MAPS staffing issues, possible reductions, dominate School Board meeting
Tina L. Scott
The Merrill Area Public Schools (MAPS) School Board meeting on Dec. 16 kicked off with the Board hearing from the public. Tom Andreska, Kasie Holt, Lisa Hass, and Penny Zajackowski all spoke in support of Washington School Principal, Trisha Detert, who, according to the speakers, had received a layoff notice the previous Friday.
Andreska, a longtime MAPS teacher and substitute, cited Washington School’s reputation of excellence and high student scores and said, “… The school performing the best [in the district] is losing their principal, and that, to me, doesn’t make sense.”
Holt, a school counselor at Merrill High School (MHS), spoke of Detert in glowing terms and then summarized what those speaking on Detert’s behalf were asking: “I hope that Trisha’s layoff notice can be reconsidered.”
Hass, who has been a teacher in the MAPS district for 22 years and currently teaches fourth grade at Washington School, spoke at length about Detert’s commitment to education and students, saying. “Every day I learn from her the importance of keeping students at the center of everything we do.” Hass went on to describe Detert’s qualifications as an administrator as “impeccable” and shared that Detert’s last two summative evaluations had both been “rated as distinguished.”
“Trisha is the most veteran elementary principal and one of the most veteran administrators in the district, which is why many seek her out for both guidance and advice,” Hass said. “Her experience and leadership skills are especially important as we are preparing for the transition from three elementary schools to the two grade-specific schools that we will have next year.” Hass called upon the Board to “carefully consider the decision you will make tonight.”
“Trisha is an asset to our district that we cannot afford to lose,” Hass said. “Our district is at a critical time as we prepare for the future; there is no one better to help lead elementary through this transition than Trisha Detert.”
Zajackowski, parent of a Washington-school student, spoke to how Detert goes the extra mile for students, like she did for Zajackowk’s daughter with regard to an ongoing medical condition, bussing issues, and communication between her family and the school. Zajackowski also urged the Board to reconsider and to keep Detert in the MAPS district.
Marcy Cordova, MAPS Library Technology Specialist, then spoke in support of Keshia Mashak, current Director of Technology Integration for MAPS, and talked about all that Mashak has contributed to the MAPS district, in particular focusing on how her contributions laid the groundwork for the district’s current ability to teach virtually, how she prepared teachers and staff, and how she put vital contingency plans into place. “She’s always thinking ahead,” Cordova said of Mashak. “Tech is not an afterthought. In some districts it is.”
Cordova spoke in support of Mashak in anticipation of the Board’s Agenda item: “Reduction of Central Office Administrative Position – Director of Technology Integration” being considered later in the meeting.
Later, the Board more directly addressed the two elephants in the room: the potential elimination of Trisha Detert and Keshia Mashak from their respective roles.
Jeremy Ratliff, Board Member, said this was the part of being a Board member he disliked the most.
When he ran for School Board, Ratliff said, “My biggest goal was to retain quality staff. … Unfortunately, our school district [enrollment] has been dwindling quite quickly … and like our households, we [as a school district] have to live within our means.”
“My heart goes out to everyone affected by this decision,” Ratliff said. “I do not take this decision lightly. In fact, I take it very heavily.”
Ron Liberty, another MAPS Board Member, added that the employees in question were doing a wonderful job, but said, “We have to make some cuts, someplace. It is a tough decision.”
Later in the meeting, the Board voted to reduce/eliminate the Central Office Administrative Position of Director of Technology Integration, and thus the person who occupied that position, Keshia Mashek, would lose her job with the district. The motion to reduce the position was made by Jon Smith, Treasurer and Board Member; seconded by Liberty; and passed unanimously.
Discussion and decisions pertaining to “the validity of an individual teacher contract,” “preliminary consideration of non-renewal of employment for renewal/non-renewal of two administrators,” and other personnel matters including evaluations and consideration of contract extensions, was taken into Closed Session at the conclusion of the public meeting portion of the MAPS School Board meeting.
