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School board authorizes flex hiring to meet teacher shortage

The Dickinson Public School Board reached a consensus to allow Superintendent Doug Sullivan and his cabinet to exercise a degree of "flexibility" when it comes to filling the approximately 40 vacant positions in the school district.

Sullivan broached the topic during his superintendent's report at the Monday, Feb. 12 school board meeting.

"At this time in the district we have approximately 40 vacancies and one just came in this evening," Sullivan said. "That's an additional one. Neither I nor the members of the cabinet believe this is the last shoe to drop this school year. It's just going to be a very big hiring year."

Indeed, a new list of resignations stood before the school board for approval, including veteran teacher Gerald Holinka, Dickinson Middle School's P.E. teacher, who was noted for having 39 years of service. Scott Miller, another P.E. teacher at DMS, is also resigning after 25 years. Sullivan's resignation, effective on June 30, was also approved, alongside three teachers from Prairie Rose Elementary, three at DMS and one at DHS.

In light of these resignations, and the possibility of more down the line, Sullivan requested that the school board bypass the part of the hiring process that involves a board member overseeing an interview and application process with prospective teachers, and instead allow Sullivan and his cabinet to come to prospective teachers with a contract in hand.

"The pool of candidates for teaching positions and administrative positions has significantly shrunk and continues to shrink even more," Sullivan said. "So the cabinet and I have been talking about ways we can be more aggressive with our recruiting practices."

The administrative rule doesn't serve the district's need at this time, he said.

"The administrative rules in the school district are complicated when it comes to offering contracts at a career fair. Having gone to a number of career fairs in my career, I can tell you that the largest school districts in our nation come to those fairs with contract in hand. They are prepared to get people to sign on the dotted line at the fair," Sullivan said. "The cabinet is concerned that if we are not afforded some flexibility in terms of trying to move forward, the career fairs may not be the best investment of our time, money and effort."

The board did not deliberate long on the request—David Wilkie said he found the request "reasonable" and noted that similar challenges in hiring are present in his other job as a captain of the Dickinson Police Department. Board President Brent Seaks found a consensus among the board, and approved of Sullivan's request.

"We appreciate the trust," Sullivan said.

Specific details as to the degree of flexibility this allows were not available as of press time, as Sullivan is out of town for a conference. In terms of how this flexibility will play out, Sullivan referred to the time of the oil boom when, with a similar need for an increase of staff, Sullivan asked the budget committee for a similar flexibility. Sullivan said this directly benefited the students.

"Best example I can give for how that flexibility served the students of this school district, there was one year where we literally hired a first grade teacher the day before school started," Sullivan said.