‘Economic necessity’: Pontbriand out as IM athletic director

Athletic director role given to elementary principal Bianco

IRON MOUNTAIN — Citing “economic necessity,” the Iron Mountain Public Schools Board on Wednesday voted to terminate Joey Pontbriand as athletic director.

The 4-2 vote, paired with another vote of the same margin, transferred Pontbriand’s athletic director and community schools responsibilities to elementary principal Don Bianco.

The “economic necessity,” as worded in the board’s 10-item agenda for Wednesday’s meeting, was not discussed before the board’s vote. The district had a $194,180 fund balance at the end of fiscal year 2018 and projected a balance of $344,565 through June 2019, according to school budget information available online.

“Our budget has been going down. We were in a (debt escape plan),” said Rob Langsford, board president. “The state wants you to have at least a five percent fund balance. We didn’t have it. We needed to make some cuts. Everybody wants you to make the cuts — nobody wants it in their section. That’s what the tough part was tonight. We’re trying to combine services and still be effective. I guess that’s our biggest thing.”

Despite a clause in Pontbriand’s contract requiring 90 days’ notice of termination, he said he instead was notified a week ago, on July 17, the day before the board had a special meeting with the same action items, but tabled the matter to Wednesday due to a deadlocked vote.

After Wednesday’s vote, Pontbriand will remain in his role for 60 days at Iron Mountain.

Teachers and staff at Iron Mountain schools shook Pontbriand’s hand in the hallway at the Dickinson-Iron Intermediate School District Technical Education Center while the board met in closed session, thanking him for his time and effort as the school’s athletic director. Pontbriand told one staff member he wishes nothing but the best for them. He declined comment.

Pontbriand was hired as athletic director in July 2017 and helped the school navigate a rapidly changing sports landscape in the Upper Peninsula. Just a few months into Pontbriand’s tenure, Iron Mountain joined the West PAC, a notable shift given it filled the school’s football schedule, ending a 94-year gridiron rivalry with Kingsford.

Pontbriand previously was athletic director for the North Central School District when it won three straight state basketball state titles and two straight state football championships.

Some among the approximately 50 people in attendance sighed as the measures to eliminate Pontbriand and move the athletic director position to Bianco were approved.

That decision came at the tail end of public comments mostly pleading with the board to take up a more unified and cohesive position with school teachers and staff. Nine people spoke during public comment, lasting about 40 minutes.

“When somebody loses their job or something has to be done like that, it’s not an easy portion of the board,” Langsford said. “Those people gave a lot to the community and the school. We had to make some tough decisions and to be quite honest, I told all three of you that I wasn’t interested in communicating because I don’t feel really good inside. I do for the district but I don’t feel good because of how we affect peoples’ lives. We’re a family and our organization is a family.”

The board faces another upcoming decision about whether or not to continue freshmen sports. Assistant varsity volleyball coach Lori Cevigney spoke during public comment Wednesday in favor of continuing freshmen sports. Robin Marttila, Iron Mountain head varsity football coach and junior varsity boys basketball coach, along with varsity boys basketball coach Bucky Johnson also voiced support for it during the July 18 special meeting.