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Petition asks BOLD to keep superintendent

Tom Cherveny / Tribune Gladie Hagen presented BOLD School Board members with a 328-signature petition urging them to keep John Dotson as Superintendent of Schools, and rescind a previous action not to extend his contract. "Please do not spend district funds to hire a search firm when we already have a highly qualified superintendent in Mr. Dotson," she told board members Monday. 1 / 2
Tom Cherveny / Tribune BOLD School Board Chairman Russ Lesniak listens to citizen comments Monday during the board's meeting. Lesniak has contacted districts neighboring BOLD to determine if there is interest in a shared superintendent position, but has not found any takers so far. 2 / 2

OLIVIA — Division in the BOLD School District was apparent Monday as citizens presented school board members with a petition urging them to keep Superintendent John Dotson.

School board members did not respond to the petition, and instead moved ahead with plans to find a search firm to recruit a superintendent. They also continued to explore the possibility of sharing a superintendent with a neighboring district.

At Monday's school board meeting, Gladie Hagen of Olivia presented the petition — signed by 328 district residents — urging the board to extend the contract of Dotson.

"Please do not spend district funds to hire a search firm when we already have a highly qualified superintendent in Mr. Dotson,'' said Hagen before an audience of over 80 people attending the meeting.

Dotson is completing the final year of his second three-year contract as superintendent for the district. BOLD School Board members last month rejected a one-year contract extension on a 2-4 vote.

Hagen urged the board to rescind its prior decision not to extend his contract after six years, pointing out that the board had given him satisfactory reviews in evaluations.

"We are questioning exactly what the reasons for his termination are,'' she said.

District resident Sandy Benson joined Hagen in addressing the board and speaking to Dotson's accomplishments, in particular citing the district's financial performance during his tenure.

She also told board members that many more signatures could have been collected, and that some were fearful to sign it.

"You know what is really sad. When they went out to get these names, some of these people were fear(ful) for their children, because some of the teachers and coaches will retaliate against their children,'' Benson said.

Yet others urged the board to move forward in finding a new superintendent, while also acknowledging the divisions in the district. Matt Sullivan, a physical education/health instructor for the schools, said he was "distraught" by what he said were "messages of hate and suspicion towards BOLD teachers and staff" appearing in letters to the editor in area newspapers.

"These factually inaccurate letters paint BOLD employees as second-class citizens and point fingers of blame instead of solutions,'' Sullivan said.

He urged the board to move forward in finding a superintendent that could "unify our communities with teachers and staff, maximize our efforts to educate our students.''

Financial challenges looming

The comments from citizens came before school board members received an audit report indicating that the district is in good financial condition, but faces challenges ahead.

Auditor Jim Gilman with the firm of Conway, Deuth & Schmiesing, of Willmar, told board members the district's general fund currently has a roughly $3.9 million reserve, as compared to overall activity of $8.3 million. The size of the reserve is exactly what the Minnesota Department of Education would recommend. "You are right there,'' Gilman said.

But he told board members that state data point to a steady decline in enrollment in the district and hence state revenue, and that the district comprised of the Bird Island, Olivia and Lake Lillian communities is also seeing losses due to students attending other districts via open enrollment.

"There are going to be some tough decisions here,'' Gilman said of fiscal projections for three years and four years out. "You are going to have to have expenditure reductions you are not going to like.''

Superintendent Dotson told board members that those decisions may have to come sooner than desired. At the current spending pace, the district could see its overall fund balance of roughly $4.1 million decline to $2.8 million by the end of the next fiscal year, he warned.

Superintendent search continues

Board members voted to postpone a decision on hiring a search firm, but with the goal of soliciting proposals from more than the two firms which have offered proposals at this point.

Board members also want to hear back from the MACCRAY and Renville County West districts as to whether they would consider a shared superintendent position.

Board chairman Russ Lesniak said Buffalo Lake-Hector-Stewart, Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City, Willmar, and Redwood Valley indicated that they are not interested.

He said his gut feeling is that RCW will not be interested either, but said board members there were to consider the proposal that same night.

MACCRAY, which just contracted with a firm to start a superintendent search, will discuss on Dec. 11 the proposal by BOLD to share a superintendent.

Tom Cherveny

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

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