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Waubun offers combined superintendent-principal position

WAUBUN -- The Waubun-Ogema-White Earth School Board voted to offer a combined position of elementary principal and superintendent to Mitch Anderson, principal at Ogema Elementary School. Job duties and compensation for the dual position will be determined by contract negotiations.

The board interviewed Anderson and candidate Chris Fenske on Saturday. Fenske is the activities director, a math teacher and a coach at Breckenridge High School. After the interviews, the board discussed the candidates' answers to their questions and their experience.

Board members were in consensus that both candidates interviewed well. Many of their answers to the board's questions were similar.

The questions were broken into five categories: fiscal accountability; communications, community relations; programs and instruction; leadership, management, decision-making; and general questions.

Both candidates agreed that the superintendent, along with the school business manager, is responsible for the fiscal health of the school district.

Anderson admitted he didn't have a lot of experience and knowledge in dealing with the budget, but he does have a good network of people to help him gain the skills he needs.

Fenske reiterated the role of superintendent and business manager in terms of fiscal health, and expanded it to include enrollment projections and good relationships with all administrative staff.

In a situation where projected expenditures would exceed revenues, Anderson said that the superintendent should see the situation coming and plan accordingly to work with staff and the business manager. Another option would be to look at creative funding sources, he said.

Fenske said the most important part would be to keep any budget cuts away from the students. He said he would talk to staff and board members for budget cutting ideas and then come back to the board with a variety of options to address the issue.

Both candidates talked about No Child Left Behind, what they liked about the program and what they disliked. They agreed that the federal act has advantages and disadvantages.

Anderson thinks the accountability the federal act has created is a good thing. Fenske also said the accountability is good, but that he doesn't like the "one size fits all" legislative approach to education.

Visibility in school buildings and the community are an important part of the superintendent's job, both candidates said.

Fenske said his experience as an activities director allowed people to approach him in an informal setting and he said it is important to listen to people.

Anderson said he believes in being out and about in the school, talking to students and staff and getting their input. For communication in the community, Anderson said he would provide opportunities for the community to be involved in the schools and make the schools welcoming.

Because of their lack of experience in the position, both Fenske and Anderson said they would look forward to working with a mentor to learn more about their duties as superintendent in the district.

Both candidates said they would feel comfortable working with interim superintendent Joe Merseth. Fenske said it was an attractive piece of the package when he applied for the position and working with Merseth would be a win-win situation for himself and the district.

He told the board he had a lot to learn about finance and policy and would be comfortable working with Merseth.

The candidates differed slightly on their approach to a "zero tolerance" policy for student behavior and discipline.

Anderson said he preferred a "no tolerance" policy that would leave some leeway for a common sense approach to different situations.

Fenske said the "zero tolerance" policy is widespread and common and that schools need to have a consistent response to apply to situations.

Candidate discussion

After the candidate interviews the board listened to input from their extended committee. Many said both candidates interviewed well, but struggled with which candidate to support based on the interviews.

A big part of the discussion revolved around Anderson's experience and familiarity with the district due to his position there. The extended committee also wondered about the candidates' commitment to staying in the position or district for an extended period of time.

Board member Tammy Winter said neither candidate had a lot of experience, but that Anderson's experience as elementary principal added to his appeal. She said the board also couldn't dismiss Anderson's knowledge of the district.

Board member Tom Teiken said the board would first have to decide whether to hire a superintendent or see if the candidates would be interested in a dual position, such as a superintendent-principal combination. He also wondered how long Anderson would stay on as elementary principal if the superintendent job was offered to Fenske.

The board told Donald Andersen of The ADM Group, the consultant working with the district in their superintendent search, to ask the candidates if they would be interested in a dual position combining the jobs of district superintendent and elementary principal.

At Tuesday's monthly board meeting, Andersen told the board both candidates had been amenable to the interest in a dual position.

Merseth told the board the district could save $40,000 to $50,000 a year, depending on the positions combined, with a dual position superintendent.

Shortly afterward the board voted unanimously to offer Anderson the dual position of district superintendent and elementary principal.