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Published: Wednesday, 2/8/2006

Fremont schools chief to retire, be rehired

FREMONT - Fremont Schools Superintendent Don King, one of two men to lead the Sandusky County district over the last quarter-century, will resign Aug. 1 and then return to the job for one more year, school officials said yesterday.

Mr. King, 56, who has been superintendent since May, 1997, will be rehired at his present salary, $116,688 a year. The school board voted 5-0 to accept his resignation at a meeting Monday night.

Mr. King, whose five-year contract expires July 31, said yesterday he would stay as superintendent through July 31, 2007, to give the district time to search for his successor.

"I have made a commitment for that year and that year only," he said. "We have some tough issues that need to be addressed in the school district."

Those issues include a five-year, 6.9-mill emergency operating levy that the board voted Monday night to place on the May 2 primary ballot. The levy would raise $3.6 million a year and be the district's first property-tax increase for operations since 1985.

Mr. King said the levy is needed to prevent the district, which has 4,600 students and 560 employees, from running a deficit of nearly $300,000 in 2006-07. Without new revenue, the district would end the following year with an additional shortfall of more than $1 million, he said.

The district also faces wage reopener negotiations this year with its unionized teachers and is beginning a strategic planning process. Also being considered is a possible move of ninth-grade students from Fremont Middle School to Ross High School.

"With all of that, my personal feeling was I didn't want to throw somebody brand new into it because the time it would take to get their wheels going would set us back too much," said Jim Fails, vice president of the school board. "By having him here, keeping these initiatives going, it gives us the time to really concentrate on doing the kind of search that's necessary."

Mr. King's brief planned retirement will allow him to begin collecting his state pension after a 35-year career in education.

Administrators and teachers in numerous other northwest Ohio districts have done the same, leading to charges that the practice amounts to "double dipping."

Mr. King and school board members defended the idea, noting that it will not cost the district anything.

"I guess everybody's got their own interpretation," Mr. King said. "It happens quite frequently in the corporate world, too. If you look around the area, there's quite a few administrative positions that are retiree-hire situations."

Tim Ellenberger, the board's president, noted that Fremont's superintendents tend to serve for a long time and said he didn't want to rush the search for Mr. King's replacement.

His predecessor, Kent Watkins, was superintendent for nearly 16 years.

"I'm not a big proponent for rehiring. But in situations where it's the best thing for the district, I have to put the district's interests ahead of my personal interest," Mr. Ellenberger said.

Mr. King began his career as a high school business teacher in Xenia, Ohio, and has been superintendent of North Baltimore Local Schools in Wood County and the Hamilton Local School District in Franklin County.

- Steve Murphy



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