Debate rekindled on dismissal of South Washington superintendent

  • Article by: DAAREL BURNETTE II , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 22, 2012 - 11:44 PM

Two South Washington school board members clashed over finding Mark Porter's successor.

The South Washington school board will consider this week whether to employ the same superintendent search firm that helped it hire Mark Porter -- whom the board decided to let go last month.

After a testy exchange, board members agreed to hear a proposal from Dragseth Consulting rather than make a request for proposal, opening the search process to other consultants.

Board chairwoman Leslee Boyd said using a firm the district had previously used would expedite the process because the firm is familiar with the board and the district.

Other board members questioned why they would use a firm that found them a superintendent with whom they ultimately decided to part ways.

At December's meeting, the board voted 5-2 to give notice to Porter, who worked in the district for 30 years before being hired as superintendent in 2009, that his tenure would end on June 30. Board members cited undisclosed personnel issues in approving the dismissal.

At a Jan. 12 workshop, several community members protested the board's decision.

Two board members also got into a contentious exchange about Porter's dismissal.

"I just think the search will be very detrimental to this district," said board member Jim Gelbmann, who voted against the board's termination of Porter's contract.

"I think the No. 1 question you'll get is, 'You have a good superintendent. Why are you looking for another one?' And I think that's going to be a question that's going to dog us not only through the search process but into the next year ... and it's just going to be a stretch that this district does need right now."

Board member Ron Kath shot back, "Unfortunately, Jim, I share the opinion that once the board has made their decision, it's upon all of us to support those decisions. You can have your comments in the paper like you normally do, but when it comes to the board room, you should be supporting the decision of the board now.

"When we get into this search, and people start asking you those questions, you should be answering them in a positive form the way I would be doing it. That's just my advice to you," Kath said.

"I call that hypocritical, and I don't like to be hypocritical," Gelbmann said. "I have an opinion on this, and I have a right to state that. And my opinion is shared by the good majority of the population out there."

"Right," Kath said. "Your opinion will have more of a detriment to our superintendent search than you think. So you go right ahead and do it, and you hold the cards in your pocket. I'm not going to have them when I go to bed. You will."

"I'm sleeping very comfortably with my vote a month ago," Gelbmann said.

"I am, too," Kath said. "I'm at peace with it, Jim."

The superintendent search firm that is chosen will help the board create a timeline for hiring the next superintendent.

Meantime, the Orlando Sentinel recently reported that Porter was among 21 people who applied for the superintendent position of 181,000-student Orange County Public Schools in Orlando, Fla.

Daarel Burnette II • 651-925-5032 Twitter: @DaarelStrib

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