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Search aborted? (02/19/2012)
By Frances Edstrom

It’s easy to spend someone else’s money. Just ask the Dist. 861 school board. They just spent $11,000 to have the Minnesota School Board Association (MSBA) conduct a search for a new superintendent for the district. Our $11,000.

If the taxpaying public could be certain that the $11,000 was spent in a good faith effort to find a leader for the school district to serve for ten years or so, it would be considered money well spent. However, the way events have transpired, it is hard to give credit to that effort.

Not only the taxpaying public, but the parents of any child in the public school district should be upset. Eleven thousand dollars is a lot of money — about a quarter of a new classroom teacher. Money aside, the district needs a leader who is willing and able to try to deliver quality education to all of the students in the district, and not only the ones who start school prepared to learn, the kids with advantages.

When Supt. Paul Durand was railroaded out of the district in 2010, the board declared that it would search for a new superintendent. In the meantime, they hired Scott Hannon as interim superintendent. When the subject of a search was finally initiated in 2011, the board balked, saying they wanted to keep Hannon on at least another year. He will now have been in the interim position for two years.

When talk of hiring the MSBA came up at the end of 2011, three board members — Greg Fellman, Gary Shurson and Ben Baratto — again balked, saying they’d rather just keep Hannon. But the board majority, with Steve Schild being the swing, voted to begin the search process, one that Hannon then said he would have nothing to do with.

According to a Winona Post news story in November 2011, “Hannon said that maybe, if the board didn’t find a candidate that it liked, he’d be willing to stay for a few more years. ‘They’ve hired a search committee and I’ve just decided that I’m not going to be part of that process,’ he said. ‘I respect the process and I respect the board doing that, I’m OK with that. But if they go through that process and they find that maybe, at that point, none of the candidates are really what they’d like right now, I’d be willing to stay on. If they find somebody, that’s great.’

“Hannon admitted that the August meeting [when talk of the search began] was awkward. ‘I wasn’t going out and soliciting for the job. I wasn’t doing that at all. I just felt that if they wanted me to stay on somebody would have asked,’ he said. ‘It was just awkward because they were already in the process of signing off for [the Minnesota School Board Association] to do the search.’ During the meeting, Fellman, along with board members Ben Baratto and Gary Shurson, voted against the contract for the superintendent search, lobbying instead to keep Hannon at the post. Board members Mohamed Elhindi, Michelle Langowski, Steve Schild, and Jay Kohner voted to approve the search contract for just over $11,000 plus expenses.”

Steve Schild voted for the search in August 2011, saying that he encouraged Hannon to apply, but felt the community’s expectation was that the board would conduct a search. Now he’s singing a different tune. Before the final candidates have even been interviewed, he has stated publicly that he doesn’t like any of the candidates better than Hannon (who didn’t apply). Soon after, in no surprise, one of the finalists removed his name from the running.

We’ll see what happens on Tuesday, when the board is set for the interview of Jerry Schutz, whom they have chosen as a finalist, at the same time questioning the fact he does not have a doctorate, a degree they did not specify for consideration for the post. He has been superintendent of Tea Area School District in South Dakota, where the enrollment has doubled in seven years. Prior to that, he was superintendent of the Neenah, Wisconsin, school district of over 6,000 students.

Why should we care if Hannon is named superintendent without going through the search process?

First, because the public will not have the chance to see how Hannon stacks up against the candidates in a public forum. All we know is that the board members like him and he has indicated he would be willing to serve a few more years, meaning it won’t be long before we must conduct another expensive search.

Second, because the Winona School District, already known for an atmosphere of unrest and a board that is flighty, has now reinforced that impression and broadcast it publicly.

Third, it is a waste of precious funds (we are already looking at another referendum).

And fourth, it is a waste of time and effort on the part of the school district administrators who must facilitate the search and of the candidates who opened themselves to the search assuming that the Winona Public School District would operate in good faith.

How will we get good candidates to apply when this last batch simply wasted its time? 


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