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Frazee-Vergas School Board eyes its options for filling superintendent post

Looking for productive conversation and direction for the school, the Frazee-Vergas School Board met last week to discuss personnel options, including how to fill the superintendent position.

At the start of the meeting -- which was only for discussion, no action was taken -- Board Chairman Matt Bauer told other board members to remember the discussion was about positions and not people.

The positions discussed were:

• Superintendent (now held by interim superintendent Chuck Cheney).

• Principal (now held by Rob Nudell).

• Dean of students (now held by Troy Haugen).

• Community education (now held by Lori Thorp).

• Special education director/psychologist (now held by Bardie Skojonsberg).

• Activities director (now held by Dave Trautman).

Cheney said the information he had gathered was "honest" and "unguarded" about positions in the Frazee-Vergas district and surrounding districts as a comparison.

He also spoke to the individuals listed above prior to the meeting and told them what the discussion would revolve around.

Most chose not to be at the meeting, Cheney said, to "give the board the opportunity to just talk" more freely about the positions and not the people.

Cheney gave many examples of other districts including sharing services, positions with shared duties and models that resemble Frazee's current status. For instance, the district might want to look at having a licensed superintendent with community education duties.

Or, instead of having a dean of students, a licensed elementary principal would be able to do teacher evaluations. There would then be a licensed principal for the high school as well.

Right now, Nudell serves as the licensed principal for K-12, and Haugen serves as the dean of students. Most of their time is split, with Haugen taking care of the elementary school and Nudell the high school.

It was also brought up to combine the community education and the activities director position if possible.

Skojonsberg's position serves as a combination of special education director and psychologist. That position could be hired through a service -- much like the business office now does with Lakes Country Service Cooperative - but, Cheney said, without numbers in front of him, he would be hard pressed to say it would be any cost savings to the district.

With some of the options thrown out for discussion, Cheney said they could bring stronger leadership, better district performance, more discipline, community support, and keep up the district momentum.

"The ultimate plan may be two years or in two or three steps," he said of changes. "Not in one big swoop. We're trying to win the game of do more with less."

Last fall when the district was looking at filling the vacant superintendent position, there was discussion of having a shared superintendent and principal position.

Since then though, the board seems to be steering away from that notion. Board member Jim Nelson asked if anyone else on the board thought that was still an option.

"School size is key in that," he said.

Bauer said he was in favor of it last fall but since looking into it more, it seems like districts with the shared position are actually moving away from that model. Several other board members spoke in agreement that that may not be the preferred route anymore.

Giving out suggestions from other districts on shared positions with the superintendent, Cheney said, "none are as good as having a full-time superintendent."

Board member Steve Jepson said that before he could make any decisions about reducing the special education director or the community education director positions, he'd need more information on the workloads and if those in the positions think they could be reduced.

Cheney also pointed out that the community education fund is separate from the general fund, so even if the community education position was reduced or cut, it wouldn't be a cost savings to the general fund.

"Where the district needs money nowadays is the general fund," he said. "Money doesn't flow wherever we want it to."

Besides discussion on whether the community education and activities director positions could be combined, it was also discussed whether the superintendent could take on the duties of the activities director.

Cheney said that while that's possible, the workloads need to be taken into consideration for all of the positions as well, and not just the dollars that could be saved.

The district could save some money, he added, but there is also a benefit to keeping the positions and school running without putting maximum stress on the personnel.

"How much do you want to tax our people?" he said.

The workshop meeting of the board was simply for discussion and no decisions were made last week. The next regular school board meeting is Feb. 13 at 6 p.m. in the media center.