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False Charges by the Duluth Superintendent and School Board

The report commissioned to investigate my activity on the Duluth School Board was authored by a hired gun of the school district. Its negative, biased content was predictable and expected.  But what was surprising was that the Duluth News Tribune trumpeted it as gospel, rather than political hogwash.

But even as unprofessional as it was, the report found:

no basis for assault,

no conflict of interest,

no racist comments.

Instead, the report gushes on conclusions of "abuse." Yet it fails to deliver any evidence other than hearsay.  It never even tries to define what the investigator means by using such a word.

And the report repeatedly declares that I violated school board policy such as when it states that my actions “constituted a public refusal to support the Superintendent.”

It should be obvious, but apparently must be repeated, that criticizing the Superintendent is not a crime. It is one of the things we are expected to do as elected school board members and as part of a society that believes in Freedom of Speech.

When one of my constituents calls me with a problem (a frequent occurrence), I look into the issue and respond as appropriate to help mitigate the issue.  I listen to all members of the community, no matter what their position, ethnic background, economic status, or family situation. I am told that I am one of the few board members that regularly respond to emails.

A member of my family, my spouse, someone that I’ve loved for fifteen years, works for the district in a low paying job helping out the most medically challenged special education students. She enjoys her work and is loved by her students. After my reelection last year, she started noticing that she was being repeatedly harassed by the district administration, apparently because of her relationship with me. Over time, I did some fact-finding, and tried to defuse the situation.  But her harassment continues to this day.  For my advocacy on her part and on behalf of her students, the Superintendent accused me of assault. 

I can understand if I seemed agitated at times when advocating for a family member.  I might have used my outdoor voice. If others took offense at these actions, I am sorry.  And there was no grabbing or shoving.

There is nothing illegal about a school board member advocating for a family member who is being harassed for no good reason.  In fact, most people would look at such an act as honorable, and some would even say, a moral imperative.

One suspects that this whole fiasco, the incendiary words (like “assault” and “racist”), and the tens of thousands of dollars spent on lawyers, are simply the administration’s attempt to divert attention from the real problems that face the District. I want to talk about those problems. Such as all the 200 teacher jobs we’ve eliminated, the 1700 students who have left our schools, the large class sizes, disparity in curriculum and test scores between east and west Duluth, the racism in our schools, how large and unacceptable that the achievement gap is, and a culture of intimidation.   And I was the only board member in 2013 that expressed concern about the dismal financial condition that put us in statutory operating debt, even while raising our taxes.  One month before this "investigation" I raised questions about $86 million in very questionable softcosts on the recent building program and why the Superintendent hide $12 million in change orders from the board.

There is no doubt that the Duluth school board and the administration are dysfunctional.  I have formally advocated that we have a parliamentarian helping with meetings.  I have advocated that we have civility training or get mediators to help us.  But the Superintendent and Board continue to refuse such help.  And instead blame me for the audacity of expressing concerns about how we operate. 

I will continue representing the Fourth District and doing my due diligence to assure financial accountability.  I will continue standing up for people that are being treated poorly by the District.  And will continue to expose the lack of leadership, the poor governance, and mismanagement that are rampant in this District.  That is why I was elected. 

Art Johnston

School Board member

4th District

715 360 6629

Note: an edited version of this appeared in the Duluth News Tribune.


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