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Saari to retire

District administrator leaving Waupaca in June

By Robert Cloud

Members of the Waupaca School Board held a special meeting May 2 to discuss how to replace District Administrator Ron Saari.


Saari announced his plans to retire at the end of the academic year in an April 30 letter to school board members, staff, parents and residents.

“I want to share how grateful I am for the opportunity to spend the last five years working for the School District of Waupaca. I have learned a great deal from our staff and feel that my skills have grown considerably during my time as your District Administrator,” Saari said in his letter. “I truly believe that we are in a much better position to continue to grow and improve as an organization than previously.”

In his letter, Saari noted the nearly $900,000 2024-25 budget shortfall that the district had faced last year.

During January and February, the district received new information from the state, which significantly lowered the projected budget deficit.

“By continuing to follow our district’s philosophy of position cuts through attrition and evaluating every open position before posting, we now have a 2024-25 balanced budget projected,” according to Saari. “This has allowed us to forgo the previous plan to create a stakeholder group to evaluate difficult budget cutting options.”

Board discussion

At the May 2 meeting, school board President Ron Brooks said the goal of the meeting was to discuss what needed to be done in order to hire a new district administrator.

Brooks said Mark Flaten, the district’s director of teaching and learning, is willing to serve in both his current position and as an interim administrator until the school board completes the application and interview process.

Brooks said another staff member recommended Craig Gerlach, a retired Stevens Point district administrator, as an interim district administrator.

Gerlach could also serve as a mentor to the new district administrator the Waupaca hires.

Gerlalch retired as the Stevens Point district administrator in June 2022. He subsequently served as an interim administrator in Wisconsin Heights for one year.

“Do we know what the cost is for bringing Craig in?” asked Molly McDonald, the board treasurer.

If Gerlach worked as an interim administrator, helping train the new district administrator hired by the school board, Brooks said he would have an annual contract and be paid an annual salary. He noted that it would be expensive for the board to select an administrator while paying an equal salary to Gerlach.

McDonald said the district would be paying two people to be the district administrator.

Board Vice President Steve Klismet asked if they could have a probationary one-year contract with a new administrator.

“Do you think we would have a difficult time getting someone if we say a shorter contract like one year and say we want to see what you’re about before we make a long-term commitment?” Klismet asked.

“That’s a very good option,” Brooks said. “We take applications. We do interviews. We pick our individual and we give that person a one-year interim and say this is a trial by fire.”

He noted that ths option would be less expensive.

Board member and clerk Betty Manion suggested that the board contact Dave Peoschl, who served as Waupaca’s district administrator from 1992 to 2016.

Brooks said he would also like to see Poeschl on the team that interviews candidates and asked Manion to discuss this with Poeschl.

Prior to interviewing candidates, Flaten suggested that the board meet with staff at each of the buildings to hear their input.

Several board members said they believed meeting with staff at the schools would help the board build better relations and trust with teachers and administrators.

“I think it’s time that the board goes out there and meets them on their turf,” Brooks said.

The district has posted the job opening for district administrator.

They plan to accept applications until May 20, hold interviews in June and hope to fill the position before the end of July.

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