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Wrenshall School Board votes to move forward with principal's contract negotiation

A special Wrenshall School Board meeting resulted in the board making a motion to move forward with negotiating a contract for the district's principal.

Wrenshall School File.jpg
Wrenshall School Clint Austin / 2021 File / Duluth News Tribune
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WRENSHALL — The Wrenshall School Board voted unanimously to move forward with negotiating a new one-year contract for Principal Michelle Blanchard, during a special meeting Tuesday, June 7, that had over 40 people in attendance.

The board, after direction from its legal counsel, decided on the option as its alternatives were doing nothing, extending the current contract going into next year, or voting to terminate the contract.

052021.N.PJ.WrenshallPrincipal
Michelle Blanchard
Contributed / Michelle Blanchard

Attorney John Edison explained to the board that by state statute, a decision needed to be made before July 1, and he would like to see any new contract before it was formally approved by the board.

Edison said his understanding of the statute meant that the probationary period for the position was three years, so after that point a continuing or tenured contract would be required.

While Blanchard was not in attendance at the meeting, Superintendent Kimberly Belcastro said she had spoken with her and that she was interested in coming back even if it was only for one year.

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Board Chair Misty Bergman clarified the board's decision to initially postpone the vote was not about Blanchard but about the evaluation of the position as a whole since it was the first year it existed.

Bergman added that with the pandemic and disciplinary issues the district faced at the beginning of the year, she wasn't sure if it was a good year to evaluate the position.

"It's not about Michelle (Blanchard) as a person, it is about the principal position we created last year," she said.

Another aspect Bergman touched on was whether the district's budget would allow officials to keep it.

"We want to make sure we can afford it," she said.

The decision came after a public evaluation was held for Blanchard, at her request, where the school board gave lots of praise for the principal's job so far, but decided to postpone negotiations for her contract.

During the May 24 meeting, board member Nicole Krisak asked why the board would want to postpone the negotiations when no one had anything negative to say.

Board member Jack Eudy made the motion to postpone negotiations, which were scheduled for the following day, saying that they were not going to be at the right time. He added that it did not mean the negotiations would not happen, just that the board was postponing them.

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Eudy made the motion during Tuesday's meeting to move forward with contract negotiations and said the board needs to make sure they support Blanchard well in the position.

"I see value in Michelle (Blanchard), I see loyalty," he said. "I have faith in her that she can do a good job."

As negotiations begin for Blanchard's contract, the board's next regular meeting is scheduled for Monday, June 13.

The special meeting also included two closed sessions for the board to discuss allegations against two employees. The back-to-back closed sessions lasted roughly three hours.

After the board came back from closed session, a motion was adopted unanimously to proceed with what the board discussed during the closed session. No explanation was given to the public about what was discussed.

Bergman said, after consultation with legal counsel, the board is not able to share any specific details from the two closed sessions.

"The specific information discussed is considered private personnel data pursuant to Minnesota Statutes section 13.43," she said.

This story was updated at 1:35 p.m. June 8 with more information from Wrenshall School Board Chair Misty Bergman. It was originally posted at 11:40 a.m June 8.

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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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