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Paynesville, Minn., School District searching for new superintendent

Todd Burlingame, seen in this undated photo, will complete his tenure June 30 as superintendent of the Paynesville Area?School District. Tribune photo

PAYNESVILLE -- The Paynesville Area School District is looking for a new superintendent.

Todd Burlingame, who has been with the district for 13 years -- including eight years as superintendent, submitted his resignation the end of October.

Burlingame said he intends to fulfill his contract through the end of the 2011-12 school year, but he will turn in his keys on June 30.

The Paynesville Area School Board is scheduled to hold a special meeting today to discuss options for searching for a new superintendent.

"It was just time for a change. For myself and the school district," said Burlingame, 47, adding that he's not sure where his career will take him next.

Burlingame's resignation follows a stressful time for the district over a terminated contract for building repairs -- a termination that cost the district $295,000 in settlement fees.

In 2010 the school board approved a $16.5 million contract with Johnson Controls Inc. for extensive heating and ventilation improvements to the elementary school and high school. The district intended to pay for it with a health and safety levy -- which does not require voter approval under a state statute that provides for an exemption from that requirement when health and safety issues are the purpose of a project.

Citizens in the Paynesville district objected, however, saying the project should have been put on the ballot.

"The whole thing kind of blew up in (the school board's) face," said Burlingame, adding that the process for the project was not as transparent as it should have been.

The project and the contract with Johnson Controls was terminated. Johnson Controls sued the district. Faced with that expense, the school board approved a mediated settlement at the Oct. 10 meeting.

At the next meeting Burlingame submitted his resignation.

In an interview this week, Burlingame said the controversial project played a part in his decision to resign, but he reiterated it was simply time for a change.

He said he was not asked to resign, has no "hard feelings" toward the district and said his departure is a mutual agreement that will be "good for both parties in the end."

He said there are several neighboring school districts looking for administrators. Burlingame, a graduate of Canby High School, started his career as an elementary teacher in Volga, S.D., and was an elementary principal in Virginia, Minnewaska and Paynesville before taking over as superintendent in Paynesville eight years ago.

He said he's proud of the positive changes at Paynesville, including all-day, every-day kindergarten, multiage classes, a positive fund balance and hiring talented young teachers.

Meanwhile, the school board has restarted discussion of the heating and ventilation improvement project and conducted a community meeting at the end of November to lay out two different options, ranging in price from $3.5 million to $8.3 million.

The proposals may be put on the ballot in 2012, along with a potential operating levy question to increase general fund revenues for the district.

The community is also being asked to weigh in on a proposal to purchase the Army Reserve building and adjacent land in Paynesville for a sports center. The district could purchase the land and building for $1, but it could cost about $1.5 million to fund renovations.

Burlingame said he will be working on all of those issues with the school board through the end of his contract.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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