The limits of Cunning

The THIRD damning story of the Summer about ISD 709 showed up this morning. Its not a surprise to me but Jana Hollingsworth does an excellent job laying out the totality of a catastrophe that the Gronseth Administration was doing its best to keep out of the public’s eye in my last couple months on the School Board. It was about the junking of all the Red Plan’s once trumpeted educational technology. We are scrapping everything at the end of its useful life and doing so at a time when we don’t have the millions necessary to replace it.

This comes on the heals of another story about the unsurprising fact that the cost of fixing up the Central Administration building has jumped from $18 million to 25 million. This was supposed to have been dealt with by the Red Plan but the School Boards I have enjoyed panning for the last twelve years chose to spend it all on the technology that we are now scrapping because there are limits to how many teachers you can lay off and still teach students.

The first of the summer’s blockbusters was a surprise to me, really more of a shock – the unexplained axing of the new CFO for the District Doug Hasler for “inconsistencies” in a budget doomed to spiral into a black hole. My personal belief is that Hasler who had no money to work with is simply Bill Gronseth’s latest scapegoat in a long career of blaming others for problems his mentor Keith Dixon was responsible for. In my opinion, those problems are much worse because Bill Gronseth applied all his best efforts at undermining any reasonable examination of the District’s financial straights.

When I ran for the school board again in 2013 I didn’t rush to take up the Superintendent’s offer to meet with me face to face when I was still a candidate. I was busy campaigning. I’m sure I scared the hell out of him because of my reputation for fighting for the citizen’s right to vote on the massive Red Plan that his mentor put into place despite thousands of critics and doubters. After my election it was a helluva four years for both of us and worse yet for the District and its children.

Over those four years I shared my evaluation of the Superintendent with the other six Board members and each time the overall evaluation was said to be good……by the media which reported it. My personal evaluations were at best modest. I scored Gronseth highly on only a couple of points. I think he cares about kids and I think he hired some spectacular assistants. But, and this is a BIG BUTT, children have not benefited from the Gronseth years and with my departure came the departure of two and maybe three (if you count Doug Hasler as I do) talented assistants.

I didn’t make a point of having a lot of meetings with Bill but we had a couple conversations and I was always cordial and diplomatically candid with him especially about my tough evaluations of him. Among the faults I found with him were his efforts to hide public data from the Board, especially from Art Johnston and me. Nothing has changed. They never got any better except for a brief window right after Doug Hasler was hired. At one meeting I told Bill that he was either cunning or calculating (I can’t remember which term I used). Bill winced a bit as either word has a hint of duplicity about it. But while that is true I understand cunning as also being shrewd and open eyed. My favorite aphorism of Jesus is “be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.” Mathew 10:16 KJV

If anything Bill has got both ends of this aphorism wrong. He has been too smart for his own (and the District’s good) and he has caused the District great harm.

I made no early judgments about the Superintendent. I merely kept my eyes open like a good serpent myself to see what I would find. Early on I heard that Dr. Dixon had started to sour on Gronseth for some reason. Perhaps he came to think of Bill like so many others I’ve spoken to as a weak man. But when Gronseth figured out what Dixon thought of him he pulled his fellow secondary principals together to vouch for him and save his job. Dixon was so impressed that he ended up appointing Gronseth to be his right-hand man. Being Keith Dixon’s right hand always put me off about Bill because I considered his mentor to be a complete sociopath – a liar without conscience.

Perhaps a better example of Bill’s cunning was the maneuvering behind the scenes to get rid of I.V. Foster, the new black Superintendent in Duluth, who only lasted six months before curling up in the same fetal ball that Doug Hasler curled into before exiting the Duluth Schools. The News Tribune bought into the idea that Foster was both inattentive to the District and not fully certified for the job. I know the Trib would reject my analysis but I have no doubts. The school board members who engineered Foster’s ouster were the same ones who had failed at the last minute substitute Keith Dixon for Foster and transitioning later to a Supt. Gronseth.

But Bill got way too comfortable with that sort of cunning. I have always believed that the entire Art Johnston fiasco was kindled, tended and cared for by Supt. Gronseth with a coterie of his hanger’s on. That year and a half of my first two years squandered any hope that the school district could begin winning back the trust of the voters for some critically needed levy referendums. They kept getting postponed because Gronseth couldn’t get the positive vibe needed to pass one. And then last year when referendums were passed all over the state of Minnesota Gronseth spent all his time behind-the-scenes working to get rid of Art and me even enlisting his Hermantown school board member wife to help unseat us.

Ironically and damnably, his efforts were probably completely unnecessary after Art and I failed to win the DFL endorsement with the massive turn out of women voters traumatized by Donald Trump’s election. Had Bill spent his time putting up a levy referendum it would likely have passed and he would also have had the satisfaction of seeing Art and me bite the electoral dust. But Bill, as per usual, put his own survival ahead of the School Districts. I guess his only hope now is to preside over such a pathetically damaged public school district that voters will come to our children’s rescue despite his incompetence and misplaced priorities.

That’s my take at any rate.

For God’s sake. Don’t let me anywhere near Congress. My evaluation of that institution is even worse and they affect the entire nation not just one small struggling local school district. Half of the members of Congress are nestled in Donald Trump’s breast pocket looking for a teat to suckle on. Not surprisingly, their mouths are full of lint.