There are 28 candidates. That’s the number of resumes collected by Luther School Board President Matt Mohr for superintendent. One of the candidates is Barry Gunn. And two school board members want to “skip the formalities” and just hire the popular middle school principal.
Trouble is, the board agreed to follow a process for hiring the new administrator, explained Mohr. At the January meeting, the board voted to post the position at the Oklahoma State School Board Association’s website. The process would then entail reviewing candidates in executive session at the February 13 meeting to begin scheduling interviews on agreed upon top candidates. A few special meetings would then follow to work through the process of interviewing and hiring the best possible applicant by July 1, explained Mohr.
From unapproved minutes of the January meeting, the motion carried on the process of hiring the new superintendent. Charles DeFuria was the only no vote.
“Three weeks after this decision, we have two board members say ‘we don’t like that. Let’s vote on this guy.’ It’s ridiculous at best and makes it look like we are using the ‘good old boy system,'” said Mohr.
He said the board has learned its lesson in hiring without going through the process of interviewing to find the best possible candidates, referring to the backlash that ensued after Dr. Patti Buxton was hired in 2015 as Dean of Students, and who resigned after one semester. “If there’s anything we learned from the hiring of Patti Buxton is we should never again anoint someone without going through the process,” said Mohr.
Still, DeFuria and fellow board member Steven Broudy asked for the Gunn item to be placed on the February agenda. The board president and superintendent set the board agenda, but two members can co-sponsor an agenda item.
The item states: “Discuss and take action on the hiring of Barry Gunn as superintendent, effective July 1, 2017.”
DeFuria told The Luther Register, “There was never any need for the Board to advertise the position. The only legal requirement for the Board is that the person hired to be the superintendent is certified as such with SDE (Oklahoma State Department of Education). Barry Gunn is a ‘known quantity.’ When Buxton was hired, he looked good on paper and talked a good game, but you know what happened,” said DeFuria referencing current Superintendent Sheldon Buxton who announced his resignation in December.
Mohr emphasizes this isn’t about whether to hire Mr. Gunn, it’s about following the process. “I like Barry,” he said and looks forward to hearing Gunn’s vision for the district.
Mr. Gunn has popular support in the community. And this agenda item got many talking on social media. On the Luther Register’s FB page Friday, many commenters chimed in, mostly positive including one witty and timely comment, “Mr. Gunn will make Luther Schools Great Again!!”
Still, it’s the school board, not the public, that hires a superintendent. And the public votes for the school board members.
Even the school board candidate challenging Mohr in Tuesday’s election commented. Tony Rumpl said there is obvious community support for Gunn. “While talking to members of the community about the School Board election, this was brought up multiple times. I got the sense that the community really wanted Mr Gunn to be the new superintendent. I fully support the idea of hiring him as soon as possible,” he wrote on FB.
One commenter however, wondered about Mr. Gunn’s financial experience and his intentions to keep Luther students safe at school. Wrote Shari Wile, “What I would like to see in a super is someone who puts the well-being and education of our kids first. Someone who is fiscally responsible and can live on a budget. Someone who has a zero tolerance for bullying, violence and abuse. Someone who refuses to sweep that stuff under the rug. Does Mr. Gunn qualify? I know he is lovable and well-liked, is he ready to play hard ball?”
Mohr confirmed that Mr. Gunn has not been interviewed for the job, so the current board does not know his vision for LPS officially. The interview process, he emphasized, will determine Gunn’s goals. The process, he said, will reveal the best possible individual to lead Luther Public Schools without the stigma of using “the good old boy system” to get it done.
Can they do it legally? The answer is yes or maybe no.
Mohr said the school district’s legal counsel advises against approving the agenda item as it might invite an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint since the job has been advertised. However, Mohr also said OSSBA indicated the district is in the clear but should certainly follow the advise of its own counsel. There is precedent for hiring a superintendent from within, most recently with the hiring of Oklahoma City School’s superintendent.
The Gunn item is near the end of Monday’s board agenda, the item right before an executive session in which the board will review the 28 (or more) applicants for Luther’s superintendency. Mohr said he has forwarded each resume to his fellow board members to aid their preparation for Monday’s executive session. It is unknown whether any of the other applicants are from within the district.
The bulk of the open meeting will be broadcast on FB Live Monday evening at 6:30 pm.