By Ivan Raconteur
Special meeting set to reconsider the recommendation
LESTER PRAIRIE, MN The committee that evaluated applicants recommended the hiring of Nelia Olson as a social studies teacher. A motion to approve the recommendation failed during a special Lester Prairie School Board meeting Tuesday.
The vote to approve the recommendation was split 3-3, with Board Chair Bob Carlson and board members Karla Heigl and Matt Klitzke in favor, and board members MerriLea Kyllo, Rollie Radtke, and Gregg Machemehl opposed. A tie vote means the motion failed.
However, Superintendent Mike McNulty announced late Thursday that another special meeting has been set Wednesday Aug. 7 at 7 a.m. in the school media center to reconsider the motion to hire Olson.
What makes Tuesday’s decision more noteworthy is that board members did not raise questions about the hiring system at the beginning of the process, but after an offer had already been extended to the candidate recommended by the committee, pending board approval.
The hiring committee included Superintendent Mike McNulty, Principal Jeremy Schmidt, and teachers Jocelyn Buckentin and Greg Landkamer.
The board did not discuss specific candidates other than Olson during the meeting, but McNulty confirmed after the meeting that the other finalists for the social studies position included Johanna Hanneman, Joel Evanson, and Ben Machemehl.
Klitzke said if there were concerns about the hiring process, they should have been addressed as an agenda item at a board meeting before a job offer was extended.
The system used by the committee to recommend this candidate is the same system that has been used when hiring teachers in the past. Carlson said he has been on the board since 2001, and this is the first time something like this has happened.
Based on the agenda for the meeting, the approval to hire Olson appeared routine.
However, Kyllo said she would like the hiring process changed, because it doesn’t take into account whether a candidate lives in the district, works in the district, or has volunteered in the district.
She said Lester Prairie is a small-town district, and credit should be given to those who live in the district.
Klitzke reminded the board that they are dealing with the teachers’ union, and said there could be legal ramifications.
He noted the board could be accused of profiling.
Kyllo said she would like to see parents of district students represented on the hiring committee.
She added that Lester Prairie has been a stepping stone for staff members who have left to take positions elsewhere.
Klitzke said that goes back to the district’s starting wages and other factors, not just where the employees live.
“I thought the committee did a good job of finding the best person for our kids,” McNulty said.
After the vote, Carlson asked those who voted against the motion to hire Olson to explain the reasoning behind their votes.
Kyllo said the hiring process is not what she, as a parent and community member, wants to see.
“At some point, we have to commit to people who want to be here for the long term,” Radtke said.
He also said he would like to see a radius for hiring [hiring candidates who live within a specific distance of the district].
Carlson said that could make it difficult to hire qualified teachers.
“We have had a miserable time finding specific teachers for certain positions,” Carlson said. “It’s difficult.”
He noted restricting the area in which applicants can reside would make the process even more difficult.
“It’s not just teachers,” Radtke said. “The closer you are, the more committed you are going to be.”
Heigl, who supported the committee’s recommendation, expressed a different view.
“First and foremost, we need to provide the best education for our children. That is why we are here,” Heigl said. “We are losing sight of what we are here to do. We are here to educate students.”
Kyllo said she spoke to four of the five other board members before the meeting, and they all agreed with her that the hiring process needs review.
Machemehl said he agrees with Kyllo and Radtke, that the process needs review.
“Where do we go from here?” Heigl asked.
“The thing I have trouble with is, there was no mention of this [before a job offer was made],” Klitzke said. “This is the same process we have used in the past.”
Klitzke said changing at this point in the process is “a slippery slope,” and he said if board members had concerns about the hiring process, the they should have been addressed before an offer was extended.
McNulty was asked if he brought the questions used in the interview process to the board for approval. He said he, as a professional administrator, determines what questions will be asked, based on research and what other districts are doing. He said the questions are tweaked to fit the position that is being filled, but they have not been brought to the board for review.
Carlson said the position needs to be filled by the start of the school year.
After discussion, the board established a committee including Kyllo, Radtke, and Klitzke to review the current hiring process and present a recommendation to the full board for approval.
McNulty said Principal Jeremy Schmidt will have to inform Olson that she was not approved by the board.
Committee requests another special board meeting
After Thursday’s committee meeting, McNulty said the committee had asked him to schedule another special meeting, and the board will vote again on the recommendation to hire Olson.
The committee still plans to review the hiring process and present a recommendation to the board at a future board meeting. Any changes made would apply to the hiring process in the future, but not to the current social studies position.