|1/13/2023 1:28:00 PM|
School board addresses legal counsel, snow days, etc. in first meeting of the year
by JEFF NORTONThe first meeting of 2023 brought a lot of change for the Chisago Lakes School Board. The board needed to name a new chair after longtime Chair Mark Leigh gaveled his last meeting in December. Longtime Vice Chair Lori Berg was nominated by Brenda Carlson to ascend to the chairperson role. “Lori has shown leadership as vice chair for years. She always comes prepared and does a lot of research,” Carlson said in her nomination. “She knows the district and understands every aspect of the district. She has also been honored by the Minnesota School Board Association for her service.” New board member Cory Spencer seconded the nomination. There were no other nominations and Berg was named chair. “Thank you for trusting me with that big job,” she said.
New member Jen Penzenstadler then nominated Jeff Lindeman for vice chair and there were no other nominations, and Lindeman was named vice chair.
The only contested position was the clerk, which was held by Dani Strenke, who also served her last meeting in December. Lindeman nominated Penzenstadler for the role and Carlson nominated Spencer. The dual nominations then required a majority vote to settle the position. Carlson, Berg and Josh Soderlund voted for Spencer while Lindeman voted for Penzenstadler.
Berg then nominated Carlson as treasurer, a position she has held for some time, and there were no other nominations, cementing her position.
Director of Business Services Robyn Vosberg-Torgerson took a minute to update the board on the district’s monthly financials.
Vosberg-Torgerson said revenues are matching exactly and expenditures are a little bit higher, and that’s because of construction and turf expenses brought into this year. “Food service is a little less than revenue than last year as there was more federal money then. And expenditures are a bit higher, but it’s still pretty good. Community Ed revenues are much higher with everything open and obviously expenditures a bit higher as well,” she explained. Vosberg-Torgerson also offered to sit down personally with any of the new board members for a crash course in school finances if they so choose.
The board proposed to add a monthly work session to their meeting schedule, meeting roughly a week before the regular meetings. “In the past, when we did two meetings a month, there were some agendas that were so light, we wondered what we were doing here,” Berg said. Soderlund suggested setting just three to five meetings in advance, and that way the board would potentially have a better idea of what is on the horizon. To see the full meeting schedule for 2023, visit the School Board section of the district’s website.
In the district’s legal business, the board unanimously agreed to designate official depositories, name the Chisago County Press as the legal newspaper and approve the mileage rate of 65.6 cents per mile. But approving the legal counsel was pulled out of the consent agenda in a motion by Lindeman. Five board members approved taking it out for discussion, with Carlson opposed
“We’ve used [Rupp, Anderson, Squires, Waldspurger and Mace (RASWM)] for pretty much everything,” Superintendent Dean Jennissen said.
Lindeman said he hoped that “RASWM needs to carry on with the projects they are working on, but I would like to see Maloney and Associates be more of our official legal counsel in our negotiations and for staff and those types of things.”
“I don’t disagree with you, but do we need to spell out what each law firm needs to do at this meeting?,” Berg asked. Berg said they needed to approve the law firms, and then as a board figure out what firm handles each business. Carlson said that’s why she was opposed to the motion. “I don’t think this was the place to separate it. I think if we want to talk more in depth, its’a great working session. What we list here is really open ended. I don’t think this is where we separate and do any limiting of any kind. If you read it, it lists both, and the list is open ended.”
Carlson continued, “If we feel like we want to be more specific, we can put that on an agenda in a meeting. We have three new board members that have no idea what we’re talking about and I think they need to be caught up with some of the information.
Lindeman did say he didn’t want to see RASWM gone completely. “I think if there’s cases that fit their strengths, I’d like to see them continue in those areas,” he said.
“I feel we need to give some background to discuss at a working meeting, and if we need to have a board vote to change what we’re doing, we can do that,” Berg added. Soderlund noted that he wasn’t prepared to make a decision on the legal counsel.
“It’s really up to Dean and Robyn. They’re driving the ship, so it’s at their discretion who and how we use legal counsel,” Spencer said. “We, as a board, can offer our opinions, but at the end of the day, [Dean and Robyn] are the professionals responsible for the operation of the district, and I don’t know if we should step in front of that. They live and breathe it every day, that’s their career. If they need an official motion to accept that language, I will make a motion to accept it as it’s stated here.”
Superintedent Jennissen followed up, “If we have a student situation that we need legal counsel on, I don’t want to be in a position that I have to reach out to the board to say, “Not sure what we have to do with that because the board has to let us know who to use,’” he said. “If we have a human resources issue, we don’t want to have to reach out to figure out who we can use. As admins, we need to be able to use our judgment and figure out who we’ll reach out to.”
Lindeman, though, had an issue with that Spencer’s wording in his motion. “Cory kind of brought us into a work session by saying what he said. Your motion gives full carte blanche to the admin to make the decision they want, and I would disagree with that. You didn’t want to make that decision tonight, but you have a motion on the floor to do exactly what we were going to try to do in a board session.”
Spencer responded, saying, “The motion that I made is that my understanding that all four of the law firms was going to be a consent pass, and you wanted it to be discussed, and we’ve now discussed that and I’m saying we approve it. I want to accept the district’s legal counsel on our agenda as it’s stated. I can read it for you if you’d like.”
“No, I can read it,” Lindeman responded. “The problem is you made a statement afterwards that’s really not part of your motion, but you kind of did a discussion part of your motion.” Spencer stated that it was listed on the sheet.
“Would it help to add that we want further board discussion at the end of the motion?” Berg asked. Lindeman decided he didn’t need that and to second Spencer’s motion of the stated language on the agenda, but with that understanding that the nuances are discussed in a future work session.
Director of Human Resources resigns
Darci Peckman-Krueger, the Director of Human Resources for the district, turned in her resignation after the December board meeting, and it was approved as part of the consent agenda in the January meeting.
She had been in her position since Heide Miller retired in late 2017, having served the district for more than a half decade.
Snow day consideration
The board changed the school calendar to assign a school day on Monday, February 20, which was previously a day off for the students and a working session for the teachers. Once the district is in a fourth snow day, it is required to make up time. That would give the district one more snow day in their pocket.
“Let's say it breaks awesome and we don’t have another snow day, we’d just end the school day one day earlier. There are still some issues stemming from a power outage that caused first graders to miss some time, but not kindergarten. “We're still working through that,” Jennissen said, noting that the snow day misses break down differently for the grades above kindergarten.
Jennissen also laid out a potential new e-learning plan in case of snow days. The plan would be presented to the board at the February meeting for discussion. “We believe we put together a plan that is the very best for our children but also our working professionals in our district that’s reasonable and doable for them as well,” he said.
Donations fund new softball press box
Chad and Jessica Johnson from The Northern Tavern and Grill and Mark and Heather Zaruba from First State Bank of Wyoming each donated $5,000 for the construction of a press box and seating above the home dugout at the varsity softball field. The Chisago Lakes Softball Booster Club also donated $2,500. “We’ve been trying for years to improve the softball complex, and we’re going to be putting a crows nest above the varsity dugout and have a more permanent structure to house some of our expensive equipment,” Spencer, who is an assistant with the softball program, said. “The Zarubas are a very giving family and Chad and Jessica own two different restaurants and are great as well.” The project will be fully paid for with no cost to the district.
“Those are very generous donations,” Berg added. Carlson, who is the head softball coach, abstained but was very thankful for the donations.
Search firm approved
The board universally agreed that using a search firm to bring superintendent candidates to the district was the right move. The board went with the Minnesota School Board Association, which is the primary resource for superintendent postings in Minnesota. The MSBA search cost will be up to $13,900.