Harpst hired to stabilize West Platte ship

Former longtime R-3 superintendent returns to help hometown district he says ‘opened the door for me’

A familiar face has returned to the West Platte School District as interim superintendent. 

After months of turmoil that resulted in the resignation of its former superintendent, at a special meeting Monday night, the Board of Education unanimously approved the hire of Dr. Mark Harpst effective May 20 through Dec. 31, part-time, at a rate of $10,000 per month, with no further benefits. A second interim superintendent will be hired for the spring 2015 semester to oversee the search for a new permanent superintendent. Interviews are under way on this, with an announcement possible as soon as the end of this week. Harpst, a West Platte graduate and former West Platte and Platte County R-3 superintendent, was chosen from a slate of 30 candidates seeking the interim superintendent position. He said that he met with the Board of Education May 15, was offered the position and soon after accepted the offer. Harpst, who retired from Platte County in 2009, said he was not looking to return to a superintendent’s office, but the West Platte situation was unique. “I was born and raised in the community,” he said. “I just got the sense that the district needed somebody, needed some help. I’m honored they asked me to come back. I’m going to give my best effort to help the district move forward.” The Board also formally accepted the resignation of former superintendent Dr. Jerrod Wheeler with a unanimous vote. Last week, the Board issued a press release stating Wheeler had resigned his position and any differences between he and the Board had been resolved. Wheeler’s buyout is regular salary payment through June, plus $60,000 — about half of his regular yearly salary. Wheeler’s benefits will also continue through June. Board member Ryan Rotterman pointed out that the hire of Harpst will be cheaper than the cost of retaining Wheeler for another year. The job will cost the district no additional money in insurance or other benefits. In Harpst, Collier said the district will gain an experienced hand at the wheel. “We’re hoping he can take us to the next level,” Collier said. “He understands the situation and that this is just for the next school year to make sure things are in order for the new permanent superintendent. We’re really lucky, because you can’t find anyone with his experience anywhere in the state.” Harpst is a 1973 graduate of West Platte High School, and served West Platte as a teacher and coach before moving on to work as principal at several northwest Missouri area schools. He returned to West Platte as superintendent from 1991-96. He then served as superintendent of the Platte County R-3 School District from 1996-2009. After his retirement, Harpst stayed on with R-3 as a consultant and has since worked part time in the private sector as a school foundation consultant. Harpst was R-3’s longest serving superintendent and was inducted into the Pirate Hall of Fame in 2013. He is a graduate of Northwest Missouri State University and earned a doctorate in philosophy from the University of Missouri - Kansas City. Harpst reported to work Tuesday morning and said he spent the day meeting principals and staff. “I feel like I want to give back to the district that helped me out,” he said. “West Platte is a great school district and they gave me the opportunity to be a superintendent when I was 35 years old — they opened the door for me.” Back to Monday night’s Board meeting. Several items of discussion were deferred until the regular meeting scheduled for tonight (May 21) when the interim superintendent would be in place. First up on the itinerary for Harpst and the Board will be addressing the district budget and its staff salary schedule. “There are holes in our salary schedule,” said Vice President Ron Rowe. “The Board has made it clear this is job one for the interim superintendent — addressing our salary schedule.” Board member Antonio Cutolo-Ring said the administration would need to investigate how teacher contracts were written, as adjustments to the salary schedule could require the district to revise contracts. One of the other items up for discussion is a problematic personnel policy that was changed without notice to district employees. Previously, employees had vacation time, sick time and personal time, with unused days rolling over to the next year. That policy changed, eliminating the personal days, when the Board adopted a set of policies recommended by the Missouri School Boards Association.