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ISD 696 looking for new leader

Superintendent suggests board begin search for his replacement

Keith Vandervort
Posted 3/13/19

ELY – Acting on a recommendation from Ely school district superintendent Kevin Abrahamson, school board members agreed Monday night to begin the search for a new administrative leader at ISD …

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ISD 696 looking for new leader

Superintendent suggests board begin search for his replacement


ELY – Acting on a recommendation from Ely school district superintendent Kevin Abrahamson, school board members agreed Monday night to begin the search for a new administrative leader at ISD 696.

Abrahamson has been at his post here for almost four years and his current contract expires on July 1. He was first hired as ISD 696’s part-time interim administrator in August 2015, and later named permanently to the position.

In making the announcement at the school board’s regular meeting, board chair Ray Marsnik pointed out, “this was Kevin’s recommendation.”

Abrahamson told board members, “My goal was always to leave before you asked me to. I’m really quite torn about this. This was a very difficult decision. I think that with several things that have occurred, it may be time.”

Without going into specifics, Abrahamson said, “We’ve had some recent things that have probably brought trust into question. I want you to know that I care about this district.”

He stressed that he does not want to leave ISD 696 without a leader. “There might be somebody out there that you really like, and you should be able to do that,” he said. “If you post and screen and interview and don’t find anybody, then maybe we can talk and work something out, maybe month-to-month or for six months, or for another year or whatever.”

He added, “I don’t want to really say I’ll be your default (administrator). I think you need to put some effort into (the search).”

Abrahamson said his four-year tenure as the part-time school superintendent is probably one of the longest terms of service for the top administrator at ISD 696 in his recollection. In fact, it’s the longest since the retirement of long-time superintendent Ray Toutloff.

“There is no anger or animosity. I’m not upset with anybody. I think the district is in a good position right now. I think you are in good shape, but maybe it’s time,” he said. “He did not add any more specifics to his decision.

Marsnik and school board members will discuss the superintendent position at their March study session, scheduled for Monday, March 25 at 6 p.m.

“There are a lot of things to think about,” Marsnik said. “Do we want to stay with the status quo of a (part-time) position? Do we want to go with a full-time position? Why not take a look at sharing our superintendent with another school district? We can take a look at our entire administrative configuration and see how we want to go forward.”

He also said the board has to decide whether to do their own search for a new superintendent or to seek outside help. “For our last search, we received a lot of help from the MSBA (Minnesota School Board Association),” he said. Other school administrative search firms are available to the district.

Board member James Pointer requested that an accounting of each administrator’s duties be available for the study session.

Board member Heidi Mann requested examples of possible administrative configurations to consider.

“That’s the purpose of the study session,” Marsnik said. “I’m thinking we will have to appoint a task force committee, after we get board feedback, to keep the process moving forward.”

Board member Rochelle Sjoberg added, “While the budget and finances are extremely important, there are a lot of other aspects we have to consider, not just the bottom line.”

Abrahamson had one final comment on the subject. “I don’t plan on being a lame duck. I have work to do,” he said. “Unless you tell me not to do something, I’m going to continue as if nothing has changed.”

Board members unanimously approved posting for the superintendent’s position.

Facilities project

Board members received an update from Architectural Resources Inc. (ARI) officials on the facilities project community task force’s third meeting that took place on Monday.

Task force members received a lesson in school financing from Greg Crowe, of Ehlers, Inc. who described the numerous types of financing options a school district has available to help pay for a major building and facilities project like the one under consideration at ISD 696.

“Voter-approved bonds are the big sledgehammer in the toolbox for a big project like this where we are financing a project that could cost as much as $20 million,” he said.

ARI designer Katie Hildenbrand highlighted the two concept plans that were presented to the community task force. “This is a full-scope, all-in plan that identifies all of the needs and wants for the school,” she said.

Major components under consideration for the facilities project include providing a secure entrance for the school, connecting the three buildings, adding more gymnasium space, expanding and renovating the cafeteria, and improving the locker rooms. “These are the top priorities that we heard, so we identified plans that address each of those,” Hildenbrand said.

“We are also considering educational delivery and looking at rearranging existing educational spaces and combining together similar learning areas such as relocating art, and science areas to the Industrial Arts building,” she said. “We are also looking at providing additional learning commons areas.

Community task force members were also provided with a project budget. “It identifies taking care of the entire district for the next 20 years,” she said. “In my experience, it is very rare that everything on the budget (goes through) because there is a significant cost to it.”

Both design options came in with a budget of more than $23 million. That number includes all of the proposed renovations identified above, and also includes additional renovations and repairs like a new roof for the Memorial building, completing the campus-wide building window replacement that was started on the Washington building, demolition of the boiler plant, parking lot renovations and air handling unit replacements.

“The task force will review the budget and help to prioritize exactly what our needs are,” Hildenbrand said. They will meet again in Monday, April 1 and attempt to reach a consensus on what they think the community will support.

ARI officials will identify several financing tiers, from paying for a basic $5 million project to connect the buildings and provide a secure entrance, to funding for a complete renovation project that could cost $20-25 million.

“After that, we hope to be able to present the plan to the community and see what kind of reaction we get,” she said. “If we are looking at a fall referendum, we have plenty of time to engage with the community with one or two (public) meetings this spring, and get this put together by the end of April.”

In a related matter, school board members approved, on a 5-1 vote with board member James Pointer voting against, spending $2,250 for a school enrollment trend projection for the district. John Powers, of Duluth, who has worked for decades in community development, land use and strategic planning, will conduct the analysis. He worked with city of Ely officials in the 1990s on a comprehensive plan.

Community task force members contend an enrollment projection is needed if and when taxpayers will be asked to approve a bonding referendum to fund the facilities renovation project.


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