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Superintendent search secrecy sparks objection

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The Dickinson Public School Board spent the day Thursday interviewing the four final candidates for the superintendent position of the Dickinson Public School district, a process which largely occurred behind closed doors, with candidates whose names remained secret.

This secrecy didn't sit well with at least one member of the Dickinson community.

Dickinson High School Principal Ron Dockter made a public comment during the morning's meeting prior to entering executive session, expressing his disappointment that the process had not been more open.

"They've chosen four finalists and those four finalists ...I just think that something like that should be open to the public," Dockter said in a phone interview after the meeting.

Dockter said he disagreed with the interpretation of the law being used in this instance, while the school board insisted that they are operating within the constraints of the law to protect the privacy of the four remaining applicants.

"The truth of the matter is we are sort of bound to this by North Dakota Century Code," School Board President Brent Seaks said between interviews. "They are still applicants, we didn't narrow it down to three or less and because of that we have to keep their privacy and we cannot release their names to the public."

Dockter doesn't see it that way.

"I disagree with that," Dockter said. "Because I've read the century code to them also and my interpretation is a little bit different."

The actual text of the century code, specifically Century Code 44-04-18.27, states:

"If a public entity or any person delegated authority by a public entity to review applications or make hiring decisions receives applications from three or more applicants who meet the minimum qualifications for a vacant position, the public entity or other person shall designate three or more of the qualified applicants as finalists for further consideration before the public entity or other person may issue an offer of employment to fill the position." ...

The code continues, "...The applications and any records related to the applications which contain information that could reasonably be used to identify an applicant are confidential, except records related to finalists are open to the public after the finalists are designated. The public entity or other person reviewing applications on behalf of the public entity shall comply with all requirements for an executive session to discuss confidential applications."

As of press deadline the decision process was still ongoing; the final two candidates are expected to be identified at the conclusion of the final meeting Thursday night, with follow-up interview schedules to also be finalized at that time, according to the meeting's agenda.

The school board had hired on a search firm called Ray and Associates to assist in this search, who narrowed the process down from a pool of 39 initial applicants.

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