PROVO — It was opportunity and the desire to take his life in a different direction, not the controversy surrounding the creation of a fundraising policy and an audit of activities at Timpview High, that prompted Dr. Randall Merrill to retire as superintendent of the district Tuesday night.
The announcement was unexpected and forced the board to call an executive session after the public meeting to discuss possible interim candidates.
"We just found out today," said Board Chariman Kristine Manwaring, who read a statement thanking Merrell for his innovative and bold leadership that took the district from a tenuous financial situation to a solid foundation. The district is experiencing record student enrollment, and that is thanks, in large part, to Merrell's leadership.
But Merrell leaves after months of controversy sparked by the fundraising efforts of Timpview head coach Louis Wong. A month ago the district chamber was filled with parents speaking in support of Wong and his fundraising efforts, which have resulted in a new field and an impressive new weight room facility. Merrell said several issues have become entangled and that he had nothing to do with some of the issues, including the creation of a committee that recommended a new policy on fundraising guidelines.
Wong was not at Tuesday's meeting but said last month that he supported guidelines and that he was only doing what he felt was in the best interest of his student athletes.
Still, Merrell said he didn't retire Tuesday because of the recent controversy, but insisted that he had other opportunities he wanted to explore after 10 years at the helm of the district.
"When you heard people tonight speak, and they talk about a process that becomes disruptive, no leader would ever not recognize that anything that's disruptive for the school district is not good for us," Merrill said. "And so I certainly recognized that this was becoming more and more divisive, I think I had to have this desire to do other things, and with that desire, and with opportunity that actually has come up this week. It made it really easy for me to chase those opportunities."
It was Merrell who asked the state to audit Timpview's activities budget, but he said he did that only out of an ethical and legal obligation. That audit should be completed by February and it's part of the reason the board tabled a vote on a new fundraising policy, Manwaring said.
A number of parents who spoke said the were frustrated with "the process."
Taz Murray said he felt "the carnage that was left by this process could have been avoided." He and others asked that going forward, the board do more to respond to the concerns of parents.
Even those who were critical of the district for the handling of the fundraising issue, especially as it related to Timpview, thanked Merrell not only for his service, but for improving the district.
Merrell said he did not feel forced to retire, but added that if some took comfort in new leadership, then he thought that was a good unintended consequence.
"If it is helpful to the success of this district, then that's good, but I'm leaving because of these opportunities," he said. "I want to stress that the opportunities are the reason, but if it's helpful then great. I just wanted to do these other things. The timing seemed right. For lots of reasons."
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