Herald JournalHerald Journal, June 28, 2004

LP continues process for new superintendent

By Ryan Gueningsman

The Lester Prairie School Board asked for public input - and public input it got.

Close to a dozen people showed up at last Monday’s meeting to discuss and hear options about the structuring of the school district’s administrative system following Supt. James Redfield’s resignation effective July 1.

Board Chairman Fred Blaser said that he had received a letter from the school district’s legal counsel in regard to hiring within the current administration.

“If we did decide to go with hiring internally, we wanted to check with federal laws as far as hiring guidelines, and as far as they know, there are no problems with doing that,” Blaser said.

What has been discussed on the school board level is offering the position of superintendent to Joe Miller, which would vacate the high school principal position.

“With that in mind, two people (three counting Miller) have credentials to be principal,” Blaser said. Elementary Principal Pam Lukens and activities director/teacher Hal Stevens are also licensed to be a principal.

“What we have looked is making Miller superintendent, making Lukens k-12 principal, in charge of k-12, with Stevens being assistant principal and taking care of the day- to-day functions of the high school side,” Blaser said.

“The direction of the high school would be Lukens’ charge, but it was never my intention that she would take over k-12 and supervise all k-12. I have a lot of faith in her, but she couldn’t do it,” Blaser said.

“I couldn’t do it,” Lukens said.

Stevens currently has other roles at the school, including activities director and teaching, so if “we would let him be assistant principal of the high school, we would also have to fill those positions,” Blaser said. Stevens would continue as activities director, also.

“None of our staff members wear one hat,” Blaser said. “They all have several responsibilities.”

Several parents in attendance voiced concern about seeing Stevens in that position of authority. No one else currently within the administration has the credentials to serve as assistant principal, but board member Jeff Hecksel said that may be a position that could be advertised for.

“The school needs a shot of fresh blood,” commented resident Deb Johns. “No disrespect to anyone that’s already there, but I think it needs a new outlook and some fresh eyes.”

Miller is also a counselor for the students. If Miller became superintendent, the counselor position would have to be addressed.

Expressing concern about the time of the school board’s meeting, resident Kim Dressler commented that “it’s a bad time to expect people to come in and voice their opinions on this matter.

“I think that this should not be decided by the few people that can get in here at 6 p.m. To me, this should be sent out to every parent who has a parent in this school to, in private, put down their opinion,” she said.

Blaser said later in the meeting that he doesn’t feel the board has the “luxury to go out with surveys and letters. We’re moving the line out further and further. We need to decide which direction we’re going to go.”

Citing the need for people to adjust to their new positions and prepare for the upcoming year was another reason Blaser gave for moving the process along as quick as possible.

“We have made no decisions, but we need to keep the process going,” Blaser said.

“Mr. Miller has been here over 30 years, and has been a dedicated person to this school,” Hecksel said. “I think we owe him at least the opportunity to serve as superintendent here. I don’t necessarily put aside the hiring of someone else, but I think we owe him that.”

The school board will have a special meeting Thursday, July 1 at 6:30 p.m. at the media center to adopt a procedure to hire a new superintendent.

Finding the right superintendent

A lengthy presentation was given by Bob Loude of the Minnesota School Board Association on the process of selecting a new superintendent.

Loude stressed several “dos and don’ts” of hiring a superintendent, including to determine the district’s needs first, agree to arrive at a consensus, take enough time to conduct a thorough search, make certain all members of the board share in the process, and set limits on the consultant’s responsibilities, if the board decides to hire one.

Common “don’ts” that Loude covered included not hiring the best of the worst, not overlooking those already in the school district, and not letting a consultant identify the best superintendent for the school district.

The process of hiring a superintendent usually is about a six-month process, Loude said. It starts with deciding if the district is going to hire a consultant, setting a timeline, budget, involving the right people, developing qualifications, screening the applicants, and working with the media.

The board then goes through the interview phase of the hiring process, and Loude covered common interview questions and mistakes, in addition to rating and checking references. From there, site visits are encouraged, the final selection is made by the board, a final interview takes place, and contract negotiations begin.

Fulfilling Redfield’s contract

The board discussed fulfilling the terms of Redfield’s contract. Stipulations include vacation days and holidays will carry to Sept. 1, the board paying Redfield’s dental insurance and life insurance through Sept. 1, and pay for health insurance for July and August.

If further insurance coverage is needed, Redfield can use the COBRA alternative at his expense. It was noted that there is not a severance package for Redfield, but the board is just fulfilling his contract.

The board also decided it will consider no further contract items. Because the school district needs a licensed superintendent in the position, according to Blaser, Lester Prairie Schools is going to enter a part-time contract with Redfield on a daily basis.

“How many days is that going to be a month, and what is the pay per day?” asked resident Alden Enger. Blaser replied that Redfield will receive $392 a day.

“Why so much?” Enger asked.

“Because I’m not going to lose money from my contract in Rush City to work for you for a day a week here,” Redfield said. Blaser figured that Redfield will work about a day and a half a week.

The $392 a day rate is what Redfield will average at Rush City, which is higher than what he is currently making at Lester Prairie.

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