“A hostile work environment” is how Cass Lake-Bena Superintendent Rochelle Johnson described her experience in her role, the Cass Lake Times reported Aug. 7. The words came at the end of a performance evaluation by the school board, which was opened to the public at Johnson’s request. Johnson described ongoing issues with school board members she declined to name, but noted she’d been subjected to yelling, investigations, due process violations and other hostile acts in an effort to fire her. Johnson said she’d retained an attorney, and despite the struggles, continued to work hard on behalf of the district. In the evaluation preceding the superintendent’s accusations, some board members noted a lack of communication by Johnson as an area in which they’d like to see improvement.


The demolition of a Crosby home revealed what is believed to be the entrance to a tunnel system once in use during Prohibition, the Crosby-Ironton Courier reported July 31. The tunnel apparently led to a speakeasy at the Spalding bar in the 1920s and 1930s. The supposed tunnel entrance, which had been filled in at some point, was revealed during the demolition.

Crosby Mayor Bob Novak responded July 31 to an editorial published by the Crosby-Ironton Courier earlier that month, which took the mayor to task for his objection to the Courier’s choice to print a letter to the editor criticizing the mayor for apparent inaction concerning a “pigeon problem” in the city. In his own letter to the editor, Novak said the issue had never been brought to a city council meeting in his time as a council member and mayor and minutes would prove that. He said the Courier left out his comments asking the paper to be more objective in its choices to print certain letters over others, and felt the critical letter penned by Chris Ryan went too far in comparing the mayor to “pigeon poop.” Novak ended his letter encouraging everyone to address the council with any issue whenever the opportunity arose.


The director of Crosslake Community School announced his plans to retire, the Echo Journal reported Aug. 15. Todd Lyscio formally retired the year before, but opted to stay on as director to see the school through its transition to a new building. Lyscio spent 36 years in education, with six of those years coming at the helm of the Crosslake school. The school board agreed to hire a consultant to assist with its search for a new director, with the goal of having the replacement by Jan. 1.


The Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe is seeking approval to convert 21 parcels of land within the city of Isle into trust land, removing it from the tax rolls, the Mille Lacs Messenger reported Wednesday, Aug. 21. The property, which sits within the boundaries of the reservation, equals approximately 40 acres and would equate to $16,584.92 worth of property taxes paid to the city. This represents 3% of the city’s property tax levy. The city council voted unanimously to object to the proposal, although the decision rests with the U.S. Department of Interior. The Messenger noted the application is being viewed as a potential foreshadowing of the conversion of all 61,014 acres of the reservation into trust land. In documents, band officials stated converting the 21 parcels to trust land would go toward restoring the trust land previously lost to the band and facilitate self-support and self-determination.


More than three years after a drug overdose led to the death of a Little Falls man, one of the people involved received his sentence for third-degree murder, the Morrison County Record reported Aug. 4. Jerad Michael Whitford, 36, of Little Falls, was sentenced to five years in prison for his role in the death of Travis Scherping in June 2016. Whitford made arrangements to purchase heroin from Minneapolis, after which he and others including Callie Mains Statema used the drug. Scherping overdosed as a result and later died at St. Cloud Hospital. Charges against Whitford were initially dismissed, although the state appeals court overturned the dismissal. Whitford pleaded guilty to third-degree murder in 2018. Statema is currently serving a prison sentence for the same crime.

New foxes at the Pine Grove Zoo are a lesson in wildlife intervention, the Morrison County Record reported Aug. 4. The zoo acquired three red foxes at the request of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, which seized the foxes from a person who illegally took the wild kits from a den. DNR officials explained if the zoo did not accept the animals, they would have to euthanize the foxes due to their familiarity with humans and likely inability to survive in the wild. After some time in quarantine, the foxes were introduced to their new home.


Noting it was the last district in the state to have the policy, the Pequot Lakes School Board voted to repeal a dictate barring Wednesday practices and rehearsals for middle school students on account of church activities, the Echo Journal reported. The change would still allow middle school students to leave early or choose not to attend practices because of church activities, but it would allow coaches to reschedule practices on that day. This particularly affects winter/spring sports, which tend to require more rescheduling due to weather. At a work session in early August, Superintendent Chris Lindholm said the policy treaded on thin ice in a very public way by overstepping bounds as a public school.


Staples-Motley students will no longer pay activity fees, the Morrison County Record reported Aug. 11. The school board approved a measure eliminating the fees, and Superintendent Shane Tappe said the move would encourage greater student involvement. Tappe noted studies show students who participate in activities generally perform better in the classroom, and eliminating fees would make the activities more accessible. Previously, students paid $20-$100 in fees, depending on the activity. The move does not include fees associated with special projects or travel.

Additionally, school district officials announced its intent to move away from the valedictorian and salutatorian labels for students earning the two highest grade point averages, the Staples World reported Aug. 14. The reason for the change, officials said, was due to greater variances in GPAs because of the introduction of college classes. This year’s senior class will receive the designations, but those students will be the last in the district to be recognized in that manner.

UPDATE: This story was updated to correct the number of acres the Mille Lacs Indian Reservation covers.

-- Compiled by Chelsey Perkins, community editor. Perkins may be reached at 218-855-5874 or Follow her on Twitter @DispatchChelsey or on Facebook at