Aitkin School Board Graphic

At a meeting that started out with citizens criticizing the recent cut to the elementary school art program, the Aitkin School Board approved hiring additional coaches April 19.

The two additional coaches – for junior high softball and golf – as well as approving full pay for the school’s winter sports coaches had been discussed at length at the April 12 work session of the board.

Board members went back and forth between acknowledging the extra costs involved and the optics of the positions being added after the Rippleside Elementary art was removed as a separate class. The district is facing a continuing budget shortfall and will likely be looking at additional cuts in the future if a proposed capital projects levy does not pass.

Among those who showed up to protest against the adding of the coaches was elementary art teacher Loren Vonasek, who wanted to know what the plan was for the district in coming years.

“The public is watching and listening,” he said, adding that he wanted to know if the CARES Act dollars being used to keep the additional sixth grade session could have also been used to save the art “special” class.

He added that more than 750 people had signed a petition asking to save the art program.

“Please reconsider rescinding the vote,” he said.

Others came up to speak in favor of the art program as well, including Jenny Mickelson, Rippleside’s technology specialist. She said her children were open enrolled in the district.

“We wanted a well-rounded approach to their education,” she said.

After several spoke in the public comment portion of the meeting, the two coaches were added. Also approved were the full salaries for the winter sports coaches – salaries that were originally pro-rated because of the shortened season but then called into question because of an apparent communication issue.

The board then discussed the use of CARES Act and Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief

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