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Stephen J. Lee, Published April 28 2009

Northwood, N.D., superintendent's contract not renewed

NORTHWOOD, N.D. - After hearing Superintendent Kevin Coles and his attorney make a case for keeping his job, the Northwood School Board voted 4-1 not to renew his one-year contract after a three-hour meeting Monday.

The board announced a week ago that it was looking at cutting the position to part-time to save expenses.

Coles, hired just days before a tornado hit Northwood in August 2007, wrecking the school building and many other structures in the town of 1,000, previously was superintendent in Hillsboro, N.D.

His attorney, Paul Myerchin of Bismarck, argued that the district’s budget could support a full-time superintendent, said board member Erik Thorsgard. There also was some dispute over whether Coles was working under a one-year contract. But Thorsgard said the only contract signed and in Coles’ file was for the year ending June 30. Coles did not return a signed a contract for the next year, Thorsgard said.

Save expenses

The reason for not renewing Coles’ contract is to cut the job to part time to save expenses, school board members said, not from any lack of performance by Coles.

The Herald was not successful in reaching Coles after the meeting.

A new school, costing about $12.8 million, is almost complete and can be used for graduation at the end of May, school officials said.

The district’s state insurance policy paid for almost $8 million of the cost; the remaining amount, just short of $5 million, is the net cost of the new building.

The Federal Emergency Management Administration Agency will pay 75 percent, and the state will pay 10 percent of that cost, Thorsgard said.

The district is running a deficit budget, and is unsure, until state and federal reimbursements come in, exactly what the total cost to the district will be for the new school and demolishing the old building, which had a total cost of about $200,000, Thorsgard said.

Because the district’s enrollment has fallen from 250 when the tornado hit to about 214 today, the district needs to cut the number of administrators from three to something less, Thorsgard said.

Some teachers have retired and the board is considering not replacing them, Thorsgard said.

Coles makes about $126,000 in salary and benefits a year.

The board likely will advertise for a part-time superintendent soon, and Coles can apply for that position.

The Grand Forks (N.D.) Herald and The Forum are both owned by Forum Communications Co.