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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

School board considers strategic planning

Keith Vandervort
Posted 10/27/16

ELY – Ely School Board members listened to a proposal this week from a strategic planning consultant who offers something completely different. He will work for free.

That would be welcome to …

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School board considers strategic planning


ELY – Ely School Board members listened to a proposal this week from a strategic planning consultant who offers something completely different. He will work for free.

That would be welcome to any school board struggling to balance a budget while at the same time guiding the district in a variety of growth and improvement strategies with an eye to the future, but how good can a consultant be if he doesn’t want to get paid for his services?

During a study session Monday night, board members listened to a proposal from Ralph Brauer, a former college professor, author, self-described historian, and former canoe guide with ties to the Ely area.

The board has listened to several proposals from consultants over the last couple of months that have offered their strategic planning expertise at a cost ranging from $3,000 to $10,000, depending on the type of services.

Proposals were considered from Edie Carr of Gilbert, Crettol Consulting of Virginia and Portage Partners Consulting of Minneapolis. Jerritt Johnston of Ely submitted a proposal but later withdrew his offer. The Minnesota School Board Association offers strategic consulting services, but according the Board Chair Ray Marsnik, their schedule is filled for the next year.

“Somebody said I had a cabin on Little Long (Lake), which I would love to have, but I do not,” Brauer said as he introduced himself. “I was not raised in Ely, but I like to say I grew up here.”

He lives in the Twin Cities area, first came to Ely in 1958 and worked as a canoe guide in the area in the 1960s. His parents owned a cabin on Moose Lake. “They are buried in the cemetery here, and I like to think that (Ely) is part of me.”

He said when he heard the school district was considering a strategic planning initiative, he contacted Marsnik and offered his services.

“If you are going to do strategic planning with schools, no matter who you do it with, it has be somebody who has been in front of the classroom, that’s walked the hallways and knows what it’s really like,” Brauer said.

Brauer has served on the Anoka-Hennepin school board, served as a coordinator of the University of Minnesota Inter-College program, was an honors faculty member at Bowling Green University and taught public policy at the Hubert Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota.

“I have reached a time in my life where I believe it is time to give back,” he said. “This place, this town and the people of this town have given me things that I could never put in money terms, or quantify in any way,” he said.

He said he did not care whether or not he gets paid for his strategic planning services for the Ely school district. “For expenses, that’s fine, but after that, I am not here to make money. I don’t need to make money. I don’t want to make money. That would feel wrong in some ways.”

He talked about the process he uses in strategic planning for organizations. “Planning is a continuous process,” he wrote in his proposal. “Organizations must balance vision against reality, future projections, and coming trends. Projections must stem from current assessments. Organizations can run themselves ragged if they respond in knee-jerk fashion to the latest trendy futurist’s best seller. Often, like a player trying too hard to put one over the fence, they will find themselves swinging at airy speculations and strike out.”

He said he developed his strategic planning philosophy while working with the Blandin Foundation in the early 2000s and their Blandin Education Program. “Strategic planning is really not that complicated. What makes it difficult is being able to make the connections and put the pieces together.”

He described the process in baseball terms. “I like baseball,” he said. “I understand it is also big up here. The four ‘bases” or parts of the strategic process include reality, mission, projections and goals.”

Brauer presented his plan in a laid-back folksy style interjected with many stories involving his varied experiences and relationships.

School board members will likely make a decision on moving forward with a strategic planning workshop at their next regular board meeting on Monday, Nov. 14.

Following the study session, the board held a brief special business meeting to accept the resignation of Virginia Stage from the K-12 Speech Clinician position effective Nov. 9. Superintendent Kevin Abrahamson said he will post the position to fill the vacancy.


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