John L. Bristol, 44, head of a suburban Minneapolis school system, was named yesterday as the new superintendent of Alexandria public schools. He said he plans to decentralize the school budget and to avoid excessive administrative costs.
School principals should be given a significant voice in budget decisions, he said, and he plans to "keep the majority of the resources in the classroom, not a growing front office."
He has been superintendent since 1972 of the Rosemount Apple Valley School District in Minnesota, which is a system with a growing number of pupils and a minority enrollment of less than 5 per cent. More than half of Alexandria's student are black or members of other minorities and the enrollments there have been decreasing.
Bristol will take over the Alexandria system on Aug. 1, becoming the city's third superintendent in the past 43 years. He will replace John C. Albohm, who is retiring after 14 years on the job.
The incoming superintendent said he sees his roles as that of identifying the needs of students and hiring a staff to meet those needs. He compared his job to that of a practicing physician who analyzes a patient's difficulties and prescribes medicine to solve the problems.
His annual budget will be flexible and broken down school by school, program by program - "a zero-based budgeting of sorts," he said, referring to a budget technique under which every program has to justify its existence and funding each year. He has had extensive experience in dealing with state legislatures, trying to wrest more local control for school boards.
The chairman of the school board at Rosemount-Apple Valley said in a telephone interview yesterday that Bristol chose to leave partly because he is "deeply concerned about the erosion of local control to the state level." In Minnesota the state regulates the amount of income a school district has by setting limits on property taxes used for schools and by regulating other forms of slate aid.
"I wanted a more contemporary school district," Bristol said without being more specific. "Alexandria has tremendous potential." He said he views desegregation in Alexandria schools as "having been done, and done successfully," and now he wants to take schools a step beuond that by making certain all students are given the best education possible.
He said he will study the needs and resources of the schools before determining what changes he may want to make or any goals he may establish.
Before accepting the job at Rose-Mount-Apple Valley, Bristol was an assistant superintendent of the Niles Township Community Schools in Skokie, III., where he helped design and carry out a student exchange program. In this program, called "Operation Wingspread," inner-city Chicago public schools and the Niles Township suburban school system exchanged students for one semester in 1971.
Alexandria School Board Chairman Carlyle C. Ring Jr. said the board chose Bristol for his skills "both as an educator and a manager." The school board had hired three consultants, at a total cost of $5,000, to aid them in their search for Albohm's successor. School officials said they received 133 applications from 29 states, the District of Columbia, Canada and India. The consultants narrowed that field down to six, who were interviewed by the school board.
People who worked with Bristol at the sprawling suburban system south of St. Paul described him yesterday as ambitious and articulate, a man "who wants the answers before he moves - and he wants detailed answers." He is a man who likes people to follow guide lines and proper channels, an innovative thinker, a person whose main interest is kids, and he was also described as someone who helped the school system with its "growing pains."
"If you're honest with him he'll be honest with you," said Margaret MacRunnels, a negotiator for the education association there. "The only trouble comes if he doesn't feel he's being treated with respect." She said he was fair during negotiations, and said he is a warm person who reminds her of comedian and actor Bob Newhart because of his "subtle sense of humor."
School officials at Rosemount-Apple Valley said that during Bristol's tenure two school bond issues were defeated and one was approved.
From 1955 to 1967, Bristol worked in various schools in Illinois as a guilance counselor, an administrative assistant, a mathematics teacher, a football, basketball and track coach and an accounting instructor. He also worked as a communications-electronics officer with the U.S Marine Corps. He has been a visiting instructor at Michigan State University, and has published articles on integrated education and computer technology.
Bristol has four children, all of whom will be enrolled in the public schools when they move to Alexandria, he said. A native of Hinsdale, Ill., he has a bachelor's degree in business administration and economics from Elmhurst College, a master's degree in guidance and counseling from Northern Illinois University, and a doctorate from Michigan State in curriculum and educational management.
Bristol comes to Alexandria as school enrollments there begin to stabilize, in the view of school officials, after steadily declining in the 1970s.
Enrollment at Rosemount-Apple Valley is about 10,400, at Alexandria students are black, 45 per cent are white, and 9 per cent are of other ethnic or racial origins.