Ennis’ new superintendent was welcomed Monday night by the Ennis School Board as he begins work on this year’s budget and looks to help bring a community together that has been deeply divided over issues surrounding the school.
John Overstreet started officially as superintendent on July 1 and he said his first week on the job was busy, but fun as he met with many teachers and community members.
He asked the school board to consider helping him set goals for himself as his tenure begins. Overstreet told the board he had a few goals for himself, but welcomed their input and ideas on what they believe he should focus on as superintendent.
“I really think I’d like some goals from the board,” Overstreet said.
When he was hired, he told the board he planned on being in Ennis no more than three years, so he wanted to focus on some short term goals, including helping mend fences in the community.
“One of my goals would be to bring the community back together,” Overstreet said.
Controversy has swirled around the school for the last few years over funding for the new school, expenditures from the adult education and transportation funds and contracts for former superintendent Doug Walsh.
However, Overstreet said he’s heard from people on both sides of the issue that it’s time to mend fences and move forward.
He also wanted ask the board to formalize a discussion they had when he was hired that Overstreet train current high school principle John Sullivan to succeed him as superintendent.
In Three Forks, where Overstreet served as superintendent for several years, he was able to train his successor and it was a process that worked well. He believes it would work as equally well in Ennis.
“I believe Mr. Sullivan would be a great candidate,” he said.
Developing a good working relationship with the school board would also be a goal Overstreet would set for himself. Good communication between the board and the administration is essential, he said.
To that end, he would send the board a letter every Friday letting them know what is going on in the school. Some weeks the letter would be short, others it would be more involved. The idea is to keep a consistent line of communication with the board, he said.
In return, he would expect the board to keep him apprised of any concerns that might be circulating in the community. He also expected board members to drop by and visit with him at least once a month.
He also said it was important for the board and the administration to work together as a team. Not every decision would be easy or unanimous, but he told the board that it would be important for all board members to support board decisions once they are made.
“Once a decision is made we all have to support it,” Overstreet told the board.
In other news, after much debate the board voted to renew an agreement with Madison County formalizing how the school district would report their financial information to Madison County Treasurer Shelly Burke.
Two years ago, the Ennis School District removed their funds from Madison County’s pool of investments. The idea, presumably, was to invest the money differently to realize a greater return, Overstreet said after the meeting.
Most schools in Montana allow the county treasurer to oversee their investments. However, school districts are allowed to manage their own investment funds with an agreement between the district and county on how those funds will essentially be monitored and reported.
School districts receive money from the state through the Office of Public Instruction and the county taxpayers. Ennis receives the OPI money directly and the tax money comes from Burke’s office.
The hang up with renewing the agreement was a default clause that wasn’t in the previous agreement signed two years ago. The clause essentially said that the agreement could be dissolved if either party defaulted for longer than 14 days.
Overstreet had requested some legal counsel from the Montana School Board Association and their attorney recommended the district not sign the contract with that tight of default clause.
He recommended not signing the agreement and trying to work with the county on the language.
“There’s some lack of trust between the school district and the county,” Overstreet said.
School board chair Lisa Frye understood the reason for the default clause.
“There’s no recourse for the county if the district doesn’t comply,” Frye said.
In the past two years, the county and school district have worked through some issues on what information Burke needed each month concerning the school funds. Those issues have been rectified, Burke said during an interview Tuesday.
“I think everything is going to be good,” she said.
Overstreet told the school board the same thing. The district is now on the same page with Burke’s office. He vowed to meet the county’s expectations with the help of district clerk Ginger Martello.
“Ginger and I will comply as long as I’m here, I guarantee it,” he said.
Board member Jim McNally felt the 14-day default clause was too stringent and didn’t support the district signing the agreement.
“I don’t think 14 days is really gracious at all,” McNally said.
Ultimately, the board voted 3-2 to sign the clause. Board members Craig George, Lisa Frye and Bill Clark voted to sign it and McNally and Mike McKitrick voted against it.
In other business, the board asked Overstreet to continue discussions with the Schaufler family on purchasing their property adjacent to the school. They wanted to explore the option of leasing the property with an option to buy and also getting an appraisal of the property.
The board also decided to interview new auditors for next year’s audit.
Ross Stalcup has been the school district’s auditor for several years, Overstreet said. He believed it was good practice to rotate auditors every few years to get a different look at the district’s financials.
“I think it would be good business to hire a different auditor next year,” he told the board.
The board has solicited bids from other auditors and decided to interview a handful of them before settling on a firm for next year’s audit.