Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

ISD 2142 board seeks answers on bullying

Marcus White
Posted 6/12/19

VIRGINIA - A letter signed by 25 graduating students at South Ridge has one ISD 2142 board member fuming at school officials.

At Tuesday evening’s board meeting, Christine Taylor raised …

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ISD 2142 board seeks answers on bullying

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VIRGINIA - A letter signed by 25 graduating students at South Ridge has one ISD 2142 board member fuming at school officials.

At Tuesday evening’s board meeting, Christine Taylor raised concerns brought by two-thirds of the school’s seniors regarding what they feel is continued inaction by school officials to address persistent acts of bullying and threats of violence between students.

According to Taylor, she has known about the letter for at least six weeks but waited to see whether it would be addressed by school officials or district officials publicly. She’s also questioning a decision by school staff to assemble students who signed the letter into a room, where school principal Andrew Bernard and dean of students Jessica Bialke allegedly berated them for challenging school officials.

Chet Larson, who represents South Ridge along with Taylor, said he also knew about the letter and a meeting regarding it, but was unaware of the letter’s contents or the subject of the meeting.

Taylor asked Superintendent Reggie Engebritson whether she knew of the letter students said they had sent to school officials and all staff members at the South Ridge campus.

“I am not aware of it,” Engebritson said.

Taylor then asked if she had been made aware of the letter, would she have brought it to the school board’s attention.

Engebritson said she was unsure, and it would have depended on the circumstance.

Taylor was unhappy with the answer.

“These aren’t backroom conversations. We need to be accountable to the public,” Taylor said. “If I wouldn’t have brought this to Reggie, we still wouldn’t know about it. What the students did was completely undermined. I am going to talk about this right here, so everyone knows. That is really a problem to me if you knew and didn’t tell us. I’ve had other graduates from previous years that would have liked to come forward and name names. I have listened for many years that there are persistent problems that need to be addressed. I just want to see something get done.”

Engebritson countered: “You’ve asked me to take care of management, the board is for policy.”

“Part of the deal is the board doesn’t get a free pass,” Chair Dan Manick responded. “It’s not that we are trying to micro-manage. We need to do excellent work at this table.”

Both Taylor and Manick said the issue raised by South Ridge students wasn’t a management issue, but a district culture issue that should be dealt with openly and in public view.

“It (the letter) was about safety and quality of learning,” Taylor said. “We are responsible to the taxpayers and children of this district. It really surprises me that you haven’t seen this letter. No one is named, it’s not that kind of letter. It’s wanting to open a dialogue with the staff. They don’t feel that bullying is being addressed. They feel emphasis is being put in the wrong places.”

The letter in question was not made public at the meeting, however a board member allowed the Timberjay to see it on condition that the paper did not directly quote from it until the students choose to make it public.

Questions on MI-B collaboration

Earlier in the board meeting, more heated discussion erupted over aspects of the collaboration between St. Louis County Schools and Mt. Iron-Buhl.

The issue stemmed from a plan by Engebritson, who serves as superintendent for both districts, who proposed to change the transportation assistant’s position from part-time to full-time.

Manick, Taylor and Chris Koivisto questioned both the cost and the logic behind the decision, given that ISD 2142 would be responsible for 80 percent of the cost.

The three asked why the district implementing a new computer program, called Traversa, which digitizes many aspects of bus routing to save time, was not being effective.

Board members said they agreed to pay for the program after district officials sold it to them as a relief for Transportation Director Kay Cornelius and her assistant, Rebecca Mariucci, who was hired after the MI-B collaboration began. However, Engebritson said, “It’s unheard of for a transportation manager to take on another district and not be compensated. Adding Traversa program didn’t reduce the work load.”

Taylor and Koivisto were not happy with the admission.

“That’s the point. It was supposed to reduce her workload,” Taylor said.

“The argument was that it would save time and money,” Koivisto said. “If it hasn’t, we shouldn’t be paying money for it.”

Cornelius said, however that the board did not understand her job.

“Yes, Traversa has mainstreamed things, and Becky has helped in things,” she said. “I just don’t think you understand the realm of transportation. I am not here to whine about anything. I like the fast pace. Things change and happen. When I get up in the morning, I start my phone. I would be doing this whether we had MIB or not, but it adds additional layers.”

Taylor said district officials were conflating two separate issues - the collaboration with MI-B and the need to compensate Cornelius and Mariucci more fairly for the work they do for St. Louis County schools.

“If you are doing all this work for other people, what work aren’t you doing for us?” Taylor asked. “I was picturing that once we had Traversa, this would take weight off your shoulders. I feel like the salary and duties are getting tied up when they shouldn’t be.”

“My biggest concern is having Kay not putting those hours in,” Manick said. “This is why I have supported it. She needs to have more time for herself and her family. I thought having the assistant and the Traversa program solved these problems.”

Cornelius said while she appreciated Manick’s concern, she likes her job and accepts the time it takes her to do it.

Lynette Zupetz asked why these matters weren’t settled as part of salary negotiations.

Engebritson said this was about services being sold to MI-B, not salary.

Troy Swanson said that as long as people weren’t being overwhelmed and MI-B is willing to pay for the services, he didn’t see a problem.

The board unanimously voted to move Mariucci to full time, however Koivisto and Taylor voted against the proposed fees to be charged to MI-B.

In other business, the school board:

Awarded propane bids for each of the schools for the upcoming year. Koivisto and Swanson noted that Tower’s propane cost was much higher than the others since the district did not own the tanks at the school.

Heard from Engebritson that the district office planned to start closing daily at 4 p.m. instead of 4:30 p.m. beginning July 1.

Heard from Engebritson that the IRRRB had awarded a $350,000 grant for the Iron Range Collaboration project.

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