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Tensions Boil Over at Pine City School Board Meeting

Tensions boiling beneath the surface of the Pine City School District became apparent Monday night during the regular school board meeting.

After it was announced that Superintendent Paula Foley would not be returning for an extended contract, further staff resignations started becoming public. Those include High School Principal Troy Anderson, Business Manager Jill Nolan, Payroll and Benefits Clerk Janel Murphy, and District Administrative Assistant Jason Vinaja, who was later let go before his two-week notice was up.

Several speakers took to the podium to address the board about concerns they had during the public forum.

"Tonight I come to the school board with sadness in my heart," Danielle Davis said.

She was upset that another superintendent was leaving the district and talked about the stress from internal tensions being noticed by students. Davis asked the board to meet with Pine City students to hear their concerns.

"Everyone is stressed out in this school. The kids have reported they can feel the tension. There's gossip being spread about teachers leaving, major staff changes, and so much more. The kids are the people who will ultimately suffer in the end. I'm begging the board to save our school, save teachers, and save our superintendent, so we can keep the forward momentum going and restore the hope that many of these kids and many have had this year."

Community member Joel Hogberg raised concerns over the loss of staff in the district office and a lack of transparency from the school board. Hogberg was later cut short during his speech. He was asking about the temporary contract the board approved (in a 4 to 3 vote) for Superintendent Foley for additional services she would provide the district.

The board has a policy that comments made during public forum may refer to positions not people. While Hogberg did not mention Foley by name; however, Board Chair Dr. Lisa Nos-Tollefson and board member Dan Peterson felt the line of questioning was too specific to let continue.

Hogberg then sat down to a standing ovation some of the people in attendance. In response, Dr. Nos-Tollefson declared a 15-minute recess before continuing the meeting.

Former Administrative Assistant Jason Vinaja took time to address the room, where he read from a letter he sent to the board asking them to protect staff, students, and community.

"I am saddened to witness the continuous dismantling of our district... It wounds my soul to say, it is a sad day to be a dragon, but it doesn't have to be that way. The staff and community are looking to you, school board members, for humility, stability, and leadership."

Vinaja also received a standing ovation from the teachers gathered in the room following his speech.

Former board chair Wendy Leibel challenged the board to work together for the sake of the community.

"I ask you to think about the community as a whole, work together, and try not to divide or have sides moving forward. The decisions you make as a board will determine what Pine City Schools look like."

Following the public forum, Dr. Nos-Tollefson thanked those who spoke and that the board is hearing the words spoken.

Later in the meeting, the board discussed the process for hiring its fourth superintendent in five years. Members suggested things like surveys to gather broader community input on what they want from the position and including students and community members in the interview process.

It was also announced by Nate Fort that the district and teacher's union had reached a tentative agreement over their contract. The contract has been another sticking point for the district as it should've been finalized by the end of last year. According to Union President Jason Rademacher, the teachers still have to vote on the agreement before the school board can ratify it.

With upcoming meetings scheduled to finalize the teacher's contract, the board is expected to discuss the hiring process further in the future.

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