Readers of this blog may recall that I was planning on attending two school board meetings on Monday which were eventually canceled due to the weather. When the Superintendent called (while I was out shoveling sand) to ask me what I thought about postponing them I told him to tell Chair Miernicki to please not hold them on the same day after the Education Committee. I anticipated very long meetings for all three committees which would be unnecessarily exhausting. I’d not counted on Veteran’s Day (The holiday of which constitutes another possible post) to be an impediment but that Tuesday’s Education Committee had been rescheduled for Wednesday in deference to Veterans. The Superintendent even suggested that to accommodate my wishes next week’s school board meeting could be held the week following. I was dismayed to learn that Chair Miernicki chose to cram all three meetings together on Wednesday my church choir Night and the night I get to be with my grandsons.
I had a few other things going on Wednesday. I had a meeting planned with the Superintendent that I had hoped would follow our board meetings and I had to open our house for someone to measure our attic windows for replacement. If I don’t get sued and we don’t take too big a tax hit I plan on turning it into an office next year. But this post is about the trifecta that night so let me proceed.
I got in my car about twenty minutes early so that I could review the agendas for a few minutes before we began our marathon. I was feeling pretty blah when half way to the meeting I spotted an African American man who had reamed me and a lot of other white politicians out at a meeting we held in the City Council Chambers a couple weeks ago. (This too is another post I’ve just not managed to make time to write up) I was thrilled. As LD readers know I’ve taken on as a project my targeting of African Americans to hand out my school board business card to. The cold weather has limited my opportunity to do this quite as often now but when I saw my abuser walk into a nearby store I pulled over as quickly as I could to follow him in.
I was pumped. I found the poor fellow and handed him my card telling him that I really enjoyed the thrashing he’d administered to me at the Council Chambers. I grinned so broadly as I said this that this seemed to cause him a little perplexity. He didn’t know me any more than I knew him except I remembered his face. I quickly explained the habit I’d gotten into of passing out my card to African Americans and told him I really hoped he’d give me a call. I’ll be fascinated to see if he does. After he gave what for to the white pols at the meeting he’d stalked out of the Council Chambers without waiting to hear back from us. It would be a shame if I couldn’t get a little follow up.
I was in an immeasurably better mood when I pulled up for the long slog to come. First up was my Human Resources Committee meeting. One of my old Let Duluth Vote allies was there as she often is and was setting up her camera to record the meeting. She would not last through the night. BTW she recently defeated a school administrator for the elective post of Soil and Water Conservation something or other. That was Kerry Leider the fellow who oversees our facilities and who had a big hand in overseeing the Red Plan. I’ve been so preoccupied with other things I hadn’t even noticed who had won the contest which to some appeared to have elements of a grudge match. I only learned the outcome when Kerry Leider was at the District’s newfangled “Annual Report to the Community” at Lincoln Park Middle School last week. Kerry gamely informed me that he had just fallen a thousand votes shy of winning with a rueful grin. It was the first time I’d heard the result. I’m not sure if I told him there was always a chance to improve on his performance something I know a bit about having lost twelve elections myself to my three victories.
I noticed that Chair Miernicki who had set up our marathon was not in attendance. I would think about that several times through the course of the next four hours. Art Johnston turned his light on after I called the meeting to order and so I asked him what was on his mind. He proceeded to read a short statement the effect of which was that he sitting at our meeting with the man who had mocked his marital status and insulted his partner under protest. He said that there had been no apology tendered to his partner by the HR Director and he was unhappy that this appeared to be the end of the matter as far as the Administration was concerned. I could hardly disagree with Member Johnston and then said something to the effect that I sympathized with Art and that the Board had been under a cloud for six months. Then I headed into the prepared agenda which required HR Director Sworsky’s presence.
After we discussed a couple pages of staff changes Mr. Sworsky went on to address the questions former Board member Rich Paulson had sent me a month earlier. I was told at the last School Board meeting that they would be explained tonight and Mr. Sworsky addressed them. I’ll be forwarding the replies back to Mr. Paulson who has frequently complained that the Administration does not give him satisfaction when he poses questions to them. In this case the answers seemed reasonable.
Next up was a continuation of a discussion on our evaluation of the Superintendent that had consumed so much time at the previous School Board meeting. Although no decisions are made at Committee meetings there seemed to be a general consensus that after this evaluation there should be a board committee set up to rethink and possibly suggest a new format for such an evaluation. At the end of that discussion I noted that a previous committee of three board members set up to discuss how we should deal with letter and email communications to the District had never managed to meet. It wasn’t a hopeful precedent should we agree to set up this new committee. Of course, the Chair of the Board who should be a part of such a discussion was not in attendance nor was his right hand Board Clerk Seliga-Punyko who had lobbied not to have our board meetings on the previous Monday.
