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Douglas school board members redo finalist selection

Scott Neuffer
Tribune News Service

GARDNERVILLE, Nev. – The consultant hired by the Douglas County School Board to recruit the next superintendent took full responsibility Wednesday night for a potential Open Meeting Law violation that occurred the preceding week.

“This meeting is being conducted to assure we follow within the Open Meeting Law,” consultant Jim Huge told board members. “It’s totally on my shoulders, my responsibility.”

Huge said the redo was necessary to ensure no “cloud” hangs over any decision from the previous meeting.

On April 14, Douglas County school board members voted to move forward with two superintendent candidates: Dave Jensen, assistant superintendent of Humboldt County School District in Winnemucca, and Mary Bull, former superintendent of Vallejo City Unified School District in California.

At that meeting, board members undertook three separate straw polls to reach the decision. The first poll, in which each member circled two candidates, resulted in Jensen being the front-runner “by quite a margin.” Bull and Washoe County Schools Academic Officer Lisa Noonan were tied for second. Heather Henderson-Hill, deputy superintendent of Chinook’s Edge School Division in Alberta, Canada, was fourth.

Board members were split on whether to move forward with Jensen or include the tied candidates. Announcing a front-runner could discourage the runners-up, Huge said. But board members pointed out that technically Jensen could have been everyone’s second choice.

The second poll, in which each board member voted for only one candidate, resulted in a deadlock. The third poll, in which each member ranked their top two choices, first and second, resulted in the two finalists. However, the board did not disclose at the meeting which candidate was ranked first in the final poll nor which board members voted for whom.

The results of each poll were tallied by Huge and Board President Teri Jamin behind closed doors.

On Wednesday, board members voted again, unanimously, to move forward with the same two finalists, Bull and Jensen. This time, though, each board member indicated their top two candidates on a sheet of paper, signed the paper, and then read aloud into the record their top choices, as instructed by district counsel Mike Malloy.

Board members joked that the ballots needed to be notarized and signed in blood.

“They need to be read aloud before any discussion occurs,” said Malloy.

Trustee Randy Green was up first.

“I would accept any one of the four,” he said.

His first choice was Jensen, and his second choice was Noonan.

Trustee Karen Chessell, looking for “what attributes would best serve the district,” said Bull was her first choice, and Noonan was her second.

Board Vice President Tom Moore picked Henderson-Hill as his first, and Jensen as his second, while Board Clerk Keith Roman chose the reverse order: Jensen as his first and Henderson-Hill as his second.

Trustee Sharla Hales picked Bull as her top choice and Jensen as runner-up. She said feedback from stake-holders in the process had been only “marginally helpful.”

“It was all over the map,” she said. “No matter who we select, one group will be disappointed, and one group will be excited.”

Hales said she’s not sure the two current finalists will be the next superintendent.

“Each have exciting strengths and concerning weaknesses,” she said. “My concern is not how long the search goes.”

Trustee Cindy Trigg selected Bull as her first, and Jensen as her second.

Trigg said every one of the four candidates is not only acceptable for the position but would be an asset to the community.

“I’m not happy about having as many meetings as we are, but we have to go on. It’s nothing to rush,” she said. “It has to be a good match for Douglas County.”

Board President Teri Jamin picked Noonan as her first choice and Henderson-Hill as her second.

Board members emphasized that all four candidates are good candidates, and they hoped the runners-up would still consider the position if the two current finalists don’t pan out.

Huge said he’s assured the candidates that whomever is selected, the board will stand behind them 100 percent.

“Our board prides itself on standing behind the outcome of a vote once a decision is made,” said Moore.

“It’s humbling and nerve-wracking to make a decision so much rides on,” Hales said.

Follow-up roundtable interviews with the two finalists, board members, principals, teachers and other staff members are scheduled for 9 a.m. to noon and 3 to 6 p.m. Monday at Douglas High School.


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