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ISD 696

Ely school board works on varied topics this summer

Juggles bonding referendum, COVID-19, roof repairs, scoreboard replacement

Keith Vandervort
Posted 7/15/20

ELY – With new challenges presented to school board members of ISD 696 this summer, including an imminent bonding referendum on funding a $20 million facilities improvement project, and how to …

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ISD 696

Ely school board works on varied topics this summer

Juggles bonding referendum, COVID-19, roof repairs, scoreboard replacement


ELY – With new challenges presented to school board members of ISD 696 this summer, including an imminent bonding referendum on funding a $20 million facilities improvement project, and how to teach the district’s students this fall in the age of the coronavirus, many so-called routine items on the meeting agenda Monday night demanded their attention.
Funding for many long-term school building maintenance items would be addressed by the successful passage of the Aug.11 bonding referendum, but a new roof for the Memorial building, completion of the campus window improvement project, maintaining a qualified staff, even replacing a worn-out scoreboard on the football field, highlight a to-do list that remains despite everything else.
The school board’s facilities committee met several times recently to discuss building conditions. Scott Sosalla, of Architectural Resources, Inc. (ARI) is helping the district navigate through the various high-cost building projects that will need to be completed whether or not a bonding referendum is approved next month.
The deteriorating condition of the Memorial building roof has been discussed by board members for several years. Long-term facilities maintenance (LTFM) funds are available to address roof repairs.
“This is an item that needs to be done; the roof was leaking before the referendum went forward,” Sosalla said. “We are looking for approval to go out for bids to replace the rubber roof that we estimate will cost about $300,000.” That cost estimate would include a 20-year warranty.
Sosalla said the cost estimate completed last fall remains accurate. He noted that the roof replacement is a line item on the LTFM budget.
Board chair Ray Marsnik noted that because no approval for expending funds is needed now, a motion and approval was not necessary.
The needed roof work does not impact any other building work that may or may not be part of the proposed facility improvement project.
Later in the meeting, Superintendent Erik Erie reported that the completion of the campus window replacement project will likely cost as much as $1 million.
“When we decide to go forward with that, we will obtain multiple quotes,” he said.
Facilities committee discussion, according to Erie, also touched on the campus buildings ventilation and HVAC priorities. Proper air handling capacity in school buildings is an important factor in determining the safety levels for students and staff under new COVID-19 protocols.
“And we certainly know that we have some plumbing issues, too,” Erie said.
School reopening
Like all state school districts, Ely board members are waiting to hear from the state Department of Health and Department of Education on how and when schools may reopen this fall for in-person learning. Erie said that any directives will likely come during the last week of July.
School board members have been meeting remotely since spring because of the social distancing protocols in place that allow for up to 10 people to be in the same room at the same time. Some board members voiced frustration with the current situation, but agreed to wait on any updated meeting protocols before reconvening in the district boardroom.
“I feel I’m not an effective board member where I am right now,” said board member Tom Omerza. He suggested support for a hybrid meeting scenario where some board members could gather and others would “phone in.”
On Monday night, board member James Pointer attended the meeting in person because of ongoing telephone connectivity issues he has experienced.
Board member Heidi Mann suggested conducting a video-connected board meeting in the future. Omerza and Pointer both noted that they do not have the necessary technology to participate in a meeting in that scenario.
Board member Tony Colarich suggested that the school media center is a larger space to allow for proper social distancing for the 10-person limit.
Any decision on changing the school board meeting protocols will be made next month following any new state coronavirus safety directives.
Athletic Director Tom Coombe, following guidance of the Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL), continues to plan for the start of the 2020-21 school year.
“At this moment, fall activities will happen,” he said, “Obviously, whatever is decided in terms of education, in person or not, that decision will guide what the MSHSL ends up ultimately doing. As of now, all systems are go and fall sports are scheduled to begin with practices on Aug. 17, very much subject to change.”
Erie said the district’s administrative team continues to plan for various alternative scenarios of full school open, full distance learning, or a hybrid option for the new school year.
A non-scientific survey recently conducted by MDE shows a majority of families had a bad experience with distance learning and want schools to resume in-person classes in the fall.
“We expect an announcement from MDE in the week of July 27,” Erie said, “however they did hint that it could possibly be sooner, but I really don’t expect it. We have been lobbying for a decision so we can finalize our planning.”
Erie said transportation issues this fall could prove challenging.
“If we were to go with the MDH guidelines in place now, we could put about 13 people on a 77-passenger bus,” he said. “Even if we all come back in person, we need to look at how we keep our students and staff healthy and safe.”
He touched on the “one-to-one initiative” designed to put digital learning devices in the hands of every student.
“We want to enlist more faculty feedback and take a closer look at this and examine recommendations on device choice, support needs and integration,” Erie said. Infrastructure improvement costs could approach $90,000, he added.
Erie hopes to have project proposals for the school board to consider at the July 27 study session.
Other business
In other business, the school board:
• Accepted a report from Industrial Arts instructor Rob Simonich that highlighted net income of more than $14,000 from an online auction of outdated and non-working shop equipment.
• Approved Minnesota School Boards Association dues in the amount of $3,508, Boardbook Subscription of $1,575, and MSBA Policy Services renewal for $715,
• Ratified a two-year master agreement with the Ely Principals Association with a salary (three-plus years of experience) of $94,700 for the 2020-21 school year and $96,594 for the 2021-22 school year.
• Accepted the retirement of longtime payroll/benefits coordinator Connie Ojala, and agreed to a temporary independent contractor agreement with Janet Leete to perform those duties until a permanent replacement is hired.
• Approved the purchase and installation of a new scoreboard for the football field, with track scoring capability, for a total cost of $32,980. The net cost to the district will be $16,515, with financial help coming from the Ely Touchdown Club ($15,000) and the Ely Education Association Foundation ($1,465),
• Approved Max Gantt as head girls basketball coach and Desirae Cram as dance team advisor.
• Approved the following coaching assistants -Jim Wittrup, football; Megan Wognum, volleyball; Megan Devine, cross country; Tim Omerza, boys basketball; Tom Omerza, girls basketball; Tyler Fish, Nordic skiing; and Jake Myers, hockey.
• Approved memorandums of understanding with the Ely Principals Association, Ely Education Association, and AFSCME Local 295 to carry over an extra unused personal day into the 2020-21 school year,
• Approved a cooperative agreement for girls soccer with Mesabi East for 2020-21 under the condition that ISD 696 will assume no responsibility for expenses associated with the program.


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