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Wrenshall board disciplines someone, but who?

There were more questions than answers Wednesday, Aug. 24, when the Wrenshall school board agreed to discipline an employee during a specially called meeting.

The meeting was planned to review results of a personnel investigation which began earlier this summer involving the school’s information technology director, Jaime Hopp, and superintendent Kim Belcastro.

The board met in closed session for three hours. Afterward, it declined to name who it was disciplining.

But since the disciplinary resolution voted on by the board authorized Belcastro or a person of her choosing to issue the disciplinary action, the audience was left to make assumptions.

The vote to discipline was 4-1, with board member Jack Eudy voting against discipline and board member Cindy Bourn abstaining. Board chair Misty Bergman and board member Debra Washenesky both said during their votes in favor of disciplinary action that they did so with “a heavy heart.”

The board also voted to spend $3,000 more to “proceed with completing an investigation report addressing issues discussed in special session.” The added money is beyond a $10,000 cap the board first approved for the investigation.

“I’m more confused than when I came in,” said Cheryl Ankrum, 73, of Wrenshall, who described herself as a 35-year educator. “I don’t think there was any clarity here.”

Hopp is alleged to have profanely alluded to “killing” the district superintendent while in the staff lounge in June. Another district employee overheard the comment, which superintendent Kim Belcastro later reported to Carlton County authorities. Hopp is not under criminal investigation and never has been.

The school’s attorney, John Edison, said the personnel information would remain private until “final disposition” of the discipline, meaning until the action is delivered and the employee signs off on it.

Counterclaims made against Belcastro meant she was also included as one of the school district employees being investigated.

Ankrum was among a dozen or so community members, teachers and school board candidates who endured the lengthy closed session.

“Who was it against?” Ankrum wondered about the disciplinary action. “(Also) they’re still investigating? If it was both related, how could you not do both at the same time?”

Bergman, spokesperson for the board, and Edison declined to take questions following the meeting, encouraging the Pine Knot to submit further questions in writing.

Details of the disciplinary action were also shielded in the board resolution.

It’s also not clear if Wednesday’s actions will result in Hopp being allowed to return to work. She’s been on leave throughout the investigation, a measure that has cost the district unknown additional dollars in filling her duties with both contractors and other school personnel.

The vote to apply more funding to complete the investigation was unanimous, 6-0.

The board meets again Sept. 7 for its committee of the whole meeting, followed by a regular monthly board meeting Sept. 12.

Editor’s note: The spelling of Cheryl Ankrum’s name was corrected. The story was updated Aug. 29, 2022, and first published Aug. 26, 2022.