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Wrenshall School Board certifies preliminary levy; residents seek more transparency

During the open forum portion of the meeting Monday, speakers requested more transparency and action on the district's budget.

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Wrenshall School Clint Austin / 2021 File / Duluth News Tribune
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WRENSHALL — The Wrenshall School Board certified its preliminary tax levy at the maximum during its regular meeting Monday, Sept. 12.

Superintendent Kimberly Belcastro explained to the board that this is the same thing they do every year, as preliminary levies can be lowered but not raised.

The levy amount is scheduled to be set in December, according to Belcastro, when the district has a clearer understanding of its enrollment, which has a big impact on the levy amount.

Belcastro said that since Wednesday, Sept. 7, there are two students interested in coming to the district. Should enrollment remain steady, and the students attend Wrenshall, it would bring the district up to 354 enrolled students, just two short of the budgeted 356.

While the board approved the levy, residents voiced some of concerns about the state of the budget during the meeting's open forum.

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Eric Ankrum, resident and school board candidate, told the board he wants to get rid of the doubt and uncertainty in the district. Ankrum referenced the previous meeting where the district's business manger said the budget was not in good shape.

"What does that mean?" Ankrum said. "How bad is it? What are we going to have to sacrifice if we don't get enrollment numbers up?"

Ankrum said he knows the board has more insight and providing the community with answers would get rid of the questions, guessing and rumors.

"When we hear a budget update at a meeting and it is just not well ... that leaves a lot of unanswered questions for us," he said. "And we would like to know."

Kristin Reinsch, resident and school board candidate, said she echoed Ankrum's statements and she didn't see a lot of conversations on the topic by the board.

"When I heard that the budget was in the state that it is and there are no thoughts other than scheduling a budget meeting, that makes me a little nervous," she said.

Board comments

Board member Cindy Bourn took time to address the public during the open forum about statements made by the superintendent during a previous meeting.

Belcastro told the board she was thinking about retiring sometime during the school year if the board was not willing to work with her.

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"I'm not going to spend the next year paying for attorney's fees to fight for my job," she said during the Sept. 7 meeting.

Wrenshall School Board looks to leave lingering problems behind

Bourn said she wanted to respond to the comments. Board Chair Misty Bergman clarified that Bourn's comments were not on behalf of the board.

"(Belcastro) indirectly accused the board of the turmoil," Bourn said. "For those who want me to stay silent because we are trying to be positive and looking forward, I just want to remind everybody that the Constitution's Bill of Rights, Article 6 gives all citizens the right to answer their accusers."

Bourn said the reason a student filed an Office of Human Rights complaint against the district was not the school board's fault as bullying is handled by school administration.

"It was (Belcastro's) mistake, not the board's," she said.

Following the attorney's recommendation to fire the technology director, Bourn said the board gave Belcastro a set of directives.

"We effectively handed you another year at Wrenshall," she said. "Your behavior last Wednesday was unacceptable, unprofessional ... and it cannot happen again."

There was no other discussion on the topic after Bourn's statement.

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Board member Jack Eudy shared his thoughts at the end of the meeting about comments made during a open forum Aug. 8.

Eudy said he took offense to comments made by district media specialist Chloe Swanson. The comments were ones made by Swanson about children in the community committing suicide because of actions made by the board, he said.

"I think that is very uncalled for, and I don't think that was appropriate," he said.

Swanson's comments centered around her experience in her role and as a member of the LGBTQ+ community in the district. She recounted being asked to suppress a book, "And Tango Makes Three" about two male penguins who raise a family together.

Wrenshall School officials optimistic despite community concerns

"Instead of spending my time creating a robust and exciting library media program, I was holding the hands of our LGBTQ+ students as they cried, contemplating suicide because of actions of leadership and the bullying of their peers," she said in August.

Other district business

The board had a long list of action items and approved a number of measures, including a new complaint form, a sports cooperative agreement with Carlton and the payment of a medical bill.

The complaint form was discussed during the previous meeting, where board member Nicole Krisak said it would allow for better transparency in the district. The new form clearly requires all complaints to be sent to the superintendent. If a complaint is made against the superintendent, it would be sent to the school board chair.

The board also approved an amended sports cooperative agreement with the Carlton School District. Krisak said the agreement is slightly different than the one Carlton already approved, but both districts are now on the same page on the agreement.

Finally, Belcastro brought up the issue of a medical bill. The family of a student who was injured in a fight on campus last March sought to have the medical expenses covered. Belcastro said after speaking with the district's legal counsel as well as the county, the school district is not responsible for the bill. However, when Belcastro spoke to Bergman about the bill, they decided to bring it to the full board to decide. The board agreed to pay the bill, which was $1,540.05.

This story was updated at 9:27 a.m. Sept. 14 with added information on the district's levy amount.  It was originally posted at 8:49 a.m. Sept. 14.

MORE FROM DYLAN SHERMAN:
A total of 106 residents signed a petition against Loving Earth Memorial Gardens, a new green cemetery located in Blackhoof Township.

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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