Bemidji school board removes board chair rotation process, discusses capital projects
Summer projects, social studies and school board committees were among several topics of discussion for the Bemidji Area Schools Board of Education at its regular meeting on Monday.
BEMIDJI — Summer projects, social studies and school board committees were among several topics of discussion for the Bemidji Area Schools Board of Education at its regular meeting on Monday.
District Business Director Ashley Eastridge presented an overview of the district’s summer capital projects schedule, which details an estimated $1.8 million in projects funded by long-term facilities maintenance (LTFM) funds and operating capital.
“LTFM is a restricted funding source that is used for deferred capital expenditures and maintenance projects that prevent further erosion of facilities, increasing accessibility of school facilities and health and safety projects,” Eastridge said. “Operating capital is also a restricted funding source that is used for acquiring land, acquiring or constructing buildings or building improvements and energy efficiency improvements.”
Eastridge emphasized the evolving nature of the capital projects schedule, which changes on a regular basis.
“We start with our 10-year plan that ranks the priority of items to be considered. The 10-year plan incorporates a district-wide long-term schedule for roof replacement and parking lot seal coating and overlay as well as many other items,” she added. “Then, we reduce the projects to a more current window and assign a budget of approximately $2.2 million each fiscal year.
“In the short term, some projects are deferred and some new ones are added. For larger projects, we have split the cost over two fiscal years, augment the budget with operating capital reserves, incorporate grant funding or issue debt and pay over time.”
Among general projects are building improvements, new equipment, flooring replacement and upkeep of mechanical systems.
Eastridge noted specific projects include LED lighting improvements at Northern and Lincoln Elementary and at the Paul Bunyan Center.
“This will result in the district receiving energy efficiency rebates and reduced utility costs,” she said.
Other projects will include milling, repaving and seal coating roads and parking lots at Bemidji Middle School. Elevator cab repair and replacement at BMS and the district office will also take place.
Pending a meeting with the district’s facilities committee on Thursday, May 18, there’s also potential for the construction of a separate bus parking lot at Solway Elementary as a means to improve student safety.
The board did not take action on this agenda item.
From rotation to nomination
The board voted 5-1 to remove its current board chair rotation process in favor of a nomination-style procedure from the Minnesota School Boards Association.
Since its first meetings in January, the board has spent considerable time reorganizing and adjusting its procedures to reflect the make-up of the board with five newcomers and one incumbent.
Part of the adjustments was the removal of a board policy that requires a board member to have served for at least two years before being eligible to serve as board chair.
Some board members expressed concern over the fact that only one board member, incumbent Ann Long Voelkner, would be eligible to serve as chair through at least 2024 and could prevent other qualified board members from serving.
The two-year service requirement was struck down along with the rotation procedure, with all but Long Voelkner voting in favor of keeping the rule.
As the current board chair, Long Voelkner referred to the rotation process as an opportunity for board members to learn how to serve the board in different positions and to manage a meeting once it’s time for a board member to serve as chair.
“It’s been a fabulous opportunity … to move into the (chair) position without having to be reflective of a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ vote. I think that helps with the board culture to know that you are having an opportunity without having to run against someone,” Long Voelkner explained. “That’s why I have appreciated this opportunity all these years to listen, learn and work with a variety of people in leadership.”
Among more reorganization, the board unanimously approved adding long-range planning duties to the finance committee, which includes Long Voelkner and board members Julie Laitala and Dave Wall.
Superintendent Jeremy Olson said the recommendation could help the district look five years into the future whenever specific projects need funding.
“You can’t come up with a technology plan without having an idea of how we’re going to finance that plan,” Olson said. “The thought process is to incorporate that task, adding long-range planning, to the finance committee’s duties.”
The board also approved the creation of a policy committee, which includes Long Voelkner and board members Anna Manecke and Jenny Frenzel.
Board members serve on four other standing committees including curriculum, personnel, facilities and technology along with several special assignments.
After two school years of work, curriculum review committee members from Bemidji High School and Middle School presented a new social studies curriculum, which was unanimously adopted by the board.
“Sixth through 12th-grade social studies teachers representing our secondary schools reviewed and analyzed several social studies curriculums to determine the one that would best fit our district and most importantly, student needs,” District Curriculum Director Colleen Cardenuto said.
The social studies department met regularly to review resources, align their curriculum to upcoming social studies standards, pilot curriculum and attend a community comment night before presenting to the board.
The board also approved adding a full-time autism spectrum disorders teacher and a part-time learning disabilities teacher for next year due to projected caseloads in special education programs.
The full meeting can be viewed on the Bemidji Area Schools YouTube channel.
The next regular board meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. on Monday, June 26, in the district board room.