The South Washington school board has decided to forego an open bidding process and instead select Dragseth Consulting to lead its superintendent search.

Despite protests from two of its seven members, the board chose Dragseth because it already has worked with the district and should be able to more quickly find a new superintendent by this summer, members said during a heated Jan. 26 meeting.

"This should've been done through a competitive bid process," board member Jim Gelbmann said about the selection of a search firm. "If we're going to go through this nonsense of looking for a new superintendent, at least we should've given every firm out there that does searches of this nature an opportunity to bid on this contract. To award it in a ... motion like this, I just can't stand for."

At its December's meeting, the board voted 5-2 to give notice to Mark 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 ineffective relationships with his staff and poor communication and leadership skills in approving the dismissal.

Dozens of community members presented a petition to the board at the January meeting in protest of the decision to end Porter's contract.

The search firm's consultant, Ken Dragseth, said that despite the upheaval over Porter's dismissal, he thinks he can help the district find a quality superintendent. He described how his agency will get the public involved in the process.

"These emotions have to come out and people have to have a voice," Dragseth said. "It's not a voice necessarily to the board, but a voice to an outside individual who is coming in and sitting down with them and talking to them about this.

"We're not therapists. We realize that. But we realize that if you take this process and work it so that people feel they're involved and have their say all the way through the process, they will be moved along a continuum of anger and frustration. It's a healing process, to be honest with you.

"We're simply here to say, 'OK, the board made a decision. How do we move forward then to help you grow and get healthier as a community and as a district with a new superintendent?' "

Dragseth said he will set up 10 to 15 community focus groups in the coming weeks to gather information on the district's strengths and challenges and to narrow down what the district is looking for in a superintendent.

He will also interview clerical leaders, union presidents and board members in addition to conducting an online survey.

Dragseth is currently involved in three other local superintendent searches but said that won't impede South Washington's search process.

"We're not going to bring you leftovers, I guarantee you. We're going to bring you people who match this district uniquely. When I'm out there recruiting people, I know what you're doing here and what you're trying to get at."

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