A decision by the Wrenshall School Board to appoint a new member who has no experience on the board has met resistance from community members.
During its meeting Aug. 16, the board appointed Bill Dian to fill a vacancy on the board. The opening was created when former board chair Michelle Blanchard left her position to become principal of Wrenshall School.
Dian has not served on the Wrenshall School Board in the past, and the appointment went directly against a recommendation made by Superintendent Kim Belcastro during the July 28 meeting.
With Wrenshall’s nearly $13 million health and safety improvement renovations ongoing, Belcastro recommended the board appoint someone with more than one year of experience to fill the remaining year and a half on Blanchard’s term.
“I really feel it’s important, if possible, that the board appoint somebody that has school board experience," Belcastro said. "Because we really need somebody that can hit the ground running and be able to be with us through all of this work that we’re doing.”
Janaki Fisher-Merritt, who served on the school board for four terms, and Ben Johnson, who had no school board experience, were the other two applicants besides Dian.
The board selected Dian, who moved to Wrenshall about a year ago after spending the last 15 years in the Brainerd area.
The decision sparked a controversy within the community, with Carla Gamradt and others circulating a petition to reject the board’s appointment because of the process leading to Dian’s selection.
“The board selected a candidate who was interviewed privately by the board chair and a few school board members rather than holding a public interview process or even a discussion of candidate qualifications and experience,” the petition reads.
Minnesota statute allows the public to reject an appointment by the board. The petition must be signed by 5% of the total number of voters who cast ballots in the district in the most recent state general election within 30 days of the appointment. The Wrenshall petition needs 164 signatures by Sept. 15 to be valid.
Gamradt, a Wrenshall resident, said her opposition isn’t about Dian personally, but rather about the opaque nature of his selection.
“I’m just upset about the process,” she said.
The Unite Wrenshall page, which was originally dedicated to helping pass a referendum to make improvements at the school, claims 123 people have signed the petition with more scheduled to sign this week. The school district clerk must verify the signatures before Dian’s appointment could be rejected.
Dian said he talked with board chair Jack Eudy about consolidation with Carlton School District and “different things” related to the district. Eudy suggested Dian apply for the position, according to Dian.
After submitting his application and attending a few meetings, Dian said he was in Brainerd visiting friends when he learned about the appointment. He also said there was no interview for the board appointment.
Belcastro confirmed the school board did not interview any candidates before selecting Dian.
“There were three people that applied to be appointed, and I went to all the meetings and I never saw them,” Dian said. “I also was on the five-year plan for the school and was involved with that and they weren’t — that I know, anyway. I felt that because of that I probably had a very, very good chance of becoming a school board member.”
Dian said he asked Eudy about the enrollment numbers at Wrenshall and the industrial arts program in the district, but couldn’t remember all of the issues he inquired about. Dian dismissed the petition as a political game community members are playing because he is a supporter of former President Donald Trump.
If the petition to block his appointment is successful, Dian said that won’t stop his involvement with the Wrenshall School Board.
“I’ll be a voice. I’ll be at every meeting, believe me,” he said. “I have other things that need to be talked about at the board that have nothing to do with me ... I’m all about the kids — I’m not about these games of getting signatures and all that. I can do exactly what I need to do by not being on the board and that’s fighting for the kids and making sure they get a good education — that’s what it’s all about.”
Dian would not specify what other priorities he plans to bring up at future school board meetings.
When the Pine Journal reached Eudy by phone, he hung up.