Former Sabetha superintendent Stones to lead USD 336

By Kelly Breckunitch

After multiple special meetings and interviews with several candidates, the Holton school board’s search for a superintendent has come to an end.

At Monday night’s board meeting, the board unanimously decided to hire Dennis Stones as the new superintendent of the Holton school district starting in the 2014-2015 school year.

Stones, a former superintendent of the Sabetha-Wetmore and Prairie Hills school district, will take over for Nancy Meyer, who is retiring, on July 1. He will have a one-year contract with the district with an annual salary of $81,300, it was reported.

Coming out of retirement to take this position, Stones noted he just felt it was time and that he could still make a difference in students’ lives.

With the special bond issue on a new elementary school building coming to a vote soon, prior experience with construction projects was one of the biggest factors in hiring Stones, according to board president Allen Arnold.

Stones has worked through previous building projects in other districts, more so than any other candidates who were interviewed, and Arnold said that is one of the reasons the board decided to hire him.

“We felt like his experience with that would be very advantageous to us,” Arnold said.

The new superintendent agreed that his experience was an asset, especially with the current educational climate and the potential hurdles schools could be facing from state legislation.

“It’s a tough time for all districts in the state and I think that it’s getting tougher and tougher to find experienced superintendents,” Stones said. “We’re kind of in a position now that any experience we can get into the system we need to so we can give some guidance and help boards and districts get through this.”

On top of that, Arnold said Stones possessed a lot of other good qualities the board was looking for after talking to people in the state who were familiar with him along with previous employers.

Good business sense, good leadership and the ability to manage the daily needs of the district are qualities necessary of a superintendent. After a long and thorough process, Arnold and the board believes it found a candidate in Stones who has those necessary skills to benefit the Holton school district.

“We just felt that Mr. Stones fit that criteria for us and hopefully we’ve made a good decision. We think we have,” Arnold said.

Stones is a Sabetha native who graduated from Sabetha High School in 1971. He earned a bachelor of science degree from Peru State College and got his masters degree in educational administration from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Prior experience for Stones includes 10 years of teaching and coaching in Nebraska, seven years combined as principal in Kremlin, Okla. and Madison before serving as superintendent of the Sabetha-Wetmore and Prairie Hills school district for 13 years before retiring in 2012.

Taking over as superintendent in Holton, Stones said it will take some time to familiarize himself with the current district situation, but he knows the Holton schools are already in good hands with some leaders he said he looks forward to working with in USD 336.

“I think there’s a great team of administrators there and I’ll be relying upon their vast amount of knowledge since they have been there awhile,” Stones said.

The end of the superintendent search wasn’t the only district-wide news that was discussed on Monday, as assistant elementary principal and transportation director Joe Kelly was on hand to go over the transportation handbook for USD 336.

Kelly noted the importance of having a policy in place regarding who the district bus drivers can and cannot pick up, so transportation issues can be handled more uniformly.

Current legislation does not allow the school district to pick up kids within 2.5 miles of the school facilities. With the city limits at roughly 2.1 miles from the school facilities, Kelly suggested adopting wording that would designate the city limits as the pick-up/drop-off boundaries.

That would mean all students living in the city limits, without a special IEP designation, would need to be picked up at a designated drop-off area like the high school, middle school, Southview Apartments or a handful of other sites.

Currently, some IEP students with special needs are being picked up at daycares around town and other non-designated students are getting on the bus at those stops.

In the interest of consistency, Kelly wanted the board to officially adopt the policy into the handbook, with board member Cindy Stavropoulos agreeing that the district can’t have that “without parameters.”

While Kelly said he wants to pick up every student that needs a ride, getting students to school, ultimately, is not the school’s responsibility.

“Parents are the ones responsible for getting their kids to school,” Kelly said.

Fairness and routine were two focal points of the transportation discussion and Kelly and the board agreed that if the rules are in place, then parents will likely adhere to them. The policy will be entered into the transportation handbook, which will be distributed at enrollment.

Kelly also asked the board for permission to seek bids for two buses for the school district.

Another issue affecting all the staff members in USD 336 was addressed on Monday as the school board decided on a health insurance policy for the 2014-2015 school year.

Looking over results of a staff survey, with only four members in favor of staying with Coventry, the board approved a switch back to Blue Cross/Blue Shield as the medical insurance provider of the district.

The medical insurance approved would allow USD 336 full-time employees to chose from two options, the comprehensive major medical health plan or the high deductible health plan, with premiums ranging from $429.95 to $516.67 per month for a single employee.

Also, the board addressed the issue of insurance for 10-month classified staff, with that set to become a requirement through state legislation by 2015.

Outside of providing health insurance, another option was cutting classified staff hours so providing insurance would not be required, but no board members were in favor of that.

The board approved a minimum coverage plan (high deductible health plan) for classified staff, also with Blue Cross/Blue Shield, with a single employee premium cost set at $348.69. The district will start offering that insurance plan this coming October.