Friday, May 30, 2008

Meet the new boss?

The Waukesha school district has two finalists for superintendent to replace the retiring Dave Schmidt.

The candidates are Todd Gray from the Oshkosh School District and James Heiden from the Cudahy School District. Gray currently serves as deputy superintendent of business services and Heiden has been the superintendent for Cudahy for the past three years.

It looks like Todd Gray was just installed in his current position last October.

Todd Gray has returned to the Oshkosh Area School District and will be the district’s Deputy Superintendent for Business Services. Gray will focus on a variety of areas, including boundary lines, budget issues, facility issues, transportation, staffing and much more.

Gray is a resident of Oshkosh who taught high school for five years, he then went into public accounting for about seven years, after which he decided to join the Oshkosh Area School District and worked with the district over 11 years. Gray then went to the Appleton District and became Chief Financial Officer, but now he is back with the Oshkosh Area School District.

Gray said, “I decided to come back for the challenge. There is a lot going on in the district that I believe I can help with. I look forward to coming back and working with the people in the district. I came back to help make change.”

Gray hopes staff members take a positive outlook on what they do and on the district. He learned a tremendous amount working with the Appleton District, and he also knows Oshkosh has a lot going for it. He wants to transfer the positive attitude the Appleton Community has towards schools in Appleton and transfer that more to Oshkosh.

Gray said, “Oshkosh is a good school district, and I hope to help make it a great school district.”

In his short tenure at Oshkosh, he's been involved in the planning of a $40 million referendum plan. To be fair, his plan seems to be the low number planned for referendum next spring. But I'm a little concerned about his role in discussing the formation of a "vote yes" committee for the proposed referendum. Gray was involved in referendum fights for both Appleton and Oshkosh previously.

Todd Gray was the Appleton school district's chief financial officer in 2005, when voters approved a $16.9 million school building referendum and one of two requests to exceed state revenue caps. Now the Oshkosh school district deputy superintendent of business services, Gray said planning and getting the community excited was crucial.

"If we don't have an excited community, we won't pass a referendum and we'll be even further behind," he said.

Gray said the Appleton school board voted unanimously to send its referendums to the community in 2005. Often times, Gray said, some adjusting has to be done though, in order to get all board members to vote in favor.

"So the things happening (in Oshkosh) are not unusual at all," he said. "Even in Appleton, we had to adjust the plan to get seven board members to vote yes."

Gray said in 1998, when the Oshkosh community passed a referendum to build a new Jefferson Elementary School and upgrade the Merrill building, the plan also had to be adjusted to get full board buy-in. Gray was the Oshkosh school district's superintendent of finance at the time.

"We can't afford to give up," Gray said. "I believe if the plan is designed properly you should be able to get seven votes."

Gray said, as an industry standard, when going to the community for a referendum there is already a 40 percent "no vote," even with a unanimous board.

"Now, if you have someone that is against that you already add to that without even doing any marketing," Gray said. "If you have two board members you are in deep trouble. If you can't sell to your own board, it's a tough sell. I will never say impossible, but you will have an uphill battle."

Meanwhile, if Waukesha picks Gray, will the district be left without a candidate? Oshkosh is looking for a superintendent, too.

Finally, it's interesting to note that both Gray and Schmidt were up for Appleton School District Superintendent when both were passed over for Lee Allinger.

James Heiden (aka Jim Heiden, James P. Heiden) is superintendent in Cudahy where they are considering closing an elementary school.

This past year the District lost over 100 students. The decline is considered significant and plans need to be made if the enrollment would continue to decline at that rate.

The Board of Education and Administration believe that it would be in our best interest to develop an ad hoc committee to study the financial, political and educational impact of declining enrollment. The committee would report back to the Board of Education with specific recommendations for them to consider.

I can not stress enough that we are not closing a school in 2008-2009 school year. We need to study the trends, explore the options, create potential timelines and then make specific recommendations to the Board of Education that may or may not include closing a school for the 2009-2010 or 2010-2011 school year.

By the time they close a school, it will be a high school. (I'll wait a moment for that joke to sink in.) Heiden made the news when he announced high school biology students were "horrified" when one of their classmates was spanked.

"It took everybody by complete surprise," said James P. Heiden, director of student services, according to the Milwaukee daily.

The paper said the district has changed its visitation policy for parents, allowing them now to meet students only in the office.

The girl's mother told the Journal Sentinel it was an isolated incident and her daughter "comes from a very loving family."

The incident was blown out of proportion and "the school handled it just fine," she said, describing the spanking as a "misjudgment" for which the family apologized.

School officials said the girl had disrupted her biology class Feb. 11, which prompted assistant principal Greg DePue to notify her father when he happened to be at school the next day regarding a matter with another child.

According to DePue, the father responded, "You know what? There won't be a problem in today's class because I'm going to be in there."

DePue said he took the parents to their daughter's class, and the teacher stepped out to talk to them. DePue then took over the class momentarily while the conversation went on, and after a little more than a minute, the father entered the classroom, the Milwaukee paper said.

He called his daughter to the front and told her he would not have her disrupting the class.

The father then ordered her to turn around, and he spanked her bottom.

"It was so fast," DePue told the Journal Sentinel. "It just happened."

DePue said police immediately were called after he went to the school office with the parents and their daughter. The girl was put in a separate room.

You parents might want to consider if you only want to see your children under the strict supervision of administration in the principal's office.

We'll keep reporting as we keep digging.

In the meantime, Waukesha had over 20 applicants for Schmidt's job. Not bad for a district with (supposedly) such a negative image, right?