For more than two years, a divided Medford School Board has been debating the fate of Superintendent Phil Long when his contract expires in June 2014.
This weekend, the discussion ended when Long told the board that he plans to retire from the district after 30 years as a teacher, administrator and, for the past eight years, as its superintendent.
His announcement means the board has the school year to find a replacement without having to "deal with side issues," board member Ron Andersen said Monday.
"It's reflective of Phil's interest in the district that he will continue to give us excellent service during this transition time," said Andersen. "The school board is united in trying to find the best and brightest replacement."
Long sent the board a letter over the weekend telling them that he would not remain in the position past next June. He praised the district's staff for making improvements and said he was "pleased that after nine years as superintendent, I can leave the district in better shape than I found it."
The board will consider Long's decision and accept public comment in a meeting at 6 p.m. Monday, Aug. 12, in the district Board Room, 815 S. Oakdale Ave.
"Our job as an elected board is to work closely with the community to find a new superintendent, who is a key leader in our community," said board Chairman Jeff Thomas. "We want to hear from parents, students and the community from day one of our search."
Long said Monday that although there are other opportunities for him outside of the district, he is committed to "finishing strong" and working with the board to find his replacement and complete newly funded projects.
"No one person makes a district, but the role of the superintendent can have an impact on a district," he said.
After dipping into reserves for years, the district has received a $23.3 million increase to use over two years to add teachers and staff and install safety improvements. Long said he also hopes to add four instructional days to the existing 170 days and perhaps reduce class size.
"We have been on a continuous improvement plan and it's nice to pass the torch to someone when it has a healthy flame," he said.
In the past, a minority of the board members have questioned the district's below-average graduation rates and expressed concern over Long's decision to grant pay raises to administrators as part of a package in which the administrators took on a greater portion of their health insurance expenses.
In a June 10 board meeting, board member Kim Wallan moved to terminate Long's contract without cause in 90 days. After questions were raised over whether the issue could be taken up without advance notice, the board tabled the motion.
The board agreed earlier this year not to renew Long's contract, but did not move to remove him immediately. Following the defeat of one of Long's critics in the May election, it was possible that the new board would have reconsidered the decision.
"We didn't know where the votes were for renewing his contact," said Wallan, when reached by phone after the announcement. "Now that we have finality, we can start looking immediately for a new superintendent." She said it's rare that superintendents stay on for as long as Long has.
"I think change is good," she said. "I'm looking forward to an opportunity to bring in some new ideas and I'm excited to find a superintendent to implement the board's vision."
The board will discuss the search for a new superintendent at its retreat Aug. 21-22, she said.
As for Long, whom she has stated she ran for a seat on the school board to remove, Wallan said, "He must have just decided that it was time."
On Sept. 16, the board will talk about the process to find the next superintendent and schedule town halls and forums to hear public comment, said Thomas.
"Phil served the district for 30 years and I believe he will do other things," said Thomas.
A highlight of Long's tenure was the 2006 passage of a $189 million school bond measure, which allowed the district to replace or renovate each of its schools. Long was also at the helm for the creation of the Central Medford High School alternative school and for the development of small "schools with a school" system at South Medford High School.
Long began his career with the Medford School District in 1984 as a middle-school English and German teacher. In 1990 he was appointed assistant principal at South Medford High School. From there he moved to district-level administrative positions as supervisor of secondary curriculum and director of curriculum and instruction. In 2005, the board appointed him superintendent.
"This is the first I have heard of Phil leaving," said Joseph VonDoloski, principal of Logos Charter School on Monday. " I saw him Friday and he didn't say anything. He's always been a pleasure to work with and supportive every time we've asked him for help."
Reach reporter Janet Eastman at 541-776-4465 or firstname.lastname@example.org