Our Views: Was Milton School District's hiring of Jerry Schuetz reasonable move?

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Monday, July 14, 2014

It's no surprise that some residents raised eyebrows at the Milton School District's hiring of Jerry Schuetz for a public relations job at $82,000 in annual salary.

Plucking Schuetz, the city administrator, from City Hall for that tidy sum was bound to trigger questions.

Why does the district need a communications supervisor? Why pay much more than the average teacher earns? Couldn't the district have hired a quality public relations professional for tens of thousands less? Was Schuetz “preordained” as the coveted person, as former Milton Courier Managing Editor Doug Welch wondered in a letter in Saturday's Gazette?

All are legitimate questions. That's particularly true given that Schuetz, Mayor Brett Frazier and school Superintendent Tim Schigur acknowledge having informal talks about how Milton needed someone to promote all the community offers.

Schigur says the district had been considering a PR position for years. In recent months, it decided it was time for action.

When the opening was posted May 23, did district officials have Schuetz in mind? Perhaps.

Could the district have found a polished PR professional for less money? Certainly.

The city accepted Schuetz's resignation Friday. In his new role, he will make considerably more than Kevin Leavy earns as the Janesville School District's public information officer. Schuetz's duties, however, appear to be substantially more, as well.

Besides coordinating district communications and overseeing the district website, his duties include developing marketing strategies. Again, a seasoned PR professional might have done the job for far less money.

However, perhaps no one besides Schuetz was as suited for the role the district envisions. The city hired him as police chief less than six years ago. He moved up to city administrator in 2010. Schuetz has become deeply involved in the community and says he and his wife love Milton. He has a background in policing, in the city and its economic development. He even has dabbled in teaching on the side. Combine this experience with his investment in the community, and Schuetz has knowledge and talents that likely were unmatched by the six other finalists the district interviewed.

Sure, criticize the district if you want for spending that much—$2,000 above the advertised salary range—on someone who won't be educating children. You could even argue that the city, town of Milton and chamber of commerce should chip in toward his work if Schuetz is to promote the community overall.

Still, the district could use the PR focus during this era of open enrollment. Yes, Milton is known for educational quality. However, the district scrapped plans to build a new high school after the recession hit in 2008, while many surrounding districts have invested in new or expanded buildings. The district also got a black eye over the suspension and 2012 resignation of Schigur's predecessor, Mike Garrow. The school board's handling of that situation didn't enhance the district's reputation.

Don't blame Schuetz for having reasonable discussions as city administrator about better ways to market Milton and then applying for and getting this position once the district advertised it. It's understandable why this family man with three children ages 7-12 wanted a job that was less all-consuming than one that juggles multiple roles days, nights and even weekends at City Hall.

He works hard, served the city well and was open and honest with the media. District residents should expect similar service in his new job.

School officials might take heat for this hiring now, but it could be years before anyone can gauge whether Schuetz and his marketing efforts are worth the investment.

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