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Board has heated debate on building and grounds director job

Discussion was heated in the first Cloquet School Board meeting for newly elected board members Dave Battaglia and Dan Danielson, as board members debated whether or not to hire a new buildings and grounds director.

After tabling the decision during last month's school board meeting, board members once again discussed whether or not the district should hire a new buildings and grounds director. Former Buildings and Grounds Director Rob Carr finished working with the district Jan. 7 to take another job. Now, board members face the decision to once again fill the position or leave it empty and explore other options for the $70,000-plus cost of the buildings and grounds director's salary.

The board eventually voted 4-2 to not post the position, but only after much discussion. Superintendent Ken Scarbrough made it clear at the beginning where he stood in terms of the position.

"We do need to hire a buildings and grounds director," Scarbrough said.

The superintendent was pleased with the work that Carr had done while he held the position.

"He's coordinated grounds work, lots of time getting quotes in for jobs," Scarbrough said. "Those jobs ended up costing us a whole lot less. I think we've saved a lot of money in that area."

Not all of the board members shared Scarbrough's sentiment. Board member Jim Crowley was concerned that whoever holds the position gets bogged down with administrative duties such as paperwork, rather than helping the custodians complete tasks throughout the district's buildings.

"Both times we hired for this position, it was my opinion that we were hiring someone who was going to be hands on, working on stuff," Crowley said.

Board Chair Gary Huard said from talking with custodians, the district doesn't need a buildings and grounds director.

"We have four custodians who are paid a pretty good stipend for doing their job. I think from talking with them they are pretty comfortable doing those jobs," Huard said. "By talking to the custodians in this school district, they feel they can do most of this."

Board member Duane Buytaert does not think the district should leave the position unfilled.

"When I talked to staff at the buildings, I got the idea that our custodians are overwhelmed," Buytaert said. "I think the idea of adding all these administrative things [to the custodians' routine] would be silly."

He also added that without the position, things such as the recent renovations simply would not be coordinated as well as they were.

"I look at the dollar figures, I look at other districts our size or larger, I think it was a smart thing when Cloquet implemented the position. I don't think we could have done the $12 million in improvements without the director."

Eventually the discussion subsided, and board members decided to meet again to discuss what they wanted to see out of the position before posting the job opening. Members will come up with ideas of what they would like to see happen with the position, whether they would like to eliminate it all together or alter some of the duties done by the buildings and grounds director.

"What do you want to see out of that person? And however we fill this position it needs to be tailored to see what you want done," said Scarbrough.

"If you interview properly with the right set of qualities for an employee, you'll get the right person," said Buytaert.

Board members will take up the issue again at the next regular school board meeting on Jan. 24.

In other business, board members elected officers for the next year. Huard was voted in as school board chair, Buytaert was voted as the clerk and Sandy Crowley was voted as treasurer.

The "Adopt-a-School" list was also reviewed to reflect the new board members taking office. Buytaert will represent Washington Elementary, Sandy Crowley signed up for Churchill Elementary, Battaglia and Jim Crowley have the high school, Danielson took the middle school, and Huard will represent the Cloquet Area Alternative Education Programs.