Caldwell chooses Bonneville administrator to head district

The hiring process was kept secret. Trustees signed "confidentiality statements" over resumes. The board chair said trustees had cast a "unanimous vote" to hire French — before they actually made a formal, public vote, as state law requires.

Shalene French was selected superintendent for the Caldwell School District on Saturday — after weeks of hiring secrecy and nine hours of closed-door interviews and deliberations by trustees.

The hiring was not announced until Monday night’s regular board meeting. French, the director of human resources for the Bonneville School District in Idaho Falls, broke the news of her hiring in a video posted on Bonneville’s Facebook page. She has spent 20 years with Bonneville schools and started as a math teacher.

On Saturday, Caldwell trustees interviewed three candidates — French; Jay Hummel superintendent in Ashland, Ore., and former Kuna School District superintendent; and Monica White, principal of Caldwell’s Canyon Springs Alternative High School. Each was interviewed during a closed executive session, and patrons could not witness the interviews. The candidates’ applications and resumes were not made public.

Originally, 16 applications were reviewed and vetted through a search committee led by Christine Donnell, a former Meridian schools superintendent working as a consultant through the Idaho School Boards Association.

Shalene French
Shalene French, the Caldwell School District’s new superintendent.

The committee narrowed the search to three finalists. During a special board meeting on March 1, Donnell gave trustees packets that included the finalists’  resumes, applications and reference letters. She asked each trustee to review the packets before Saturday’s interviews.

Donnell gave the four trustees in attendance a “confidentiality statement” and asked them to sign it in efforts of “keeping the names to ourselves.” (Trustee Tom Briten was not at the meeting).

The trustees unanimously approved a motion to “accept the superintendent report given by Christine Donnell” during their meeting. The report, including the resumes and applications, was not made public. (Click here to watch video of the meeting.) 

Idaho Education News requested resumes and applications for the finalists; the request was denied. Board clerk Yvonne McKee responded in writing on Friday that the district would need $500 to $600 to cover “attorney fees, staff fees, redactions, copies, etc.”

Idaho Education News appealed the fee request. Under Idaho State Code 74-102, “no fee shall be charged for the first two (2) hours of labor in responding to a request for public records, or for copying the first one hundred (100) pages of paper records that are requested.”

McKee on Monday rescinded the request for payment and shared two documents — a template checklist for the trustees to use as they interviewed candidates and a schedule of events. Resumes and applications were not included. District attorney William Gigray said he believes resumes are exempt from public disclosure. He cited Idaho code 74-106, which exempts personal information, health records and documents pertaining to professional discipline. The code also states personnel records are exempt from disclosure “other than the public official’s public service or employment history.”

French’s contract, including her salary, also has not been made public. During Saturday’s just over 16-minute open board meeting, which followed nine hours of executive session, Chairman Chuck Stout begins by calling French on the phone to offer her the job. The trustees had not yet taken a vote during an open meeting to approve her selection as superintendent. But Chairman Stout told the candidate she was chosen by “unanimous vote.” He also tells French over the phone the salary would fall in the range between $130,000 and $140,000 plus traditional district benefits.

Executive sessions are reserved for candidate evaluations. According to state law, “No executive session may be held for the purpose of taking any final action or making any final decision.”

Former superintendent Tim Rosandick is still under contract for 2015-16 at a salary of $137,000, after the board voted in June of 2015 to oust Rosandick and deputy superintendent Luci Asumendi. The district agreed to keep Rosandick employed in a consulting role while he continued to collect his salary.

Jodie Mills has served as Caldwell’s interim superintendent over the past school year.

In Bonneville, French is responsible for directing, administering and overseeing the functions of the human resource office. She reviews applications and the hiring of certified and classified employees. She oversees the supervision and evaluation of all district employees, personnel files, equal opportunity and worker’s compensation. She works with employees to resolve work-related issues and concerns.

French has served as a middle school teacher, basketball coach, assistant  principal and principal.

Other superintendent openings

The Lakeland School District hired Becky Meyer to replace retiring superintendent Brad Murray. Meyer is a long-time educator with the Lake Pend Oreille School District, currently serving as the district’s assistant superintendent. She previously served as the principal at Sandpoint High.

At least seven other superintendent positions are currently open in Idaho: North Gem, Fremont County, Mullan, Council, Valley and Orofino. The Syringa Mountain School in Hailey also is seeking new leadership.