BENTON CITY -- Wade Haun has never been a teacher or school principal. For 20 years he worked as a manager and administrator in the banking industry.
And that's just fine with the Kiona-Benton City School Board. They say Haun's business expertise is more important for the district right now than any experience with test scores, student enrollment numbers and curriculum.
"Our school board is aware that there will be some who contend that we should have searched for a professional educator to serve as our superintendent," said the board's statement last month when Haun's new one-year contract was announced.
Haun, 51, was elected to the school board in November, serving at two meetings before being chosen as the interim superintendent to replace Rom Castilleja, who resigned after seven years leading the district.
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Two months later, Haun became the full-time superintendent of the 1,500-student district.
Some residents have taken to social media and spoken at board meetings, questioning if it was a good idea or even legal to hire someone without a background in public education.
State law says there's no requirement for a school district superintendent to be specifically trained for the position or even have spent time working in a school.
"Superintendents are not required to be certificated, although most of them are," said Kristen Jaudon, spokeswoman for the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction. "It is up to local school boards to choose leaders that fit their priorities."
And the Ki-Be board said that's what it needed more now after several rocky years of labor disputes and other problems.
Castilleja resigned in January following years of conflict between his administration and the district's unions and a week after state officials said the district would have to repay about $169,000 for misreporting special education enrollment figures.
He will be paid through the end of the school year and also receive about $10,000 for unused vacation time.
Board members initially said Haun would serve only until the end of the current school year, giving enough time to conduct a search for permanent superintendent. But Haun did so well that board Chairman Tim Cooks said it made sense to retain him and not spend thousands of dollars hiring a search firm to find another candidate.
Some have lauded Haun's accomplishments. Teachers union representatives said they've seen more civility in their discussions with the district. Some parents and teachers have said at school board meetings morale at the schools has improved.
But others in the district are concerned with Haun's appointment.
Several have contacted the Herald and said his lack of experience is a violation of state regulations concerning the position. One parent, Clark Carlson, has regularly questioned the board at meetings about the rationale for hiring Haun.
Critics also have said Haun's initial election to the board removes some of the power separation between the board and the superintendent's office. Others were upset the district reneged on its declaration that it would conduct a full superintendent search.
State regulations spell out how a superintendent becomes certificated, including earning a graduate degree in education, proof of employment in the position and other educational credentials, said Jennifer Wallace with the state's Professional Educator Standards Board.
However, certification is not a requirement for being a superintendent, though she noted it is rare for a school district's top administrator to not have that qualification.
"Most want people to have that because it proves you have the training for that position," she said.
The district has not finalized Haun's contract, Cook said. It is still developing goals for Haun. The document will be finished before June 30, when it's set to take effect.
Haun's salary will be $105,000 a year, which he is receiving. That's $24,000 less a year than Castilleja received, who was a Richland School District administrator before being hired in Benton City.
Cook said the board is not concerned about Haun's lack of background in education because the district already employs other trained educators in key positions, and they will continue to do their jobs.
"(The board) decided that what has been lacking in our district is leadership and management ability," he said in a statement.
A Benton City native and Ki-Be High graduate, Haun was a manager and officer at several branches for Wells Fargo and US Bank in California, Spokane and the Mid-Columbia.
He left the industry seven years ago and started working at the BIG Print Shop in Benton City as a bookkeeper and print specialist so he could work closer to home, he said.
Haun gave up his job at the print shop and has taken over the superintendent duties full time. Cook said that it is Haun's familiarity with the community mixed with a bit of outsider perspective that has made him ideal as a superintendent.
Haun, who is married and has a son who graduated from Ki-Be High in 2012, told the Herald he plans to pursue training as a superintendent and the certification, but the requirements say he has to serve in the position for a few years to qualify. In the meantime, Haun said he will strive to do what's best for the district and its students
"I guess I'm trying to prove my abilities by being in the position," he said.
-- Ty Beaver: 509-582-1402; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @_tybeaver; Google+: +TyBeaverTCHerald