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Toledo School Board selects new superintendent

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The Toledo School Board has selected Chris Rust, of Warden, to serve as the district's next superintendent, contingent upon approval of a contract formalizing his employment to be considered during the board's April 16 meeting.

Selected after a two-hour executive session held late last night, Board Chair Heidi Buswell said the decision to offer the job to Rust, who currently serves as principal of Warden High School, was based largely on how the community had responded to his personality and his desire to know the district.

"Across the board, the comments that were generated were really positive," she said of feedback Rust received after multiple meetings with students, staff and constituents. "Everybody really liked him."

Rust, as well as four other finalists, had taken time to come to Toledo last week and spent a whole day being interviewed by both officials and area students and residents, with one candidate featured per day. Buswell said, while this process may have been taxing on officials facilitating the interviews, particularly members of the board, it was worth the effort because of the volume of input gathered from residents of the district.

"It was an exhaustive process, but it got us a lot of feedback from the community," she said.

When it came time to select one of the five, Buswell said the board found all candidates to be well-qualified and technically competent, but were they swayed by what she called Rust's "enthusiasm for Toledo." She described how, during his interview process, Rust came prepared with specific questions about the day-to-day happenings within the district, which Buswell said impressed the board, while he also expressed an attitude that Toledo was not seeking merely a superintendent, but a community leader, as well.

"It was just a good fit, personality-wise," she said of Rust, stating she feels his exposure so far to the community will help facilitate a smooth transition to a new superintendent.

Toledo had been seeking a new superintendent since November of last year after Superintendent Sharon Bower submitted a letter of resignation in November, expecting to finish her tenure at the end of June. Buswell said Bower is leaving Toledo on positive terms, with Bower expecting to remain a resource during the transition to a new superintendent.

"This is a very amicable parting," said Buswell, describing Bower's reasons for leaving as personal rather than professional. "She has very, very good reasons for leaving the district and they don't have anything at all to do with Toledo."

Bower has described how, after experiencing a recurrence of breast cancer last year, she felt it was best to seek lower-impact employment and officially notified the board of her intent to resign during their Nov. 25, 2014, meeting.

Bower's last day is expected to be June 30, with Rust expected to begin July 1, pending approval of his contract. According to state policy, the contract for a beginning superintendent is expected to last at least three years, with the school board exercising their option to extend said contract during the years afterward.

Negotiations are also expected to include Rust's potential salary, which Buswell said may end up being greater than what is currently offered to Bower. Buswell said, in the interest of keeping the district solvent, Bower has turned down significant pay increases during the last few years and is, thus, under-paid compared to average superintendent salaries across the state. (Bower earned $116,266 in salary and benefits during the 2013-2014 school year, while the average superintendent in Washington earned around $122,000 that same year, according to information published by The Spokesman Review.)

Buswell said this may mean Rust's salary will be greater than what has been offered Bower in recent years, but such details will be determined through negotiations.

When reflecting on the many steps taken to select a superintendent, Buswell said she felt "really, really good about the whole process," and emphasized the role the community has played in helping review candidates.

"Doing it this way allows people to feel like they've been heard," she said of the open community forums, stating she feels feedback was able to be gathered from "all levels of the community."

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