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EDITORIAL: TTSD needs interim superintendent with experience in budget


It’s certainly a compliment to the Tigard-Tualatin School District that its superintendent has been named to one of the top education positions in Oregon.

However, the departure of Superintendent Rob Saxton also comes at a crucial moment for Tigard-Tualatin schools. The School Board needs to move with great care as it finds a temporary replacement for Saxton and eventually launches a search for a permanent superintendent.

Gov. John Kitzhaber announced earlier this month that he had selected Saxton to serve as deputy superintendent of public instruction, starting July 31. Saxton, along with Chief Education Officer Dr. Rudy Crew, is charged with nothing less than “transforming” Oregon education. The goals he must tackle include this daunting challenge: By 2025, to have all Oregon students graduate from high school, 40 percent get at least two years of post-secondary education or training and another 40 percent earn a bachelor’s degree or higher.

Saxton, who led the Tigard-Tualatin district for seven years, obviously will have plenty of work waiting for him as he heads up the Oregon Department of Education. But whoever takes his place locally will also have big challenges ahead. Like all public school districts in Oregon, the Tigard-Tualatin district is continuing to grapple with declining state revenues due to the less-than-robust economic recovery.

The district has spent down its reserves to preserve its programs, which means it will be in a precarious position for the 2013-14 budget year unless the 2013 state Legislature is able to increase the dollars it allocates to K-12 education. That means the most immediate decision facing the school board — the selection of an interim superintendent — is more critical than it otherwise might be.

Normally, interim superintendents perform a caretaker function for a year, or perhaps two, while an elected school board launches a wider search for a permanent superintendent. But in these challenging financial times, an interim superintendent in Tigard-Tualatin may be required to lead the district through difficult budget decisions.

For that reason, the School Board should look for an interim superintendent who has experience in dealing with hard economic conditions. It’s also important that Saxton’s temporary replacement have experience in a school district of a similar size, as the skills required to lead a medium-sized district can be quite different than in a very small or extremely large school district.

This type of practical experience is essential not just for the temporary superintendent, but also for Saxton’s long-term successor. However, in neither case should the School Board rush toward a decision. At this particular time, the choice of an interim superintendent will be critical for the children who are in school now — and for the next few years. Board members should be deliberate in their choice and ensure that they get the best possible fit.