Running a large school district is complicated. Any operation with a $50 million budget and more than 450 employees would be, but there's the added elements of tax money involvement and a volunteer, albeit elected, board of directors.
That places an enormous amount of responsibility on the administration, particularly the superintendent, who not only gets to guide the efforts of all those employees but be the go-to answer person for the board of education as well. If the BOE is content to rubberstamp everything the top administrator offers, accountability to the public goes out the window.
We thought all that changed in Hays USD 489 with the early retirement of Fred Kaufman less than three years ago. His defiance of the board in response to challenging questions led to his separation. That departure led to a gradual transformation of the board as long-standing members either stepped down or were defeated.
When Josh Waddell, Lance Bickle and Danielle Robben joined the board two weeks ago, it became readily apparent even more questions were going to be asked of staff. Lengthy executive sessions were held the past two board meetings -- and early retirement notices were given by the top two administrators.
Will Roth, who succeeded Kaufman, was under contract until June 30, 2015. He moved the date to July 1, 2014, then to Oct. 1 of this year after encouragement from the board. Deputy Superintendent Richard Cain will retire even earlier, effective Sept. 1.
We can't predict if other surprise announcements will take place, but we wouldn't be surprised.
While we'll never know all of what took place in those executive sessions, we do know the board is asking lots of questions. Contracts are being examined. Policies voted upon by the board are being scrutinized to ensure the interpretation implemented is correct. IT upgrades are being looked at, as are workers compensation claims, athletic field surfaces and budget transfers. The board is looking at everything, and even plans to hire a management consultant at Monday's meeting not only to assist in the superintendent search but to look for areas to improve efficiency.
In short, the 489 BOE is striving to bring the same level of excellence found in classrooms throughout the district to the central office. This board wants administrators who can identify problems down the road, research options and recommend directions to take. They want a proactive superintendent who can avoid handing the board crises to manage. They want financial management that's comprehendable. They want accountability from top to bottom.
For patrons of USD 489, these all seem reasonable and necessary goals. Most likely are surprised all those were not in place.
The public elects seven board members to be reasonable stewards of our trust -- and our money. If a majority of them didn't have full faith and confidence in the job being performed by Roth or Cain, for whatever reason, then the retirements come at a good time.
We look forward to what a nationwide search results in, and to the suggestions made by the new consultant. And we encourage patience for all those watching the process. The first steps might have happened quickly, but wholesale change will take time.
Editorial by Patrick Lowry