May 23, 2019
Ely, 2142 talk collaboration
Superintendent search pauses as board considers new alternative
by Tom Coombe of the Ely Echo
Ely school officials are interested in exploring a proposal to collaborate with the neighboring St. Louis County School District 2142, especially if the alliance creates a major new source of revenue for an expansive facilities project. On the heels of an informal meeting with county school officials, the Ely board voted 5-0 Monday to "engage in discussions with 2142 for all possible collaborative measures," which include potentially sharing a superintendent.
The proposal, first floated by an influential Iron Range lobbyist and political figure in late-April, appears to put two other key issues - the search for a new superintendent and plans for a possible $17 million facilities project - on hold. But longtime board chairman Ray Marsnik, who joined superintendent Kevin Abrahamson for the initial meeting with 2142 officials, argued that it's critical to pursue potential collaborative measures, while maintaining that the Ely district would retain its independence.
"This could be the first step in obtaining some IRRRB funding for our facilities project," said Marsnik.
The board's newest member, Tony Colarich, agreed and pressed for the district to delay hiring a new superintendent until the collaboration concept is explored. The rest of the board, minus the absent Heidi Mann, went along, but Rochelle Sjoberg and James Pointer had more questions about how a collaborative effort might work.
Sjoberg amended an original motion by Colarich, which specifically identified the possibility of sharing a superintendent. "I don't want to circle around to it being only the superintendent," she said.
Earlier this month, board members interviewed four finalists for a part-time superintendent position, but there appeared to be little sentiment in moving forward until the collaboration idea was further explored. The board has since scheduled a special meeting, set for Monday, to address the possibility of extending the contract of outgoing superintendent Kevin Abrahamson, who is scheduled to step down June 30. Abrahamson has voiced some interest in staying on, at least temporarily, as the board weighs its options.
"Is it a month? Three months? Six months?" Abrahamson asked the board. "There would have to be some parameters for me to give and answer. There has to be a finite point (but) I would be willing to assist and help."
A potential marriage?
One of the lingering questions at Monday's meeting was the nature of possible collaboration between the Ely district and 2142, which operates several rural schools, including those at Babbitt and Tower.
Marsnik and Abrahamson met with 2142 Board Chair Dan Manick and Superintendent Reggie Engebritson nearly two weeks ago, and Marsnik indicated "they are receptive to the idea and want to look at the possibility of perusing it further."
The idea was first presented last month by Gary Cerkvenik, a longtime Iron Range lobbyist and political operative, who argued that collaboration would provide a route for Ely to tap into a school funding initiative controlled by the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board. Ely could get millions of dollars to offset part of a school building initiative, but the money comes with strings - most notably collaboration among districts. County commissioner Paul McDonald and former Elyite, former Congressional aide and current lobbyist Jeff Anderson also endorsed the concept. Talks have initially centered on sharing a superintendent, but Marsnik said the districts will likely have to take other steps to qualify for funding.
"The major aspect of our discussion was how do we work together to expand educational opportunities in both districts," said Marsnik. "Simply sharing a superintendent isn't going to cut it."
Board member Tom Omerza agreed and added, "It has to be for the good of the kids - not just administrative."
Earlier in the meeting, Ely faculty member Krista Moyer shared several ideas for collaboration that she gleaned from fellow teachers. Among them were the creation of a summer reading clinic for students with dyslexia, further professional development to help improve reading scores in the primary elementary grades, and collaboration to provide more services in gifted and talented education.
Board members and Abrahamson were largely supportive of the concepts.
"All previous collaborations have been top-down," said Abrahamson. "I think we could do both. We could also do some bottom-up and make this something that could be the first of its kind in the area."
Yet the nature of any collaboration related to curriculum or other school services remains speculative, and board members in Ely said they were interested in sitting down - as a group - with the 2142 board. Sharing a superintendent also seems to be a key cog in any collaborative agreement, but some on the board said they wanted more information and assurances about how any setup would work.
Engebritson already serves as superintendent of the Mt. Iron-Buhl district as part of a similar collaborative agreement, and some Ely officials questioned whether she could absorb the administrative leadership of another district. Marsnik said one of the concepts being explored was the possibility of 2142 hiring an assistant superintendent - perhaps retired Mt. Iron-Buhl superintendent John Klarich - to take on duties in Ely and perhaps other work at Babbitt and Tower.
Amid the uncertainty, elementary principal Anne Oelke asked the board to move quickly to ensure the district had leadership once Abrahamson departs.
