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ELY- For the second time in a row, the Ely School Board faced a room overflowing with teachers and parents at their May 22 meeting, this time over concerns about the schedule for the 2023-24 school …
ELY- For the second time in a row, the Ely School Board faced a room overflowing with teachers and parents at their May 22 meeting, this time over concerns about the schedule for the 2023-24 school year.
According to multiple remarks made during the open forum portion of the school board meeting, the schedule was released last week.
“(I have) concerns about that schedule being finalized on Friday and then you guys have to vote on it today (Monday),” said Molly Olson, a gifted program teacher employed by the school district.
Teachers and parents had only a handful of days to react to the proposed schedule which contained several surprises. The changes included a self-contained sixth grade, which was a change from the current departmental teaching model. They also included trimming both the gifted program and the number of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) classes.
All three of those surprises were brought up by the nine parents and teachers who used the open forum at the meeting to raise their concerns.
High School math teacher Janelle Hart addressed at least two of the three changes. “We’re losing important classes,” Hart began. “In the last two years we have cut financial literacy and computer coding … We’ve also cut out math intervention … The gifted and talented program is now down to two hours a day (on the schedule) This year, it was offered for five hours a day. STEM has been cut out for sixth grade — or at least it was not on the schedule up until Friday —seventh and eighth grade STEM was also not on the schedule.”
Sixth grade teacher Megan Anderson remarked, “The switch to a self-contained (sixth grade) classroom has not been discussed and plans for it were not set up for implementation in a way that can be successful.” Anderson also detailed frustrating interactions with district administration on this and other related issues, giving several examples.
“Communication and planning has occurred when major decisions were made and it was transparent to all, concluded Anderson. “This year has been very, very different. There are many of us who feel we are losing sight of the vision and mission of our school district. Teachers are feeling underappreciated and not valued, and we are no longer part of the discussions, the planning or the implementation of the long-term goals for our district. The loss of that meeting today is yet another example of the lack of communication and planning that has occurred this year.”
Parent Ryan Anderson was at the May 22 school board meeting and the previous meeting on May 8. He outlined several examples of communication issues he had with the school board.
“It’s a struggle when we only are allowed five minutes (during the open forum),” Anderson remarked.
Anderson also commented on the “bare bones” descriptions of agenda items, noting that the public has to “seek out and find” any explanatory and detailed information on their own. “When you look at the school board agenda tonight, there’s not very much actual information on it. When you go to the website and you try to read ... the school board agenda, it’s just kind of numbers and a brief synopsis. I think that’s a struggle. We have a hard time to engage with the school board here.”
The issue of wanting better communication has been going around Ely recently. Anderson’s complaint echoed comments made at both the previous school board meeting on May 8 and several Ely City Council meetings since January.
According to the Minnesota Open Meeting law, local government entities like cities and school boards are only obliged to provide an agenda and supporting materials “in the meeting room for inspection by the public while the governing body considers their subject matter.”
Like the ISD 696 School Board and Ely City Council, most government entities in Minnesota provide only the legal minimum required by the Open Meeting Law: an agenda and supporting materials at the meeting itself, and nothing more.
Twice in a row
The previous May 8 school board meeting also packed the room with attendees because of the appointment of Anne Oelke to the position of district superintendent. As reported in the May 12 edition of the Timberjay, some expressed concern that the hiring of Oelke for the position appeared suddenly, without discussion and proper posting.
In reality, Oelke served a year-long mentorship with the current superintendent, John Klarich, before being hired for the position. The arrangement was discussed in board meetings over the summer of 2022 and written up in both area newspapers.
Despite the long lead time and the year-old advance notice, the hiring of Oelke this month appeared to many to be abrupt and unvetted.
At the May 8 meeting, school board vice chair Rochelle Sjoberg’s comments reflected the feelings of the board at the time: “I would like to put in a request that our admin team work together and I would like to see a communication plan. I feel like there is clearly a disconnect, and I’m not sure why that is happening.”
After the open forum, the board postponed the vote on the high school and middle school schedule, having observed the discontent of teachers and parents over the changes reflected in the proposed school schedule. Board member Tom Omerza’s comments captured the sentiments of the school board.
“From when this came out to when we’re voting on, it just seems to be compressed, (with) not enough time to process, to listen to everybody, listen to the teachers, listen to staff, listen to whomever, and seek some more understanding … (To) take some more time and make sure everybody understands what’s going on and why we’re doing what we’re doing.”
The high school and middle school schedule will be discussed again at the June 12 meeting.
Regarding other matters on the meeting agenda, the school board:
• Thanked superintendent John Klarich for his service to the district. He will attempt to retire for a third time at the end of this school year. Klarich came out of retirement to serve as Ely’s superintendent on short notice in January 2022 following the resignation of former superintendent Erik Erie.
• Heard the report from facilities director Tim Leeson that repairs to the gymnasium floor will likely not be completed until September at the earliest, based on initial estimates. If the schedule can’t be moved up, volleyball practices and games will need to move to other facilities.
• Heard the report of Klarich that ISD 696 will receive additional money to help cover the funding gap for completing the 21st century facilities project created by the cost increases in the wake of the COVID-19 economic downturn. “We’re going to get $4.4 million … for our project. He described the money will go through the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board (IRRR) and will be set up as “a five-cent taconite tax, so it’s not going to affect any property owners.” He expressed the hope that IRRR will bond for the money upfront, avoiding a scenario where the ISD 696 would receive the money doled out in installments over time.
• Approved the Washington Elementary schedule for the 2023-24 school year.
• Approved a professional services contract between ISD 696 and Range Mental Health Center from July 1, 2023, to June 30, 2024.
• Hired Megan Wognum for the summer skills teacher position for June through August.
• Hired Jennifer Kerntz for the summer skills teacher position for June through August.
• Hired Autumn Bodecker for the school age extended school year program teacher position for June through August.
• Hired Jacki Tolbert for the summer skills paraprofessional position (4.5 hours/day) for June through August.
• Hired Stacy Hegfors for the summer skills paraprofessional position (4 hours/day) for June through August.
• Hired Alyssa Levar for the summer skills paraprofessional position (4 hours/day) for June through August.
• Hired Dena Carey for the school age extended school year program paraprofessional position (4 hours/day) for June through August.
• Hired LeaRae Richards for the school age extended school year program paraprofessional position (4 hours/day) for June through August.
• Hired Abby Maki and Grace Johnson (split position) for the school age extended school year program paraprofessional positions (4 hours/day) for June through August.
• Accepted the resignation of Riley Bishop and Virginia Anderson from their paraprofessional positions effective at the end of the work day on June 2.
• Approved changing the second board meeting of every month to a study session.
• Approved a donation of $1,000 for Ely Memorial High School from the Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness.
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