Erie submits resignation

Superintendent leaving Jan. 30; board may fill on interim basis

by Tom Coombe
The Ely School District’s top administrative position will soon be vacant following a sudden resignation from superintendent.
Erie cited health reasons in resigning a position he has held since 2019, and just five month after signing a two-year contract.
School board members voted unanimously Monday to accept Erie’s resignation, which takes effect Jan. 30.
The board also informally authorized chairman Ray Marsnik to continue discussions with an unidentified “retired superintendent in our area,” who has shown interest in filling the vacancy on an interim basis.
“As board chair, I did have a conversation with a retired superintendent in our area about the possibility of coming in and serving as our interim superintendent,” Marsnik told the board. “He is willing to come here and sit down with us and discuss what we are looking for and what he has to offer.”
Marsnik added “it doesn’t mean we have to hire him.”
The vacancy comes somewhat abruptly, midway through the 2021-22 school year and as the district wrestles with numerous issues, including budget shortfalls on a $20 million building project (see related story) as well as declining enrollment, a budget deficit this year and challenges related to the Covid-19 pandemic.
According to the resignation letter signed by Erie and included in Monday’s board meeting packet, the superintendent communicated a desire to resign as soon as Jan. 30 during a closed-door performance evaluation held last month.
“The reason I feel the need to make a change at this time is personal and related to health issues that are impacting my well-being,” said Erie.
Erie added Monday “there’s no serious overriding health concern,” but added “I do want to enjoy the relatively good health I have right now” and spend more time with his family.
“I want to thank the school board for being supportive of me in this position  and giving me this great opportunity,“ said Erie. “You put a lot of trust in me and I want to thank you for that.”
A former principal at Mesabi East as well as elsewhere in Minnesota, Erie came out of retirement in 2019 to take the part-time superintendent position in Ely, replacing Kevin Abrahamson.
About six months into his tenure, the Ely district, like schools across the state and nation, was disrupted by the pandemic and much of Erie’s tenure has involved navigating pandemic-related issues.
Those included a 2019-20 school year that ended with two months of distance learning, a 2020-21 term filled with state mandates and restrictions and seesawing between in-person and distance learning models, as well as an in-between hybrid approach.
School has remained in session this year but a controversial mask mandate led to a thorny board meeting in September and has resulted both in enrollment losses and many hours of debate at the board level and with a district safe learning plan advisory group.
Erie noted to the board that he had “about six months” on the job before the pandemic took hold.
He credited district employees “who have really been tremendous through the whole Covid process.”
Amid the pandemic, Erie helped steer the district to success at the ballot box: a $10 million referendum that gained overwhelming approval in August, 2020 and cleared the way for the ongoing facilities project.
“It’s taken a lot of collaboration,” said Erie. “It’s exciting to see where things are going to be going with the facilities project and moving forward.”
In a performance evaluation summary, which as required by law was released on Monday, the board “recognized the fact that the district has gone through some difficult times over the past year and Superintendent Erie was faced with tough challenges and difficult decisions.”
The summary also concluded:
“A goals-based evaluation process was used and the three goals that were set for Erik were discussed. The goals are job specific, measurable and support the school district’s mission, vision and beliefs. Improving organizational skills, timely decision making, oversight and awareness of the district’s budget, delegating responsibility to employees and timely completion of duties, projects and tasks were the areas discussed and evaluated. The board found Superintendent Erie to be very personable and open to discussion. He is a hard worker who has kept our building and renovation project moving forward and on schedule. He is someone who is knowledgeable, committed and passionate about education.”
Over the summer, Erie had inked a new two-year deal with the district.
It called for him to work three-and-a-half days per week this year, or .70 full-time equivalent, and reverting back to .60 FTE for 2022-23, with the additional time set aside this year because of the facilities project.
Pay was set at $88,375 for the first year of the deal and $76,508 for the second. The contract did not include a health insurance benefit.
When he was hired in 2019, Erie said he was not looking for employment but was particularly interested in the Ely district.
In further remarks this week, he had high praise for district staff and the community as a whole.
“The employees have been very welcoming as has the community,” he said. “Ely is certainly something very special.”