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Benson bypasses Monson for superintendent's job

Morris Area Superintendent Scott Monson was not offered the same job in the Benson School District.

The Benson School Board voted unanimously to hire current Benson High School Principal Lee Westrum at a meeting Saturday morning.

John Kraker, superintendent at Minneota Public Schools, also was a finalist.

The board will begin contract negotiations with Westrum next week.

The candidates interviewed earlier this month, and members of a search committee also made site visits to the candidates' three schools.

At the request of Benson School Board member Dennis McManus, Monson was the first candidate eliminated from the deliberations. McManus cited concerns about Monson in discussions with residents.

Board member Bill McGeary stated that the "most negative comments I got were on Mr. Monson."

Morris Area hired Monson in May 2004 on a three-year contract that expires after the 2006-2007 school year.

McGeary said of Westrum that, "he's a known product. I always like to go with what I know, what I'm comfortable with."

Although Westrum lacks experience, board members said they believed he could be "mentored."

Board member Stan Claussen said Westrum "can help with focus. The nuts and bolts can be learned."

Morris Area Superintendent Kurt Gartland said earlier this month that the board and Monson are currently negotiating a new contract and that the process would continue unless Monson were offered and accepted the Benson position.

Gartland also stressed that Monson seeking a new job would not taint his standing in the Morris Area district.

"This came up and he took a look at it and decided he wanted to take a closer look at it," Gartland said. "And if I was in his position, I might want to, too."

Monson had been Benson's high school principal the four years before taking the Morris Area job. He also worked a year as Fulda High School principal. Before moving to administration, he was a business education teacher and coach in Frazee.

Monson has masters and bachelors degrees from what now is Minnesota State-Moorhead.

Monson said when his name surfaced as a candidate in Benson that "It's certainly not a negative reflection on Morris. It's just a personal decision."

Gartland said Monson is not on the outs with the board.

"It's a competitive field for superintendents," Gartland said, noting that Monson lives in Benson. "This is an opening for him in his backyard and he wants to pursue it. It's not due to us pushing him out because of some performance issue."