March 15, 2016

Bernadette Burnham
President, Duluth Federation of Teachers
639 E Central Entrance
Duluth, MN, 55811

Dear President Burnham,

I invited you to join me for coffee a year ago and you declined. Let me tell you a story about your predecessor who infamously fought with me in a front page story on March 31, 1998 in the Duluth News Tribune.

I used to substitute in Frank Wanner’s classes pretty regularly when he was out on union business. Then I got a full time job teaching. The third year of my probationary period I blew it and was not recommended for tenure. Frank dropped by Morgan Park and asked if there was anything he could do to help. Not having tenure I told him there was nothing he could do but I appreciated his concern.

What I never told Frank was that it had been my ambition to challenge him for the presidency of the DFT. I read all of his diatribes against administration in the union newsletter. It was fondly called the “goldenrod” by teachers and the “yellow rag” by administrators. I found his columns inflammatory.

I am also infamous for my voodoo resignation as Board Chair on April 21, 1998. Bill Gronseth, a young teacher at the time, told me he thought it ill considered. What most people don’t realize is that I fell on my sword to prevent a teacher’s strike that year. It diffused tensions and led to a settlement of the contract. Just as back then, I am always prepared to make sacrifices for the good of our schools.

I might have told you these things had you accepted my offer to meet with you. I’ll tell you a couple more things before I get to the crux of this letter.

My father was the President of the faculty union at Minnesota University, Mankato. He was an attorney who taught labor law and contract negotiations. I took his class and I am, as he was, a great believer in the collective bargaining process.

One thing about Frank Wanner – after our feud he never had any problem sitting down and talking with me. We did so often in what is now your office. To fill his shoes you should be prepared to do the same. I gather from letter you sent me that you are a very different DFT President. I can’t help but wonder if your “complaint” to me isn’t an ill considered attempt to curry favor with the side of management with which I find myself frequently at odds. Despite your expressed concern for MX. XXXXXXX’s “career path” I have seen little of the genuine concern that Frank showed me when I was in a similar predicament.

I have never, to my knowledge, spoken with XXXXX XXXXXXX or communicated with hxx in any way. I have, however, spent many hours considering hxx situation. Although xe had a right to attend our closed meeting MX. XXXXXXX chose not to meet with us. I am delighted to tell you that xe has subsequently asked to be given the tapes of our meeting. What xe will learn upon listening to those tapes is that I belonged to a minority that argued forcefully that xe be given every opportunity to rehabilitate hxxself and regain hxx licensure. Xe will also discover upon listening that the very board members who have claimed I violated the data practices act were hxx fiercest critics. And by the way, I did no such thing. You should have consulted an attorney before leveling such a complaint against me……if this letter of yours can truly be considered a complaint. I think a better way to characterize it is to call it what it is – gratuitous harassment.

I have since learned from acquaintances of Mx. XXXXXXX that xe was gratified by my comments. Xe concluded, without the benefit of hearing me on tape, that I was expressing concern for hxx future. Mx. XXXXXXX has never had a blemish as an employee of our District. Hxx actions, for which xe has made full restitution, were not directed at anyone connected with ISD 709. In contrast, your letter’s reference to hxx “career path” sounds as though your union [colleague] is no longer a concern of the DFT. Your talk of letting hxx “salvage hxx dignity” without a job sounds like empty words.

Now let me tell what I know of the QSC and the incestuous little operation it appears to have become in the Era of Rosie Loeffler-Kemp.

When I was first elected to the School Board in 1996 I was eager to sit in on QSC meetings. I wanted to disprove Frank Wanner’s claim that management didn’t care about teachers. I was only able to attend its last few meetings before it went defunct, a victim of labor/management hostility.

When I was elected to the School Board in 2013 one of my top priorities was to attend QSC meetings. For protocol’s sake I told chairperson Judy Seliga-Punyko of my desire. Chair Seliga-Punyko told me I could not attend. I’m not sure that was even legal and yet this rule is still being enforced. Alanna Oswald was recently told by Supt. Gronseth that she could not attend.

Yet according to the December 2013 minutes non board member Rosie Loeffler-Kemp (she was only board member elect at that time) was introduced to the QSC meeting by Superintendent Gronseth as its next school board representative. This is astonishing, not just because she was not yet a school board member, but because we would not elect a new Chair of the School Board to appoint her for another month. I am left to wonder just what rules you operate under.

My distant understanding is that the QSC is meant to enhance communication between teachers and management. If so it has taken a detour from that path and now seems intent on muzzling teachers for expressing their opinions.

I have received several communications from our teachers which the QSC or the DFT seems to have suppressed after the fact. Last January the School Board was sent four letters from about twenty members of the Denfeld faculty. They expressed concern about passing ill prepared students on to classes they were not prepared for. It became apparent that the teachers went into hiding shortly after sending it.

Recently our East Faculty expressed concern about their classes and offered us statistics on class size which neither the DFT or our Administration have ever provided to the School Board. This concern seems to have had a similar fate.

Finally, and most distressingly, I’ve received word of the DFT’s request at a QSC meeting to have an investigation made of a half dozen Congdon Elementary teachers for “insubordination.” These teachers came prepared to share their concerns about conditions in their school at a Think Kids meeting. Now they find themselves accused of “insubordination” for having the temerity to exercise their right of free speech. I’m not sure that even Governor Walker of Wisconsin would approve of that.

I believe Rosie, as our board’s current representative to the secretive QSC gatherings, and my old friend XXX XXX XXXXX were part of this discussion. I couldn’t disagree with them more strongly. I too attended the Congdon Think Kids meeting. Let me paraphrase your letter and toss it back at you: Your actions have sparked a Congdon-wide curiosity, which has led to speculation, rumors, and misinterpretations which are not helpful to our staff.

I shouldn’t have to tell you that XXX XXXX’s relationship with our current Chairperson makes this very awkward. Does our Chair condone her XXXXXX’s attempts to suppress our teacher’s speech at public forums by bringing a complaint to the secretive QSC in order to intimidate our teachers into silence?

As to making Mx. XXXXXXX’s name public; it had already been publicized in the matter of record column in the Duluth News Tribune. Our decisions at the closed meeting were meant to prevent hxx name making it to the paper again anytime soon so that xe could get relicensed and get a new job.

As I wrote to you in my first hasty letter on Friday Mx. XXXXXXX’s “career Path” has been greatly harmed by mistakes made in Duluth by our Relicensure Committee. Had these mistakes not been made Mx. XXXXXXX would likely be teaching in hxx class today notwithstanding the “terrible mistake” I spoke of. I have been told that xe has made full reparations for hxx actions and that because hxx crime is considered not to have been adjudicated xe only needs to get relicensed in order to teach. My actions have made that more possible.

Now perhaps it’s the DFT’s turn to stick up for one of its members. A good start would be to insist that the HR Department and the Relicensure Committee bend over backward to get Mx. XXXXXXX relicensed as quickly as possible.


Harry Welty
At large member of the Duluth School Board

PS. I am not in the habit of sending certified mail. I’m making an exception this time following Rosie Loeffler-Kemp’s example from May 18, 2015, when she sent me such a letter ordering me never to come to her door again.

PPS. I’m still available to join you for coffee anytime.

cc. Annie Harala, Board Chairperson

Denfeld teacher letter – one of four
East HS teacher email
Congdon teachers concerns