BRAINERD — Two consultants interested in working with Brainerd Public Schools to create a strategic plan will present their offers to board members in December.
Superintendent Heidi Hahn presented school board members at their Monday, Nov. 14, meeting with five options after being asked to do so last month.
With a strategic plan as one of his primary goals after assuming the superintendent’s position this year, Hahn presented board members at their October meeting with a recommendation to contract with the Minnesota School Boards Association for the project. Board members, however, wanted to solicit more proposals from other firms and businesses before choosing a consultant.
Hahn then contacted representatives from Teamworks, PartnerED, Nexus Solutions and a department led by Sheri Wilkens and Brian Dietz, who is the superintendent of the Walker-Hackensack-Akeley school district.
“There is a wide range of options. They have a range of expertise or specialties. They all have something a bit unique that sets them apart as a consulting group that works with strategic planning,” Hahn said. “…I really want to have an active opportunity where our community can be involved, where our community can provide input, where we can have focus groups with these stakeholders, both internally and externally.”
Hahn said she also wants someone who will work with the administration team and ensure the strategic plan acts as a roadmap with achievable goals. All of the options she presented to the board, she said, have the ability to do this, although some on a larger scale than others.
Board member Sarah Speer agreed that community engagement should be the top priority, and proposals that didn’t include a communications plan made her nervous.
She said she liked the Minnesota School Boards Association proposal as well as PartnerED because they both had a communications plan and also included accountability measures.
Board member Kevin Boyles said the most important things for him are execution and accountability. He said he was looking for someone who would give the district the tools to follow the plan over time so it could evolve and not go out of style. He asked if any of the proposals included ongoing coaching from the consultants, and Hahn said they all have that capability.
Board member Charles Black Lance said his biggest concern is choosing someone who will make sure teachers and other district staff stay connected to the process and the plan itself. so they can see where they specifically fit into the plan.
Pricing for the five consultants ranged from $5,000 to over $31,000, with some consultants setting a flat rate and others offering flexible pricing depending on the work performed. Boyles said he doesn’t think cost should be a big concern.
“I think we’re picking a vendor that’s going to do what we need to do, and if we’re buying from the $5 trash can on Black Friday, that’s a bad way to pick a consultant,” Boyles said.
Board members eventually agreed to invite representatives from the Minnesota School Boards Association and PartnerED (formerly School IQ) to the next board meeting in December to present their ideas. Hahn said she thought the two companies would be able to deliver what the board was looking for, but they had two very different approaches to the plan, an idea Boyles said he likes.
As new board members prepare to take over after the recent election, board member Tom Haglin, who is due to retire at the end of the year, asked if December was a good time to make this presentation. .
Hahn reminded him that the board members who won the two special two-year seats will begin their service in December because state law allows them to take over immediately after the election results are certified.
That means John Ward and Michelle Brekken – the top two voters in the two-year race – will take over in December. Bob Nystrom, who served at Monday’s meeting, will step down from the board next month as he has been nominated to fill the post left vacant by Jana Shogren’s resignation until the election. Monday’s meeting was the only one in which he had to replace due to the end of the year when Shogren’s resignation came.
Speer will also not be at the December meeting, as she was nominated to fill Nystrom’s seat when he resigned from the board last year. But as one of the top three voters in the race for the four-year board, she will be sworn in again in January, alongside newcomers DJ Dondelinger and Randy Heidmann.
Board chair Ruth Nelson is retiring alongside Haglin at the end of the year, and Black Lance did not receive enough votes to serve another term.
Boyles said he thinks the board should leverage the expertise of outgoing members while it can.
The next board meeting, at which both consultants will present, is December 12.