DECATUR – It was a year of change at the top of Decatur public schools.
The school system was without a permanent superintendent for a year after Lisa Taylor tendered her resignation in April 2016. Assistant superintendents Michael Dugan and Bobbi Williams were appointed co-interim superintendents while the school board began a search for a replacement.
Paul Fregeau, formerly of the North Kansas City schools in Missouri, was named superintendent in March 2017, after a five-month search process. He accepted a three-year contract at a salary of $197,000.
Born in Chicago and raised in Momence and Manteno in Kankakee County, Fregeau served as assistant superintendent in North Kansas City and had previously served as superintendent of Cass-Midway Schools in Cleveland, Missouri; principal of Mountain Grove High School in Mountain Grove, Missouri; and taught in Monroe City High School in Monroe City, Missouri, and Quincy Junior High. He holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from Southern Illinois University-Carbondale; a master’s in secondary education from the University of Missouri-St. Louis; and a doctorate in education from Saint Louis University.
"There's a lot of opportunity here for improvement, and a lot of things we can do better, so I like that,” Fregeau said upon being approved by the school board. “And, I'm from Illinois, born and raised. All those things are reasons I thought it was a great opportunity to come here and help the kids of Decatur."
He has been an active superintendent from the beginning, spending as much time as possible in the district during the time between his appointment and his official start date of July 1. In that time, four new board members were elected in April 2017: Kendall Briscoe, Courtney Carson, Beth Creighton and Beth Nolan.
Board member Fred Spannaus, who was a vocal supporter of the three women's campaign and chose not to seek another term on the board, said he was pleased that the women, who ran as a slate under the moniker “Parents in Leadership for Us,” were all elected.
“It's what Decatur needs,” he said. “A fresh start.”
One of the first orders of business with new board members and a new superintendent was to begin the process of formulating a strategic plan for the district for the next five years. That process is underway, with a plan expected to be presented for board approval in late April or early May 2018. The previous plan was only supposed to last until 2012. No new one has been in place.
Additionally, since the new board was seated, a new district policy was approved which requires teachers to live within school district boundaries. The policy applies only to new hires and to district employees who move into administrative positions. During several lengthy discussions prior to the policy's final form, board members expressed a desire to require employees to send their children to Decatur's public schools, but board attorney Brian Braun said that could raise constitutional issues, and that part of the policy was dropped. He raised similar concerns in regard to requiring current employees to adhere to the residency requirement, as that could have exposed the district to litigation.
The hiring of Fregeau and the election of four new board members came on the heels of a tense time in the district, with questions raised during the audit in 2015 over the use of district procurement cards by former Superintendent Taylor and Chief Instructional Officer Edward Moyer. Board members expressed reluctance to extend Taylor's contract and after several public meetings and a mass show of support for Taylor, with district employees wearing yellow as a visible sign of their support, her resignation, and Moyer's departure from his position in summer of 2016 apparently signaled the end of the controversy.
Procurement card use had been suspended during that controversy, but in September 2016, the board approved a limited return of the cards, as booking hotels and travel for district employees attending conferences and other events was almost impossible without a district credit card.
“One of the problems we have without one is, you have to go through purchase orders,” said board President Dan Oakes. “If we send someone to a conference, the hotel will not accept a purchase order. So by having a very limited number of p-cards that we can control and audit as a board, it solves the problem, and we keep our finger on the pulse of what's going on.”