Denying reality
ISD 2142 desperately needs a new chairman of the board

The St. Louis County School District’s efforts to put a positive spin on the reprimand it received from the Office of Administrative Hearings reveals a leadership wildly out of touch with reality.

If this were simply a case of the district inadvertently straying afoul of the law, as officials claimed in their press release, why did they fight this case in the courts instead of admitting their “unintentional” error and saving taxpayers thousands of dollars wasted on legal fees?

The answer is obvious. District officials knew full well that using tax dollars to promote the passage of the bond issue was unlawful. They also knew the information they were passing on to voters was inaccurate and designed to paint the bleakest scenario possible should the referendum fail.

The OAH judges said as much in their ruling, which detailed numerous instances where the district either exaggerated the consequences if the referendum failed or used outdated and inaccurate financial projections to bolster its arguments.

But the district glossed over those details in their press statement, suggesting that the line between promotional and informational literature was very fine. That might be so in some instances, but not in this case. And board members’ own actions betrayed their intent. At a well-attended public meeting in Cook just weeks after the bond vote, board member Zelda Bruns acknowledged that some of the financial claims made by the district were inaccurate. As she did so, board Chairman Robert Larson sought to keep her quiet. Larson knew full well what the district had done, but he lacked the common decency exhibited by Bruns, who showed integrity in apologizing for the board’s actions.

Even more galling is the school district’s implication in its press statement that districts can use tax dollars to promote passage of a referendum. Such a view flies in the face of everything the district has been told by both the Minnesota School Board Association and their previous Superintendent Charles Rick, not to mention the Court of Appeals in an earlier ruling in this case. Larson’s professed confusion over whether districts can promote referenda is either the worst-case of short-term memory loss we’ve encountered or a deliberate deception.

A 1966 Minnesota attorney general’s opinion made it plain that districts can’t use tax dollars to promote a referendum, but can only provide neutral information on the ballot question. Rick stressed that same view in three attempts to pass an operating levy when he cautioned the board on the materials it could produce to inform people about the vote. Larson was present for those discussions and surely knew that it was improper to use tax funds to promote the passage of the bond referendum.

Moreover, he and other school officials clearly understood that when they appeared before the OAH judges in public hearings in December and January. They argued strenuously that they were not promoting the passage of the bond issue and the newsletters were strictly informational. Now that the judges have found otherwise, Larson has changed his tune, implying that it may not be illegal to do so. He’s flat out wrong and his constantly changing rationale reveals volumes about his lack of integrity.

It’s disappointing and it underscores the need for new leadership in this district. If Larson is unwilling to learn from his mistakes, let alone admit them, district residents can no longer trust him. We wouldn’t accept this type of behavior from a sheriff or a mayor who routinely violated the law and refused to face the consequences. We certainly shouldn’t accept such behavior from school officials, who are supposed to be educators, after all. What a lesson Chairman Larson is providing the young people of our district— that it’s just fine to mislead people to get your way, and then make up new stories to excuse your behavior. Robert Larson, in no way, should be chairman of any school district, anywhere. He doesn’t deserve the title or the authority.

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5 comments on this item

I can't count how many times Bob Larson told me to shut up, even before my so-called 3 minutes were up. He can't stand questions covering immoral acts, he is so full of himself, and evidently, he feels above all the rest of us. I'm going to go out on a limb and say he was in cahoots with JCI, Rantala backed him blindly and Albertson gave him cover at every juncture. Meanwhile, we no longer have schools in Orr, Cook and a high school in Tower-Soudan. All communities voted overwhelmingly AGAINST the bond referendum. Great job Booby. I hope JCI is taking good care of you.

I should also mention that I have the fortunate happenstance to view tapes of the Virginia and Mountain Iron School Board meetings. Each rotate Chairman every year. A good move which we should have been doing long ago.

Now, in the corporate world, where I came from, people in key positions were required to take vacations. Someone would fill in for them. It wasn't so much that the company wanted you to take time off with your family, it was more to see if you were up to shenanigans in your job.

Now, if Bobby holds the position each year, he could set up side deals that would go by unnoticed, since another board member doesn't take a turn at the gavel. I'm not saying Bobby was dealing under the table, but there has to be a reason why he covets the position each year...and board members give it to him. If other larger districts can rotate chairmen, why can't we?

If you read Albertson's editorial on-line http://www.cooknewsherald.com/page2.html he still says that the school board did nothing wrong but that the school district has been wronged by the "Trio from Tower". He claims that they have cost the school district thousands in legal fees but from my standpoint the school board is the ones that cost the school district thousands. They fought it tooth and nail even when they knew they were in the wrong. He also claims that Marshall is only reporting one side of the story. Boy is that the Pot calling the kettle Black!

Jake: Yah, I read it too. Is anybody surprised? Gary Albertson has made a lot of money of this district and Johnson Controls. He will go down fighting. And as is part of the human condition, he will blame others except himself for this debacle. He will not change, that job is left to us. Cook and Tower have elections for school board directors this year. Nancy Glowaski needs help if she is going to clean up this mess. Troy Swanson has been a major disappointment, now that Nancy is on the board, it would be nice to see Andy Larson back. Cook, you folks had better step up to the plate and nominate a winning candidate that will represent you, not Bob Larson, JCI or the School District Board. You pay the bills, would you pay for that kind performance from your car repair shop. Why do you Cook people accept it from your school board director?

If Bob were not so full of hubris he would have resigned in shame by now.

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