Board candidates expected to make Randy Clegg an 'Exhibit A' for changes in district policy. hallengers still plan to make Burnsville schools superintendent an issue come November.
Despite his surprise retirement announcement last week, Superintendent Randy Clegg will be a presence in the Burnsville school district for the next nine months or so.
Not only will Clegg be finishing out the last school year of his $180,000-a-year contract, but his actions in the past year figure to play a part of the upcoming debate as 10 candidates (including four incumbents) compete for four seats on the school board in November.
Several candidates said that despite Clegg's resignation, the incumbents still must answer for his actions involving former human resources director Tania Chance, whom the board agreed to pay more than $250,000 to leave her job 18 months early.
"I believe that is why there are so many candidates," said Bob Nystrom, the president of the Burnsville Education Association, which represents the district's educators.
Before signing the final separation agreement that included the payout, Chance had filed complaints with two state groups, including at least one aimed against Clegg.
"I think it was going to be a big campaign issue," said Mark Korman, one of the challengers. "A lot of people were going to run against him."
The nature of the complaints has never been disclosed publicly, which upset many residents. As part of the settlement agreement, Chance dropped those complaints, which upset more people because it appeared the district was paying Chance to keep quiet.
The school board also recently rebuked Clegg, who hired Chance. The board two weeks ago gave Clegg a mixed job review, saying that in the past year he had not met three of seven job standards for such things as ethics, management, vision and goal achievement.
"I think everything that has happened recently is on people's minds," said Joshua Mathews, another challenger. "They're going to remember."
And if they don't, several candidates said, challengers will remind voters of the turmoil that has hit the district and the role that incumbents played in those decisions.
"Though Dr. Clegg will be leaving the district in June, I hope that residents do not lose sight of the notion that the superintendent's overall performance is as much a reflection of the board as it is of the superintendent," said Seema Pothini, another challenger.
Debate coming up
The 10 candidates will hold a forum and debate in early October, possibly the only chance that voters will have to hear them all at the same time.
District residents said that Clegg's departure will allow "a fresh start," especially because a potentially new board majority will have the say in selecting a new superintendent.
"The timing of Dr. Clegg's retirement announcement gives the residents ... a golden opportunity," Pothini said in a written statement.
"These board members will eventually select, retain, and evaluate the new superintendent."
Clegg, who took over the district in 2008, said he made his retirement announcement early to give the board plenty of time to look for a replacement.
Clegg did not return calls seeking comment. But he has acknowledged publicly that the Chance situation soured his relationship with the board.
Ron Hill, chairman of the school board and one of the incumbents running, said he believes Clegg is actually retiring and not simply leaving as he contemplates a new job.
He noted that there are no clauses in Clegg's contract that make it more beneficial for him to retire instead of resign.
"That was by design," Hill said. "We didn't want anything backloaded. We didn't want any surprises if he resigned or retired."
He disagrees with those who believe that Clegg's tenure will be a campaign issue. Hill refused to say whether he would have voted to keep Clegg. "I hadn't thought that much about it because we had some time," Hill said last week.
Along with Hill, the incumbents running for another term are DeeDee Currier, Sandra Sweep and Robert VandenBoom, who is seeking a two-year term in November.
The Chance debate led to changes in a state law to make school boards more accountable for and transparent about how they spend money in contract buyouts.
Mathews and others said the next superintendent should be someone who will be transparent and also collaborate with his employees and the board.
"Everyone should be accountable for their actions," Mathews said. "If the voters are unhappy they will make their unhappiness known in the voter's booth."
Heron Marquez • 952-746-3281