West Platte targets December for superintendent hire

WESTON, Mo. — The hunt for the next superintendent for the West Platte School District is in high gear. Interim superintendent Dr. Mark Harpst updated the board of education on that search last week at its regular meeting. It’s a position that has been advertised state-wide, and a situation that’s been well publicized during the past year.

Harpst said 11 applications for the position have been received with dozens of inquiries fielded. The district will accept applications through Nov. 1, and the board will begin reviews and interviews with the intent to hire a new superintendent by Christmas. The new hire would begin work next July.

This will bring to an end the saga that began at about this time last year, when the board voted not to renew the contract of then-superintendent Dr. Jerrod Wheeler after months of tension between the administration, staff and board. The April election brought the voter’s feelings to bear with the election of board members opposed to Wheeler. Soon after the board reorganization, Wheeler resigned amid a swirl of controversy involving accusations and hard feelings from former board members.

Within a few weeks, the board secured both Harpst – a former West Platte superintendent and the retired superintendent of Platte County R-3 — and retired North Platte School District superintendent Dr. Francis Moran to serve as interim superintendents and clean up the issues.

Harpst has led the district in a part-time capacity since early summer, with his term expected to end Dec. 31. Moran will lead the district through the spring semester, although Harpst said he may still be available to assist as needed. Both retired superintendents are governed by state retirement program guidelines that dictate each may only work a limited number of hours or endanger their benefits.

Harpst clarified his role in the superintendent search – as a lead and advisor. The board of education will interview and select its new superintendent.

“For me to pick a new superintendent would be kind of like me trying to pick who my daughters marry,” he said. “It wouldn’t work out too well.”

The board also heard its independent audit report, which gave more good news.

Diana Closterman of Westbrook and Associates gave the board a clean report with no major weaknesses. She reported spending was up in instruction and student services during the past year, which was considered a positive sign. Closterman had a few minor deficiencies to report and suggestions for improving efficiency.

As in most small school districts, segregation of duties in the central office is always a concern, but she said the district was handling operations well.

“Our deficiency list is a lot smaller than it was last year, so I guess we’re on the right track,” said board member Ryan Rotterman.

Although the board has yet to approve a final master plan, work is moving ahead to clear recently acquired land. A house on the property has been demolished with more work and grading to be completed this week.

Board vice president Ron Rowe thanked Harpst for his work on the master plan and hoped the transition to Moran’s leadership in January would be smooth. Rowe asked if the plan could be completed by the end of December, which Harpst said was doable but on a tight deadline. He reiterated he may be able to spend time on the master plan after the first of the year if the board desired.

“We were very disorganized coming into this and you’ve gotten us organized,” Rowe said. “I don’t want that to fall apart.” Harpst also gave an update on preparations for winter weather and possible school cancellations. He and director of maintenance Howard Hellebuyck will coordinate to monitor foul weather and make the call to cancel school by 6 a.m. on snowy days.