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Banks gets set to pick a new superintendent

With Jim Foster due to retire in June, community meets to determine a process to replace him
by:  Jim Foster

When Superintendent Jim Foster retires next June, he'll leave behind the headaches that come from budget shortfalls, creaky buildings and ever-increasing state and federal education mandates.

But the former teacher, coach and principal will take with him 32 years worth of memories in the Banks School District - stories he'll tell his grandchildren and former students who regularly return to thank him for his leadership.

'I don't think there's a better place I could have spent my career,' Foster, 60, said Monday.

With his departure a mere six months away, it's left to the community and the Banks School Board to come up with a plan to fill his shoes. Two meetings this week will get that ball rolling.

The first is at 6 p.m. Thursday and the second is at 9 a.m. Saturday. Both will be held in the board workroom in the administration building, 450 S. Main St.

Qualities and qualifications

Input gathered at the sessions will 'help establish a foundation for the qualities and qualifications' community members would like to see in their new schools chief, said Jessica Knieling, director of labor and employment services for the Oregon School Boards Association. Her colleague, consultant Donna Herren, will facilitate the meetings and shore up the subsequent search.

The OSBA typically recruits nationally to fill such positions, Knieling said. But in Banks, a rural district with 1,140 students, the school board could decide to look no further than its own back yard.

Closing date for applications is Feb. 24.

A salary and benefits package to accompany a job posting is also the board's to set, added Knieling. Foster's salary this year is $110,160, but because the board cut 10 school days from the current year's calendar, he'll make $105,923 in 2011-12.

Banks parent Steve Greagor said he admired Foster for spending his career 'in one jurisdiction in support of something he was so passionate about.'

Greagor ran unsuccessfully against Laurie Schlegel for the school board last May, but has continued to take an interest in ways the Banks district can remain competitive despite deep financial potholes.

'Rural districts face challenges unlike suburban [or] urban districts, where educational offerings and other opportunities are feasible due to larger enrollment and increased state funding,' Gregor said.

He'd like to see a potent curriculum vitae connected to the next superintendent.

'Experience in an Oregon district with a demonstrated track record of success is important,' said Greagor. 'My wife and I would like to see that the next superintendent is progressive and creative in the face of the financial issues facing the district.'

The district made $1.9 million in cuts to its 2011-12 general fund budget, including 10 days off the school calendar, a 30 percent cut to athletics and layoffs of 15 teachers and classified employees.

An ongoing issue has been what to do about sagging buildings, particularly structural problems and inadequate heating and cooling systems at the junior high school.

Banks voters last May rejected a $10.5 million bond levy to gird up its infrastructure. Two previous levies, in 2008 and 2010, also failed.

'Both buildings may require diverting more and more of our financial resources in order to maintain them as learning spaces for our students,' said Banks Junior High Principal Mark Everett.

Everett lauded Foster for being 'a passionate supporter of all things Banks' and for initiating and implementing change 'while providing a steady and consistent message of doing what is best for students' during three decades in the district.

Misty Maller, the mother of two children in the district, said she wanted Banks' next top administrator to focus on improving communication with the community. '[That] would help put more people on the same page,' she said. 'I think the presence of the superintendent at all the schools is a must.'

Construction bond returns?

Between now and June, Foster said he'd look at ways to increase elective courses, negotiate new contracts with employee unions and aid in the search for his replacement.

And, like Maller, who worried that failing buildings were keeping the district from providing 'a proper learning area for our kids,' Foster isn't giving up on finding money to complete needed projects.

'We will also look at the possibility of putting a construction bond back out to the voters,' he said.