Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Working together

Ely School District to explore collaboration with ISD 2142

Keith Vandervort
Posted 5/15/19

ELY – School board members here unanimously, on Monday, agreed to engage in a discussion with the St. Louis County School District regarding any and all possible school collaboration measures, …

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Working together

Ely School District to explore collaboration with ISD 2142


ELY – School board members here unanimously, on Monday, agreed to engage in a discussion with the St. Louis County School District regarding any and all possible school collaboration measures, including potentially sharing a lead administrator.

The move comes with a proposed multi-million dollar facilities project and an upcoming district superintendent vacancy hanging in the wings for ISD 696. Deadlines are approaching fast for the district to approach taxpayers in November to approve a bonding referendum to pay for the project. Four superintendent candidates were interviewed at the beginning of the month and none of them have yet to be offered the position.

The driving force behind the move to hold a collaboration discussion with ISD 2142 is to gain favor with the Department of Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation for possible facilities funding through a special fund designed to encourage district cooperation and consolidation in the region.

School board chair Ray Marsnik presented four options to board members Monday night on how the district could move forward. He said the board could debate the merits of the superintendent candidates and name a finalist, or interview any or all of the candidates again. They could also consider any of the other screened candidates and continue with the interview process or explore collaboration efforts with another school district to include sharing a superintendent.

Marsnik revealed this week that he and superintendent Kevin Abrahamson had an informal discussion last week with ISD 2142 superintendent Reggie Engebritson and school board chair Dan Manick.

“One of the things we brought up was the sharing of a superintendent, and they are receptive to this idea and of pursuing this further,” Marsnik said.

He added that he is concerned with Engebritson’s potential workload, since she is also now overseeing the functions of the Mt. Iron/Buhl school district.

Abrahamson is planning to resign from his .6 FTE position in Ely when his contract expires on June 30. He has indicated a willingness to stay in his position temporarily. “I’ve said before that I won’t leave you high and dry,” he said.

Marsnik said he wants to maintain the part-time superintendent position at ISD 696. He told his fellow board members that the ISD 2142 officials said their district may consider hiring an assistant superintendent to help deal with the additional workload of overseeing a third school district.

“If we decide on (collaboration), this could be the first step in the possibility of obtaining some IRRR funding for our facilities project,” Marsnik said. “As we move forward on this, we must be very transparent.”

Marsnik and Abrahamson also extended an invitation to have both school boards gather for a discussion on the subject. “They suggested that it would be easier for them if there was a committee formed to include three members from each board,” he said.

Board member Tony Colarich indicated a willingness to reintroduce his motion from the last meeting delaying the superintendent search while collaboration discussions are being held. He was rebuffed by Marsnik who wanted more discussion on the topic before any motions were considered.

Board member Rochelle Sjoberg said she wanted the whole Ely school board to be part of any collaboration discussion with ISD 2142. “This is a pretty important decision,” she said.

Board member Tom Omerza agreed. “If they are open to it, it would be nice to have our whole board (involved),” he said.

Board member James Pointer questioned ISD 2142’s motive for wanting to collaborate with the Ely school district when they are already collaborating with the Mt. Iron/Buhl district. “What is their gain from this?” he asked.

Marsnik admitted that IRRR funding was part of his discussion with ISD 2142 officials. “The major emphasis of our discussion was how we can work together to improve and expand educational opportunities for the students in both districts,” he said.

Board members touched on other collaboration options between the two districts, beyond sharing a superintendent. “I think there has to be more collaboration,” Omerza said. “This is for the good of the kids and not just for administrative.”

Marsnik reiterated his previous discussion. “Just sharing a superintendent or a business office, isn’t going to cut it,” he said. “We are really going to have to show how the kids are going to benefit. That’s the only way we are going to get the funding.”

Abrahamson told Pointer that his question on motivating factors for ISD 2142 was not part of their discussion. “That would be a good question to ask them,” he said.

Marsnik said the ISD 2142 superintendent works one day per week at the Mt. Iron/Buhl district and the other four days at ISD 2142. “(Engbritson) did say that she does not want to take on the new position in name only. She wants to be involved. There may be a possibility that she could work here one day a week.”

Marsnik asserted that the board’s intention on the collaboration discussion is not to eliminate jobs in the Ely district. “As a matter of fact, in the long run, we’ll probably be adding some positions.”

During the open forum portion of the board meeting agenda, the district’s reading interventionist, Krista Moyer, said the concept of collaboration has been well received during recent conversations between teachers and staff members.

“It sounds like we have some excited teachers here who are interested in pursuing ways to help the kids,” Omerza said, “and you would hope that a similar group of teachers at ISD 2142 would want to help their kids with any collaboration.”

Abrahamson said with the possibility of collaboration and the requisite discussion required to reach an agreement, a November referendum for the facility project is probably unlikely. The next window for a bonding referendum is in February.

The $500,000 state school safety grant awarded to ISD 696 last year, has a 2022 completion deadline.

Marsnik added that the facility project, estimated to cost between $5 million and $13 million, will need the support of the community. “It is their taxes that will be raised,” he said. “We have to pursue this (collaboration) with 2142. I think the community will demand that we do this. If it will work, we don’t know. We have to at least take a look at it, if there is a possibility of IRRR funding coming our way.”

Board members agreed to pursue a collaboration discussion with ISD 2142. School board members will resume discussion on the issue at their study session on Monday, May 20.

Other business

In other business, the board:

Accepted the resignation of Mariah Jeske from the sixth-grade teaching position at the end of the 2018-2019 school year.

Accepted the resignation of the Kimberly Deyak from the Indian Education/Home School Liaison position, effective on May 2, agreed to cover the rest of the school year with a substitute teacher, and post for the position for the 2019-2020 school year.

Hired Janelle Huntbatch for the part-time bus driver position.

Hired Mary Fleetwood for the Extended School Year Instructor position, and Monica Freeman for the Extended School Year Paraprofessional position.

Reduced paraprofessional staff by laying off Mataya Barrett, Cathy Braun and Lynne Halverson.

Approved the renewal of the following coaches for the 2019-2020 school year: Andrea Thomas, head volleyball coach, Cory Lassi, head football coach, Amanda Vanderbeek, head dance team coach, Jayne Dusich, head cross country coach, Tom McDonald, head boys basketball coach, Darren Visser, head girls basketball coach, Ben Johnson, head hockey coach, and Paula Anderson, head Nordic skiing coach.


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