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New Bemidji school board members find compromise at special board meeting

Bemidji school board members Anna Manecke, Dave Wall and Jenny Frenzel were sworn in to their four-year terms on Monday.

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Bemidji school board members discuss the organization of the board during a meeting on Monday, Jan. 9, 2023, at the district office board room.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer
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BEMIDJI — In any leadership role, compromise is an invaluable asset.

Such a concept was on full display at a special Bemidji Area Schools Board of Education meeting on Monday as new board members Anna Manecke, Dave Wall and Jenny Frenzel were sworn into their four-year terms.

Incumbent board member Ann Long Voelkner administered the oath of office to Manecke, Wall and Frenzel who earned seats during the Nov. 8 general election.

Of 23 candidates who filed, Manecke, Wall and Frenzel earned four-year positions on the board, with Manecke receiving 13.45% of the total votes, followed by Wall with 13.08% and Frenzel with 12.75%.

The three joined two-year members Justin Hoover and Julie Laitala who were already sworn in at a Dec. 19 regular board meeting and kicked off their tenures with the organization of the board.

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Filling roles

The board spent considerable time electing its chair and vice-chair for the year, for which Superintendent Jeremy Olson relayed a board policy that a board member must have at least two years of experience before being eligible to serve as board chair.

“We do have a process in place that has been in practice for the school board for around 25 years,” Olson said. “With our current practice, that means the only eligible candidate for election to the chair would be Ann with her (more than 20) years of experience on the board.”

Olson added that the requirements could be amended by a four-vote approval for which Hoover moved to remove the two-year requirement, which Manecke seconded.

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Anna Manecke reads the oath of office while being sworn into a four-year term on the Bemidji school board during a meeting on Monday, Jan. 9, 2023, at the district office board room.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer

“I personally think the policy should be changed, the reason being that it would eliminate (Laitala) or myself from being chair at any point in our terms,” Hoover said, adding that other qualified board members could also serve in the position.

Olson noted plans in the upcoming spring to revise board policies relating to the processes of the board, emphasizing the unusual board structure with five newcomers and one incumbent.

“We will need to look at changing this down the road,” Olson added. “Because of the special elections, (the current policy) is not sustainable.”

He added that these and other potential changes — including board chair rotation from year to year — were not presented to the board on Monday considering the new board’s first time meeting together. However, the proposed change was still up for a vote after some discussion.

Hoover, Manecke and Wall voted in favor of changing the board policy while Frenzel, Laitala and Long Voelkner voted against the proposed change. Having failed to accrue at least four votes, the two-year requirement is still in place.

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Dave Wall stands before being sworn into a four-year term on the Bemidji school board during a meeting on Monday, Jan. 9, 2023, at the district office board room.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer

Laitala nominated Long Voelkner to be board chair, but Laitala’s nomination didn’t receive a second. This left the board with Long Voelkner as acting chair until she could receive an official nomination.

Wall and Frenzel then received nominations for vice chair. Both received three votes with Wall, Hoover and Manecke voting for Wall. Meanwhile, Frenzel, Laitala and Long Voelkner voted for Frenzel.

With no vice chair either, Olson encouraged the board to reach a consensus and compromise for the sake of the district, keeping in mind that these positions switch over every year.

“I do not think it looks good publicly to be coming out divided. There are people in our community on all sides of the equation that are looking at us and saying we’re not going to move forward,” Olson said, “and I desperately want to prove them wrong.

“We have a lot of work to do in the district. We have an ambitious superintendent that wants to get stuff done, we have a great cabinet that wants to get things done and we need a board to help guide us with our vision. Right now, I’m thinking it’s kind of sad that we can’t get a chair and a vice chair in place.”

At this point, the board decided to nominate each other for chair and vice chair positions concurrently. Laitala nominated Long Voelkner for chair and Wall for vice chair, which Wall seconded.

Frenzel then nominated Long Voelkner for chair and herself for vice chair, though her nomination failed when nobody seconded her motion.

After more discussion, the board voted 4-2 for Long Voelkner to serve as board chair with Wall as vice chair with Frenzel and Hoover voting against the nomination.

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The board then unanimously approved Frenzel as clerk and Laitala as treasurer with District Business Director Krisi Fenner authorized to perform treasurer duties.

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Jenny Frenzel recites the oath of office while being sworn in to a four-year term on the Bemidji school board during a meeting on Monday, Jan. 9, 2023, at the district office board room.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer

The board went on to approve other organizational considerations, after which they took a short recess before an informal meeting with cabinet members to ask questions about their respective roles.

Prior to adjournment, Olson left off with some thoughts on the art of compromise.

“Sometimes people think that compromise is a lack of courage. It’s actually the opposite. Compromise is courage,” Olson said. “I was a little concerned at first, but I really thank you guys for the work you did and I’m really excited about this. We have a lot of good things to accomplish.”

The new board's first regular meeting is scheduled for Monday, Jan. 23, in the district board room.

Daltyn Lofstrom is a reporter at the Bemidji Pioneer focusing on education and community stories.
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