, but district residents interested in the process will want to get involved soon.

The board scheduled two public meetings to gather input on what residents want in a superintendent; one of those meetings already has passed. (It was Monday night in Cottage Grove.) The next meeting is 7 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 21 at Woodbury High School.

There are other ways to voice your opinion. The board created an online survey to collect input; it's at (Click on the "superintendent search" tab on the district's home page.) Also, focus groups will be convened by the board's consultants to solicit more input.

Just as people packed a recent board meeting when a summary of Porter's final evaluation was made public, we hope residents, teachers, parents and students turn out to share their thoughts on what skills and attributes are needed in his replacement.

That input should come from people angry over Porter's dismissal but also from those who wanted a new district leader, particularly because that group has not publicly expressed reasons why they support the board's decision.

Equally vital to this process are the opinions of the seven board members, five of whom initiated this search by voting against Porter. They were elected by district voters for their background, expertise, school involvement and vision.

They should make clear to the public their visions for the district in the coming years and what, specifically, they expect from a superintendent.

This will be among the most important decisions this board makes. We hope that as this process moves forward, it becomes clear to the board what the public - parents, teachers, taxpayers - wants in a superintendent.

And we certainly hope board members are genuinely interested in acting on that input.