Gary Pfister, who won the primary and general elections to take the part-time position of Hill County superintendent, said Wednesday he has decided not to take the office next year.
Pfister said this morning he was not happy with responses to questions he presented to the Hill County Commission, mainly that his inquiries after the primary were not answered, and that he believes the plan is to consolidate the position into another department.
“I certainly don’t want to stand in the way,” he said.
Commission Chair Mike Wendland said this morning that it was unfortunate that Pfister had taken that action. Declaring he would not take office was premature, Wendland said.
“He resigned from a position he doesn’t even have yet,” Wendland said.
Pfister, who won the primary and was unopposed in the general election, said he tried on several occasions after the primary to meet with the commissioners and discuss how the position would work, including its conversion to a part-time position.
Wendland said the reason the commissioners had not yet discussed the issues Pfister had contacted them about was due to the fact that Superintendent Shirley Isbell is still in office, and will be through the end of the year.
“We have a superintendent of schools. We can’t really make side deals with another while she is still in office,” Wendland said. “We never did meet with Gary because we didn’t feel it was proper that we do that.”
Pfister said one of the reasons he decided to go to the press was to let the people who voted for him, and who contributed to his campaign, know that he appreciated their support. In his letter, which will be printed in full in Friday’s edition of the Havre Daily News, he said he will return all financial contributions made to his campaign.
The office was under high scrutiny last year when the commission proposed cutting the superintendent position to part-time status. At that time, 23 Montana counties had combined the duties of the office with duties in another department, and a Montana Associated Counties representative estimated that another third of the counties had made the position part time.
After holding public meetings and collecting comment, the commission did cut the position to part time, estimating that would save 40 percent to 50 percent of the department’s $102,421 budget.
Pfister said that, after he met with the commissioners Monday, it became clear to him that several commitments the body previously had made about the superintendent’s office and how it would be run would not be honored.
“I don’t have a lot of trust in that relationship,” he said.
He said he believes that the commissioners don’t realize how much work being the superintendent entails, including large amounts of paperwork from duties such as teacher certification and filing required reports with the state Office of Public Instruction, as well as working with each individual school district and home schoolers in the county.
“I think the commissioners have overstated their position on there being nothing to do in the office,” he said.
He added that he can understand the desire to consolidate the position into another office to try to save dollars on the county budget. Pfister said he added that, if the commissioners do so, he hopes it works well.
Wendland again said it was unfortunate that Pfister had gone to the press with his comments instead of waiting to take office and discuss the issues then.
He said Montana law spells out the procedures both to fill a position and to consolidate offices.
The county legal staff now is researching how the commissioners must go about to replace Pfister for the next term, Wendland said. That may have to wait until Isbell leaves office and the position actually is open, he said.
As far as consolidating the position, Wendland said that, at this point, it is his understanding that must be done before the election is held to fill the position. To consolidate, the commissioners would have had to have done so before the election this year.
“We would have to wait four years before we can consolidate,” he said.