Minnesota's fourth-largest school district has hired a new leader who has already spent more than a decade as its director of special education.

The Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan school board voted Monday on a contract with Mary Kreger, who has been serving as interim superintendent since July 1. Board members offered the job to Kreger last month, not long after they opted to look for an internal superintendent candidate instead of launching an expensive, lengthy search.

Kreger, who was hired as the district's director of special education in 2005, said she was excited to be asked to take on the new role. As the district heads toward some major challenges, including an anticipated $25 million budget shortfall over the next three years, she said her longstanding relationships with people in the schools and the communities that they serve will be an asset.

"It really makes a lot of sense: I'm already working with HR, with finance, with [students] from birth to 21," she said. "When you look across the system, I have a lot of the relationships established with principals and teachers and community members."

Kreger replaces Jane Berenz, who announced her retirement last spring after serving as superintendent for nine years.

In addition to her time leading the special education programs at Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan, Kreger spent 13 years as a special education teacher, coordinator and supervisor for South Washington County Schools, and previously worked as a substitute teacher in Minneapolis, Lakeville and in the district she'll now lead. She has a master's degree in special education and a specialist degree in education administration from Minnesota State University, Mankato.

Kreger will move into her role at a time when the district is seeing an uptick in enrollment. This year, nearly 29,000 students are attending Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan schools.

She said administrators are currently working to figure out how to cut into the district's budget without having a significant impact on its students — and how to get district residents on board with the idea that they'll need to chip in more money to support their schools. Community meetings starting in December will provide residents a chance to share their thoughts on some of the strategies the district is considering, she said.

District officials have said they'll likely try to put a levy increase on the ballot in 2019.

Kreger said she intends to spend plenty of time listening to the community, as well as to staff members in all of the district's schools.

"There's this huge research base of how important relationships are for kids to learn," she said. "It's important to have a positive social-emotional climate in [school] buildings, and my leadership style is that it's true for adults as well, so I have an open-door policy."

Meanwhile, another large metro district in search of a superintendent is still in the search process. Osseo, the state's fifth-largest district, is now being led by its second interim leader since Superintendent Kate Maguire stepped down in June. Last spring, the district conducted a search, identified its top candidates and conducted interviews with two finalists — and then declined to offer either of them the job.