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BOLD postpones superintendent decision

Tribune file photo Superintendent John Dotson is completing the final year of his second, three-year contract as superintendent for the BOLD School District.

OLIVIA — BOLD school board members postponed a decision on hiring a superintendent search firm, and whether to make the position part time, until their January 8 meeting.

The action at their meeting on Monday occurred as they heard from community members on both sides of two issues dividing the district: Whether to approve a new, part-time contract with Superintendent John Dotson; and whether or not bullying by staff and students is occurring in the schools.

Supt. Dotson, who is completing a second, three-year contract, also told board members the superintendent search process "has been flawed from the very beginning.'' He said board members started it with a special meeting held at a time, day and location not normal for board meetings.

He also accused board chair Russ Lesniak of not accurately reporting on his contact with one of the three potential superintendent search firms, Ray and Associates. Dotson said he is an associate with the firm. He learned from its owner that contrary to what the board chair had reported, the firm had not been contacted when Lesniak told board members the firm did not handle searches for districts of less than 1,800 students.

The board chair is on a trip and was not present at Monday's meeting to respond to the statement.

The superintendent pointed to the board chair's inquiries to neighboring districts about the possibility of sharing a superintendent. "If we're not getting the truth on the search firms, what else aren't we getting the truth on?'' said Dotson.

The superintendent has proposed that he would serve for another year as superintendent at either a one-half or three-quarters position, with a salary adjusted accordingly.

Gladie Hagen, a district resident, asked board members why they haven't responded to a 328-signature petition urging the board to approve a new contract with Dotson.

She said a new, part-time contract with Supt. Dotson represented the best fiscal decision for the district. Hagen pointed to the potential for $10,000 to $12,000 in fees for a superintendent search and the expectation that a new, full-time superintendent would require $120,000 in compensation, as compared to $108,000 for the current superintendent

She also spoke about emails she sent to board members raising concerns that a small number of people with positions in the school are bullying students. "I believe you know in your heart of hearts that what I and others have been talking about is true,'' said Hagen.

District resident Sandy Benson expressed concerns about bullying by students against other students in the district. She said she received responses from five different parents who said they were afraid to speak up about the issue after she had a Letter to the Editor on the subject published in the Renville Register.

High School Principal Jim Menton said he responds immediately to any reports of bullying, and expressed concerns that the community is getting a black eye as a result of the public accusations about bullying. "I am upset that we are perpetuating what I think is a myth of a terrible bullying situation in my school because, if it is happening, people need to bring it to me,'' said the principal.

Board member Traci Buchtel said she had three children in the school system, and never heard of any experiences with bullying from them or their friends.

Resident Jamie Bohlin said she has seen no evidence of bullying by teachers or coaches, and pointed to an example of an instructor who has donated many hours to tutor students.

Bohlin said she and others had urged the school board not to renew Supt. Dotson's contract three years ago, and they support the decision to not extend his contract now. Bohlin pointed to a May 2006 newspaper article from the Sioux City Journal, of Sioux City, Iowa, reporting how the Louisa-Muscatine School Board had not renewed his contract there. The article reported board members felt he was adversarial, and that he responded by stating the termination had nothing to do with performance and board members had personal agendas.

"Does this sound familiar to you guys?'' said Bohlin.

Dotson said the 11-year-old newspaper article did not tell the whole story. "Look at the whole truth and do your homework on it,'' he told Bohlin.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

(320) 214-4335
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