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‘We all have skin in the game’

Board members comment on public input

Charles Crane/MDN Minot Public Schools board member Sabrina Herrmann, center, comments on recent public input sessions during the regular board meeting at the Minot Area Workforce Academy Thursday. Laura Dokken, business manager, is at left, and Mitch Kraft, board member, is at right.

During the regular Minot Public Schools board meeting on Thursday, board members responded to some comments and concerns shared at recent meetings held at Bell and McKinley Elementary schools regarding their potential closure.

Board member Sabrina Herrmann said she was touched that so many showed up for the meetings to have their say, but she was disappointed in a perception expressed at the meetings that board members “don’t ask the questions we need to ask.”

“This isn’t a ‘gotcha’ moment for any of the people working in administration. We ask a lot of questions behind the scenes because they need to dig into information, and I’m not going to lie, when they come back with information I probably have four more questions to ask,” Herrmann said. “We do ask questions. Just because they aren’t done necessarily in this forum doesn’t mean we aren’t getting good information. Rest assured that we are asking the right questions that help us make the best decisions that we can.”

Herrmann said the McKinley meeting was especially difficult for her as her home is near the school, and her own children attended there when they were young.

“This definitely isn’t easy for us. We get why it’s special. We understand. I think all of us have skin in the game. If you are a community member of Minot, you do have skin in the game,” Herrmann said. “Everybody sitting up here really wants to do the best thing that we can collectively, and it’s not going to be the best thing for everyone. We know that.”

Herrmann pushed back against a perception that new spaces in the district such as the Minot Area Workforce Academy and the Minot North Campus are to blame for the district’s current predicament and defended the large percentage of the budget devoted to staff salaries, saying the board needed to “retain and maintain” the teachers and support staff and to create spaces and resources to keep students in school as they progress into high school.

Board member Bonnie Berryman spoke to respond to specific comments at the meetings related to the low voter turnout during the referendum vote in 2021.

“It was brought up that not very many people showed up to vote. That’s not our fault. We’re happy that it passed, but if people stayed home and didn’t vote no, then they shouldn’t complain. Because you should have come in and voted no if you didn’t want your taxes raised,” Berryman said. “The man that spoke about the state Legislature only really has three jobs: the medical school at UND, the state hospital for the mentally ill and educating kids. That Bank of North Dakota, which is connected to the Legislature, is booming or has tons of money they aren’t giving us. If you want to gripe at somebody, maybe they should go there.”

Board member Mitch Kraft then asked district Business Manager Laura Dokken for an explanation of the estimated savings for closing the schools, which she said would save $220,893 through transitioning staff to vacancies created by retirements and resignations at other elementary schools. Staff payroll accounts for 87% of the district’s budget.

“A lot of that is hard to know until the doors open up and we start learning things. But I can tell that one thing we are really looking at is that natural attrition,” Dokken said. “We want to try and reduce our payroll by taking current staff and transitioning them into other positions.”

Herrmann also raised the option of pursuing a referendum to create more dollars through the general fund to offset the costs associated with the aging buildings in the districts, including several built in the 1970s.

The date for the board meeting regarding a decision whether to close the schools will be announced soon.

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