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Willmar superintendent interviews to begin next week

WILLMAR -- Interviews for a new Willmar Schools superintendent are scheduled to begin next week.

The School Board will meet at 4:30 p.m. Monday at the Willmar Education and Arts Center to choose applicants to be interviewed. On Tuesday evening board members will launch into an ambitious schedule of interviews that will lead to choosing a final candidate by the end of the following week.

Superintendent Kathy Leedom plans to retire at the end of July after serving as superintendent since 2000.

The board received an information packet about the interview process at its Monday meeting. Board members will meet next week with representatives of School Exec Connect, the firm the board hired to help with the search, to choose candidates for a first round of interviews.

The candidates the board chooses will be notified after the meeting. If they agree to come to Willmar for an interview, their names will become public.

The board decided to conduct one-hour first interviews of the finalists on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings, beginning at 6 p.m. each day. The interviews, as with all board meetings, are open to the public.

By the end of the week, board members expect to have chosen no more than three finalists to return for a longer second interview.

On the second interviews, tentatively scheduled for April 29 and 30 and May 1, the board will conduct a second, longer interview. In addition, each candidate will meet with a group of administrators from the district and also a group of parents, teachers, school staff and people from the community.

The timetable laid out by School Exec Connect leads the board to choosing a final candidate by May 2 and beginning contract negotiations on May 6.

Also at Monday's meeting, Business and Finance Director Pam Harrington told the board that enrollment has declined in the district after holding steady in January. The figure was 4,085 on April 11, 112 students less than a year ago at the same time. The number is 24 lower than at the end of the last school year.

The district tracks enrollment every week, she said. Most of the students who have left moved out of the district, she said, but the movement doesn't seem to be tied to any particular event or the economy.

In other business, the board:

- Heard a report on the district's updated Web site, which went online a week ago.

- Approved a contract for special education services with the Southwest/West Central Service Cooperative. The district will use its federal special education funds to pay for a school psychologist, occupational therapy and physical therapy services, as well as using the services of a coordinator of educational programs. The total cost is more than $422,000.

- Approved a 2008-09 budget of $599,065 for the West Central Integration Collaborative programs in Willmar. Of the total, $419,000 comes from state aid and $180,000 comes from a local levy. The collaborative serves eight area school districts and works to increase interracial contact between students and staff.

- Approved a salary and benefit agreement with paraprofessionals working in the Title I and Title III programs in the district. The paras will receive an overall increase of 4 percent in each year of the two-year agreement. Title I refers generally to programs to improve reading and math, and Title III refers generally to programs to improve language skills.