FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. | Members of the Flagstaff Unified School District Governing Board had differing opinions on hiring Mike Penca as superintendent.

The board voted 3-1 to approve negotiations with Penca, 43, currently interim superintendent of Mason City Schools, to fill the position at the 10,000-student school district in central Arizona.

Kara Kelty was the one "no" vote. Carole Gilmore excused herself from the vote because of a conflict of interest.

Gilmore didn't return a phone call from the Arizona Daily Sun before deadline that sought comment on her conflict.

The board made its decision after an executive session Thursday morning. It waited to announce the selection until Saturday because it was waiting to hear from Penca.

Kelty said she voted against hiring Penca because she wanted to reopen the superintendent search process.

She didn’t think the pool of candidates who applied for the position had a strong enough background in leading a district the size of Flagstaff or enough experience with a district as diverse as Flagstaff.

Kelty also was looking for a candidate who would be able to work with state education funding problems.

“I wanted to show the community that we had exhausted all opportunities,” she said.

Kelty said she will collaborate with the rest of the board and Penca to make a smooth transition for the district.

Christine Fredericks, the president of the board, said she voted for Penca because she thought he was the best fit for the district.

“He was very enthusiastic, very bright and very willing and open,” she said. “He’s got some weaknesses. We all have some weaknesses and so did the other candidates, but he seemed like he wanted to learn.”

Fredericks said she was concerned about the stories that were coming out of Gallup about the other finalist for the position, Frank Chiapetti, the former superintendent of Gallup McKinley County Schools.

According to the Navajo Times, Chiapetti’s reassignment of district staff, including some principals, to improve test scores upset some school district board members and the public. This apparently led the Gallup McKinley board to put him on paid administrative leave and then vote 4-1 to remove him from office.

Fredricks wasn’t as concerned about some of the upheavals in Mason City. Penca took the role of interim superintendent for a year after the school board reached an agreement with former superintendent Anita Micich to leave office a year early.

Micich allegedly sought to bring students from China to study at Mason City Schools without prior approval, among other issues.

Penca was a finalist for the permanent position in Mason City, but was passed over for another candidate outside the district.

Current FUSD Interim Superintendent Dave Dirksen, a former top district administrator and Flag High football coach, did not apply for the position. When Kathryn Kozak attempted to add him as a candidate, Dirksen objected.

The board voted 3-2 against Kozak’s motion to add Dirksen to the list.

Suzanne Adams-Ockrassa writes for the Arizona Daily Sun, another Lee Enterprises newspaper. Reach her at sadams@azdailysun.com

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