Hastings School Board members are weighing Superintendent Tim Collins's upcoming retirement and hope to be rehired, against some community pressure for new leadership.
Collins is hoping to return to the district where he has spent the last 16 years of his career. At a June 14 board work session, members discussed potential options to move forward - from rehiring Collins to conducting a search for a new person to head the district's top position.
"I've been here 16 years and I've met my goals every year as a superintendent," Collins said in a June 7 interview.
Board members will determine in July whether to hire a new candidate or rehire Collins, who announced his retirement in May. He's retiring through a now defunct law that allowed education employees to retire once their age and years of experience combined to 90 - he is grandfathered into the policy.
If rehired, Collins said he doesn't have a set length he wants to continue working. It depends on his health and passion for the work, he said.
"I still love walking into a first grade classroom ... if that love and passion were to start dying out, it'd be time to move on," Collin said. "I'm hoping that lasts another four to five years, but if your health starts to go out ... I think anybody reading the article would understand."
At the meeting, options were detailed and various questions were answered by attorney Kevin Rupp, a school and labor law attorney with Rupp, Anderson, Squires & Waldspurger.
Board members would have to bring in an interim superintendent throughout the search for a new full-time superintendent if it elects to hire someone else. The board would have 30 days to bring on an interim person, from Collins potential departure.
At the board session it was detailed that the district has been in contact with the Minnesota School Board Association over holding a potential search and could also consider a private search firm.
The board could also conduct the search itself, but that would be unusual for a district Hastings size, Rupp said.
While the school board won't begin discussions on what direction each member wants to go until the Thursday, June 20 work session, board member Dave Pemble seemed to allude to his thinking at the last session, before being stopped by board chair Scott Gergen.
Pemble said he believed as "an elected representative of the community" that the board needed to listen to what voters have to say.
"Frankly, I've heard overwhelmingly a large portion of the people say that it's time to head out in a new direction," he said at the meeting. "Part of that feeling, is that, I guess, I agree with that."
Gergen stopped Pemble and said that the meeting was focused on the options, not what direction they would take.
Other discussion clarified popular questions surrounding the decision like requiring the superintendent to live in the city they work or the "normal" length of time that a board typically has to determine which direction to go when a superintendent retires.
Rupp said that there is not a typical length of time between an announced retirement and that it is illegal to mandate residency in a contract. However, the board could provide incentives for someone to move to Hastings, he said.
Hastings parents Becky Kranz Beissel and Lynette Peterson attended the June 14 work session to see how the board was weighing its options and to push for new leadership, they said.
"We're here to voice our concerns regarding the way the school district has gone with the leadership of Tim Collins," Beissel said. "Yes, Tim has done good things for the district, but it's time."
Peterson said that she was interested in the board looking into "all options other than retire and rehire."
Financial turnaround, difficult decisions
Throughout Collins's tenure, he's had opportunities to go to other districts but elected to stay, he said.
"There's the commitment of being here 16 to 17 years, this is in my mind where I wanted to have my educational career end," Collin said.
Hastings' school district has always been the right size for his preferences and the community has been patient with the difficult decisions he's had to spearhead, he said.
He pointed to closing elementary schools, making budget cuts and redrawing district boundaries as moves that many superintendents don't like to make due to their unpopular nature.
In 2003, the district was facing a budget shortfall of more than $1 million, he said. Since then, the district has turned around and now has a budget surplus.
"I've been very fortunate to work with some great administrators to school board members that have had the flexibility to make some very tough decisions ... the community has been very patient with me," he said.
Collins had signed a three-year contract last year and had informally mentioned to board members that he was considering early retirement earlier this school year, Gergen said in an interview.
The amount of time the board has to determine its direction does put the members in a time crunch, but he said they have enough time to make a decision.
"I would certainly prefer a more planned succession, but things happen everyday. People come and go and so we'll just deal with we have," Gergen said.
Gergen has sparred with Collins's critics on Facebook, offering up what he said is factual information.
He said he hasn't determined which of the two superintendent options he thinks is best, but that it can be frustrating to see some of the community discussion on the district's future be grounded in emotions and what he described as "incorrect information."
"It's very disappointing to read some of the things that are written about a superintendent that has had a wonderful career here," Gergen said. "What I'm trying to eliminate is that misinformation."
Most of the criticism surrounds the handling of teacher non-renewals this year and of former wrestling coach and Hastings Middle School assistant principal Josh McLay, Gergen said.
McLay was charged in February of alleged theft and embezzlement of the district's funds to attend college football games.
"I have had sit-down discussions with people ... it seems like they go very well," Gergen said. "We don't always come to a mutual agreement, but we walk forward with a mutual respect for our positions ... some of that is lacking right now."