Richland hires Rick Schulte to be next superintendent

Tri City-Herald staff writerApril 29, 2013 

Rick Schulte, who has spent 20 years leading the Oak Harbor School District, has agreed to be the next superintendent for the Richland School District.

Richland School Board members met in a closed-door executive session for nearly four hours Monday before voting unanimously in public to hire the veteran educator.

Schulte did not immediately return a call after the board’s decision, but he reportedly has agreed in principle to come to Richland.

Schulte will be the third superintendent in four years for the district of about 12,000 students, replacing Jim Busey, who was fired in mid-January.

Board Chairman Rick Jansons said Schulte officially starts July 1 but plans to start visiting the district to begin the transition as early as next week. “He’s very excited about coming here,” board Vice Chairwoman Heather Cleary told the Herald.

Board members said it was a tough decision among the three finalists, but Schulte’s experience and drive won out.

“We got a great guy,” Jansons said. “He’s going to be a great fit, and push our community to be better than we are.”

Former superintendent Busey had an affair with a district employee, which the board said 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 the board members for discrimination and improper firing, and is seeking at least $1 million in damages.

About a dozen candidates, all of them reportedly either current or former superintendents, took part in closed-door interviews in early April.

Schulte and fellow finalists Superintendent Joel Aune of Snoqualmie Valley and Superintendent John Steach of Canby, Ore., who is also a former Richland schools administrator, were chosen for further interviews and public visits.

Board members said Schulte received good reviews from members of the public when he visited April 18, being described as “thoughtful” and “intelligent.”

Schulte, who taught in the Peace Corps and formerly worked in schools on Bainbridge Island and in Bremerton, has declined recent attempts to extend his contract in Oak Harbor. He said during a public visit he was looking for a new challenge.

He said Richland schools already are successful and that will need to be maintained. The district’s biggest challenge is carrying out building projects with its recently approved $98 million bond. That’s something Schulte said he’s prepared to do, having built two new schools and a stadium and renovating a high school in Oak Harbor with bond money.

Richland officials have yet to write Schulte’s contract, and no information was released on what he will be paid. Busey was one of the highest paid superintendents in the Mid-Columbia when he was fired, making more than $160,000 per year plus benefits.

The board said all three finalists were well-qualified for the position, with Jansons saying he could see any of them as the district’s superintendent.

“The leading candidate changed a few times, and it was different for each board member,” Jansons said.

However, board members said their recent visit to Oak Harbor as part of the review process solidified Schulte as the top choice. Board member Rick Donahoe said he was impressed by what teachers, administrators and community leaders in the town of 22,000 on Whidbey Island had to say about their superintendent’s work to modernize and improve Oak Harbor’s schools.

“He has completely turned that (district) around,” Donahoe said.

Board members spent about three months — about half the time typically needed — searching for a new superintendent.

Cleary said that despite the short timeframe, the district did a thorough job of reviewing applicants, all of whom were highly qualified.

“We had such a good pool,” she said.

-- Ty Beaver: 509-582-1402;; Twitter: @_tybeaver

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