C-I superintendent Novak to retire June 30

It was with “mixed emotion” that Cambridge-Isanti Superintendent Bruce Novak announced his intention to retire June 30 after eight years with the school district.

Superintendent Bruce Novak
Superintendent Bruce Novak

The Cambridge-Isanti School Board approved Novak’s letter of retirement “with regret” during the board meeting Thursday, Feb. 21.

Novak began with the school district in 2005 after serving as superintendent in Isle for six years. Novak has served 37 years in public education.

“It is with mixed emotion that I offer my letter of retirement, and it’s something I struggled with, but I think it’s time to do this,” Novak said.

Board Chair Tim Hitchings thanked Novak for his service.

“We will accept your letter of retirement with regret,” Hitchings said. “We thank you for your years of service to the students, staff and school district.”

Board members said they will miss Novak’s experience.

“We thank you, Bruce, for your service,” said board member Lynn Wedlund. “It has been a pleasure working with you, and thank you for all your expertise.”

The school board will hold a special school board meeting on Thursday, Feb. 28, for the purpose of meeting with representatives from the Minnesota School Board Association to offer guidance and suggestions as it begins its search for a new superintendent.

Novak said this week that he decided to announce his retirement now to allow the board time to fill the position.

“I think out of respect to the board they deserved a proper notice of my intention to retire,” Novak said. “Hiring a new superintendent will definitely be the biggest decision they will ever face as board members. And if the timing allows, I will be able to assist with the transition in bringing in the new superintendent.”

Novak said retiring wasn’t an easy decision.

“It was a very hard decision and a lot of mixed emotions go with this, and I didn’t make the decision lightly,” Novak said. “But I’ve been in public education my entire life and I’m looking forward to starting a new chapter.”

Novak said he’s at the point in his life where he wants to spend more time with his wife, grandchildren, traveling and visiting his daughter in Colorado and his son in Wisconsin.

“It has been a great privilege serving as superintendent of the Cambridge-Isanti School District,” Novak said. “I’ve worked with great staff and school boards, and I think in the current economic times Cambridge-Isanti has been able to offer excellent programs to its students, which is the purpose of a school district. I’ve always tried to provide the best educational opportunities to our students.”

School district to consider bond, levy

Following discussion, the school board approved a motion to direct administration to begin putting information in place for a bond referendum and operating levy for voters to decide on in November 2013.

Per Novak’s recommendation, the school board is considering a voter-approved $10 million building bond referendum and $600,000 operating levy. It will also be seeking a $3.6 million alternative facilities bond; however, this is not a voter-approved bond.

The board still needs to pass a resolution stating specifically it will seek a bond referendum and operating levy; however, discussions have taken place.

The $10 million bond referendum will be used to make improvements that need immediate attention.

Director of Finance and Operations Robyn Vosberg-Torgerson explained since the district can restructure its current debt there isn’t a tax impact with the $10 million bond.

The improvements impact all the school district buildings and are needed due to the health, safety, welfare, security and efficiency of the students and school buildings.

The improvements have been described as “big ticket” items — with one of the more expensive items including $4.5 million to replace the entire ventilation system at Isanti Middle School. Other projects include office relocations to allow for better security monitoring when visitors enter and leave school buildings.

The $600,000 operating levy funding will be used for funding items within the school buildings such as staff, or programs and activities.

Vosberg-Torgerson said  90 percent of school districts across the state have an operating levy in place, but Cambridge-Isanti does not.

Board members voiced concerns with not having a full-time nurse within the district, and the need for more social and mental health workers. It also discussed bringing back programs that have been discontinued in previous years, such as the fifth-grade band program and other fine arts and learning programs.

“We care about our students and want to do what’s best for them to protect them and keep them safe,” said board member Gary Hawkins. “When the biggest employer in the city [Cambridge Medical Center] is telling us we need more mental health workers and social workers in the school, we need to be prepared to provide this. We have one mental health person for 700 students. We may have a lot of kids who aren’t being serviced who may need to be serviced. We can’t be afraid to ask the community for these types of things.”

Hitchings noted the school district is looking at an approximate $600,000 shortfall next year to keep 12.5 percent of funding in the fund balance, which provides six weeks of funding for the district.

“As a school board, we have a responsibility to offer the best educational opportunities we can while being fiscally stable,” Hitchings said.

Teachers’ union request

At the Feb. 11 board meeting, Carol Hazard, co-president of Education Minnesota Cambridge-Isanti (EMCI) teachers’ union, asked the school board to rescind action from its Aug. 23 meeting that authorized the hiring of an attorney to handle negotiations for the collective bargaining units within District 911.

In a letter given to the board, EMCI presented several reasons why using an attorney to handle union negotiations will strain relationships between the school board and teachers’ union.

Following discussion, by a five-to-two vote with Wedlund and Hawkins voting against, the board approved a motion to leave the August 2012 language in place regarding having an attorney present with the board during negotiations.

“I understand the idea behind this, but I believe we can negotiate without an attorney at least until the situation arrives where negotiations are no longer fruitful,” Wedlund said.

Hitchings noted the board has the final decision regarding negotiations.

“The school board is the only decision-making authority when it comes to negotiations,” Hitchings said.