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Methow keeps finalists quiet

School district will name candidates this Wednesday

— The Methow Valley School Board may narrow its pool of superintendent candidates when it meets Thursday.

“The district is in the preliminary screening process and that can and will remain confidential,” Chairwoman Dana Stromberger said. “We will release the names of our finalists on (May 23) and move forward in a public process to our final selection.

The Chronicle requested the candidates’ names following the May 8 school board meeting, when the board reviewed their qualifications in executive session.

To date, school officials have declined the request.

The Chronicle followed up with a records request for the meeting minutes. Superintendent Mark Wenzel said the candidates were not named in the minutes.

“We ran this by our attorney to make sure we’re compliant with the Open Public Meetings Act. She believes we are,” Wenzel said. “The board has not determined which candidates will be finalists; they have merely selected a few to consider for in-person interviews. No formal action has been taken.

“My understanding is that this process is fairly standard in superintendent searches.”

The Washington Open Public Meetings Act requires that all decisions be made publicly when “a governing body elects to take final action hiring….”

However, the state Public Records Act does allow the names of applicants for public jobs to be kept under wraps.

“All applications for public employment, including the names of applicants, resumes, and other related materials submitted with respect to an applicant….” the law states.

Wenzel said Thursday’s interviews will also be done in executive session. The school board will announce the top two or three semifinalists in an open public meeting afterward, he said.

The board decided on confidentiality in the hopes of drawing out more candidates, hiring consultant Monte Bridges said.

The district received seven applications by the May 3 deadline.

“There are fewer and fewer candidates in the pools nationally and here in the state,” Bridges said. Part of the reason is because many are retiring, but still more are concerned with job security and causing potentially undue stress in their own school districts.

If they’re currently employed as superintendents elsewhere, they’re “reluctant” to throw their names into the hat and tip off their school districts, he said.

“They don’t want to upset their communities,” he said.

Another factor is the economy, he said.

“You have to sell your house, you have to move to a new community,” he said, and the current housing market is tough for sellers. “I think we attracted a really good pool, and part of it is because of that (the confidentiality).”

“We are thrilled with the quality of our candidates,” Stromberger said.

The candidate who gets the job will replace Wenzel, who is leaving at the end of June to become the new superintendent of the 3,000-student Anacortes School District.

Final interviews are tentatively scheduled for May 29-31.

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