January 11, 1998 in Idaho

New Leader Promotes Open Door Mentality Teachers Pin Hopes On Sixth Superintendent In Seven Years

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Roy Rummler’s office door is flung wide open. It may seem a small thing, but to teachers and patrons in the Bonner County School District, it’s a huge gesture.

Rummler is the new superintendent here, the sixth in seven years. He’s looked upon a bit as the “Great White Hope” - a leader who can bring a new openness and cohesiveness to this tumultuous district.

Former Superintendent Max Harrell ended his tenure cloistered in his office. Staffers said they weren’t sure when Harrell actually packed his things and left since he rarely emerged from behind his closed door.

Rummler wants to change that bunker mentality.

“One of the biggest blocks we’ve had is a lack of communication. That really is a big thing,” he said. “It’s like horses pulling in different directions. It doesn’t get you anywhere and eventually pulls you apart.”

The district is coming apart. Educational programs have taken a back seat to infighting. The state has criticized how the district is being run, teachers cast a no-confidence vote in Harrell and a budget deficit still looms.

School trustees bought out Harrell’s two-year contract days before Christmas. It cost taxpayers $222,000. Trustees said it was the only way to get this troubled district back in the business of education.

There was an almost audible sigh of relief from teachers and central office personnel when Harrell left.

“It lifted a cloud,” school board member Jerry Owens said. “Everything that was being done was not bad, but we had this atmosphere, a cloud hanging over. That tarnished everything.”

Owens has fielded calls from teachers, residents, principals and central office staff since the buyout. “They all report there are better feelings throughout the district. People feel freer to discuss and look for solutions to our problems and move on,” Owens said.

Rummler hopes to capitalize on that. There is a window of opportunity in the district right now, he said. The community, teachers and administrators are ready to work together and change Bonner County’s reputation as an educational Neanderthal.

“This field is plowed and ready to plant now. Let’s erase some of the past and get moving,” Rummler said of the new attitude within the district. “The alligators are still out in the swamps, but I sense people are ready to meet the challenge.”

The teachers union has even extended an olive branch. Enid Trenholm, president of the Bonner County Education Association, praised trustees for ousting Harrell and hiring someone from within the district.

“We need some stability and Roy was a wise choice to assume the reins,” she said.

“He’s already been out in the schools.”

Rummler and the teachers have agreed to start contract negotiations. They will sit at the bargaining table with each other.

Last year teachers almost went on strike. They had worked two years without a new contract. Rather than handling negotiations himself, the former superintendent hired a team of out-of-state professionals to dicker with the union.

Rummler doesn’t claim to have answers to all the district’s woes. His approach is to listen to teachers, the public and then set goals.

“People need to feel free to express themselves. If they want to tell me my ideas are the dumbest they ever heard, they can come in and tell me,” he said. “But we have to decide where we want to be as a district, then figure out what it’s going to take to get us there.”

Rummler’s basic rule: Common sense changes.

“Someone said to me that common sense is just not common enough anymore,” he said with a smile. Rummler wants to be in the schools once a week to stay in touch. He’s also setting up a superintendent’s advisory council. The group will meet with him once a month. This district has a “big pulse to feel,” he said.

“Roy’s philosophy is to be in the schools, to have an open door and work with the community, not be at odds with it,” Owens said. “Those are really big issues that needed to be addressed in this district.”

Items that top Rummler’s agenda are putting the district’s finances in order, eliminating an $80,000-plus budget deficit and giving teachers a districtwide curriculum to follow. Trustees and Rummler want to take the issues one at a time, solve them and experience some much needed success.

“We need to quit using stop-gap measures that make us revisit the same issues year after year,” Owens said.

Rummler was a principal here for three years and applied for the superintendent job when Harrell was hired. His contract with the district is for a year and a half. He didn’t want to be viewed as an interim figurehead.

“This will give me time to show (residents) what can happen with this district and assure them they won’t be bitten again,” he said. “The community and educators say they are ready to work together. Now it’s time to do it.”

Spending $222,000 of taxpayer money to get rid of a superintendent was not an easy decision, trustees said. Especially not in a district with dilapidated buildings, outdated textbooks and overcrowded classrooms. Trustees are counting on Rummler to help prove the buyout was wise.

“If we come up with solutions to the problems and make them a reality not just rhetoric, then it’s not a waste of money,” Owens said.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo

MEMO: Two sidebars appeared with the story:

1. ROY RUMMLER FILE

Age: 58

Education: Attended Brigham Young University, doctoral degree from University of Wyoming.

Experience: 15 years as a superintendent (nine as a superintendent in southern Idaho). Teacher for 14 years. Principal at Priest River Lamanna High School last three years.

2. PAST LEADERS

Bonner County has had six school superintendents in the past seven years. Three of them resigned under fire:

Ed Humble (1985-1991) Salary: $55,758; resigned to take another post.

Lorence Simonsen (July 1991-July 1992) Salary: $57,000; forced to resign. Was paid for remaining five months of his contract.

Gary Barton (July 1992-Oct. 1994) Salary: $70,000; forced to resign after calling several teachers and threatening to physically harm them.

Leonard Parenteau (Oct. 1994-June 1995) Salary: $65,000; interim superintendent. Served until a new superintendent was hired.

Max Harrell (July 1995-Dec. 1997) Salary $77,500; forced to resign. Trustees paid $222,000 to buy out his contract.

Roy Rummler (Dec. 1997-present) Salary: $75,000; current superintendent.

Two sidebars appeared with the story: 1. ROY RUMMLER FILE Age: 58 Education: Attended Brigham Young University, doctoral degree from University of Wyoming. Experience: 15 years as a superintendent (nine as a superintendent in southern Idaho). Teacher for 14 years. Principal at Priest River Lamanna High School last three years.

2. PAST LEADERS Bonner County has had six school superintendents in the past seven years. Three of them resigned under fire: Ed Humble (1985-1991) Salary: $55,758; resigned to take another post. Lorence Simonsen (July 1991-July 1992) Salary: $57,000; forced to resign. Was paid for remaining five months of his contract. Gary Barton (July 1992-Oct. 1994) Salary: $70,000; forced to resign after calling several teachers and threatening to physically harm them. Leonard Parenteau (Oct. 1994-June 1995) Salary: $65,000; interim superintendent. Served until a new superintendent was hired. Max Harrell (July 1995-Dec. 1997) Salary $77,500; forced to resign. Trustees paid $222,000 to buy out his contract. Roy Rummler (Dec. 1997-present) Salary: $75,000; current superintendent.


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