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Board elects interim chair, approves audit

Esko school board members elected interim officers last week, the result of board chair Jeff Salo stepping down from his leadership position. Salo’s action came after a long apology, for a verbal exchange with an Esko student athlete after a football game.

Jerry Frederick is the interim board chair, Todd Rengo will serve as vice chair and Steve McConnell the interim clerk. The board will elect new officers at the organizational meeting on Jan. 10, to serve for the following year.

Board members got good news following the audit for the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2021.

The audit showed an increase in the district’s general fund balance of $772,704, which gives the district close to four months worth of savings.

Thanks to a small increase in enrollment and the state aid formula increasing by 2.25 percent, the district will see nearly $135,000 more than originally estimated.

Additionally, insurance expenses were $168,000 less than expected. “We had fewer people taking the plan or folks who moved from family to single, so we saw significant savings,” superintendent Aaron Fischer said.

They plan to use some of the Covid funds to determine what additional services they can offer kids with those funds, including additional tutoring, counseling and more.

“We have good news on the revenue side and on the expenditures side, so we’re sitting in a good spot,” Fischer said.

Rengo said he was happy with the audit, the budget and the increased flexibility in spending that the extra monies allow the district.

Frederick praised Fischer and the both the district’s former and new financial managers, Janet Halonen and Teresa Hart, respectively, for all their hard work “especially in a year like this with all the different Covid funds coming in,” he said. “Like the auditor said, it’s been one of those tough years.”

In other news, Fischer said he was supportive of continuing with current Covid protocols, which require masks for elementary students but make them optional for secondary students, many of whom are vaccinated.

Elementary principal Brian Harker reported they had at least 85-percent participation in the recent parent-teacher conferences, and teachers were following up with families that didn’t come.

“It was fun to have people back in the building, nice to connect with families,” Harker said.

High school principal Greg Hexum said all the seniors are on pace for graduation after the first quarter.

During the public comment portion, at least one parent, Chris Coleman, asked the board to not require masks.

“I won’t put a mask on again,” he said. “I haven’t been sick in 1 ½ years and I go everywhere, Walmart, wherever.”

Parent Russ Kurhajetz expressed concern that people aren’t segregated by vaccination status, and questioned the OSHA requirement for employers with more than 100 employees to require vaccinations or weekly testing.

Editor's note: This story was corrected after it appeared in the Pine Knot News.