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After a breakdown in contract negotiations, Ashland's top pick for its new school superintendent, Gary Plano, withdrew from consideration Wednesday. The other two finalists withdrew earlier.

Plano, the superintendent of Mercer Island Schools in Washington, cited a lack of "synergy and immediate connection ... In short, I felt the position wasn't a good fit for me."

Plano said the low salary and tight budgets were not an issue. "It boiled down to the relating parties settling on the terms of the contract. We couldn't agree. We discovered that in the process, that it wasn't a good fit."

In an email to his staff, Plano said, "After deep reflection I realized there wasn't the synergy and immediate connection I had over five years ago when I accepted the position as the Mercer Island superintendent."

Plano said, "I knew that in coming to Oregon there would be a significant pay reduction and it (his withdrawal) was not about the contraction of budgets."

Plano was one of three finalists from a field of 13 chosen by a screening committee here.

Debra Munk, principal of Rockville High School in Maryland, and William McCoy, superintendent of Red Bluff, Calif., Union School District, both withdrew from the process before Plano did and were not offered the job, said Carol Davis, school board chairwoman.

Plano and Munk are making "much higher" salaries in their current jobs, said Davis, but that was not the issue. Problems were a much leaner budget, she said, and the qualities and qualifications that make the person "a fit" for the district.

Davis said Plano and the other finalists got good marks for some qualities, but added that "part of the job is being able to work with our community's needs and requirements. ... We're a very, very involved community and asked a lot of questions. I don't know if the candidates expected that."

The other sticky issue was funding, Davis said. Plano and Munk's districts both had "a lot more money to spend, coming from different income sources" than Ashland has.

"It would have been challenging for them, working with the resources they had," she said. "They were very well funded and successful. We are successful, too, but with a lot less resources. ... We're a much leaner school district."

Plano has a home in Ashland for his planned retirement, but in a phone conversation with Davis Wednesday, he said he'd done some soul-searching and felt his career and experience were in Mercer Island and he wanted to continue there, she said.

"Now, we have to decide the next steps in how to attract the person with the qualities and qualifications and the Ashland fit and who is able to work within our financial limits," Davis said.

Superintendent Juli Di Chiro will retire at the end of this school year, after 13 years at the helm.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.