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Helmut Schmidt, Published March 23 2012

Fargo School Board votes to offer superintendent job to Davies principal

FARGO – The Fargo School Board cast its net nationwide in its search for a new superintendent of schools, but the catch it was seeking was here all along.

The board voted 9-0 Friday to offer Jeff Schatz, the principal of Fargo Davies High School, a contract to be the district’s next chief executive.

The vote came after board members – and several other groups including teachers, support staff, administrators and community members – interviewed the three finalists for the position this week.

Schatz, a Fargo native who was the only internal candidate to be a finalist, spent much of his career – from 1985 to 2009 – working in the Grand Forks School District in various capacities.

“It’s a great honor. My phone’s been ringing off the hook,” Schatz said shortly after the vote.

“I’m very excited about the opportunity the school board is offering me. I’m looking forward to the next step,” he said.

The School Board will hammer out the details of the contract offer at its regular meeting Tuesday, board president Jim Johnson said.

“I would guess someplace in Fargo there’s a smiling young man right now,” Johnson said, after a call to Schatz informing him of the decision.

“I think we had really some fine candidates. I think the district will be really well-served, provided we reach agreement with Dr. Schatz, hopefully, for many years to come,” Johnson said.

Current Superintendent Rick Buresh plans to retire by June 30, which means Schatz could take the reins of Fargo Public Schools on July 1.

Buresh makes a base salary of $179,000, with a $5,000 allowance for expenses and a health and retirement benefits package. There is also an incentive clause in his contract with a base level of $16,500, provided he meets goals set for him. However, he could earn nothing in incentives or up to 120 percent of that base, Johnson said.

The district advertised the superintendent position nationally with a base salary of $179,000 to $185,000 with incentives, depending on the qualifications of the candidates, Johnson said.

Schatz and Joel Boyd, an assistant superintendent with the School District of Philadelphia, were the clear frontrunners after an initial poll of the board. A second poll put Schatz well ahead among board members.

“He’s so capable,” board member John Strand said of Schatz, as the board worked through the decision. Strand added that Boyd’s lack of a doctoral degree in hand was a deciding factor for him.

“He’s (Boyd) an unbelievable candidate, and he just didn’t have that” doctoral degree, Strand said. “And our community expects that.”

The third finalist was Jody Mimmack, the executive director of instructional support and chief academic officer for the Mesa County Valley School District No. 51 in Grand Junction, Colo.

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Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583