The Oswego School District has a new superintendent.
His name is Matthew Wendt, and on Thursday night, the District 308 Board approved a three-year contract with him to take over from Dan O’Donnell, who resigned in February. O’Donnell’s last day will be June 30, and Wendt’s first will be July 1.
Wendt is currently the superintendent of the Ankeny Community School District, located in Polk County, Iowa, six miles outside Des Moines. It’s the 10th largest school district in the state, with about 9,000 students, preschool through high school, in 13 buildings. Wendt has been superintendent there since 2007.
Wendt has a doctorate in educational administration from the University of Arkansas.
Board President Bill Walsh said the similarities between the Ankeny and Oswego school districts played into the board’s decision. Ankeny, he said, is facing many of the same issues, from boundary questions to managing growth to improving academic performance.
The Ankeny district built a second high school under Wendt’s watch, and Wendt said the district’s academic standings rose from 80-85 percent of students meeting or exceeding standards to 90-95 percent.
Wendt’s contract guarantees him a base salary of $225,000 a year, plus benefits, and the board has the option to increase that figure for the contract’s last two years. That’s less than the $235,000 initially suggested by the district’s search firm, Ray and Associates, but an increase over O’Donnell’s salary – he was paid $200,000 for the 2011-2012 school year.
All six of the board members present at Thursday’s meeting voted to approve Wendt’s contract. Brent Lightfoot was absent, but provided a written statement in support of hiring Wendt. Board Member Alison Swanson voted yes, but expressed reservations about the salary.
“I am increasingly concerned about the money train we seem to be on,” she said. “Going forward, we have to reel that back in, or I will not support further candidates.”
Swanson said she voted yes because she believes Wendt will be a good fit for the district, and it’s important that he have the board’s full support. But she said it is difficult for her to justify an expense that could have gone back into the classroom.
Walsh said after the meeting that the salary represents an investment in Wendt, and the board expects to see results. The negotiated salary is an amount the board felt comfortable paying, considering the qualities they need in a leader moving forward, he said.
“It’s crucial to have someone of his caliber to lead the district,” Walsh said.
The search for a new superintendent began in March, when the district to find qualified candidates. Walsh said 221 hopefuls from 36 states expressed interest in the job, and 60 of them, representing 20 states, applied for it. Based on criteria discussed in , Ray and Associates whittled it down to the top 10, and the board interviewed six of those candidates for the job.
According to on Ankeny Patch, Wendt will receive a one-year payout from the Ankeny district when he leaves on June 30. His salary as superintendent in Ankeny was $176,513, according to the story. The Ankeny School Board offered him a three-year contract to stay, but he declined.
The District 308 board must now replace a pair of top administrators – Assistant Superintendent Todd Colvin in January, and Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning Marsha Hollis will retire at the end of the year. They are also seeking new principals for , , and .
Walsh said the board’s intention has always been to hire a new superintendent first, and get him involved in selecting the new administrators. In fact, Walsh said, Wendt will be in the district offices early tomorrow morning, participating in the search for new principals.
“It was our intent for him and Paul (O’Malley, assistant superintendent of business and finance) to work to hire the staff he needs,” Walsh said.
A reception for Wendt has been scheduled for June 11, from 5:30 to 7 p.m., before the school board meeting, at , 1525 Harvey Road.
Check Patch later on Friday morning for an interview with Matthew Wendt.