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District considers Principal Dan Miller for new director position

A decision to hire Boeckman Middle School Principal Dan Miller for a newly created buildings and grounds director position stalled when two Farmington School Board members questioned his hands-on experience.

"I thought we would bring someone in with the grounds crew experience," board member Melissa Sauser said during the March 13 school board meeting.

Member Steve Corraro also had doubts.

"I was under the understanding that the position was going to be around a specific niche for grounds and maintenance with a background in that," he said.

MaryAnn Thomas, the director of human resources for the district, said the hands-on ground experience was not as important as the ability to lead and manage.

"We're not necessarily looking for a master carpenter or a master plumber," she said. "But we are looking for someone that could be a leader in this area."

The district had been considering creating the new position to ease the workload of Jane Houska, director of finance. An outside opinion solidified the need.

During an external audit by Minneapolis-based BerganKDV accounting firm in January, the lead auditor expressed concern over Houska's many responsibilities and suggested that a division of her duties would provide a better check and balance for the district.

Houska currently oversees the finance department. She is responsible for transportation, food service, the document center, and buildings and grounds.

"She does a fantastic job, we all know that, but we're killing her," Thomas said. "We can't keep doing this to Jane. We need some help."

Thomas said that the buildings and grounds director position was posted and that all the interviews conducted were with in-house candidates.

"To say that we were absolutely thrilled that Dan Miller approached us to say he had a spark or a passion in this area is an understatement," Thomas said. "We were so excited."

She said the main qualifications for this position are leadership and management, particularly in the following areas: facilitating district planning strategies and maintenance of the facilities, planning long-range capital expenditures, crisis management and ensuring the health and safety of students and staff.

Dan Miller became principal at Boeckman Middle School in 2012. Before that, he was the assistant principal of Levi P. Dodge Middle School and the assistant principal of Farmington Middle School West.

He has a bachelor's degree in biology, a master's degree in learning technology and an educational specialist degree in educational leadership.

On the school's web page, he lists landscaping, gardening, home improvement and building projects interests in his spare time.

Superintendent Jay Haugen approved hiring Miller. He was not at the March 13 school board meeting, and announced in a statement he has taken a leave of absence for family reasons.

Thomas would like to hire the new buildings and grounds director by July 1 for the 2017-18 school year.

"This is a very difficult position to fill," she said. "To get the right combination of a leader, an administrator, someone who can work with different levels of the community is hard to get."

Board member Julie Singewald said she supported the staff's hiring of Miller.

"I'm a little concerned that we are digging into administrative decisions, in my opinion, at the board table," she said. "That's not our role.That's the superintendent's role to set job title, job description, job expectations."

She said Houska has been overwhelmed and hasn't had the time, effort or energy to get the board the right financial information because she has been managing so many projects.

The district has been top-heavy with projects lately, spending the $45 million in bonds voters approved in 2015 to improve safety and security systems at all schools, address deferred maintenance needs and add kindergarten classrooms.

"I feel that freeing up Jane sooner than later will allow more focused effort on a budget and maintaining a budget that's sustainable in our district," Singewald said.

The motion to table the decision until the April 10 board meeting passed with Corraro, Jacilyn Doyle and Sauser voting yes and Jake Cordes and Singewald voting no. Member Kristin Goodreau was not at the meeting.

Correction: This story originally misspelled two names, Steve Corraro and Melissa Sauser. It has been updated to reflect the correct spellings. We apologize for the error.