Murley chosen as superintendent in split vote
By Heather Graves
GREEN BAY – The division of the school board was evident Monday, March 2, during a special meeting to vote on the hiring of Stephen Murley as the next superintendent.
Brenda Warren, Eric Vanden Heuvel, Katie Maloney and Laura McCoy voted in favor; and Andrew Becker, Kristina Shelton and Rhonda Sitnikau voted against.
Trustees on both sides were confident in their vote, saying it came after weighing all community feedback, interview sessions and board deliberations.
Shelton said selecting the superintendent is one of the biggest responsibilities of a school board, but she couldn’t vote in favor of a candidate she had concerns about.
“We knew it would be nearly impossible to get complete community consensus around either candidate, but from the time Mr. Murley was announced as a finalist, a series of significant concerns came forward,” she said. “I have serious reservations about hiring him as superintendent.”
Shelton said the board at every step has acted as a high-functioning group during the decision-making process, except this one.
“Hiring our next superintendent with a 4-3 vote is the very opposite of a high-functioning team,” she said. “I’m surprised my fellow school board members are OK with moving forward on a hire with 4-3 vote. I think democracy is important, having a spilt vote on anything else is fine. But the hiring a superintendent is different.”
Sitnikau shared those concerns.
“I’m pretty disappointed in the decision,” Sitnikau said. “I believe a box was checked today, but we didn’t do this right. I can assure you that I made myself very clear in (deliberations) around the serious concerns that I had and still have today with the considerations of Stephen Murley as the next superintendent.”
Sitnikau said any superintendent coming into a district after a nearly decade-long tenure of the previous superintendent needs unanimous support.
Shelton and Sitnikau said they would go back to the drawing board to find a candidate the entire board could support – which was an option.
“It was written in our HYA contract that we could go back, it wouldn’t cost us any more money,” Shelton said. “It is disappointing for our board that we weren’t given the opportunity to go back and be able to coalesce around a candidate.”
Vanden Heuvel wasn’t in favor of going back, because in his opinion, Murley meets the desired characteristics the community identified as necessary attributes of the next superintendent.
Those include experience with board relations, legislative advocacy and operational skills required for a large district.
“I was contacted by several people in our community who felt the same way,” he said.
Vanden Heuvel said the majority of the board believes Murley has the experience, leadership and vision to put the district in the best position moving forward.
He said the board ran the possibility of a 4-3 vote past Murley, and asked whether he would still be interested in the position if that was the case.
“And to his credit, he said he believes in his ability and his leadership that he will be able to come in and prove to those board members that he is the right person for this job,” he said. “Had he not answered that way, we probably wouldn’t have made the decision that we did.”
Warren also backed the hiring of Murley.
“He has an incredible ability to take in a tremendous amount of information and help everyone process it to come up with systematic and strategic solutions to opportunities and challenges in a district,” she said.
Warren defended Murley’s handling of seclusion boxes in his district, noting is was a problem he inherited, one that spans the entire state of Iowa and one he continues to work on.
Betty Kossik, with Green Bay Advocates 4 Public Education, said the vote is disappointing.
“Green Bay Advocates made it clear from the get-go that we preferred that if they didn’t have a strong choice then they should go back to the drawing board,” Kossik said. “We were looking for a superintendent who could change the culture of Green Bay into one of innovation and move the district in a different direction.”
One thing the board did agree on is welcoming Murley to the district as a united front.
“From the beginning, I have been committed to working professionally with the new superintendent – whoever was chosen – and will actively welcome Stephen into the district and do everything I can to help him be successful in his role,” Becker said.
Murley has served as superintendent for the Iowa City Community School District in Iowa since 2010.
Prior to that, 2005-10, he served as the Wausau School District superintendent.
Murley will start July 1.