Thursday, May 8, 2008

LT May 7, 2008

Updated: 5/7/2008

Board stands behind Heilmann
Members satisfied district's new superintendent did no wrong

Christena T. O'Brien
Leader-Telegram staff
Satisfied that there is no merit to an allegation that Ron Heilmann, the Eau Claire school district's incoming superintendent, stayed with a student during an out-of-town trip, school board members are looking forward to his arrival July 1.

"Having spent time with Dr. Heilmann ... taking a look at ... all sides, I think there's not a doubt in our minds Dr. Heilmann will come and do a great job and be an active member of our community," said Carol Craig, the board's new president.

During a news conference in Eau Claire Tuesday, Heilmann, flanked by Craig and school board members Trish Cummins, Ken Faanes and Mary Kneer, apologized to school board members, professional and paraprofessional staff, and community members in the Eau Claire and Oshkosh school districts for the situation - even though an inquiry by independent legal counsel determined the anonymous allegation lacked any merit.

"I'm deeply saddened that both school communities have been disrupted, and public confidence in our schools might have been compromised," he said.

While he never took a student on a trip, the 52-year-old administrator said he has been asked several times since the allegation came to light why he didn't tell Eau Claire school members about the inquiry.

Oshkosh school board minutes show the board discussed the issue with an attorney March 5 and again March 19, when the body decided there was no evidence of wrongdoing.

Craig, Cummins and fellow board member Mike Bollinger traveled to Oshkosh March 18 to interview school and community members about Heilmann, one of two finalists for the superintendent's job. Six days later, the Eau Claire school board - having never heard about the allegation or inquiry in any part of the process - voted unanimously to hire him.

At the news conference Tuesday, Heilmann said he initially didn't know about the independent legal counsel's inquiry, and he said he later didn't alert Eau Claire board members based on legal advice given to the Oshkosh board to not discuss the matter.

"I'm satisfied with the rationale he used," Craig said during the news conference. "Do I think that there could have been revelations earlier on in the process? I think I do, but I also understand the rationale that he used."

That said, "it looks like the Oshkosh (board) did exactly what (it) needed to do ... to make sure that any allegation that was put forward was found to be either valid or not valid," she said. "In this case, it was found to be not valid."

Even though his name has been cleared, Heilmann said the inquiry was the right thing to do.

"Taking precautions to protect school children ... should always be paramount, so what has occurred is certainly not the wrong thing at all," he said.

Realizing the allegation and his failure to alert the Eau Claire school board to it might have resulted in some mistrust among the public, Heilmann said he'll be able to rebuild their trust once people get to know him and see him in and out of the school district.

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