By Paul Daquilante • Staff Writer • 

Willamina super re-ups for 2014-15

WILLAMINA — School board chair Craig Johnson wonders how many superintendents would take time out of their day to help clean a school campus following a winter storm. He now knows of one  — Willamina’s Gus Forster.

In preparation for a Tuesday reopening, Forster hopped on a John Deere tractor Monday and helped rid the Oaken Hills Drive campus of the ice and snow that had kept it closed Friday and Monday.

“He’s not just a part-time superintendent,” Johnson said. “He’s pretty much full time. He’s gone above and beyond the call of duty for us.”

The school board and Forster agreed on a one-year contract Tuesday night that will keep him overseeing the district for the 2014-15 school year. He will again work on a half-time level at a salary of $60,853, unchanged from this year.

“With the exception of the bond defeat (last November), it’s been a very enjoyable year,” Forster said.

He said working with students and the staff are the things that keep him coming back.

“Those are the only two things,” he said. “We started a leadership team that works with staff members on setting goals, and I’m working with students on their senior projects. Things like that are the rewarding part of the job.”

Forster spends as little time in the district office as possible. He would rather be out and about in district schools, engaging with students and staff members.

“I don’t need to be in the office,” he said. “You can only look at paperwork for so long before it drives you nuts.”

He puts in the hours necessary to do the work required. Some weeks he takes a Thursday or Friday off, others not.

“Everything balances out,” he said. “I make up for it during the summer.”

He’s an avid fisherman.

Johnson said the board realizes the district is benefiting financially from only having to pay a half-time wage for a superintendent.

When Mark Jeffery left the district to take the superintendent’s job at the Warrenton-Hammond School District on the north Oregon coast, he suggested cutting the position to half-time to save money.

“When we interviewed candidates, a lot of them said if we’re only going to pay a half-time salary, then they were only going to be here three days a week,” Johnson said.

He said one of Forster’s strengths has been negotiating with unions on behalf of the district. Contract language has been clarified in many cases.

“He can be a little brash at times, but right, wrong or indifferent, you know where he stands and you move on,” Johnson said.

In all likelihood, next year is probably going to be Forster’s last. “He’s made mention of that to me,” Johnson said.

In light of that, board member Clinton Coblentz suggested opening a discussion in March about the district’s future direction.

“I thank you for all you have done and are doing,” Coblentz told Forster. “I appreciate it and I know the board does, too. But we need to be sitting here prepared in the future.”

Johnson said he concurs. The district won’t need to make a decision on a superintendent for 2015-16 for maybe another year, but it doesn’t hurt to begin laying some groundwork.

“I almost think we need a full-time superintendent,” Johnson said. “There are a lot of things that can’t be done in a half-time role. I think we need to keep the full-time option in the back of minds and see what the finances look like.”

In other business, the board approved placement of a $2 million bond issue on the May 20 primary election ballot. The board set the cost per thousand dollars of assessed valuation at 69 cents, meaning the owner of a house valued at $100,000 for tax purposes, about 60 percent of its true market value, would pay $69 a year.

The money would be used for:

n Modular classrooms for grades 5-6, replacing a unit dating back more than 35 years.

n A new ag, metal and wood shop with additional classroom space.

n Fire suppression sprinkler system for the shop, including a pump, line and supply pond.

n Site improvements and bond insurance costs.

“The board is enthused,” Forster said. “It decided to come right back again, and give the community the message that our situation isn’t going away because you said no.

“We can’t do the things the community wants to see with our existing facilities. Bringing this bond back for $2 million is a key for the success of the district.”

Forster said expanded vocational programs must be offered to students in the district.

“The reality is, 80 percent of the kids who graduate are not going to college,” he said.

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