Despite strong opposition from one member, the board for Williams County Public School District No. 8 has agreed to a proposal that would put the superintendent of Williston Public School District No. 1 in charge of a combined district.
As part of the reorganization discussions, the board for District 1 proposed naming Jeffrey Thake superintendent as part of the joint plan voters will have to approve. That isn’t a requirement, but is allowed as part of the plan.
District 1 board members said they were confident in Thake’s leadership — he has been superintendent since July 2018 — and that he had the experience to lead a larger district.
Against the idea
Dawn Hollingsworth, District 8 board president, said she didn’t support the idea for several reasons. First, she said, by putting Thake in the reorganization plan as superintendent, the boards would be taking that power away from the new district.
In any situation, the new board will have to negotiate a contract with a new superintendent, but putting Thake’s name in the plan would mean the new board wouldn’t go through the search process at the start.
Hollingsworth also questioned why District 8 residents should support Thake.
“Well, if we’re already saying, ‘Well we’re going to say yes to allowing Dr. Thake to take over,’ well he’s just took over District 8, too,” Hollingsworth said.
Chris Jundt, board vice president, supported naming Thake.
“I think staff on both sides needs to understand that and realize who will be leading the new district, so I personally don’t have any problem putting him into the plan,” he said.
Later in the discussion, Jundt added another point — the superintendent issue appeared very important to the District 1 board.
“If our board is very adamant on (not naming Thake), we need to have a very clear consensus that that is the position of the board today, so this committee can bring this back to District 1, because I think that’s a non-starter for them,” Jundt said.
If the two sides can’t agree, then both need to know that sooner rather than later, he argued.
He suggested that each member say whether they supported the idea. All but Hollingsworth did.
Hollingsworth said the idea of naming Thake didn’t make sense because it seemed like District 1 imposing its will on District 8.
“I don’t agree with someone telling us how it’s going to be when we hold all the cards with District 8,” she said. “I’m sorry, but we do. We have the finances. It’s really almost a very questionable piece to assume and to expect us to do when we have an awful lot to offer. We have the majority of things to offer. They don’t have necessarily something as tangible to offer to District 8 constituents as we do. So to say this is how it’s going to be or we’re not going to talk to you, that seems very trivial to me. Either you want to collaborate or work with us, but I think barking out demands I think is very inappropriate.”
Board member Kyle Renner said the District 8 board needed to decide what was most important.
“I don’t think that’s caving to any demands,” he said. “I think the more important things will be to us are land transfers and board members outside of city limits.”
Board member Sarah Williams agreed. The structure of the board is another sticking point between the boards. Both agreed that seven is a good size for members, but have opposing ideas of how they should be elected.
District 1 board members have argued because of the way the population is structured, all seven board members should be elected at large. District 8 members have advocated for at least some board members to be drawn from outside Williston city limits.
How many is a question. Williams and board member Myles Fisher both said two or three board members should be from outside Williston while the rest should be at large.
David Goetz, superintendent for District 8, explained that residents would vote for all seven board members, but the plan would specify if some have to live in a particular area.
Williams said having a balance and making sure people who lived outside city limits had a voice was a big issue for her.
“I have my passions, and those are the ones I really want to fight those battles on right now,” she said. “To keep these conversations going, there’s going to be some give and take.”