Time for accountability
For the good of the district, ISD 2142 school board must fulfill its oversight role

We hear plenty these days about the need for more accountability in schools. It’s typically aimed at teachers to ensure students leave school with the knowledge and tools they will need to thrive.

But a school’s administration must also be accountable. And ISD 2142 is failing miserably in that regard.

The school board is legally obligated to provide oversight of the district, but that’s nearly impossible when school board members are routinely kept in the dark, or actively misled, by school administration on important matters.

A good case in point is the district’s current fiscal crisis. Board members were shocked to learn this past year that the district was operating deeply in the red and that its unreserved general fund account was slated to run nearly dry by the end of the current school year. It was a surprise to board members because for months, the superintendent and business manager had assured the board that the district could afford the new spending initiatives the superintendent proposed. Instead, the administration was running the district’s finances into the ground. By the time board members realized what was happening, it was too late to take many of the corrective actions that could have lessened the budget crisis.

Whether administrators deliberately misled board members or failed to grasp the impact the spending would have on the district’s bottom line is unclear, but neither scenario bodes well for ISD 2142.

There have been numerous other examples where the district’s top administrators have disregarded the board’s important oversight role.

Six months ago, the board asked for a report explaining why the district did not appear to be realizing the operational cost savings they had been promised as a result of consolidating the AlBrook and Cotton schools into the new South Ridge School. It was an important question for the board to be asking, but many months later, the business manager has failed to produce the requested report.

It’s the same story with the board’s request for a report on recent educational investments made by the district, such as the purchase of iPads and curriculum consulting services. More than six months later, the board has seen no such report.

Far more troubling is the business manager’s failure to provide regular financial updates to the board. At a retreat nearly two years ago, the board requested quarterly financial updates, which was something they had not been getting up to that point. Most school boards receive monthly financial reports, so a request for a quarterly accounting of revenues and expenditures was hardly onerous.

But this school board still can’t get so much as a quarterly report and when financial information is finally presented to the board, it is usually in such an abbreviated form that it’s virtually meaningless. It certainly provides no opportunity for the board to have any substantive input into spending decisions, or to provide the oversight that the law requires of school board members.

This troubling lack of budget information was underscored yet again during a study session last week, when board Chairman Robert Larson questioned why Community Education directors were not kept up to date on the funds available to them in their budgets.

The board was told that Community Ed directors could contact the business manager to see if they had any money left in their budgets, which is a ridiculous and inefficient suggestion to say the least.

Board members need to get a handle on this situation. The district’s auditors have already cited the district’s lack of segregation of financial duties and recommended a corrective action plan, which includes additional board oversight to partially compensate for the deficiency. But a board that lacks current financial information is not capable of providing oversight. Unless the board starts demanding it, they may as well toss the auditors’ recommendations in the trash.

Board members share responsibility for failing to demand more accountability from their administrators. When the board sits quietly as it is shut out of the process on what should be board-level decisions (such as the elimination of activity buses) or doesn’t receive requested information, it is signaling its approval for the administration to continue to run roughshod over board prerogatives.

A few board members at recent sessions have spoken up, but lack the majority they need to produce the sea change so necessary in the district. Board members need to remember they represent the taxpayers, students and parents at ISD 2142 and their role is to provide oversight to ensure the district is on the right track financially and educationally. It’s not micromanagement to demand answers to questions nor should it be perceived as undermining administrators when the board asserts its authority to set priorities and policies for the district. That’s what the board was elected to do, not just serve as a rubber stamp to a runaway administration.

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8 comments on this item

Great editorial! What happened here? The make-up of previous boards gave Dr. Charles Rick carte blanche to run the district, the board lost contact and continuity, the let the Cook News-Herald serve as their spin-meister public relations firm and then came the bond referendum in which the board, with the exception of Andy Larson, totally ignored the pleas of voters in their school attendance area. Now to complicate matters, they hired as Superintendent, a person who is in over her head. She came from a district where their school board began catching on to her inexperience, and then this district, which is substantially larger and spread out plucks her as Dr. Rick's replacement in hopes it would placate the Nett Lake residents who were threatening to send their children to Littlefork, thereby losing valuable tuition-in monies.

