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Stillwater superintendent accepts job in Iowa
School board to discuss next steps Thursday
Stillwater Area Public Schools will need to soon look for a new leader.
Superintendent Corey Lunn was recently offered a position in a suburban district north of Des Moines, Iowa. On March 20, Lunn signed the contract to be the Johnston Community School District superintendent, starting July 1.
The Lake Elmo resident said he wasn’t planning on leaving so soon, but the Iowa position “caught his eye,” because it was near where his wife’s relatives live.
“My family and I prepared to be here a lot longer,” said Lunn, whose two children are in grades six and eight. “The timing just felt right to look into it.”
The population in the Johnston district is expanding, and Lunn said the school board was looking for someone to “bring in new ideas.”
The Johnston district has about $120 million in new building projects planned for the next four years, including a new high school, Lunn said. Its enrollment of about 6,700 students is projected to grow by 150 to 200 students each year.
“That brings opportunities and more income into the district,” Lunn said. “When I look at my strengths and the things that give me purpose, it feels like a great fit. The more I learned about it, the more I thought it was a good opportunity for myself and my family.”
The new position offers a slight pay increase, which Lunn said “wasn’t the driving factor.”
In Stillwater, Lunn’s base salary was about $168,000 with the potential of a performance bonus of up to $10,000. The new position offers about $225,000, which doesn’t include some perks, such as annuities and mileage reimbursement, he received in Minnesota.
“The philosophy there is that they put more into salary, whereas I have to pay for benefits myself,” Lunn said.
Lunn saw Stillwater through tough times
Lunn was selected out of 91 applicants, which he said reflects well on the Stillwater district.
“A lot has been accomplished, even though we’ve been dealing with those budget challenges,” Lunn said. “That speaks volumes of the staff and the students.”
School board chair Tom Lehmann said the board had hoped to keep Lunn longer.
Lehmann said negotiations to renew Lunn’s three-year contract had just started, when Lunn informed district leaders he was interested in the Iowa position. Lunn’s contract was set to expire June 30.
“It’s a great opportunity for him and his family,” Lehmann said. “The district is thankful that he was here. He got us past the levy; he got our strategic plan in place.”
In his nearly three years leading Stillwater area schools, Lunn helped establish a strategic plan called “Bridge To Excellence,” which will be implemented over several years, offering students opportunities for personalized learning, elementary world language and art instruction and preparation for careers and college.
He lobbied for the $16.2 million levy that’s in place for the next eight years and steered the schools through recent budget cuts and adjustments, as the district continues to face declining enrollment and rising costs of operation.
‘Tough decisions’ ahead
The Stillwater district, which includes Lake Elmo Elementary and Oak-Land Junior High in Lake Elmo, is expected to lose hundreds of students over the next few years.
Enrollment is projected to decrease from about 8,110 students in 2014 to 7,782 in 2016. Lunn said the district’s schools are designed for 10,000.
“We’re a district that has to look differently to maintain our excellence,” Lunn said. “That’s going to require some really tough decisions and looking at how to continue to do things differently.”
Now that the strategic plan for programming is in place, Lunn said the district will have to reexamine its space and facility needs.
“We’ve done a lot of heavy lifting the last three years,” Lunn said. “It’s not a bad time for someone to come in with a different set of eyes and experiences.”
What’s next for the district?
This week an executive committee, which is made up of Lehmann and two school board members, will discuss whether the district will appoint an interim superintendent or start looking for a permanent replacement, Lehmann said. The entire school board will discuss the options on March 27.
At that same meeting, the board may decide another round of adjustments to address a $4 million shortfall in the 2014-15 budget, scaling it back by another $1.5 million.
The board on March 13 trimmed about $1 million. It approved cutting up to 30 teachers, 16 of which were already going to be let go, due to declining enrollment.
“We’ve been deficit spending for a long time,” Lunn said. “The fund balance is no longer at a point that it can sustain that.”
Along with budget challenges, the district is negotiating several teacher labor contracts, and considering changes to programs at Withrow and Marine elementaries and to how it runs the St. Croix Valley Area Learning Center.
Lehmann said Lunn’s departure won’t hinder the district in addressing those issues.
“We have a lot of good people still here. These are issues that every school deals with: trimming budgets, declining enrollment,” Lehmann said. “(Lunn leaving) just adds another thing to do.”
Lehmann said the school board wishes him well.
“We’re going to be lucky if we can find someone else to fill his shoes,” he said. “He was a great superintendent for our district.”
Kaitlyn Roby can be reached at 651-748-7814 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her at twitter.com/KRobyNews.