After a tumultuous spring of accusations and tension among the New Prague school board, its former superintendent and some residents, board members are pinning their hopes on the communication skills and local connections of a new leader with deep roots in Scott County.
In a 6-1 vote last week, the board offered the post of interim superintendent to Larry Kauzlarich, who lives in Jordan and led that school district for 12 years before retiring in 2008.
"He knows our community well," said board Chairman Jerry Walerius shortly before the board chose Kauzlarich from a pool of four finalists for the job.
The board is negotiating a one-year contract with Kauzlarich that it's expected to approve at a June 27 meeting.
Calling him a "no-nonsense" administrator with an open-door style, board members are turning to Kauzlarich after the departure of Superintendent Craig Menozzi.
Tension had been growing for months between the board and Menozzi over issues including his contract, expense reports, staffing decisions and school boundary changes.
In March, a group of residents publicly berated board members, accusing them of micromanaging Menozzi and violating the state's open meeting law -- claims the board has denied. Two weeks later, Menozzi said he'd accepted a new position leading a larger school district in Iowa.
An attorney for the board said this spring that board members were investigating unspecified complaints about Menozzi, though Menozzi said he was unaware of any investigation. Walerius said recently that he does not expect the probe to continue.
Some residents upset with district leadership have called for the entire board to resign. November's election will determine who fills five of seven board seats.
Kauzlarich said he followed the controversy "minimally" in newspaper articles. "I would rather just move in with a clean slate," he said.
The board chose him over three other finalists: Retired St. James Superintendent Nordy Nelson; retiring St. Louis County Superintendent Charles Rick; and Gary Nytes, former executive director of the National Joint Powers Alliance in Staples, Minn.
Kauzlarich had worked in education for more than 40 years when he retired from the Jordan district, where his major accomplishments included overseeing construction of a new high school.
"I think Larry will be so good for New Prague," said Stacy DeCorsey, principal of Jordan Elementary School. "He's a direct communicator. He's a straight shooter."
Kauzlarich, 67, has spent much of the past three years traveling to destinations as far-flung as China and the United Kingdom. But he said he was ready for a new challenge when the New Prague job opened up.
The district has big business ahead, including teacher contract negotiations and the search for a long-term superintendent, which Walerius said the board plans to begin after the general election. Board members are also discussing whether to hold an operating levy referendum this year.
Asked last week whether he thinks the district should go to voters this fall, Kauzlarich said, "It would be inappropriate for me to offer an opinion on that today."
Sarah Lemagie • 952-882-9016