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Wrenshall School Board looks to leave lingering problems behind

The discussion was prompted by Superintendent Kimberly Belcastro telling the board she was entering the final year of her contract and if the board does not want to work with her, she would retire.

Wrenshall School File.jpg
Wrenshall School
Clint Austin / 2021 File / Duluth News Tribune
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WRENSHALL — Wrenshall School Board members discussed how they would like to move forward and start anew with the school year, during a board meeting Wednesday, Sept. 7.

The discussion was prompted by Superintendent Kimberly Belcastro telling the board she was entering the final year of her contract and if the board does not want to work with her, she would retire.

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

Belcastro said the district has been spending too much time trying to remove her from the position.

"I think it is a waste of people's time and money ... when my time needs to be spent working with our students and our staff and supporting them," she said.

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The discussion Wednesday was not the first time board members heard Belcastro's thoughts on her future, as Belcastro said she emailed them about the topic before the meeting. However, she said she and board Chair Misty Bergman thought the public needed to know.

Depending on what the school board wanted to do, Belcastro said she could retire Oct. 3, Dec. 31 or at the end of the school year.

"If I have a school board that doesn't want to work with me, I don't want to waste anybody's time," she said.

Belcastro added that when she sent the email out, there were three board members who spoke with her about wanting to see her stay longer.

Bergman said she was shocked by Belcastro's email.

"We're planning to work with you," she said. "So sending us an email about retirement was kind of a shock."

Bergman said district officials need to "act like adults" and work through the issues.

In the past year, officials have faced a variety of challenges, from a petition to remove an appointed board member and the subsequent reactions to it to a human rights complaint filed in the district, criticism from the public about school board conduct and recently firing the technology director.

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Board member Jack Eudy said he tried everything he could when he was board chair last year to get the board and superintendent on the same page. While working with the Minnesota School Boards Association, he said they recommended putting together a superintendent evaluation form. When it was introduced, Eudy said it was seen as the board trying to get rid of Belcastro.

"At that time we were not trying to get rid of anybody," he said. "We were trying to get everything unified and calm it down."

Board member Nicole Krisak said a new complaint form, which the board will vote on Monday, Sept. 12, is a good start at increasing transparency. The new form provides a clearer way for staff to make complaints in the district. All complaints will now go to the superintendent. Complaints against the superintendent will be sent to the school board chair.

Krisak outlined a few things that happened in the district: abuse of power, distrust of power, no one working together and teachers fighting with the school board.

"It's a two-way street, we have to work together," she said. "Let's move forward."

Krisak agreed with Bergman that receiving the email was shocking, and said she wants to work with Belcastro as the district moves forward. Furthermore, Krisak said the community has a right to know what is going on and the public shouldn't be kept in the dark about what happens with the board.

Board member Ben Johnson said the district has come so far and the board should chose to move forward and not rehash old problems.

"We have amazing buildings, incredible staff here and phenomenal students and it is time to celebrate that," he said. "I want to move forward and try to work together to try and make this a truly great district."

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No decisions were made at the meeting about Belcastro's future, but the board members who spoke on the issue said they wanted to move forward with Belcastro.

Enrollment, budget update

The discussion-based meeting also had a budget and levy update. The district's business manager, Angela Anderson, said the latest enrollment figures have the district at 352 students.

While higher than the 342 students projected in August, the latest enrollment numbers are still lower than the 356 students officials budgeted for.

"We need to really tighten our belts and keep our eyes on it," Anderson said.

Anderson said she will recommend setting the tax levy at the maximum and approving a final number during the district's December meeting.

Enrollment is still fluid, Belcastro said, and the district has received calls both from prospective students and students who may be leaving the district.

Board members were interested in having another budget committee meeting, which Belcastro said would be best to hold during the first week of October when enrollment has stabilized.

MORE FROM DYLAN SHERMAN:
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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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