Espe eyed as future of School District

Princeton interim superintendent Julia Espe is pictured here at a January 2013 school board meeting.

Princeton interim superintendent Julia Espe is pictured here at a January 2013 school board meeting.

Dr. Julia Espe could be Princeton’s superintendent of schools long after her position as interim superintendent is set to expire at the end of June.
The Princeton Board of Education met in special session Tuesday night to determine the future of the school district’s leadership plan.
The agenda for the meeting, posted Friday, March 1, states that the school board will discuss and act on offering the permanent superintendent position to Espe. That came a day after an original posting, stating that the board will discuss and act on extending Espe’s current contract as interim superintendent.
On Tuesday, the interim contract extension was to be discussed if the board did not vote to offer the permanent position to Espe. If an interim superintendent contract extension was not approved, the board was scheduled to discuss inviting Espe to apply for the superintendent position.
The meeting was held after this edition of the Princeton Union-Eagle went to press. Coverage of the meeting can be found online at www.unioneagle.com and in the March 14 edition of the Princeton Union-Eagle.
The school board, on Tuesday, was originally scheduled to interview six candidates for the school superintendent position. On Thursday, February 28, school district human resources director Brenda Alexander told the Union-Eagle that “the interviews scheduled for March 5 have been postponed.”
Alexander said she would not have further information on the cancellation until “next week,” but the interviews were scheduled to be conducted by a staff team, a community team, an administrative team and school board.
Later in the day on March 28, the first notice for the March 5 special meeting was issued with an agenda of discussing Espe’s future with the district. The amended notice, stating Espe would be considered for the permanent position, was issued a day later, on March 1.
The meeting to discuss permanently seating Espe in the school district’s highest-ranking position, came a week after a failed 3-3 vote by the school board to extend Espe’s contract until the end of the 2013-14 school year, on June 30, 2014. The board also failed on a 3-3 vote to extend to Espe an invitation to apply for the permanent superintendent position. The votes ended in 3-3 ties because board member Howard Vaillencourt was absent.
But regardless, board members Chuck Nagle, Jeremy Miller and Chad Young failed to support the Espe measures that night. Board members Eric Minks, Craig Johnson and Deb Ulm supported the measures.
As a matter of fact, by the time the board had conceded that it could not agree on a motion that wouldn’t end in a tie, seven different motions had been made. Two failed, three were withdrawn by the board member making the motion, and two motions had died for the lack of a second.
Nagle, Miller and Young didn’t appear to have personal issues with Espe being the school district’s leader. It appeared that they had problems with the process deviating from the system the board had put in place for choosing the superintendent who would follow Rick Lahn, who left at the end of 2012 for a similar position in Alexandria.
The school district had reached out through a consultant for applicants and was in the process of bringing six of about 30 applicants in for interviews. Some school board members thought they owed it to the applicants to follow through with the interview process, if for no other reason than keeping their word to those who took their time to apply for the position.
“Julia has done a great job and would be a great superintendent for us,” School Board member Jeremy Miller said. But he said he was concerned about the integrity of the process. School Board member Chuck Nagle said he was most concerned with the fact that our school leader would be chosen not from a pool of superintendent candidates interviewed by school and community leaders, but from among the pool of two people, who in late 2012, applied to be the interim superintendent.
Miller said he was also surprised by the suddenness of the motion to extend Espe’s contract for a year. He suggested that there had been no prior discussions about such action and was hearing the idea for the first time that evening.
Nagle also wanted clarification from the board before a vote, regarding their views on how much experience they wanted the next superintendent to bring to the table. He noted that Espe has been a principal at a large high school and served as an assistant superintendent in St. Cloud.
“We have a pool of candidates with a wealth of experience,” Nagle said of the Princeton superintendent applicants. He then pointed out examples of some of that experience. Nagle noted how the former school board failed to hire from within. He said he took that to mean they wanted to hire someone with superintendent experience.
The board left the meeting with the intention of holding interviews a week later, during the day of Tuesday, March 5, without Espe being invited as one of the candidates.
School board member Craig Johnson, an Espe supporter that night, had the last word on the matter.
“It’s clear this board is divided and doesn’t want to invite the woman,” Johnson said of Espe.
“It would have been different if Howard (Vaillencourt) was here,” he said.

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