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The Unpolished Truth: Dough Hasler's trip through the belly of the breast


In the beginning, God created happy talk and   smiles.  

When Doug Hasler, the most recent Chief Financial   Officer for the Duluth Public Schools, was hired   two years ago, the school board was invited over to   his new house on Woodland Avenue for ice cream and   to meet his beautiful family and children.  

We talked about all the cool things to do in Duluth,   the best places to buy winter clothes. The skills that   everyone brought to the table were flowing around   like the ice cream floats.  

Hasler was a breath of fresh air, at least briefly.   Everyone was hopeful that his good nature, his inquisitiveness,   his legal and financial background   would pry open the tightly locked black box of the   District’s budget.  

But God knew that besides happy talk, the Duluth   Schools’ budget was also in need of a savior.  

In the beginning, Hasler courteously responded to   requests for financial information. For the first time in   ten years, detailed budgets for all 13 schools were actually   given to the school board and the public.  

Requests for data, such as the hundreds of thousands   of dollars billed by the superintendent’s   lawyers, were made available to the board with the   proper warnings that personal data would have to be   redacted before releasing it to the public.  

As the Hasler Era reached its zenith a year ago, he   started changing. The door to public data was   slammed shut after multiple school budgets showed   disparities in compensatory revenue, earmarked for   low-performing students, and negative fund balances   depriving the classroom of needed money.  

The nails were hammered back onto the black box.   Hasler was reduced to a caricature of droning obfuscation,   covering for his boss—the superintendent who   got us in this financial mess in the first place.  

Hasler’s happy smiles were replaced with frowns.   He never looked you in the eye anymore, until you   wondered what he was seeing on the wall behind you.   It made you keep looking over your shoulder, wondering   if something was after all of us.  

Hasler was hired by Gronseth, without school board   input, and eventually, Hasler became just like Gronseth.   The end was near.  

On June 18, Hasler was put on paid administrative   leave. Gronseth asked for school board support to get   rid of him, and our obeisant school board, of course,   took all the blame for the fiasco by publicly offering   Hasler a half year’s pay of $63,000, and another   $12,000 just for good riddance.  

Hasler could not be reached for comment, and the   School District did not respond to requests for comment   as to whether Hasler took the money and ran.  

How does the end happen? Behind closed doors.   Contrary to those who claim this is to protect the privacy   of the innocent, having been to many of such   closed meetings, I can tell you the information blackout   is nearly always done to hide the guilty.  

I’m not implying that Hasler was the guilty one   here. Like other victims of ISD709, his career has   been ruined. He paid his price for coming to Duluth.   What will happen to his house and family? No one   cares. He was thrown under the proverbial school bus.  

Such closed meetings are ugly, but highly predictable.   The people in the room are gloating in their   power to destroy with their hidden hands. You can expect   to hear a very serious, shaming talk by Gronseth’s   lawyer, either in person or via conference call.   The lawyer will likely mansplain how the school district   has been jeopardized by the alleged behavior—   for which there is probably no documentation or any   context or comparisons.  

The Ms. Grundys of the school board will chime in   with how appalled they are and that we have no   choice—we must execute the wishes of the superintendent.   Anyone who might disagree will be given a   talking-to. Other juicy tidbits and character defects of   the errant individual will be expounded on.  

And of course the board is given a stern warning   that none of these details can ever be told to anyone   outside the meeting. If anyone violates this cone of silence,   they might be the next suspect.  

Probably by design, such silence breeds rumors that   no one can publicly correct. Outside, you will hear   tragically flattering statements like, “We can’t tell you   why we are doing this, but if you knew all that we   know, you would do what we had to do.”  

Closed meetings are a way to keep complete control   over the process and over what information gets   out about it. One of the most ugly cases occurred to   Gronseth’s predecessor, I.V. Foster. Remember, I.V.   Foster? He was the African-American superintendent   hired with much fanfare to help address the achievement   gap for kids of color in Duluth. He beat out   Gronseth for the position in 2011.  

Then-School Board Member Gary Glass was a   strong supporter of hiring Foster, but as soon as Glass   announced his retirement and Mike Miernicki and   Bill Westholm were elected, then-Board Chair Judy   Seliga Punyko sent word around that Foster would be   gone. We never saw him again.  

Another closed meeting, another ruined career. He   lasted a whole five months. That time, the character   assassination kicked in big time. I was even told by a   reporter at the time that Foster was being privately   criticized for dating white women. Yes, this is one of   the reasons that young African-Americans call Duluth   the Alabama of the North.  

Gronseth was hired by the board automatically,   without outreach to any other candidates.   It’s become a running joke that Gronseth applies for   jobs that he never gets—he never had to apply for his   current job in Duluth. Perhaps he’d like to apply for   Chief Financial Officer? I hear they’re hiring.  


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