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Haack officially joins Bemidji school board

Three members of the Bemidji school board were sworn into office Monday evening by Beltrami County District Judge Paul Benshoof. Returning to the school board for another four-year term were, from left, John Pugleasa and Ann Long Voelkner, while Jeff Haack began his first term in office. After the official oath, Pugleasa also was elected the new chairman of the board, replacing Long Voelkner, who served as chairwoman throughout 2012. Bethany Wesley | Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI – A new-look school board gelled here Monday evening as the six-member board welcomed its newest member.

Jeff Haack was sworn into his first four-year term in office as Ann Long Voelkner and John Pugleasa were both sworn in for additional four-year terms.

Long Voelkner has served on the board for 12 years, Pugleasa for eight.

Just a few minutes into the meeting, Long Voelkner completed her stint as board chairwoman, passing the gavel on to Pugleasa.

The school board, Long Voelkner explained, rotates the chairman position among its members on an annual basis.

“We believe it is important that everyone share in the opportunity of leadership,” she said.

“I think it’s a healthy thing for a board to rotate the responsibility of leadership,” Pugleasa said. “I’m honored to do that for 2013.”

Monday marked the school board’s first meeting of 2013, which prompted a variety of organizational requirements, such as establishing a regular meeting date and time: 6:30 p.m. on the third Monday of each month, unless that date is a holiday.

For the first time since 2006, school board members also gave themselves a slight raise.

School board members receive a flat monthly salary no matter how many regular or committee meetings they attend that month.

Compensation has been set at $450 a month since 2006, said Superintendent Jim Hess. He suggested, and the board agreed, to up that figure to $475 a month.

“I think that additional $25 a month is recognition of the passionate work that school board members put in every month, whether it be speaking with folks as they go grocery shopping or hearing from folks as they call,” Long Voelkner said, noting that school board members constantly are learning about the district and its operation.

Hess noted that Bemidji school board members are not compensated as well as those representing districts of similar size.

“And I know your job is equally as difficult and sometimes even more challenging,” Hess said.

In a related vote, the school board voted to increase the annual payment to its chairman from $600 a year to $625 a year.

The chairman, Hess explained, has extra responsibilities, including meeting monthly with staff to help establish the school board meeting agendas.