The motion to adjourn into executive (closed) session was made by Board Member Kendra Osness, seconded by Board Member and Vice President, Maria Volps, and passed unanimously.
Also related to MAPS personnel issues, it was reported that no acceptable candidates for the Middle School Special Education position were received as of the Board meeting, so the position was being reposted.
School referendum in the works-
Board Member Brett Woller made a motion to consider a proposal from School Perceptions for referendum planning services. The motion was seconded by Liberty. Discussion about whether any other bids were being considered ensued, with Ratliff noting, “I’m a big fan of options.”
Dr. Sample indicated that because the estimate was under $10,000 and the district has had success with using School Perceptions for the last referendum, the district did not seek other bids. School Perceptions was cited as having a success rate in the high 80%/low90% for getting their proposed referendums passed. Board members clarified that School Perceptions can provide and conduct the surveys, analysis, and marketing necessary and then provide careful wording of a referendum that has a high success rate, so the district doesn’t put forth a referendum that is destined to fail. Following the discussion, the motion to move forward with School Perceptions was carried unanimously.
Recognition and thanks
Ryan Martinovici, Principal at Prairie River Middle School, also spoke during the public comments portion of the meeting to “publicly recognize our Secret Santa.” Martinovici said an anonymous individual has “for at least seven years … donated to our school to help those most in need.” This year that donation was $2,000, Martinovici said. “I just want to publicly thank our Secret Santa, who seems to come through for us every year for our Merrill kids.”
The Board recognized MAPS students who placed in the VFW’s Voice of Democracy/Patriot’s Pen essay competition for students in grades 6-8. This year’s theme was, “What is Patriotism to Me?” Maria Malinowski took 5th place, Robin Schmidt took 6th place, and, Blake Wendt placed 10th. The Voice of Democracy audio essay competition for students in grades 9-12 focused on the theme, “Is this the Country the Founders Envisioned?” Six MAPS students placed in the competition: Jackson DeJong took 2nd place, Caleb Norton took 3rd place, Kaitlyn Krug took 4th place, Nicole Zoellner took 5th place, Matthew Palazzo took 6th place, and Claire Duley took 7th place. The Board recognized and congratulated all the winners.
The Board also recognized Bluejay Swim state qualifiers and school records broken for the Merrill Girls Swim Team: Amber Winter (200 IM, 8th at State and new school record; and, 100 Breast, 3rd at State and new school record); Erin Kanitz (500 Free, 6th at State); and the team of Erin Kanitz, Laney Zuelsdorff, Emma Pajtash, and Amber Winter (200 Free Relay, 16th at State). Congratulations to all!
Three MAPS staff, Karen Buntrock, Ninette Candler, and Thomas Grund, were also publicly recognized for their contributions to the district and their schools.
The MAPS Board also recognized donations from the community totaling $1,490. The donations included four $100 County Market gift cards from an anonymous donor used to provide Thanksgiving dinners to families in need at Kate Goodrich Elementary; a $1,000 check from Gress Chiropractic to assist with any financial needs or purchases for Merrill High School athletes and programs; a $30 donation from Marie Rein to purchase two books for the Washington School Library in memory of two former Washington School students, Aaron Hatz (1961-2020) and Peggy Lee Krombholtz (1961-2020); and a donation of legal business envelopes from Pat Kloske valued at $60 for use in the district.
High School student news
Student Board of Education representative, Amelia Skoviera, shared about some of the activities happening at the high school to try to keep things festive and fun in the face of the pandemic and the resulting cancellation of the annual Peppermint dance. She spoke of holiday dress-up days and ugly sweater days at school and a scavenger hunt conducted via an app. She also said another recent change in the high school schedule has met with mixed reviews from students. Levi Black, the other student Board of Education representative, was unable to attend, as he is in quarantine. In other news, administrative and committee reports were adopted and accepted with limited discussion. Several items were held over to be addressed at future meetings including: Kids Kingdom building use and expenses after lease expires; summer camps at School Forest; and the process for hiring of coaches and how coaches salaries are determined.