Chet Larson appears to be having an epiphany and is starting to turn over some rocks, and we have a conscience now with Nancy Glowaski on board asking the questions that need to be asked. Nothing is going to reopen the schools that were closed, so frankly, as far as I am concerned, I hope the district fails and dissolves. It has evolved into an unrecognizable and needless organization that would serve the taxpayers better if the kids were bussed to the stronger Range schools in the south and to the Falls and Littlefork in the north. As when Nixon resigned, then President Ford stated the national nightmare is over. It's come time that this nightmare come to an end.

I will say again that the business manager is either incompetent or is a crook! As Orrcountry stated there was a perfect make-up of the board for this albotross to pass. Zelda fighting to get the new school as far north as possible. I can understand her thinking except it was just not logical. The past Cook scholl board member's wife worked at the Cook School so that was a no brainer. The current one cannot even manage her own finacials (foreclosure) much less something the size of a school district budget. You had the Cherry and Babbit school board members pushing for passage based on the fact that their schools were going to be saved. Cotton school board member didn't have a leg to stand on considering the miniscue class sizes. For the life of me I will never understand why the Cook News Herald editor was so in favor of it. I heard he lives on Lake Vermilion so his taxes must have taken a hike after the vote.

We are going to pay, yes we are going to pay for this.

Thanks Steve. The Cook News-Herald has the contract to print the school board minutes, he has the contract to print and distribute the school districts monthly newsletter that you and I receive in our mailboxes monthly, he regularly played racketball with Dr. Charles Rick at the Supreme Court in Virginia, does that explain that part of the equation. Zelda may have given the appearance she was fighting for the "new, unnecessary school" to be located closer to Orr. But in reality, she was behind the plan all along. You see, the Orr school operated with a $600,000 annual surplus, even with the enrollment at the time. Nett Lake tuitioned in their kids and as long as they attended Orr, they made their payments each year. Now it is rumored Nett Lake is withholding up to 3 years of payments to the district as I understand it, because they didn't get to vote in the referendum, they claimed they were adamant they didn't want their children sent to Cook, so this matter is still up in the air. Cotton, also operated with a $100,000 operating surplus annually despite their enrollment size. Therefore, the only two schools that operated with a surplus were closed, while the rest with large deficits, Babbitt and Cherry, remained open. Even for the simplest of minds, the arithmetic of today's arrangement doesn't work. Now we are told, the heating expenses of the new GDA/Johnson Controls Memorial School built in Alborn exceed the total of the two schools (Albrook and Cotton) the previous year.

Pity the poor people in Tower-Soudan. JCI promptly tore down the historic portion of their school so as to preclude any efforts by their communities to either contract with another school district (take note of Bigfork operating as a satellite of the Grand Rapids district) or to start up a school of their own with their own school board.

Can you see why I support folding the whole district, which is bound to land in statutory debt, and ending this nightmare once and for all? I am already paying more in taxes and we no longer have a school. I would rather end this thing with the $167.00/per $100,000.00 in real estate value now before they, and the Dayton Department of Education, slap excess operating levies without a vote and under the guise of Health & Safety, which doesn't require a vote. See you at a board meeting soon.

Closure of the district was the logical thing to do years ago. Not too late. Merge with larger, more well run schools that know what budgets are. The new super.? Out of her league.

Do any of the readers or the Timberjay staff know anything about this rumor about the Cook Credit Union wanting to open a branch office at the GDA/JCI Memorial High School in Field Township. What's this all about, and who are they expecting to serve by doing this?

I read in the district's public minutes about the Credit Union opening an office in the school on a part time basis. So, what is the reasoning? Because the school is inconveintly located in the country? I heard that the Cook school board member works at the Credit Union - a little conflict of interest? Why not let the Country Store move a Hot Stuff Pizza place to the school? How about McDonalds or Subway? Maybe there should be a gas station and real estate office opened there also. There isn't a lumber yard within four miles of it! These businesses should have the same opportunity as the Credit Union - right? Each school should have the same opportunity to locate a business in it.

As ridiculous as this thing has become, how about this. Since the Teacher's Union is bragging about teaching "college level" courses to prepare the kids for entry into college, why not let the liquor store open a branch there as well. Isn't college where most kids learn to drink beer? And how about Waschke's and Gustafson's opening a show room in the halls and gym, since these kids are already getting applications for credit cards while still in high school. Might as well get a head start on life, while they can.

Luckily you introduced the above comment with "as ridiculous as ..."

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