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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Ely Schools adopt Wednesday early release program

Catie Clark
Posted 3/29/23

ELY- It’s official: the Ely School Board voted to adopt an early release program for the 2023-24 school year at their March 27 meeting. During next school year, students will be released from …

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Ely Schools adopt Wednesday early release program


ELY- It’s official: the Ely School Board voted to adopt an early release program for the 2023-24 school year at their March 27 meeting. During next school year, students will be released from school approximately 50 minutes early so teachers can attend professional development and training.
The early release program was discussed in detail at the previous two school board meetings, with several district teachers testifying in favor of the program, as covered by the March 3 and March 17 editions of the Timberjay. All three senior administrators of the district are in favor of the program.
The small conference room where the board meeting was held was filled, and the attendees needed to bring in three more chairs than the 12 usually available for guests. Most of public at the meeting were teachers who work at the district.
Given the amount of commentary on this topic at prior meetings, the time spent talking about early release was unexpectedly brief. After the meeting, school board chairperson Ray Marsnik remarked to the Timberjay that the brevity of the discussion surprised him.
At the meeting, board member Tony Colarich had the most to say about the early release program. “I cannot support early release,” Colarich said. “The amount of (instruction) time lost is 29 hours every year for our students. If it does pass, I would like us to evaluate it every year.”
Marsnik noted that the approval of the program was only for the 2023-24 school year, and that it would indeed be re-evaluated next year.
The vote to approve that program was 5-1, with Colarich casting the opposing vote.

Gifted and talented program
The school district’s gifted and talented student program was another agenda item, but board member Rochelle Sjoberg asked to drop the proposal to discontinue the sponsorship of the Northeast Area Gifted and Talented program. Sjoberg suggested that the item be discussed at a future meeting, stating she felt the board needed more time to look into the issue. The board voted to drop the item, but that didn’t stop three people from testifying in favor of retaining the program during the open forum portion of the meeting. “It makes me sad that this program may be discontinued … this program encourages Ely girls to keep their STEM (science technology engineering mathematics) options open,” said Sarah Sponholz, who also teaches math at Minnesota College North.
Molly Olson, the coordinator of the program, said the enrichment is offered in person in Ely and virtually in several neighboring school districts. She was followed by Ely resident Megan Anderson, who spoke in favor of retaining the program.
Despite being dropped from the agenda, the gifted and talented program came up a second time, during the portion of the meeting dedicated to school board member concerns. Sjoberg explained her reasoning behind her request and asked for more details on what the bumped agenda item entailed.
Superintendent John Klarich explained that dropping the sponsorship was not the same thing as discontinuing the program. The district currently hosts the program physically but doesn’t have control over all of its details or fund allocation since it is a multi-district effort.
“I don’t know if we should be hosting it,” Klarich stated, “and if we do host it, what is the cost to the district?” Klarich appeared concerned that the district’s efforts to host the program were not commensurate with what the district was receiving in terms of educational value.
In other matters on the meeting agenda, the school board:
• Approved an agreement with Walker, Giroux & Hahne Certified Public Accountants and Consultants for auditing services for the year ending June 30, 2023. This is the firm contracted to provide an independent audit of the district’s finances. The fee for the audit report will not exceed $26,500. The district may need an additional financial service if certain conditions exist called a “single audit.” If a single audit is required, there will be an additional charge of $4,000.
• Approved the hire of Michele Milton as a cafeteria aide effective March 13, 2023. Milton is moving from a 2.75 hour per day position to a 3.75 hour per day position. The district now has an open 2.75 hour per day position open.
Accepted the resignation of Justin Olson from his position as temporary part-time custodian effective March 24, 2023.
• Accepted the retirement of Anna Sjoberg from her paraprofessional position effective June 2, 2023. Sjoberg has been with the school district for 26 years, for five years part-time and then 21 years in her current position.
• Approved the following volunteer assistant coaches as recommended by Tom Coombe, Athletic Director: Derek Johnson, Paul Kienitz, Jim Wittrup, Eddie Prijatel and Kevin Marolt volunteer assistant baseball coaches; Jeff Mackenzie and Tony Rechicki volunteer assistant softball coaches.
• Accepted the termination of the Temporary-At-Will Superintendent’s Administrative Assistant Mentoring agreement with Mary Wognum and ISD 696, effective immediately.
• Approved the dance team’s coaching stipend of approximately $1,900 and transportation to postseason events beginning the 2023-2024 season. Athletic director Tom Coombe stated that the stipend “puts competitive dance on the same (funding) standing as Nordic skiing and girls track.”
• Adopted the 2023-2024 school year calendar labeled “version C” in the agenda packet. This version incorporates the early release dates for every Wednesday that students are in school. The first day of school will be Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2023. The last day of school will be May 30, 2024. Dates when the schools will be closed are: Oct. 19-20, Nov. 22-24, Dec. 22-Jan. 1, Feb. 16-20, March 28-April 2, and May 27. Teacher in-service days, which are no-attendance days for students, are Aug. 28-29, Aug. 31, Jan. 15, and May 31.
• Heard the report of Superintendent Klarich that nothing would be certain regarding pending bills in the Legislature until May, but that one concerning bill proposed to reduce class size to 17 in the lower grades. “The problem with that is you’re probably going to see 100 to 115 schools being built across the state of Minnesota” to accommodate the change. Klarich also remarked on the free school meals bill that just passed, saying: “I have issues with how this is going to work,” pointing out that the current need-based school meals programs were currently funded with federal Title 1 dollars and he worried that subsequent balancing state and federal funding might leave districts getting short-changed in the future when there wasn’t a huge state surplus to cover the costs.
• Heard the report of Facilities Director Tim Leeson that regarding the 21st Century Facility Project, “we’re picking away at the punch list, waiting for the snow to melt” so the outside items on the list can be expedited. He also reported that the water quality testing results were “coming back a lot better than they were” before the replacement of the water and sewer lines. Last, Leeson reported that regarding a leak in the Gym from a broken pipe on March 17, “there was a fair enough amount of damage,” and that an insurance adjuster would be coming to assess it.