Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Board okays hiring of collaboration lobbyist

Gary Cerkvenik to represent several school districts in funding push

Keith Vandervort
Posted 1/17/19

ELY – The Ely School District unanimously agreed this week to hire a lobbyist to work on behalf of the newly-formed Iron Range School Collaboration (IRSC) for state and regional funding for the …

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Board okays hiring of collaboration lobbyist

Gary Cerkvenik to represent several school districts in funding push

Posted

ELY – The Ely School District unanimously agreed this week to hire a lobbyist to work on behalf of the newly-formed Iron Range School Collaboration (IRSC) for state and regional funding for the next year.

Besides ISD 696, the IRSC includes the St. Louis County, Mesabi East, Mt. Iron-Buhl, Chisholm and Hibbing school districts, which are all working together to enhance the learning and educational opportunities for Iron Range students.

Gary Cerkvenik will serve in the role of lobbyist for the collaborative group, and has begun to form proposals to be presented to the state Legislature this session, which runs through mid-May.

Each of the six school districts agreed to pay Cerkvenik as much as $500 per month for the next 12 months, plus a portion of mileage expenses, for his lobbying services.

“The scope of his service will include representation at the Minnesota Legislature and its committees, the administration of the state government, the office of the governor, and all boards and commissions, advocate for the IRSC before other grant agencies, advise the IRSC regarding applications for state funds, IRRRB funds and other sources including state bonding,” said Superintendent Kevin Abrahamson.

The original proposal did not include the mileage expense reimbursement. “We would be responsible for one-fifth of that expense so it should be pretty minimal,” Abrahamson added.

In addition, the agenda recommendation initially called for a six-month commitment to the lobbyist’s contract, but that was changed to a one-year contract.

“What Gary is attempting to do is to come up with state funding as well as help us with IRRRB funding to figure out how we can best collaborate,” he said. “Initially, we are looking at some summer camps and that type of thing, and how we could enhance our curriculum (and add) what some schools offer and we don’t, and not with any intent to save money or reduce staff or any of those things.”

He advised caution as the district moves forward with the collaboration. “This is just in its infancy. We are going to be very deliberate and not jump in head-long,” Abrahamson said. “But at least for the foreseeable future, if Gary is going to work for us to try to obtain money. We have to have some skin in the game.”

School board member James Pointer said he preferred a six-month trial “to see what actually happens,” but Abrahamson said that action could be seen as a breach of contract if all the other school district members sign the one-year contract as presented.

School board chair Ray Marsnik noted that the state Legislature’s current session runs from January to May. “But they could have special sessions, too,” he said.

School board member Heidi Mann said the lobbyist’s work with IRRRB would last all year. “It takes time to get moving on these things and we have to give it enough time to work,” she said.

Pointer pitched his position to have just a six-month contract for the lobbyist, but ultimately voted in favor of the one-year contract.

The funds for the $6,000-plus agreement will be paid out of the general fund. “Our audit ended up being much better than anticipated,” Abrahamson said, “but that’s because some expenses were moved into this fiscal year.” He said the district is likely to deficit spend this year in either case. “We intended to spend down some of our fund balance, and we will definitely do that this year,” he said.

Other business

In other business, the school board:

Accepted the school district audit for the year ended June 30, 2018, as prepared by WIPFLI CPAs and Consultants, with financial statements still to be completed.

Listened to a presentation by Minnesota Department of Natural Resources forester Steven Horndt on the state of the Minnesota School Trust fund.

Elected school board officers to include Marsnik, chair, Rochelle Sjoberg, clerk, and Tim Omerza, treasurer, and made committee assignments.

Designated the second Monday of the month as the day of the regular school board meeting and the fourth Monday of the month as the study session date.

Designated Klun Law Firm as the district’s legal counsel for 2019 at the rate of $120 per hour, an increase from $110 per hour in 2018.

Established 2019 compensation rates of $189 per month, for school board members and $243 per month for the board chair, and $30,000 life insurance, plus an additional $54 per board member for study session attendance.

Designated the Ely Echo, the only quote received, as the official newspaper of the school district for 2019 at the rate of $5.22 per column inch for display and public notice advertising.

Approved paying $1,250 in 2019 dues to the Range Association for Municipalities and Schools.

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