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School Board gets an "F"

Part of the overflow crowd at Monday's Blackduck school board meeting. The standing room audience filling the school media room was estimated at 80-90 people.

A contentious overflow crowd waited through the business part of the monthly Blackduck school board meeting Monday before verbally unloading on board members.

Particular criticism was directed at the growing split on the six-member board after two roll calls resulted in three-to-three tie votes. The votes showed the board even unable to agree on when to advertise for a new superintendent. This came after the current superintendent, Robert Doetsch, reminded the board he will leave on June 30th 2012.

A former board member, Bob Stroeng, spoke from the audience urging the board not to delay in seeking a replacement. Stroeng did not seek re-election a year ago and subsequently his wife was named to fill a vacancy.

Another former board member, Larry Zea, also urged action at this time. The delay was referred to repeatedly during the open comment period

No one member was singled out by name, but at least one of them had to be left uncomfortable by accusations voiced repeatedly during that part of the meeting, which was delayed from the usual spot near the start of the session.

Chairman Dale Compton, walking with the aid of a cane after his accident a week earlier, relinquished the chair to vice-chairman Grant Mistic. Moving through the agenda, the board acknowledged the success of the recent fall play and thanked those who performed or assisted in the production; noted the success of the box top program that yielded more than 18,000 box tops resulting in $1,654 shared by elementary classes for supplies; thanked the football and volleyball teams for their performance; expressed appreciation to the Bruce Clubb Trust for its donation to the Parker Scholarship and accepted the September and October treasurer's reports.

Bids for work on the Building Trades home were accepted from Crunden Electric and Nenson Plumbing and Heating and for sale of the building to Kevin and Connie Barsness for $39,000.

Before opening the comment part of the program, Mistic asked that speakers tell who they are and then be brief and be respectful, saying name-calling was out of order.

After a brief pause while everyone looked around, Betty Parker asked to be recognized. Parker taught English for 33 years before retiring from Blackduck schools.

In a short statement, she decried the action of a member of the board who, she said, in a public place in downtown Blackduck made a number of derogatory comments about the school at the same time newspapers in Duluth, Minneapolis and St. Paul are telling how good Blackduck students are doing.

Parker's remarks drew an enthusiastic round of applause. She was followed by Laura Woods, speaking for teachers who felt let down by board members. "Morale is down," she said, saying some members of the board have been using distorted figures in relating teacher salaries.

As Woods continued and Mistic suggested she had used up her time, Rick Olhava picked up where she'd left off, adding that teachers don't enter the profession to "get rich, but because we believe in what we're doing."

Jennifer Parker continued by relating her experience in producing the school's recent fall play, "The Little Shop of Horrors." In addition to her regular schedule, she told the board, "I spent another 718 hours and if you figure that out, it comes to $2.53 an hour. That's just a third of the minimum wage!" Like other coaches, as a drama coach she wasn't paid and didn't expect to be, for her personal expenses either, Parker added.

David Hentges brought up the forthcoming search for a new school superintendent. Referring to the two previous votes on advertising that had ended in a tie, he asked what provision there was for breaking a tie.

Doetsch said with an even-numbered board membership, there was no provision.

State law allows for six or seven member boards, he said later, but enlarging the board now might be difficult because of the even division. On both of the advertising motions, one to start now and one to delay for a month or two, members Compton, Stroeng and Randy Lange voted together as did Mistic, Rachel Larson and Cynthia Nord.

Other speakers included former member Zea and Jim Gorman who warned that if Blackduck were to lose the school, "the city is gone and the kids are the ones who get hurt."

Before the meeting adjourned and after an hour of discussion, former Blackduck councilman Kevin Beck addressed the standing room only crowd, the largest in any recent meeting. As a participant in city council and other organizations, he said, "there has to be some give and take. There has to be an ability to come to a consensus."

Beck pointed to the hard-line ideological impasses at both state and federal levels and to how this has hampered government from getting anything done. His message was a plea not to let that happen here.

After the meeting when asked how the meeting should be graded, one weary observer summed it up.

"If this were in school, I'd give them an F."