Baffled by failure of recent referendum, Pierz School Board decides to survey voters

By Lorae Vardas, Correspondent

Pierz School officials continue to look for answers in the aftermath of the failed 628 to 1,012 building referendum in May. Was it the cost? Open enrollment? The Trump effect? A negative letter that circulated days before the election? The six-member Board of Directors wants to know what’s out there, what triggered the decisive “no” vote.

“I set up a meeting with some officers of the Commercial Club to seek their opinion and ideas on what our next steps might be relative to our facilities’ needs,” Supt. George Weber told the School Board at the June 28 meeting.

“I also was able to set up a special meeting with the Pierz City Council to have that same conversation. And I discussed it also with the Community Education Advisory Board. All provided good input,” he said

The auditorium was a tough sell, he learned. There were a lot of new voter registrations. People who never come out for elections, voted. And they appear to be an empowered and somewhat angry electorate. Is that a new phenomenon since other recent Minnesota referendums failed at a 2:1 ratio, he asked.

“Would two or more questions make passage easier?” asked Board Member Rick Sczublewski. It’s worth talking about, Weber agreed, suggesting engaging the services of a professional organization to dig deeper into what aspects of the proposed referendum were not supported and what misgivings people had about the plan.

“My goals would be to see if we can find out enough about what would be supported in order to put forth a plan that has the best chance for success,” he said.

Voting on Weber’s recommendation, the Board unanimously decided to hire a company called School Perceptions at a base cost of $8,300 to conduct a post-referendum community survey with optional services available at an additional fee.

“I wasn’t sure I wanted to go with this at first,” Weber said, wary about the 18 percent response rate in other districts. “But I think there is value in the process.”

The survey could include a combination of on-site visits, phone calls, mailings and online links. The results would then have to be compiled and evaluated, which would be at least a three-month project.

The superintendent indicated nothing would happen before school starts in September, saying that there won’t be an administrative meeting until August. In addition, new legislation now requires community feedback as part of the Minnesota Commissioner of Education’s review/comment component regarding school building projects.

Meanwhile, Board Members Sczublewski, Joanne Broschofsky, Steve Boser, Dean Virnig, Colleen Seelen and Patty Stangl want to let the community know they are pursuing the need for a referendum that would warrant the public’s approval.

Pierz School Board Briefs

In other agenda items at the June 28 meeting, the Pierz School Board:

  • Thanked various entities for making donations of $50 to EPIC from Becker Screen Printing; $75 to Spanish Club from Pizza Ranch; $100 to Speech from anonymous; $2,500 for a wrestling coach from the Wrestling Club; and $4,500 for scholarships from Crow Wing Power;
  • Approved the amended 2016-17 fiscal year budget as presented by Business Manager Earl Athman, showing revenues of $13,681,337 and expenditures of $13,488,816. An increase of 57.2 weighted pupil units generated over $347,000 in new education money alone last year, he pointed out, turning a projected general fund deficit of almost $400,000 into a $103,000 increase. “For fiscal year 2018 we are projecting a loss of nearly $600,000 with the majority of the losses attributed to the planned new $750,000 high school roofing project,” he explained, in his last budget presentation. (Athman is retiring July 31 after 32 years as district business manager.) “We have the cash reserve on hand so we don’t have to borrow for the roof.” New long-term facilities maintenance (LTFM) funds will be used over the next few years to pay for the project and until state funding catches up with expenses it will show a deficit.

Without comment, the Board approved the proposed 2017-18 fiscal year revenue budget at $13,849,963 and the expenditure budget at $14,441,342 for a difference of about $591,000 due to the roofing project set for 2018;

  • Adopted the school district’s 10-year long-term facilities maintenance plan as presented by the business manager. Athman projected the district will have to invest upwards to $4 million in building upgrades over the next decade. Included are things like tile floor replacement, new windows at Healy High and roof work at Pioneer Elementary. The plan must be submitted annually to the state in order to receive long-term facilities maintenance funding;
  • Employed Billie Jo Kimman as special education teacher for the 2017-18 school year. Kimman has experience in the Pierz district having worked eight years as a practitioner and therapist providing mental health services to students through Greater Minnesota and Northern Pines clinics;
  • Hired 15 summer school employees/bus drivers as is customary this time of year;
  • Accepted the Q-Comp report as presented by committeeman Rich Teske. The report is mandated yearly by the Minnesota Department of Education dealing with teacher evaluations/development funding and student achievement, among other things;
  • Renewed the agreement with Climate Makers for air quality preventative maintenance measures at both the elementary and high school buildings in the amount of $21,602;
  • Renewed membership in the Minnesota Rural Educational Association, an organization that lobbies for out-state schools, at a cost of $2,336.
  • Approved property/casualty insurance premiums for 2017-18 in the amount of $63,114, and workers compensation insurance in the amount of $51,938, both with EMC Insurance Company. The latter is down about $10,000 based on a good safety record, Athman said;
  • Increased full-pay breakfast and lunch rates by five cents for the upcoming school year. Breakfast for students goes to $1.40. Lunch for pre-K through grade 6 will cost $2.20 per meal; students in grades 7-12 will pay $2.45 per meal. Milk remains unchanged at 45 cents per carton;
  • Accepted the lone bid from John Hunter in the amount of $2,100 for the 8-foot by 10-foot shed built as a class project;
  • Approved changes to Wellness Policy 533 as previously presented and are currently reviewing proposed changes to Unpaid Meal Charges Policy 534;
  • Approved the proposed improvements to the softball fields as presented so the north one meets varsity field standards. It also involves rebuilding the dugouts and fencing for the field that is part of the elementary school playground. An optional bid for irrigation, scoreboard and bleachers was not included for savings of about $18,000;
  • Approved a three-year agreement with IEA to provide health and safety management services through 2020 at a three percent increase annually beginning at $6,165 in 2017-18; and
  • Reviewed with Supt. George Weber a summary of recent legislative changes that affect school districts, including teacher licensure, uniform election dates, school building bond agriculture credit, E-Learning days, and a host of other mandates and report requirements.

The Pierz School Board next meets Wednesday, July 26 at 6 p.m. in the District Office Conference Room at the high school.


  • J. SKI

    Gee, Mr. Weber…I thought that a man in your position would know what “NO” means. Throwing taxpayer money for a survey is a waste of resources for what needs fixing, don’t you think?

  • MichaelP

    It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that people are tired of paying and paying and paying while government, local, state and federal continue to squander and waste the money that they already take from the people. The people aren’t some kind of bottomless ATM machine for bureaucrats and government run agencies. And since schools have been systemically dumbing down the population with revisionist history, the people already aren’t getting what they are paying for. It definitely takes some nerve to ask for more when the service provided is already substandard.