Superintendent job offered to Funk

Published 9:08 am Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Albert Lea school board this morning voted to offer the position of superintendent of the district to Mike Funk, superintendent of the Bird Island, Olivia, Lake Lillian School District and a lieutenant colonel in the Minnesota National Guard.

The decision came on a 4-2 vote.

Chairman Bill Leland said he called Funk on Monday to offer the position, subject to a contract acceptable to Albert Lea Area Schools and to Funk. Funk accepted, also subject to a contract.

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Now begins negotiation and legal review, which could take a few weeks, Leland said.

The pay range for superintendents in the Big Nine Conference is $120,000 to $160,000. The Albert Lea superintendent position will pay somewhere in that ballpark.

Leland, board members Bill Villarreal, Jolinda Schreiber and Jill Marin voted for Funk. Board members Sally Ehrhardt and Linda Laurie voted in favor of Cathy Bettino, superintendent of the Pine River-Backus School District

The decision came after a lengthy discussion. Board members felt both finalists were qualified and would be acceptable as Albert Lea’s superintendent. The board talked about philosophies, leadership qualities and public relations.

Leland emphasized how close the two finalists were and said Funk’s leadership background tipped the decision in his favor.

“It was incredibly close,” added Villarreal.

Leland, Director of Curriculum Judy Knudtson and Albert Lea retiree Terry Cochran visited the sites of the two finalists last week. Leland said the visits confirmed what they saw in applications and interviews.

In his report to the board on the site visits, Leland said: “A common theme heard throughout the interviews was that when the candidates were unable to be present at school or community meetings a noticeable hole was evident. His or her respective staff also universally feels the ’presence’ of each candidate in a positive way.”

At the BOLD School District, he met with the administrative leaders and had some informal talk with staff members.

The mottos of “Be BOLD” and “Expect the Best” were present through the buildings, Leland said. The staff frequently referred to the strategic plan as the basis for decision making. Funk’s management style was collaborative yet focused, with a common theme of “stay in your lane.”

Leland said Funk expected them to be experts in their field and said there was a lack of tension.

They praised his ability to structure staff, hire key people and mentor them, too, Leland said in his report. Funk is seen by the community as a forward thinker because he favors consolidating schools in Renville County into a county school district and has taken a leadership role at the state for the initiative. He also leads other ideas for education reform.

At the Pine River-Backus School District, he met with administrators, president of the teachers’ union and the administrative assistant. There was some informal talk with some staff members, too.

The mottos of “Catch the Pride” and “Proud to be PRB” were seen and heard through the buildings.

Staff said the strategic plan was the basis for decision making and guiding belief system. Bettino’s management style was collaborative and facilitative. They said management of change is one of Bettino’s strengths and staff has trust in her. She empowers people by acting as a resource, providing challenges and trusting them to do their jobs well. Open communication was a common theme.

They said staff morale had improved while she was at Pine River-Backus. They described her as passionate and progressive and gave examples of her ability to compromise in a respectful way. Bettino is visible in the community with programs such as Community Qwest and Community Read.

Leland said the visits confirmed each candidate possessed the skills and qualities the school board sought in a superintendent.

Cochran said at BOLD he met with community members in Olivia and in Bird Island. He said all interviewed were aware via local media had that Funk was a finalist for the Albert Lea position.

They told Cochran that Funk had brought stability to the schools, was well-respected and has good rapport with local government. They spoke well of his leadership skills. They wished he would not leave but acknowledged he was looking to advance his career.

In the Pine River-Backus School District, Cochran went to Pine River and Backus to meet with community members. All felt Bettino to be a good superintendent and a community asset. Because she had “moved up through the ranks” within the district, starting as a teacher, it aided her. They said she has brought stability to the district.

They told Cochran she has many community ties and her children went through the district, too. People who did not know she was considering leaving the district were surprised she would consider the move. All wanted her to stay.

“It is reassuring to me as a taxpayer residing in District 241 to see firsthand how hard they, and I’m sure the others involved in this process too, are working to find the best possible person to be our next superintendent,” Cochran said in his report to the board.

About Tim Engstrom

Tim Engstrom is the editor of the Albert Lea Tribune. He resides in Albert Lea with his wife, two sons and dog.

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