by Jim Boyle
The Elk River Area School approved its membership to the Minnesota School Board’s Association, but not before it was pulled from the consent agenda and a discussion ensued about the value of belonging to the MSBA.
School Board Member Gregg Peppin, who pulled the item, says he’s not so sure it’s worth the $15,000 annual membership fee it costs District 728 taxpayers. Among his concerns is that the organization is not as proactive as it should be.
After taking the pulse of the board in informal discussions, he agreed to vote for the membership with the knowledge that there would be a harder look and a more robust discussion about it.
“There’s a belief that it’s valuable in some ways, and maybe they could step it up in other ways,” Peppin said of his informal findings.
The School Board member said he did attend the MSBA convention and did find a little bit of value, picking up thing or two.
Fellow School Board members were receptive to taking a harder look for next year.
“For purposes of this year and this vote, I am going to trust but verify,” Peppin said.
When it comes time to decide next time around, he may make a different motion.
The School Board voted 6-0 to extend its membership for the 2017-18 school year. Board Director Joel Nelson was absent.
School Board Chairman Shane Steinbrecher said when the School Board and district administrators prepare for next year’s budget, the board should look at its MSBA membership along with its memberships to Schools for Equity in Education and the Association of Metropolitan School Districts.
“Let’s see who we align with and what values we have,” Steinbrecher said. “This discussion, in my opinion, should come prior to setting a budget.”
No one disagreed with that tact. Board members and administrators did, however, raise a variety of issues to consider. They also talked about some of the services the organization offers, like training, master agreement analysis during contract negotiations that have been valuable to board members and district administrators.
School Board Member Holly Thompson noted the school district heavily uses the MSBA for training, adding School Board members are required to take two levels of training and that a chairperson and treasurer are also required to do additional training. She said it would be good to know how much it costs for that as a member versus a non-member.
School Board Vice Chairwoman Jamie Plantenberg-Selbitschka said it would also be good to peruse the MSBA website because there is more there than what members currently access.
“I do think there are resourceful things out there,” she said. “We just get bogged down, so we should make a point of looking there. I think we would find value.”
Superintendent Dan Bittman said he would be sure to bring information to the board to help them in their discussions.
He said, from an administrative standpoint, the MSBA is the only state organization to support and work with board members. It provides board development and model policies as well as legal teams that help keep districts current in statute and as cases are being decided around the state.
“I think the question is a good one to ask and learn about what services they offer,” Bittman said. “We can also offer to have someone come out from MSBA if we have further questions.”