3 from Northwest finalists for Richland schools superintendent position

By Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldApril 10, 2013 

The Richland School Board announced three finalists for its open superintendent position Wednesday night, and all three are from the Northwest.

Joel Aune of the Snoqualmie Valley School District, Rick Schulte of the Oak Harbor School District and John Steach of the Canby School District in Oregon were selected out of 12 candidates interviewed Tuesday and Wednesday.

The three finalists all come from school districts about half the size of Richland. Aune has been a superintendent for 15 years, while Schulte has been in Oak Harbor for at least 20 years. Steach left Richland in mid-2011 to become Canby's superintendent, but worked as a district administrator here for more than 15 years before that.

The finalists now move on to public visits and interviews in the district next week, followed by board members visiting their districts. The board is expected to make a decision before the end of the month.

"I think they were all exceptional candidates," said board member Phyllis Strickler.

The board has looked for a superintendent since late January, after it fired Superintendent Jim Busey. Busey was found to have had an affair with a district employee and the board said he violated the so-called morality clause of his contract. Busey and the employee were married to other people at the time.

Busey is suing the district and each board member for discrimination and improper firing. He is seeking at least $1 million in damages.

Board members conducted initial candidate interviews behind closed doors in an attempt to attract more active superintendents to the job. Consultants told the board an entirely public process could discourage applicants concerned about their job security.

The board interviewed candidates at the Richland Community Center near Howard Amon Park. Board members said they were very pleased with the applicant pool.

Board Chairman Rick Jansons praised all three finalists. He said Aune could bring extensive experience to the job, Schulte was "at the top of his game" as a superintendent because of his serving military and special needs families in Oak Harbor, and Steach has extensive knowledge of Richland's system.

However, he said no candidate has an edge for the job at the moment, not even Steach -- who some may think has preference because of his past time in the district.

"This is a wide-open selection process," Jansons said.

The public is invited to attend public forums with the finalists Tuesday through Thursday next week. Those forums were initially set for 7:30 p.m. each of those days at the district's administrative offices at 615 Snow Ave., but board members said that could change. The finalists will also tour the community and meet with local leaders and officials.

-- Ty Beaver: 509-582-1402; tbeaver@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @_tybeaver

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