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4 things to know from Wrenshall's first School Board meeting of 2023

The district welcomed its new board members, and one returning member; shifted its leadership around and discussed how it should proceed after the superintendent's retirement.

Wrenshall School File.jpg
Wrenshall School.
Clint Austin / 2021 File / Duluth News Tribune
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WRENSHALL — Here are four things you need to know about after the Wrenshall School Board's first meeting of 2023, on Wednesday, Jan. 4.

New faces and changes to board leadership

Eric Ankrum and Mary Carlson joined the board and took their oaths of office during the meeting after being elected in November.

Board member Alice Kloepfer was also back on the board after having an extended absence since 2021. Her seat was temporarily filed by Ben Johnson, who ran for election and won a seat in his own right in November.

The Wrenshall community will have new leadership on the board after members voted for Nicole Krisak as chair and Carlson for vice chair.

With new leadership and new members, the board also discussed its committee assignments for the upcoming year.

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Carlson asked members to rank which committee they would like to be on, from one to seven, before assigning them based on the ranking.

Krisak would like each committee to have a lead person who can report to the full board during meetings, as well as the community, she said.

"So we are more on top of it, we are more transparent, more open to the public and community, and the school," she said.

The district has also added a grant writing committee, which Krisak said is something the district has been lacking. She added that the committee will also be open to the community to help the district with grant opportunities.

Board begins plans for life after Belcastro

With Superintendent Kimberly Belcastro announcing her retirement at the end of 2022, her last day was slated for Thursday, Jan. 5.

When she announced she was retiring, Belcastro said she would be willing to stay on part-time until the end of the school year if the board would like her to.

"I'm willing to do what would be best for the district," she said.

Johnson said with the district having a lot left to do, finalizing its construction projects and budget cuts, it would be a mistake to change the superintendent now. The board should start the process for finding a new superintendent as soon as possible, he added.

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Carlson echoed Johnson's comments and said she has heard from community members that they would like Belcastro to finish out her year at the district.

The board will vote on the issue at its next board meeting and will have different levels of options depending on how many hours they would like Belcastro to work.

If they decide to hire her on at 60% of full time again, it would save the district $3,000, as it would not be contributing to her benefit funds.

If they were to lower it to 50% or 40%, it would save the district $9,000 or $16,000 respectively.

No decisions were made yet as to what level the board would like to have Belcastro return for the remainder of the year.

"The second half of the year is going to be a lot, I am up to the challenge," Belcastro said.

Collaboration with Carlton

Related to the resignation, the board also discussed collaborating more with the Carlton school district.

Johnson said he has drafted a letter, which will be voted on by the board during its meeting Monday, Jan. 9, to send to the Carlton School Board about possible collaboration opportunities. Collaborating could help keep budget cuts as far away from the students as possible, he said.

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The board should have everything on the table, Belcastro said, from sharing a superintendent and administrators to sharing classes and facilities.

Belcastro added that she spoke with Carlton Superintendent John Engstrom before the meeting to let him know the district would send a letter and hear his thoughts about it.

"Hopefully the time is going to be right for some changes to start happening ... we had a really good conversation," she said.

Going with a new legal counsel

A presentation by representatives from Ratwik, Roszak & Maloney, based out of St. Paul, swayed the district to make the change to its legal counsel.

The new firm offers different tiers of billing based on the types of issues the district needs help with, Belcastro said, meaning simpler issues would not only have the firm's shareholders working for the district.

Belcastro said she was also impressed with their expertise in special education and that their point person from the firm was previously a teacher.

Board members expressed that they liked the extra services the new firm provides, including both free and paid trainings, newsletters and more.

Johnson said he thinks the district will be able to save a lot of money by using an associate or paralegal on some of the issues.

The district normally budgets roughly $20,000 a year for legal fees, but Belcastro said the total reached $70,000 during the past year.

Despite that, Belcastro said the district has a pretty clean slate heading into the new year on legal issues.

MORE FROM DYLAN SHERMAN:
The city of Carlton held a meeting to start the discussion on changes to the Carlton Ambulance Service and possibly increasing funding from the municipalities it serves.

Dylan covers the local governments of Cloquet and Carlton County, as well as the Esko and Wrenshall school boards for the Cloquet Pine Journal.
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