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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Ely prioritizes search for new superintendent

Collaboration discussion, facilities project put on back burner

Keith Vandervort
Posted 5/22/19

ELY – With a host of issues on their plate, school board members agreed Monday night that their top priority must be to find a replacement for their superintendent who intends to resign in less …

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Ely prioritizes search for new superintendent

Collaboration discussion, facilities project put on back burner


ELY – With a host of issues on their plate, school board members agreed Monday night that their top priority must be to find a replacement for their superintendent who intends to resign in less than six weeks.

A school facilities renovation project and a desire to tap into school collaboration funds from the Department of Iron Ranges Resources and Rehabilitation remain on the district’s agenda, but board members agreed that finding a new district leader must take precedence during an extensive study session Monday night.

Board chair Ray Marsnik reminded his fellow board members that state law requires every school district in the state to maintain a superintendent on staff at all times.

Board members spent many hours earlier this month interviewing four candidates for the part-time administrative position but put that process on hold while considering the possibility of sharing a top administrator with the St. Louis County School District. Ely officials maintain that such an agreement could meet the objectives set by IRRR officials in order to receive collaboration funds from an account that is quickly disappearing to the benefit of other Iron Range school districts.

Ely school board members set a special meeting for 7:30 p.m., on Thursday, May 23, to finally discuss the four superintendent candidates, Kevin Ricke, Steve Thomas, Beth Zietz and Bruce Houck, and to debate if any or all of them meet the needs of the district. The results of that meeting will be reported in the May 31 issue of the Timberjay.

Meanwhile, district officials had planned to go into closed session following the study session Monday night to discuss a possible contract extension with district superintendent Kevin Abrahamson, but the potential for an open meeting law violation resulted in that meeting notice being rescinded. “We’ll find another way to have that discussion,” Abrahamson told the Timberjay.

Abrahamson intends to leave his post at Ely when his contract expires on June 30, but he told officials he will “not leave the district high and dry” and is open to staying at his post temporarily to help with the transition to new leadership.

Marsnik admitted that following the May 13 discussion and unanimous vote on pursuing the sharing of a top administrator with ISD 2142, many concerns surfaced on such an arrangement. “We are going to want to interview (the shared superintendent), hire this person, set up a job description, and require that this person work three days a week in this district,” he said.

“We are also concerned that the ISD 2142 superintendent is spreading herself pretty thin,” Marsnik added. Reggie Engebritson is currently the superintendent for ISD 2142 as well as the Mt. Iron/Buhl School District. That’s a concern that ISD 2142 school board members expressed as well during their own meeting this week (see related story on page 1).

Ely board member Rochelle Sjoberg said she is interested in pursuing academic collaboration ideas with St. Louis County Schools and any other area school districts but is not in favor of sharing a superintendent with ISD 2142. “We have to make sure that we do have a superintendent in place here for our administration team and our staff,” she said.

Abrahamson conducted a school staff survey, at the direction of the school board, to gauge support for sharing a superintendent with another school district. According to Abrahamson, of the 26 responses, 88.5 percent opposed the idea, while just 7.7 percent supported it.

Board member James Pointer suggested the option of hiring a full-time superintendent who would also serve as a principal, keeping another principal on the administration, and hiring a part-time administrator to be responsible for such things such as Title I, testing, and other extra duties. “This is not ideal, but it keeps us at a 2.6 FTE (administration team),” he said. No one responded to his suggestion.

Board member Heidi Mann said she is “definitely not in favor of sharing a superintendent as part of our collaboration effort.” She suggested focusing on the superintendent replacement search, while exploring any academic collaboration options.

She noted that at least two of the candidates that were interviewed for the superintendent position “displayed a passion or strong interest in the Ely community.” One of the candidates had actually previously interviewed for the Ely school district position.

Mann said she wants to call two of the candidates back for a second interview, to ask broader questions about their interest in the Ely area.

Abrahamson indicated that if there was a plan to have a new superintendent in place by the start of the new school year, he would consider staying on through the summer. “I care about this district and I want things to go well for you, but I also think that it is getting to be my time to be done,” he said. “I’ve done this for 40 years.”

Board member Tony Colarich indicated he was not comfortable with any of the four superintendent candidates who interviewed for the position. “I didn’t hear any of them say they wanted to be part of our community,” he said. “”We’re trying to take a square candidate and fit them into a round hole.”

Pointer questioned whether the board had held a real discussion about the four candidates they interviewed. He recommended that the board debate the merits of each candidate. “If we feel like there is no one that we want, then we look at other options. As long as Kevin is willing to stay on, and if this takes longer than six weeks, he is our safety net,” he said. He also noted that he has “many reservations” about sharing a superintendent with another school district.

Marsnik agreed. “We owe it to these candidates to sit down and talk about them.”


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