Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

School board picks new administrator

Erik Erie approved, 4-2, for part-time position

Keith Vandervort
Posted 6/26/19

ELY – School board members here struggled through a four-hour interview and deliberation process on Tuesday before agreeing on a 4-2 vote to hire Erik Erie as the district’s new part-time …

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School board picks new administrator

Erik Erie approved, 4-2, for part-time position


ELY – School board members here struggled through a four-hour interview and deliberation process on Tuesday before agreeing on a 4-2 vote to hire Erik Erie as the district’s new part-time superintendent. The decision came after the board voted 3-3 on a motion to offer the job to another candidate. The district’s current superintendent contract with Kevin Abrahamson expires on Monday.

The two candidates interviewed on Tuesday— Erie and John Klarich— could not have been any more different.

Klarich has a full resumé of lead administrative experience. He was superintendent at Mt. Iron-Buhl School District for 12 years and previously served as a principal and superintendent at Nashwauk-Keewatin School District for 21 years.

Erie is recently retired after working as high school principal at Mesabi East in Aurora for the past 11 years. He was previously a principal in the Fisher School District in Illinois from 2002 to 2008. He is finalizing his work to obtain his superintendent license.

School board members had a difficult time this spring in selecting a top administrator. They considered as many as 10 applicants and completed four interviews in early May with finalists, Kevin Ricke, Steve Thomas, Bruce Houck and Beth Zietz, but could not agree on offering the position to any of those candidates.

They rebooted their search with a minor change in the job qualifications that superintendent licensure must be obtained by the end of September 2019.

After their interview queries, board members listened to input from an extended search committee that included school principals, teachers, staff and parents, then discussed the merits of each candidate.

After Tuesday’s interviews, board member Tony Colarich motioned to hire Klarich, but his motion failed on a 3-3 vote, with board chair Ray Marsnik and James Pointer voting in favor, while Heidi Mann, Tom Omerza and Rochelle Sjoberg voted against. “Klarich is out of the picture,” said Marsnik after the vote and he then joined Mann, Omerza, and Sjoberg as the board voted 4-2 on Omerza’s motion to offer the job to Erie.

“John (Klarich) was off the table and Erik (Erie) was my second choice,” Marsnik explained as the reason for switching his vote.

Pending a reference check and approval of a negotiated contract, Erie will become ISD 696’s next superintendent.

One fly in the ointment remains. Erie needs to complete an eight-week practicum to become eligible to apply for a superintendent’s license.

Erie is apparently the unidentified “Candidate H” who was originally passed over for an interview in the board’s first search because he did not meet the qualifying criteria of holding a superintendent’s license. Marsnik suggested “Candidate H” be added to the pool of interviewees last month. Other board members rejected the idea and instead agreed to repost the job, with the altered qualification of requiring a new administrator to have state licensure by Oct. 1.

Kevin Abrahamson’s four-year stint in the Ely school district comes to an end on June 30 when his contract expires. He indicated a willingness to assist the district in the transition to the next executive administrator. He said previously that would be willing to mentor any candidate who requires the supervised practicum experience to obtain licensure.

Board members were set to meet on Friday, June 28 to discuss a memorandum of understanding with Abrahamson to extend his contract or agree on an alternative.

Both Ely principals, Megan Anderson and Anne Oelke, agreed that Erie’s “boots on the ground” leadership style would be a better fit for the district. “He said that Ely is the only place he wants to be. That is important,” Anderson said.

Oelke noted that the two candidates were very different, and have very different qualities. “In Erie I see someone who is super eager to come in and really work with staff,” she said. “That leadership style would be very beneficial to our students.”

Veteran high school teacher Rob Simonich spoke of Klarich’s extended experience with running a district, collaboration efforts, and overseeing building projects. “But I see (Erie) having more experience as far as tying into our school and being in closer touch with our students and faculty. It seems like he might be a better fit,” he said.

Elementary teacher Nancy Preblich noted a longer-term focus from Erie. “He seemed to be interested in the long haul,” she said.

Board members mostly agreed with the extended committee’s conclusions. Pointer highlighted Erie’s “servant leadership” style, but was also concerned with his lack of budgeting experience.

Marsnik scored Klarich’s experience above Erie. “John has much more experience in terms of implementing our policies,” he said.

Omerza indicated that he was impressed with Klarich’s comments on putting the district’s building project “on the front burner.” With Erie, he supported his “passion with wanting to be involved with the community.”

Klarich also serves as the mayor for the city of Buhl and would have likely commuted to Ely.

“I’m thinking long-term for a superintendent. “I’m trying to think for the people and for this community and that is how I vote,” Omerza said.

Colarich stressed the importance of moving ahead with a decision. “We have beat the heck out of this issue and it is time to move forward. We have a lot on our plate and need to make a decision.”


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