LP superintendent weighing his future options

December 17, 2007

By Linda Scherer
Staff Writer

Lester Prairie Superintendent Joe Miller will become eligible for full retirement August 2008.

The formula for Miller’s retirement is years of service at Lester Prairie, plus age, must equal 90. The rule of 90 applies to all certified staff in education employed prior to July 1, 1989.

Miller has been working the formula out in his mind ever since he first started teaching social studies at Lester Prairie in 1974.

“During all of those years you think, ‘oh, I can’t wait to get there.’ Then, when you actually get close, there are more issues and concerns than you can possibly imagine,” Miller said.

Is he thinking about retiring? Yes, but at this time, he is just considering it. It is something that he and his wife, Pat, have discussed.

“As of this date, we are still talking about it,” Miller said. “We are young enough that we can do plenty of things, and I suspect I have a few good years left in me,” Miller said. “It might be an opportunity for me to do something else, too, with my life. But, at this moment in time, there is nothing on the horizon.”

If he decides to leave, one of the things Miller has said is he would give at least six months notice to the board, so it will have ample time to find a superintendent it feels comfortable with.

“So, if I do decide to retire, I will make my announcement sometime around January or February,” Miller said. “If the board comes back and said, ‘would you stay on because we did not find what we want?’ I absolutely would be more than willing to stay on working with them. There is nothing that says I have to retire in August, even if I made the announcement. If I haven’t accepted my first two retirement checks, I can still change my mind through September.”

What Miller really wants to see is the board take the opportunity to look and see what it can find. If the board found the right person, that would be fine with Miller.

However, he is certain not to make any announcement before the early part of next year.

Miller said one of the reasons for his not giving his notice now is because too much warning will make it more difficult for him to use his position to keep the school going in the direction he would like to see.

“People will say, ‘why should we do this? You are going to be gone anyway,’” Miller said.

Speculation about his retirement was fueled when it looked like the Millers might be trying to sell their home and furnishings, with plans to move out of town.

Actually, that is just what Miller and his wife are trying to do. Although they are not in a huge hurry to sell their home, their reason for selling has nothing to do with Miller’s possible retirement.

What the Millers would like to do is downsize their home and possibly move closer to the rest of their family.

Miller explains that he feels very fortunate to have lived in the big five-bedroom, four-bath home where they have raised their family. He even had some of his brothers live with them for awhile.

But now, he and his wife live in their large home alone, and do not need all of the extra space.

Miller’s parents live in Crystal, and his children live in Plymouth and New Hope.

“It might not be the worst idea to move closer to them. But that doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t still stay working here,” Miller said. “My wife has been commuting for 20 years and she thinks maybe it is time for me to commute.”

Sometimes the idea of living in a neighborhood anonymously has some appeal to Miller, who also describes the town of Lester Prairie as “paradise on the prairie.”

“I think I am on speed dial for 90 percent of the community,” Miller said.

He and his wife have lived in Lester Prairie since the second year he started teaching. He was mayor for four terms, beginning in 1980, and he worked city maintenance during the summers in those early years.

Miller feels it was good to have those kinds of work experiences. People know who you are.

“But if I would go for a walk in town, I would get stopped about a hundred times,” he said.

If Miller does leave Lester Prairie School in August, financially the school is sitting in a pretty good place, and Miller sees that as positive.

“We are in a good position at Lester Prairie. We have a little bit of money in the bank. We are not rich, but the student population number is fairly stable. The board is in the right mindset to know if there are fluctuations, they have to make adjustments. We will, hopefully, be debt-free by 2012.

Still, it doesn’t really make the final decision any easier for Miller.

“I love working here. I can’t imagine a job that I would rather do. There have been many opportunities over the last five or six years for me to take another principal’s job or superintendent’s job. Whenever there is an opening, people will contact me. I am not looking to go someplace else. Having said that, if I retire and someone would say, ‘would you work as an interim superintendent for six months?’ I might possibly do that.”

So what are Miller’s final words on the subject?

“I have a contract for next year and until that day when I walk out that door, I will stay the superintendent,” Miller said. “That might be August of this next year. It might be two years from now. It might be, I don’t know. I really don’t know at this point.”

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