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Wrestling with superintendent options: Decision time in Frazee

July 12 is decision time for the Frazee-Vergas School Board.

Board members have discussed at several meetings how to fill the superintendent position, and time is running out before prep for a new school year begins.

"There are two areas we're going down right now," Chair Rich Ziegler said, stating the two paths are either hiring an interim superintendent for a year or moving Principal Rob Nudell into a split position of superintendent and principal and not hiring a full-time superintendent.

What the board did decide on -- after an hour and a half of discussion -- is the top seven interim applicants they will interview if they take that route.

The board decided to offer the interim job for one fiscal year, ending June 30.

Asked to bring some information on a superintendent-principal position, Nudell said he met with a lot of people for advice on what to do regarding the proposed position.

He also talked with staff to see what it would take to make the split position work for Frazee-Vergas. About five existing staff members would have to take on a few extra items, most significantly, Activities Director Dave Trautman.

"All of these people are willing to work together," he said.

He added that he took his name out of the running for the interim superintendent position because he has his family to worry about and either he'll do the split role or the principal role. He still has another year on his principal contract with the district.

Nudell doesn't want to be hired as an interim for a year and then possibly lose the job to a different candidate when a full-time superintendent is hired.

With the extra staff support, Nudell said he roughly estimated a $65,000 increase to the district, for extra days for the secretaries and some compensation to Trautman and Dean of Students Troy Haugen. It also included a pay increase for himself for the new position.

Those numbers would all have to be negotiated with the board, but he wanted to give the school board at least a rough idea of potential costs.

Nudell said it's also an option to have the split position and evaluate it at the first of the year to determine if it's working out or if the district should go back to two separate positions.

He added that November through February is the prime time to look for superintendent candidates, so the pool would more than likely be greater then.

"I'm sure there are things I haven't thought about but I tried to be as thorough as I could," he said regarding his proposal.

He added that several high school staff have approached him and offered to help in any way they can to make the transition work if that's the route the board takes.

In talking to others outside the district, Nudell said he found other districts in the area that have a principal-superintendent position, and with tight financial times, that is the way other districts are leaning as well.

Nudell said he felt like it was like he was trying to sell the board his proposal but he wasn't. Instead, he was simply giving information they had requested.

"I don't want to set myself up, the district up, my family up nor the staff (who will be helping him with duties) if we don't feel this is going to work," he said.

Hiring him as the principal-superintendent, is simply an option, he said. He urged the board to make a decision as to what it wants to do, and to have full board support for that decision.

"You need to find which candidate is best for you," he said.

Board member Dana Laine read an e-mail from Keith Janu, who was absent from the meeting, that stated he was in favor of a full-time interim superintendent.

He said that while he's open to a split position in the future, it needs to be evaluated more to see if it would work for the district.

"I have to say, I share that," Laine said after she read Janu's e-mail.

She said she supports hiring an interim superintendent for a year, who would also serve as a mentor to Nudell and then possibly combining the position next year.

"Given the circumstances, I don't know how we can split the position right now," she said.

Besides needing a new superintendent, there has been other turnover in the district. Lakes Country Service Cooperative just took over business management for the school district, and the office manager (Amie Erickson) position and the IT director (Gus Klemm) position are now open.

Laine said the candidates should be aware that they are walking into a district with many new employees.

Board member Steve Jepson said having a mentor for Nudell and then evaluating the position in six months would be a win-win situation because it would also save the district money. It wouldn't be as costly to hire another superintendent then tacking on a certain amount of pay for those taking on more responsibilities.

"This savings would carry on and be good for the district," he said.

Laine said they didn't really know how much of a savings it would be, though, because they'd have to negotiate the new contract with the employees being affected by a split position.

She also pointed out that if the position with Nudell didn't work for the district after a year of combined duties, would the district take back his pay? Jepson said that point would have to be a part of the negotiations and new contract.

Nudell spoke up and said that with respect, he has a family to look after and that if the combined position didn't work out, he would expect to get his principal job back, and would go back to his principal pay.

"This is very new for me and new for you the way it seems," he said of position and how it would work out.

The board took a couple comments from the audience on the matter, both asking the board to hire an interim superintendent to mentor Nudell.

"I think you're pinning yourself pretty close" to the staff doing the extra work and by making a decision within a couple weeks, Jay Estenson said. "It just looks like a rushed decision."

Rodger Palmer agreed that the district needed an interim superintendent with experience to come in and help with the district full time. Nudell has experience as an elementary principal and now high school, but no superintendent experience, although he is licensed for the position.

Palmer said that the best mentorship Nudell could get is someone in that position rather than a "sprinkle" of mentorship here and there.

"I would strongly support you, at least for six months, (getting) an interim," he said.

Ziegler said that whether to hire an interim superintendent or hiring Nudell for the combined position is a tough decision.

"It's not very fun," he said of sitting in the board's spot, adding that the decision isn't a rushed one. "I'm thinking about it daily."

Board member Matt Bauer said that when he came into the meeting, he was in support of Nudell taking over the combined position now, but he felt differently by the end of the meeting.

"I'm all about it, but... And I wasn't thinking that way until we came here today," he said.

The board will decide next Tuesday which of the two options it will take, hiring an interim superintendent for a year or moving Nudell into the dual role.

Nudell agreed to continue on as the emergency interim superintendent until a decision is made.

The board will make a decision at its next meeting (Tuesday at 7 a.m.) and Nudell agreed to hold the position until the August meeting.

By then, he said, someone else should be in place because it's getting too close to the school year to not know what's going on with the position.