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Breckenridge starts search for full-time superintendent

Map: Breckenridge

BRECKENRIDGE, Minn. - The search for a full-time Breckenridge superintendent is on after the School Board hired a consulting firm Thursday to track down a replacement for Warren Schmidt, the interim leader.

Now the district faces the possibility of juggling that search with the task of filling another key position: Veteran high school Principal Dan Bettin, whose position and pay were overhauled in budget cuts last spring, is job hunting.

But while Bettin remains in the district, the board will focus on filling its top job, Schmidt said.

Also on Thursday, the board voted to dismiss an employee grievance that Schmidt said will account for an upcoming October attorney bill.

In September, Breckenridge spent more than $14,000 in legal expenses related to a state inquiry into out-of-state student enrollment as well as a new media attendance policy and a personnel matter, said Business Manager Neil Kusler.

Citing personnel data privacy, Schmidt would not say which employee filed the grievance or why.

The board decided to enlist the services of consulting firm ADM Group of Melrose to handle the superintendent search after it considered conducting it in-house. ADM, which handled the search that landed Schmidt, will charge $6,000 plus expenses.

"We certainly have the competency on the board to do it ourselves, but do we have the time and resources to devote to it?" said member Steve Arnhalt.

Schmidt, in his second year with the district, has been credited with restoring normalcy after an extended standoff between his predecessor, Greg East, and board members. The district is offering a wider selection of classes, including double the number of college-credit courses. It completed negotiations on most of its contracts even as many Minnesota districts have become mired in protracted disputes.

One contract the district hasn't yet finalized is that of Bettin, the high school principal, who says he's reluctantly looking for a new job.

As part of almost $500,000 in budget cuts last spring, the School Board revised Bettin's position and cut his pay by $1,400 a month. He now teaches physical education in the morning at the elementary school and serves as principal at the high school, several blocks away, in the afternoon. He also recently became the district's testing coordinator.

Bettin understands financial realities made the cuts necessary; he volunteered for a pay cut in the spring. But he worries the current arrangement leaves the high school without a licensed administrator in the morning and has him scrambling to do as much as last year in half the time. He says earlier this year, a morning incident at the high school had him lining up a substitute to take over his class so he could attend to the matter.

"I have deep feelings and connections to this community," Bettin said. "I don't want to leave the district in a lurch."

"I think it's working very fine," Schmidt said of the principal arrangement. "There are glitches, but we've been able to overcome them."

He said the district is making it work because all stakeholders are chipping in: Teachers monitor hallways during recess, secretaries and the high school counselor have taken on new duties, and Schmidt himself tries to spend some time at the high school in the morning.

Without much discussion, board members denied the grievance on the grounds that it was not filed in a timely manner and "nothing in the grievance is false or inaccurate."

Richard Link, former superintendent who attended the meeting, said having two key vacancies simultaneously would complicate matters, especially since the superintendent generally handles principal searches: "If they both leave at the same time, it's tougher to get those positions filled."