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Muñoz takes school district's reins

Two weeks into his administration, Michael Muñoz attended his first board meeting as Rochester schools superintendent, a showing that coincided with the hiring of half a dozen school principals and district administrators who will form part of his leadership team.

Muñoz, who started work July 1, stood by each appointee and introduced them to the board before board members formally approved their hiring.

"I think we picked some quality people, and they are going to do some great things for us," Muñoz said.

They included Judy McDonald as the district's director of human resources; Jennifer Lawhead as coordinator of the gifted and talented program; Sam Ouk as coordinator of English Speakers of Other Languages program; Chad Schroeder as principal of Gibbs Elementary School; Kristopher Davidson as principal of Longfellow Elementary School; and Kurt Verdoorn as assistant principal of Century High School.

Muñoz's cabinet still has some major holes, and searches are under way for a director of curriculum and instruction, an executive director of school improvement and accountability, and a director of staff development. Muñoz indicated that he hopes to have the first two positions filled by the end of the month.

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District officials have scheduled an event to introduce Muñoz and his wife, Joan, to the community through a National Night Out event from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Aug. 2 at the Edison Building, 615 Seventh St. S.W. There will be a family-style picnic and entertainment. The board will host the event, which is being "generously supported" by Rochester Public Schools Foundation and the Canadian Honker restaurant, said district spokeswoman Jennifer Pozanc.

Association membership questioned

The agenda for Tuesday's school board meeting was generally light, but a consent item to renew the district's membership to the Minnesota School Boards Association occasioned a prolonged discussion.

Board member Terry Throndson questioned whether the district was getting value for its $14,000 annual membership fee.

"Each year it continues to go up, and we are in an era of cutbacks and budget problems," Throndson said. "I think it's worth having a discussion whether it's worth it."

Most board members spoke in favor of maintaining membership, saying the benefits far outweighed the costs. Board member Jim Pittenger said the organization provides training to board members that "keeps us abreast of what we need to know as school board members that helps limit liability."

Membership also allows the district to participate in the association's "liquid asset fund," an investment vehicle that allows the district to invest dollars not in use. The fund allows the district to reap several hundred thousand dollars in investment income, said business manager Larry Smith.

"What we pay is a drop in the bucket" compared to the value of the service it provides, said board member Breanna Bly.

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Throndson's complaint that the board was forced to make a decision without all the facts elicited a pledge from Munoz to get information to board members in a more timely manner.

Afterwards, Muñoz described the meeting as the beginning of a process of the board and him working together as a team.

"We're still trying to get an understanding on how each other does business," Muñoz said. "This is a learning process."

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