Familiar face could step in to lead school project

MAHOMET — Less than two months after he retired, former Mahomet-Seymour superintendent Rick Johnston may have a part-time job that could pay as much as $60,000.

At Monday's M-S Board of Education study session, Johnston was listed as the candidate for Phase II Project Manager for the elementary school that is being constructed on the west and south sides of Middletown Prairie, with a scheduled opening in August, 2018.

The board is expected to vote on the hiring at its next meeting, Aug. 21. If approved, Johnston's start date would be Aug. 22.

Based on comments from the five board members present on Monday — Nezar Kassem and Jenny Park were absent — there appears to be support for the return of Johnston, who oversaw the construction and opening of Middletown Prairie.

"Rick has proven he can make a project like this work," board member Lance Raver said. "The question is not why would we do this. The questions is why wouldn't we do it?

"It wouldn't be prudent not to do it."

Plans and work on the building — which will house first- and second-grade students currently attending Sangamon School — began during Johnston's tenure as superintendent.

Raver believes that makes him a natural fit.

"Rick knows this project and the people involved," he said. "He's sat in meetings with everyone and is up to speed.

"Because he knows so much, we could never find someone we can get up to speed with where he's at."

Board member Cheryl Melchi echoed many of Raver's comments.

"We need to have someone who can hit the ground running and him knowing the backstory is invaluable," Melchi said. "No one on the board questions his work ethic or his integrity.

"He has a track record that is proven."

Board President Max McComb emphasized that the position would be for one year and Johnston's salary "would not exceed $60,000."

There would also be no new benefits to Johnston's retirement package, and he is limited to the number of hours that he can work.

Trent Nuxoll, M-S' chief school business official, said Johnston's proposed salary would be less than what is paid to project managers in other school districts.

"The Illinois average is $97,000," Nuxoll said.

He said, too, that at least a portion of the salary could be covered by anticipated savings in construction materials.

"We'll save approximately $40,000 using the owner-supply model," Nuxoll said.

Board member Merle Giles views Johnston's potential hiring as a win-win situation.

"I look at this as an uncommon opportunity to get someone who knows the project intimately," Giles said, "and I'm more delighted to free Dr. (Lindsey) Hall to do the things we want her to do and not burden her with these things."

For Hall to undertake the role of supervising the remaining construction would take time away from her other duties.

"There are so many things that have to be answered in the (building) process and not everything can be answered up front," Giles said. "The on-site attention will have a payback. He's the only guy in this picture who works only for us."

Giles said it's advantageous that Johnston worked in the district during the time the Middletown Prairie building was completed.

"The additional thing he brings is that no one else on the planet knows what did not go well the first time and what got missed," Giles said.

The newest board member, Lori Larson, sees the benefits of not asking Hall to divide her attention between different areas.

"I'd like to make sure she has the time and energy to spend on the educational component," Larson said. "Staff and students are important to us."

McComb said there were reasons Johnston wasn't discussed as a candidate for the position previously.

"We have tremendous respect for the retirement process and didn't want to be disruptive of that," he said, "and we wanted Dr. Hall here before we did something."

Hall's start date was in July, after the fiscal year ended on June 30, which was Johnston's last day.

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