All this managed to take up an hour’s discussion which, I noted before we adjourned, kept us on track to continue the recent trend of not quite interminable long meetings. In the old days fifteen minutes was a long HR meeting. Then it was on to Business.
For the second meeting in a row I’ve been sent a paper version of our “vendor check list” for the month passed. In the old days this was a part of every “board packet” given to board members but in recent years it is tucked away in the District’s website which I’ve never managed to navigate to. BTW – Mary Rice noted this in her Report on Art Johnston to explain how easy it had been for her to find the report online to disprove Art’s contention that this information was made inaccessible. Too bad Mary doesn’t sit on our Board.
I mostly asked about acronyms for large expenses just to know who we were doing business with. I asked about the $58,000 we had just paid JCI. It seems to have been for Red Plan expenses. I was told that I would be given some of the more obscure information about various expenses after the Business office had a chance to review them. That’s how it was handled in the old days too. For his part Art Johnston noted that we had paid our attorney, the one who had recruited Mary Rice to conduct the Art Johnston investigation another $22,000. I think Art said that made about $88,000 for Rupp’s legal services so far this year. I expect I’ll be asking to see those invoices some day.
I honestly don’t recall anything earthshaking during the Business Committee meeting. Even so and even without two of the Board members present this meeting took another hour. By 6:30 I was looking at the clock wondering if there was any hope of getting to my church choir practice at 7. Nope. We marched on to the Education meeting and the tired souls who had already waited better than two hours to make presentations to that committee.
I’m sure the sitting Board members were as fatigued as me but we soldiered on until a quarter to eight or so. The only story that made it to the Trib the next day had to do with the transfer policy and a proposed tightening of it. Since I sit on the committee I was interested in these changes which came to me sight unseen. There was no mention of the trauma and intrigue circulating among School Board members even though Art’s introduction would have made interesting reading. Loren Martell endured the full meeting so his Reader Weekly audience will have something to look forward to next friday.
I stuck around to see how Art was doing after his complaint from four hours earlier. He was midway between grim and good natured. He commented that without the two board members he has had the most difficulty with present we had three pretty intelligent meetings in a row that night. I’m not sure that was entirely fair but I did point out that the other board members who had to carry the whole three and half hour load on their shoulders surely noted the absence of the folks who scheduled the marathon.
I told Art that every Board member was sick and tired of the mess we had been mired in for six months. There was no up side. We all look bad. We’ve all had to endure frosty silences and acrimony. None of us are able to focus exclusively on what we were elected to do – keep our schools in good order. I suggested to Art that this unhappy situation might end in some sort of closure other than his removal or censure. Then I told Art a personal story that I thought apropos to this meeting that our Board Chair and Clerk skipped out on.
When I was in fifth grade a new kid came to Loman Hill Elementary School. Like all new kids he had to endure some testing by the other kids. My folks knew his folks so I made myself friendly with him even though he wasn’t in my class. One winter day I was walking home late from school when I came upon a snowball fight. Brian was on his own in a battle against Skipper Slais and a sixth grader I didn’t know who had an intimidating reputation. Seeing how uneven the fight was I immediately took up arms to even out what seemed a pretty harmless conflict. As soon as I came to his aid Brian Like Atlas leaving Hercules to hold up the world told me he had to get home for something and left me to battle alone.
I gamely kept up the uneven contest for ten minutes or so until I’d had enough. I yelled across the street to the opposition that like Brian before me I had to get home. “Are you a chicken?” was the response from Skipper’s sixth grade confederate. “No” I lied. Upon hearing this the older kid walked over with a purpose to where I was standing and asked me if I was afraid to fight. “No,” I lied again. The two of us circled each other warily for a minute until I had my back to Skipper. Suddenly my face was full of cold wet snow as Slais gave my face a “washing.” I was shocked and humiliated and then even more humiliated when I began to cry. I turned to walk home to cat calls from the sixth grader who taunted me about crying which I denied thus tying the Disciple Peter in prevarications.
I concluded by pointing out that the leaders of the school board had started a fight but weren’t around to see it through this marathon meeting they had called that I was sure had been as big a pain for the other board members as it had been for Art and me.