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Anatomy of a Failed School Board

It's time to break the silence on what happened on the Duluth School Board and look at the individual parts of the board that contributed to this ugly episode.  The followings are all hypothesis on what was happening.  We will likely never know their side of the  story because they have all been mum (except as noted below).

 This menu is in development.  All the players in the recent fiasco were Superitendent Gronseth, these five school boards members and the Duluth News Tribune.  They tried, and failed, to removed an elected school board member.  What was really going on behind the scene? What really precipitated this? What past actions of these players led up to this aborted removal attempt which cost the school (and taxpayers) $250,000 and was a public relations disaster?


Superintendent William Gronseth

There are two schools of thought concerning Bill Gronseth's involvement:  1.) He was just a pawn and was either forced or cowed into being part of this nastiness by board members Seliga Punyko, Meirnicki, Loeffler-Kemp, and Harrala; or 2.) he was the ringleader.

1). The pawn theory: 

Gronseth is a nice guy and nice guys don't do this sort of thing. Gronseth is a smart guy--he had to have known that this would be public relationship disaster to the point of impacting the schools--so he would have never iniatated this on his own.  Gronseth used to state to me that he never got involved with Board politics; he used to state that he enjoyed our many conversations (prior to the legal action) but that other board members' were very critical of him for even talking to me.   He's stated that he would cringe whenever member Seliga Punkyko would come around and throw her weight around him and his staff.  His statements to the "independent investigator" stated that he was never "shoved" by me. It is conceivable that he could have been threatened to be fired by the Board majority if he didn't cooperate in The Purging.

But, if he was just a pawn, it doesn't show good leadership on his part.

2. The ringleader theory: 

Gronseth is the Superintendent and is on the top of the power structure of the Duluth Public Schools.  His annaul salary is $168,000, while the Board members make only $7,000. Superintendents hold the power and are very influential and he could have refused to participate in an obvious dubious activity like The Purge.

But Gronseth more than fully cooperated in The Purge:  he directed his two highest paid staff, Tim Sworsky and Bill Hanson, to fully participate.  Sworsky initiated the meetings and wrote up the justifications (May 2014).  And Sworsky made very public and derogatory statements about my family in typical character assassination style and Gronseth refused to do anything to stop it.  

Bill Hanson was an active participant in all the Court proceedings in Federal Court and all of the other legal activities required to sustain this massive legal action.  While the Board could have used the threat of firing Gronseth, Sworsky and Hanson only answer to Gronseth, not the Board. So only Gronseth could have directed his staff to not only participate, but to take the initiative. 

Gronseth repeatedly refused to participate in any outside mediation attempted to be arranged by Northwoods Communications. 

Gronseth fully participated in the legal action, and he refused to distance himself from it, or ever stated that he didn't support the allegations. 

Gronseth refused to call off the Principals in East High School that were endlessly harassing Jane (my partner and who worked at East High School).  This became acute after I was re-elected in January of 2014.  It is fair to assume that Gronseth was directing the harassment or at least tolerating it by "winking and nodding."

But what would have been Gronseth's motive to be the ringleader? I have long been critical of the school's fiscal management, its dropping enrollment, and its poor graduation rates and test scores.  It is not a coincidence that The Purge started shortly after I published a column (May 2014) asking for an investigation into alleged contract and policy violations concerning $12 million of change orders to Johnson Controls, Inc., that Gronseth had hid from public and school board members' knowledge. 

Gronseth has a propensity to give false information whenever it protects his reputation and this was just more of the same.

Gronseth has done nothing to mend the schism that The Purge caused, even after the District lost their legal battle and new members have been elected to the Board.  If this isn't a sign of a ringleader, it is a sign of poor leadership. 

Looking at the available evidence, the Ringleader theory appears to be the most likely.


Judy Seliga Punyko

Mike Meirnicki

Rosie Loeffler-Kemp

Bill Westholm

Duluth News Tribune

This menu is in development.  All the players in the recent fiasco were these five school boards members and the Duluth News Tribune.  They tried, and failed, to removed an elected school board member.  What was really going on behind the scene? What really precipitated this? What past actions of these players led up to this aborted removal attempt which cost the school (and taxpayers) $250,000 and was a public relations disaster?



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