“All good things must come to an end,” is how Dr. Dirk Baer began to break
the news that this school year will be his last as Superintendent of
Near the end of Tuesday night’s school board meeting, Baer fought tears as
he announced his retirement saying he is honored to call Duneland home and
to serve in its schools for 26 years, which he called the “finest in the
Baer recalled how he was hired to be principal of Chesterton High School
around the same time he earned his Doctorate of Education from Ball State
University in 1987. Baer served as CHS principal for six years and moved
into the superintendent’s office in 1992 when then-superintendent Dr.
Kenneth Payne asked him to be assistant superintendent of operations.
While he loved being principal and the people he worked with, Baer said it
was his role as assistant superintendent that made him realize he really
enjoyed the business side of education, working closely with Duneland
Business Manager Bonnie Gaston.
Baer was hired by the Duneland School Board as Superintendent at the start
of the 2002-2003 school year, taking over for H. Stephen Hewlett.
After hardly enough time to get his feet wet, Baer faced the crisis of
dealing with the after effects of the Bethlehem Steel bankruptcy when the
plant was removed from the assessed valuation formula. That meant huge
shortfalls for the Duneland budget and cuts to programs and staff seemed
But Baer said he has able to work with his teachers, administration and
school board “trying to make it float, borrowing money from everywhere we
could” and in the end the schools “made it through without cutting anything
major and nobody lost their job.”
The next major benchmark of Baer’s leadership came about five year later
when legislators in Indiana ruled that schools in the state could no longer
rely on property tax revenues to supply their General Funds. Days grew grim
as further reductions meant painful cuts to school aide programs and student
Early last year, Baer asked the school board to approve a referendum to
raise property taxes in Duneland by 22-cents per $100 in assessed valuation
to shore up looming shortfalls in the school budgets. On Tuesday, Baer
thanked the community once again for voting yes on the referendum, although
he said he had hoped the margin would be wider.
Throughout the difficulties, Baer said he has had the “privilege of working
with a very talented group of people” who care for kids in the community.
“It’s the people-piece that comes back. I think we made it because of the
people and we never lost sight of that main goal,” Baer said.
Baer told the Tribune that he expects more changes in education to
come from the state legislature in the near future. Plenty have occurred
during his tenure and have “worn (him) down some,” partly why he has been
considering retirement for a few months now, adding that being a
superintendent has been “a difficult job.”
Another factor playing into his decision, he said, is his desire to “do
something else” in the arena of education, but he hasn’t decided what new
job he will pursue. He did say that he will remain a resident of the
Duneland community and will be around to advise the administration and the
“I am going to help where I can,” he told the board.
Baer will finish the school year and assist the board in finding his
successor. His last day will be June 30.
He said this year’s upcoming commencement will also be a special one for him
because he will be handing a CHS diploma to a nephew of his.
Lastly, Baer thanked the community for trusting the school corporation with
their most precious commodities – their kids. “They are our blueberries,”
Baer said with a tear and a laugh.
A boss and a
Choking on a few tears of their own, board members called Baer their friend
and shared accolades for his service.
New board president Mike Trout said to Baer, “You have done a great job and
you will be missed. We appreciate what you have done. You’ve led us through
some tough times. You’ve been a friend and a great superintendent for the
Board member Ralph Ayres said he is grateful to have worked under Baer as a
teacher when he was principal at CHS. Their relationship grew when Ayres
became a state representative and he remembers once specifically “pleading
in the governor’s office for a loan.”
Ayres said the Duneland community will be forever grateful to Baer and told
him, “You’ve always been a true professional – someone who you can trust.”
Returning to the school board this year, member John Marshall said he has
known Baer for a long time and it was Baer’s heartfelt service that has
added to the quality of life in Duneland. “We’re losing a good man and a
Retired board member Janice Custer said she wishes Baer luck, knowing for a
while of his plans to retire. “He’s been a good friend and I’ve enjoyed all
my time working with him.”
Let the search
Trout told a
weepy-eyed audience that the board will begin to search for the new
superintendent as soon as possible. Because of the two new members who
joined the board, no formal discussions have taken place on qualifications
they will seek or what changes they would like to see with the new
The board will
first meet in the next few days with Dr. Michael T. Adamson, director of
board services for the Indiana School Boards Association, to get some
After that, the
board will determine the scope of the search and whether they will consider
candidates from inside or outside the Duneland School Corporation.
“We’re not going
to exclude anyone. We’re going to keep our options open,” Trout told the
Tribune. “But we are going to be looking for someone who has the heart
and the financial background that Dr. Baer has. That’s the kind of person we
want to hire.”
Trout said the
board has not discussed if the superintendent’s salary will be raised but
does want it to be competitive. The current annual superintendent salary for
Duneland is $128,000 which Trout believes is smaller compared to that of the
Valparaiso and Portage school districts.