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Editorial: Stender buyout right thing to do

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opinion Detroit Lakes, 56501
Detroit Lakes Online
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Detroit Lakes Minnesota 511 Washington Avenue 56501

How divided can you get?

The $374,000 three-year contract buyout accepted by Frazee-Vergas School Superintendent Daron Stender exemplified the superintendent's six-year reign.

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The offer was made by a sharply divided school board after a narrow 4-3 vote.

In Frazee, people seem to either love Stender or hate him, and he has served a school board that has been bitterly divided -- one way or the other -- for much of his tenure.

The previous school board liked Stender so much it gave him a three-year contract extension -- well before his existing contract was up.

That board majority -- swept out in the November election -- obviously knew it was in trouble with the voters and wanted to protect the superintendent through the contract extension.

The new board majority disliked him enough to pay him a lot of money to go away -- even though they must have known that kind of payout could well be the kiss of death for them come the next election.

And it could also be bad news for those who support a new operating referendum for the school district. There are a lot of angry rumblings about that much money being spent on a buyout.

Those referendum meetings have been postponed since the board began its buyout discussions.

Stender, who has been applying for superintendent jobs elsewhere, legally has until Saturday to change his mind and withdraw his signature on the agreement.

Stender may have done well by the district's bottom line, but few would argue that he has been great for employee morale, or that he has helped the district harness the creative energy of teachers.

In fact, at times it has seemed like the administration and previous board majority were at war with their own teachers. Education is bound to suffer in that kind of work environment.

When it came to public relations, Stender was often his own worst enemy, seemingly playing favorites and engaging in ongoing battles with the media, especially the hometown newspaper, The Frazee Forum.

Though the big buyout left a lot of people howling -- both supporters and detractors of the superintendent -- we believe the school board did the right thing.

The atmosphere in the school district had become poisonous and the superintendent had become an ongoing distraction -- the focus of back-and-forth battles within the school board. The community has become deeply divided.

We hope things change quickly, for the better.

The Frazee-Vergas School District has a long history of educational excellence, and has had a number of top-notch administrators. There is no reason that tradition can't continue.

It was an encouraging sign that the school board voted -- unanimously -- to appoint High School Principal Rob Nudell as emergency interim superintendent.

By all accounts, Nudell has the temperament and human relations skills necessary to work well with the board, the community and district employees.

We wish him well, and we wish the board success in finding a new superintendent.

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