The District 861 School Boardís action last Thursday night in tabling the matter of Superintendent Paul Durandís contract renewal (or not) is difficult to understand. It had become generally known that there was a strong possibility the board would not offer Durand a new contract; many people were in attendance, therefore, to support him, and much in the way of petitions and letters of commendation were offered up also. Calls for Durandís rehiring were heard from former board members, community and business leaders, and the superintendentís office staff and administrators.
It is clear that Paul Durand has wide and enthusiastic support throughout the community, and for good reason. He has stabilized the districtís finances, (miraculously engineering passage of a funding referendum in a deeply divided community), finally gotten a handle on proper maintenance and upkeep of the districtís buildings, and creatively collaborated with other agencies and institutions to share resources and meet common goals.
Not a single word was said against him or his work, not even, strangely enough, by the board members who seem eager to be rid of him. Thankfully, board member Greg Fellman was candid enough to point out that the school board had not had any substantive discussion of Durandís leadership of the district or plans for the future with or without him. Apparently the usual practice of sharing evaluation forms filled out by various board members, and district administrators and employees was short-circuited by board chair Stacy Mounce Arnold, who shredded them, handing out in their place a summary and tabulation of aggregate scoring.
This seems strange, to say the least. It is no secret that the teacherís union, or at least some of its most powerful elements, dislike Durand with a fevered intensity. This would generate concern, except that there is no superintendent that they have had the slightest affection for over the years, including some who were downright lax in dealing with the WEA. In any case, the superintendent is an executive and manager who represents, foremost, the community and taxpayers. His relationship with the union is bound to be adversarial at times, hardly lovey-dovey. To get rid of your superintendent because the union doesnít like him is, essentially, to hand over his authority to the union, which might as well then select one of its own choosing.
It is clear that the overwhelming sentiment of the community is to retain Paul Durand as superintendent of schools, to guide the district though the next few difficult years. If the board decides not to, we deserve to hear a solid rationale for its action.