Thou Shalt Not Rat Out Our Friends“ Part 4

This series of posts begins here:

Twelve years sped by, a couple of superintendents came and went, a half billion school building plan became reality, and a succession of heavily pro Red Plan school board majorities were elected to run roughshod over the pro referendum minorities. Superintendents catering to the majority cultivated subordinates who in some cases disdained the Red Plan’s naysayers. There was an attempt to remove the first naysayer, Gary Glass, but Dr. Keith Dixon who probably brought news of this possibility seems to have thought better of this divisive ploy. Glass is joined for his last two years on the Board by Art Johnston but both remain eunuchs by a five to two vote ratio. Then Art Johnston must forge on for the next two years as alone as Gary Glass had been in his first two years.

As Art faces reelection he becomes the subject of numerous letters-to-the-editor reviling him for not being a good sport when he is constantly denied the data he requests about the Red Plan. Before the filings take place one of the administration’s most ardent loyalists, Cheryl Lien, draws a bead on him.

Cheryl, (the subject of the original Post 2 in this series – since removed) has never been shrinking violet. One former Denfeld student told me that when she swept down the hallways kids stepped aside. One of her fans at East told me two things about Mrs. Lien. First, that she displayed great compassion for students in need. Lien had taken him under her wing when his family life fell apart and helped him get through it. But second, he conceded that she was driven and could be ruthless. Those aren’t his exact words but I think they are close enough.

Art believes that some of our administrators were urged to keep their distance from him. One administrator who told him she was advised to avoid him also told Art the following story as the 2013 campaign drew to a close.

In about May, preceding the candidate filings, the principals union held a gathering at Valentini’s Restaurant and invited Superintendent Gronseth to be their guest. According to Leea Powers, who I found to be calm, rationale and very smart, the Superintendent asked his principals who would find someone to run against Art Johnston.

“I’ve got It covered.” Cheryl Lien volunteered. She had found a young candidate with the magical last name of Minnesota’s longest serving Governor Perpich who would run against Art. If this took place as described it is stunning. I’ve written before about how Duluth Administrators handled school board elections. It wasn’t generally encouraged.

Administrators, especially the Board appointed Superintendent, put their careers on the line when they interfere in school board politics. There is no doubt that exchange like this took place because it was confirmed by Cheryl Lien’s own supervisor, Laurie Knapp, East High School’s long time principal.

Investigator Mary Rice, who interviewed all the principals at this meeting, chose to take a different interpretation than the one offered by Leea Powers, whom Rice characterized as being a “disgruntled” employee. Rice’s preferred interpretation of this event is that Lien’s comment was made in jest. If so, the levity was missed by Leea Powers who had already been told that Art Johnston was persona non grata as far as the Superintendent was concerned.

If Cheryl Lien was joking at the beginning of the election season she wasn’t joking by its conclusion. Many School Board watchers, including me, thought that Art Johnston was toast. He had been assaulted with several bitter letters to the editor accusing him of poor behavior during school board meetings. He had a strong opponent backed by many administration supporters in the PTA. It was, however, a different challenger facing Art than the one Mrs. Lien had taken credit for finding at her union meeting.

Cheryl Lien insisted that it was merely a coincidence that she chose Election Day, 2013, to warn Art Johnston’s partner, Jane Bushey, that she would be keeping a close watch over her in the coming year. Coincidence or not, Jane Bushey took the dreadful message to heart. She began keeping a diary of her interactions with Assistant Principal Lien and kept them up to date until the fateful East High graduation at the conclusion of the school year.

Next: Thou Shalt Not – Part 5

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