"We need somebody directing the ship," said Oelke. "Or else Megan (Anderson, high school principal) and I will be drowning trying to survive."
Colarich, who has been outspoken in support of exploring collaboration and the possibility of school funding, suggested that the board look further at the concept before taking any action on the candidacies of finalists Beth Zietz, Kevin Ricke, Steve Thomas and Bruce Houck.
"At that point, if we're not confident, we could go back to a .6 (superintendent) with the four we interviewed," said Colarich.
Dedicated Lake Vermilion lovers celebrate 40 years of trips coming north
Ed Olson, who lives in Eagan, Minn., spoke fondly of trips to Lake Vermilion with his dad when they portaged into Trout Lake and Pine Lake looking for the elusive lake trout. He fell in love with the area and took his wife north for some memorable fishing trips. Forty years ago, Ed along with John Kowalsky, Russ Wanka, Larry Hanson, John Malinski, Dennis Furlong, Rick Christensen, Chuck Dougherty and Tom Foley came north and stayed at the Red Loon Lodge. The Coca-Cola bunch switched to Muskego Point in 1999 and have been there since. Red Loon closed back then. That was the start a long tradition. The tradition continued this past weekend when the group made their 40th trip to Vermilion. They were all smiles when interviewed last Saturday morning before possibly going fishing. Bacon was frying along with eggs, pancakes and waffles.
Over the years, there have been many father/son duos making the trip and becoming part of the tradition. Those coming are told to not look for a Hilton up here. They would be sleeping in the Balsam, Evergreens, Conifer, Tamarack and Windswept cabins. Their menu is all set with Vermilion Cheeseburgers and Brats on Friday, a Fisherman's Breakfast on Saturday and Sunday, "Grill Your Own Steaks" Saturday night, plus snacks between meals. The steak fry is the big event.
General overseer Ed Olson has this organized like a military campaign with everyone getting specific duties. They use 14 boats and two pontoons for fishing. The trip used to be for the opening of fishing, but in 2015 they changed it to the next weekend.
The fishing adventure starts on the trip north. Their first stop is in Pine City for lunch at Nicolls Cafe. They would then stop in Cloquet at Lemon Tree Liquors, which is now closed. When they get to Virginia, they stop at the Sawmill. Their final stop before the resort is at the Old Muni in Cook. Yes, they enjoy the trip, but they do stay sober.
Ed said he assigns the duties and then they "have fun and get to know everyone." They are all given special caps for the trip, with the logo designed by Josh Olson, Ed's son, and it is neat. The group does have a fishing contest with all participants paying $10, and those catching the largest northern and walleye are the winners.
When asked if they catch many fish, Ed said they aren't really crazy anglers, they just want to have fun on this great lake, enjoy the camaraderie of meeting old friends, and enjoy the north.
They do take time to remember those who aren't making the trip and have passed on. There are 17 listed in a very complete booklet that all of those on the trip get. Over the years there have been 123 fishermen enjoying this trip. There have been five father/son combinations. To be part of the group, you have to be 21 years of age or older. This annual trip started in May 1979 and the largest number of participants was at the 25th anniversary trip in 2004 when 35 attended.
It was great to see these old friends at breakfast, remembering old stories and just enjoying being in the great North Woods of Minnesota on the state's most beautiful lake.
Muskego Point owners Jennifer and Joe Stanaway do a great job taking care of this special group. They make the resort a warm home for the weekend.
CLWSD board leaves proposed Visitor Center Special Assessments with Township.... for now
A request by the Crane Lake Township board to the Crane Lake Water and Sanitary District board was the main topic at the regular meeting on Wednesday, May 1, at 6 p.m,. in the Crane Lake Chapel Fellowship Hall. The township requested that the Special Assessments for the proposed Visitors Center be forgiven. A motion to leave the assessments with the township failed due to lack of a second. Another motion was made to leave the assessments with the township unless they could provide a compelling reason to have them forgiven and then it was withdrawn. At the end of the meeting, Deena Congdon suggested that the township could defer payment of the Special Assessments until the township was able to realize an income from the RV park.
Under the Joint Powers Board, it was reported that the district could get $600,000 from state and federal grant funding, but the Legislature has to act. Ash River could receive $850,000.
At the start of the meeting, Chairman Rob Scott offered condolences to the family of Marge Rutchasky, who passed away recently.
The meeting adjourned at 7:40 p.m.
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