by Mike Knaak
Six people spoke during the open forum portion of the Aug. 17 Sartell-St. Stephen school board meeting criticizing the board’s failure to support an equity audit.
The six speakers included students, parents and community members. High school student Eva Hess described her reaction to the decision as “disappointed and frustrated,” opinions voiced by the other speakers.
During the open forum, speakers are allowed up to three minutes. The board listens but doesn’t offer comments or answer questions.
The idea for the equity audit developed this summer when the board focused on racist and other discriminatory issues. During a listening session on June 24, students, teachers and community members shared stories of racism, insensitive, hurtful comments about religion and failed attempts to correct the problems.
The board heard a proposal on July 20 from the executive director of Equity Alliance MN to conduct the audit and develop a plan for training and policies. A plan to pay the Woodbury-based consultants $80,000 to conduct the audit and develop followup actions failed on a 3-3 vote at an Aug. 5 meeting. Board members Jeremy Snoberger, Jason Nies and Patrick Marushin voted in favor of the plan while board members Pam Raden, Lesa Kramer and Amanda Byrd opposed the measure.
The board members who opposed the plan questioned moving ahead because of the expense, disruptions and distractions to teachers and students because of Covid-19 changes and if Equity Alliance was the best choice to help the district.
Nies argued at the Aug. 5 meeting against delaying action because of Covid-19 disruptions.
“Covid is not going to go away,” he said. “I don’t want to lose the momentum we have in the community around this issue.”
Kramer suggested before going forward, a multicultural committee that was set up a few years ago needs to be involved. Several members suggested a board member participate in that committee.
“I want to make sure what we are doing with the study is giving our community and the voices (who) want to be heard what they need,” Kremer said.
“We should focus on Covid,” Raden said. “Look at this in two weeks. I’m worried about how fast we’re going on this contract.”
At the Aug. 17 meeting, board chair Jeremy Snoberger said the administration is forming a committee that includes community members and teachers for additional audit discussions.
Administrators will be meeting with another potential consultant, Rochester-based Diversity Council.