Retention, vaccination stipends approved at Bemidji school board meeting

BEMIDJI — With the end of the school year and summer vacation on the horizon, the Bemidji Area Schools Board of Education held business as usual at its regular board meeting on Monday.

During the meeting, the board approved using a portion of the district’s Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief, or ESSER, funding — specifically its third round of funding through the American Recovery Plan — to pay for retention and vaccination stipends to retain current staff and mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“During the pandemic, all employees have been called upon to go above and beyond to ensure the success of district operations,” Superintendent Tim Lutz said. “Recognizing the courage and sacrifices made by employees during this global pandemic is important.”

The district was allotted $11.6 million in its third round of ESSER funding in March 2021 to address learning loss due to the pandemic.

Required to be spent by 2024, the district must use 20% of this funding for learning recovery programs with the remaining 80% to address other needs relating to health, curriculum and instructional changes and general student needs.

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“The COVID-19 pandemic has had a major impact on workforce availability,” Human Resources Director Jordan Hickman said. “Retaining employees and reducing turnover is imperative for the district’s ability to continue offering an effective learning environment for students.”

Current full-time employees — specifically bus technicians or diesel mechanics, confidential administrative support, administrators, non-licensed or non-group, support services and casual hourly employees — are eligible for a one-time retention stipend of $800 for work completed in the 2021-2022 school year.

Part-time employees are also eligible for a retention stipend based on their hourly commitment throughout their term of employment.

“Retention stipends are paid to incentivize eligible employees to remain employed with the district given the challenges and impact of COVID-19 on personnel,” Hickman added.

All eligible district employees, full-time or part-time, can receive an additional one-time $400 stipend upon submitting proof of full vaccination including a booster shot against COVID-19.

A medical exemption will be allowed for employees who had a severe reaction to the first shot of a two-shot series that didn’t allow them to receive both shots and a booster, or those who have been advised by a medical doctor to not receive the COVID vaccine due to a diagnosed medical condition.

The upcoming election

The board also established combined polling places for multiple precincts and designated hours during which the polling places will remain open for voting for school district elections not held on the day of a statewide election.

New legislation adopted in 2017 requires school districts to establish combined polling places each year by Dec. 31 and will become the designated polling places for the following calendar year unless a change is made in case of an emergency or a polling place becomes unavailable.

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The board had already approved polling precincts at their November board meeting and following Bemidji city ward redistricting , the board reapproved these polling places with no designated changes.

When the next general election comes in November, three four-year board positions will be on the ballot along with one two-year position.

The two-year position would fulfill the remainder of former board member Jeff Haack’s term who announced his resignation at the November meeting. The board appointed Todd Haugen as Haack’s temporary replacement at their regular March meeting with Haugen holding the position until at least January 2023.

Other business

The board officially recognized Amy Worden as the upcoming Northern Elementary principal once Wendy Templin retires effective for the 2022-2023 school year.

“Worden was previously employed as elementary principal with Duluth Public Schools starting in 2016,” Hickman said. “She has also served as an intervention coordinator and staff development coordinator along with 10 years of teaching experience.”

Worden completed her undergraduate degree at Augsburg College, her Master of Arts in Education at St. Mary’s University and education administration requirements at Hamline University.

The full meeting can be viewed on the Bemidji Area Schools YouTube channel .

The next regular board meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. on Monday, June 20, in the district board room. A tentative alternate date is set for Monday, June 27, if Juneteenth becomes a state-recognized holiday.


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