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Willmar School Board discusses policy on members working for the district

WILLMAR — It’s still unclear whether the Willmar School Board will adopt a new policy on allowing board members to work for the district.

Board members at their meeting this week discussed a proposed policy that would not allow board members to work for the district but took no action. State law does allow it, as long as a board member makes less than $8,000 a year.

Board Chairman Nathan Streed recently suggested that Willmar board members no longer work for the district.

Currently, board member Linda Mathiasen has a contract to do public relations work for the district and board member Dan Croonquist is authorized to work for the district as a substitute teacher. Board member Mike Reynolds has also worked as a substitute teacher. In the past board members have served as coaches, too.

Streed said he thought there was a great potential for conflict of interest with the current practices. His preferred policy would be, “If you serve on the board of education, you can’t work for the district.”

Reynolds said he did not support the change. The current policy allows the board to vote on board member employment, he said.

Working as a substitute teacher in the past has not affected his ability to negotiate a teacher contract, Reynolds added.

In smaller rural districts, board members often serve as coaches, subs or bus drivers. “But we’re not a tiny district,” Streed said. He said he has sensed some conflicts between board members’ different roles.

Board member Mike Carlson said he was conflicted about the proposed policy, which also places limits on board members’ spouses working for the district. “I don’t see anything bad about a spouse as a teacher,” he said.

The current policy “has worked in the past; however, times change, and maybe revisions are needed,” Carlson said.

The policy might not be needed if board communication was better, Mathiasen said.

“I personally feel we’re making a policy because we’re not having good conversations,” she said.

Board member Liz VanDerBill said she thought a new policy would speak to the people who voted for the board. “Hopefully, this would help voters to understand that we don’t have a conflict,” she said.

Croonquist said he wouldn’t support a change. “I think part of this is personal responsibility and integrity,” he said.

The board must approve board members’ work each year, he said, so a problem could be dealt with through a board vote.

“The fact this is coming up is a sign that we need to do more talking,” Carlson said.

Board members also discussed a proposed job description for a part-time communication coordinator for the district.

The person in that job would keep the public informed about events in the district and also build a social media presence for the district.

Superintendent Jerry Kjergaard said a communications coordinator would be able to help the district tell its story in many ways.

Carlson suggested broader communication “could tamp down the rumor mill in this district.”

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

(320) 214-4340