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Small group has big concerns as District 833 superintendent search begins

Only five district residents attended the first community meeting held to identify traits and skills sought in a new South Washington County Schools superintendent. Bulletin photo by Judy Spooner

School District 833 residents interested in the hiring of a new superintendent said the success of future school levies is in jeopardy, long-term technology needs must be addressed and the community is confused by recent School Board action.

Those were among opinions expressed by five residents who turned out for the first community input meeting that is a part of the district's search for a new superintendent.

Consultants from SchoolExecConnect, the hired firm leading the superintendent search, hosted the Monday forum as a first step in their plan to meet with various citizen and school groups to identify district issues and the qualities sought in a new superintendent.

Among the concerns voiced by residents was whether citizens will support upcoming levy referendums, considering that there is still much support for Superintendent Mark Porter, whose contract was not renewed by the board in December.

One ballot measure, expected to be before voters in 2013, would renew an existing property tax levy but probably would not pass, said district resident Tori O'Hare.

"We're expecting a 'no' vote," she said. "That's a huge challenge."

The district needs a new referendum for technology, since the current one for $1 million a year for 10 years will expire but is still needed, said Winnie Williams, who is as member of a technology advisory committee.

The district is spending technology money on teacher phones and computer lab replacement but not looking to needs for the future, she said.

The board's handling of the district budget also was a concern.

When the board needs to make spending cuts, there are certain items that are never on the table, said Laura O'Connell, and the board also caters to special interest subgroups.

Barb Fleming, a former school board member, said the community doesn't trust the school board. Their role needs to be defined, she said, and job evaluation procedures clarified.

"We have a community that's confused," she said. "They thought everything was going fine."

Ken Dragseth, who's leading the search for SchoolExecConnect, said one of the challenges his firm is hearing as it begins the superintendent search is the board's relationship with the community.

Williams said sometimes administrators don't, or are afraid, to do the job they were hired for. "We drag our feet on a lot of stuff," she said.

Some employees are "shuffled around" instead of being evaluated and removed if they are ineffective," according to Williams.

Leadership is "top down," said Michele McAllister, with people doing what they are told to do.

Work on improving student achievement must continue, said those who attended the meeting at the District Service Center in Cottage Grove. The residents said they also are concerned about new rules for the federal No Child Left Behind law and want a superintendent who can deal with that issue.

Someone with a vision for the future is needed, said McAllister, adding that her concerns include issues affecting students with disabilities.

O'Connell said there is a strong teaching staff. A new superintendent needs to tap into that.

Judy Spooner
Judy Spooner is the longest-serving staff writer at the South Washington County Bulletin. Spooner, who covers education and features in addition to writing a weekly column, has been with the newspaper for over 30 years.
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