Inexplicably, but as was feared, the Winona School Board did not renew Superintendent Paul Durandís contract last Thursday night, and his employment with the district will end June 30. Durand has many supporters all across the Winona community Ė business, professional, educators, parents, taxpayers Ė and his accomplishments on behalf of the Winona community have been well chronicled. Still, Iíll recount just a few of them once more.
First and foremost, Durand has brought fiscal stability to a school district in constant financial turmoil before his arrival, constantly running referenda to secure more funding, maintaining only an ongoing jangling uproar in the community, but never its facilities. Against all odds, and mostly through his own gargantuan personal effort, Durand was able to shepherd through one levy which has done what he promised it would do.
Buildings have been kept in good repair, staffing and programs stabilized, and the school board able to turn its attention to something other than red ink and shortfalls. After decades of whoop, shout, and wrangle, during Durandís tenure (setting aside conspicuous elements of the teacherís union) there has been mostly peace in the District 861 valley. And it should be pointed out that his teachers union, which benefitted from Durandís efforts probably more than any other entity, didnít turn a hand to help.
Despite all this, Paul Durand was handed his walking papers Thursday night, without a single word of explanation. Board Chair Stacey Mounce Arnold declared that the reason for his nonrenewal was a personnel matter protected by data privacy legislation and, therefore, none of the boardís or the publicís business. At this point Board member Ted Hazelton thundered, ďBullsh*t,Ē and the epithet was taken up and chanted by many of those in attendance, lending some dignity to the proceedings.
It is easy to see that the animus against Durand comes from a small, hard knot of activists in the Winona Education Association, and fair to accuse those in the boardís majority of kowtowing to that element to the detriment of their responsibility to the community at large.
The superintendent agreed to a pay freeze, and recently returned a performance bonus Ė real money†Ė that this same board awarded him, in recognition of the hard times the district and all of us are facing. The union, on the other hand, has refused a raise, which it deemed insignificant and their contract is still unsettled.
Soon, the operating referendum that Durand alone was able to see through, will have to be renewed. In light of Thursday nightís events, good luck with that.