One of those big things is Johnson Controls' presentation.

    It wasn't long after Chris Bates got going on his new job as Crookston School District superintendent that he wrote some notes to himself on a dry erase board in his office at Crookston High School.

    "I wrote the words 'Big Things' on the board that I needed to get my arms around," he told the Times.

    At a Crookston School Board retreat that's scheduled to span five hours Friday afternoon in the school district office conference room at the high school, Bates and board members are slated to discuss several "big things" that Bates is trying to gain a better understanding of.

    On the agenda, for instance, is the swimming pool, its revenue and expenses, long-range plans and the impact of the successful pool referendum question on future improvements, which will commence in the spring. There's also athletics, and what the future might hold for participation numbers locally. There are district goals to discuss as well, and how updated goals might fall under the three parameters of high student achievement, effective and effective operations, and a collaborative work environment. Rounding out the day, although Bates isn't confident that the board will get through the entire agenda, is a discussion on the number of school days on the calendar, the length of teacher contracts, 3W staff development days, and the length of the school day.

    Pretty big things, indeed.

    Bates figures Friday's retreat won't be the last one, and that future retreats might be shorter and will maybe focus on specific topics. "Maybe we'll have one where all we take a look at is our athletics and activities offerings," he said. "Or maybe we talk about our buildings. We have roofs that aren't looking good and over the long-term that's not a good position to be in."

    Kicking off Friday's retreat is a 90-minute presentation by Johnson Controls, the performance contractor whose 10-year energy efficiency/mechanical systems contract with the district expired a few years years ago. Although Johnson Controls is still doing some maintenance and evaluation of the district's mechanical systems, the company would like to convince the school board to enter into another contract that would have the firm increasing energy efficiency in the district with, the theory goes, the district paying the firm via the resulting energy savings.

    During the previous contract, the district paid Johnson Controls around $200,000 a year. During particularly lean budget times, the board sort of breathed a sigh of relief when the contract expired and the payment went away.

    The Johnson Controls presentation is another "big thing" Bates acknowledges he needs to know more about. "Whatever happens with them, the board will be better informed and I will be better informed," he said. "We need to be able to tell people that we pay this amount of money and this is what we get for what we pay. Right now, I'm not sure what we get, so we need to learn that today and be sure of it."