Superintendent, Clay Community Schools
By IVY HERRON
The new superintendent of Clay Community School Corporation, Dr. Dan Schroeder, is ready to tackle the issues of his job head-on.
Since taking the superintendent's position on July 1, Schroeder says he has been able to get a feel for the problems he's facing.
Schroeder developed the reputation as a man capable of making tough decisions while superintendent at South Putnam School Corporation during the 2005/06 school year. During that time, the board voted to issue nine full-time and several part-time teachers reduction in force (RIF) notices and make heavy increases in property taxes to eliminate the corporation's extreme budget problems.
"I had a lot of sleepless nights during the past year, but it had to be done," he said. "It was an entirely different situation there than here."
The South Putnam School Corporation's Board of Trustees had a history of using temporary loans whenever expenses exceeded their revenue, then problems with property tax reassessment, loss of state funding and a declining enrollment made for a dismal situation.
"Am I a hatchet man?" Schroeder said. "I don't think so, but I can be if the evaluation calls for tough decisions; making those decisions is a job requirement."
"I didn't even apply during the first round of applications for this job," Schroeder said. "But this is a better situation for me and is for more benefits, and like most working people, I wanted to better myself, so I took the job."
The salary of $110,000 per year, a $20,000 benefit package and a paid teacher's retirement plan were details published by the corporation at the beginning of the hiring process. The salary and benefit package was offered to other job candidates as well.
When the Clay Community School Board of Trustees announced the new superintendent at the June board meeting, heated comments over Schroeder's contract details erupted.
Russ True, president of the Clay County Classroom Teacher's Association, said the superintendent's new contract "was a slap in the face to teachers."
Schroeder doesn't take the anger personally because he understands the feelings behind the outrage.
"The board brought the salary up to be in-line with the standards of similar-sized corporations in the state," he said. "In order to get qualified candidates the board had to re-evaluate the salary package they were offering. The board was going to pay that amount whether it was to me or someone else they hired."
The Clay Community Classroom Teachers Association begin its fourth year of working without a contract at the beginning of this school year.
"Whenever there are lengthy contract negotiations the focus centers on personalities and people instead of the problem at hand, which should be how to provide the best education for our students," Schroeder said. "There are many success stories in this corporation, but because of the volatile atmosphere of lengthy contract negotiations, they're not taking a front seat."
The education of children is "our business," according to Schroeder, and when there is public squabbling, the reputation of everyone involved suffers.
Over the years, the Clay Community School Corporation's reputation has been marred by accusations of back-door politics, secret agendas and either withholding or exaggerating information given to the public during the normal course of business, contract negotiations and building projects.
The past is history to Schroeder, who wants to move forward into a positive future that would benefit everyone involved.
"We need to help this corporation realize its potential. To do that, we need to keep the lines of communication open."
Schroeder makes it very clear his goal is to find a solution, "but both sides will probably not be completely happy with it. It will take some give and take from both sides, but we'll find one."
After spending the first few weeks looking over the budget, student test scores and teacher performance, Schroeder says the corporation is in good shape.
"We're in decent financial shape right now," he said. "But we, like most school corporations, aren't blessed with a large cash reserve. We'll need to look at belt tightening in the future if we don't get a handle on rising insurance premiums and other costs."
Another major area of concern is dwindling CAPE Grant funding. Once the funding ends over the next two years, Clay Community School Corporation will have to absorb the staff salaries to keep valuable programs like Even Start and Cumberland Academy available in the community.
"We will definitely have to look into other options, other grants, to provide funding for these invaluable programs for our community," he said. "If we don't, it will be another expense to come out of General Fund, which this is an expense we might not be able to afford."
At present, there are two administrative positions open at Clay Community School Corporation. (Another administrative position is expected to be open in August.)
Assistant Superintendent Mike Mogan recently left the Administrative Office to take over as principal at Clay City Elementary during Jon Russell's tour of duty in Iraq and Northview High School Principal Jim Church resigned for a position at another school corporation.
"It's a shame, but we've lost some good people because other school corporations offer better wages and benefits," Schroeder said. "We will need to determine if we will fill the positions from within or outside the school corporation."
While tackling the tough issues of his job, Schroeder is also considering ways to improve student test scores, develop the strengths of the staff members and, most importantly, get parents and community members involved in schools throughout the county.
"We need parents to become more involved with their children, the teachers and the schools," he said. "We have got to keep the lines of communication between the public and at school and administrative levels open."
Schroeder lives in Putnam County with his wife and two children. He started out as a social studies teacher, became an assistant principal, moved up to become principal, then assistant superintendent and finally became superintendent.
"There have been positives and negatives throughout my career. It is definitely gratifying being a teacher, because daily contact with students allows you to see success as it happens. Gratification as an administrator is realized indirectly," he said. "I'm looking forward to the first day of school, seeing the students arrive, going around to the various schools and meeting the staff. There are no accolades being an administrator. You live vicariously through the success of students and teachers around you. "