Gerry Brown made a routine request for the tape of a closed school board meeting that took place in December of 1991, shortly after it became public information under the State's Open Meeting Law. There was no copy of it. It was the only tape of a closed meeting ever to be "lost."
Earlier that year, I attended a DFT's candidate screening committee meeting for at large SB candidates at which I denounced Pete Willcoxon. The next day I talked with Pete Willcoxon in his office and he asked why I had denounced him at the Teacher's meeting. Up until a few days ago I had assumed that Joan Peterson or Sally Burns who had been at the Screening meeting had reported my comments to Pete but recently it hit me that maybe it was a teacher that warned Pete about me. A thread connects these two events and many more. They are all part of the web woven by Pete Willcoxon.
I was surprised when you said that Pete predicted the 1.6 million of red ink in January of 1992 "to the penny" because that's not what the public record shows. Your letter forced me to look back at 1991. I'm an inveterate newspaper clipper and I rummaged through my old clippings to check how the Trib reported on school budget problems back in 1991 prior to Dr. Nolin's arrival.
The Tribune was chock full of stories about the unreadable budget and Peter was pleading that his reduced staff made it impossible to do all the detail work. Remember the East high school student who found a 79,000 discrepancy in the budget. He wasn't alone, Paul Osterlund recently told me that Joan Peterson took all the budget info home and spread it out on her floor and found an 80,000 dollar item listed twice that made no sense at all. All was chaos and Peter even wrote an indignant essay which was published in the Tribune on February 2nd 1992 defending the budget. Nowhere does Peter say anything about a potential 1.6 million debt. He does, however, point an accusing finger at a "board member, [who] in the final hours of contract negotiations with the teachers, created confusion in the district and community by releasing preliminary audit information..."
Peter was criticizing Mike Maxim because Maxim had publicly claimed that the District was headed into debt. It was this debt which led Maxim to oppose the teacher's contract negotiated earlier by Brad Bennet, Tony Stauber and Willcoxon. This is how Mike found out about the looming debt.
Just before the final contract negotiations Brad Bennet bumped into the District's auditor from McGladdry & Pullen. The auditor told him that the district was about to sink deeply into debt and a surprised Bennet quickly informed his fellow board members at the meeting but Willcoxon denied there was any problem. Peter left the meeting early and when Bennet passed Pete's room a short time later he overheard Pete beating the pulp out of the auditor for talking to Board members without permission.
Not long after the contract negotiations several board members concluded that Peter had warned the teachers to "take the money and run" because the District would be deep in debt. Your letter apparently confirms that the teachers knew something about the financial condition of the District that the Board members sitting across the table didn't know. When this became apparent to the School Board, David Michaelson gave Willcoxon a wilting cross examination. Willcoxon lamely claimed that he didn't pass information on the the teachers but his credibility had been torn to shreds. It was the tape of this meeting that Gerry Brown never got to hear. Peter was in charge of the tapes.
Pete's February essay ends: "Our citizens should be told the truth: The Duluth School District did act with fiscal responsibility and foresight in both the budget development for this biennium and in contract negotiations with its staff." Unfortunately, where Willcoxon was concerned no one was ever told the truth.
It may have been a great coup for the teachers having the School's District's Business manager as a mole but it was a coup that came at the public's expense. Jim, I don't mind the teachers knowing the financial condition of the School District in fact, I want them to know! But when the Executive Director tilts the balance by giving only the teachers an accurate financial forecast and depriving the School Board of the same its worse than duplicitous, its criminal. Dick Wallin once told me in disgust that there should be no such things as school boards. Whether his opinion has merit or not its breathtaking how true to Wallin's sentiment Peter Willcoxon acted. Willcoxon treated the Board as an impediment to school administration and its no wonder that under these circumstances he was dumped. Its only surprising that it took so long and that he was able to inflict as much damage as he did before his ultimate removal.
Where the teachers are concerned its worth pondering whether anyone so duplicitous could truly be considered an ally and it is that apparent alliance which now makes it seem likely that a teacher may have been the person who warned Pete of my suspicions.
One last thought. If wringing the most out of the operating budget is the teacher negotiating committee's goal its worth noting that Willcoxon's February essay hedges a bit by saying that the insurance rates for the coming year hadn't been settled. Its worth noting because at that time the district's insurance advisor was telling Peter to rebid the insurance because we were paying far too much for insurance premiums. Peter didn't do it. Three years past until the evil Mike Maxim prodded the District into rebidding the insurance. The savings for one year alone was over a million dollars. The district lost out on at least three years worth of savings because of Peter Willcoxon's neglect. That savings could all have gone into teacher's pockets had it not been lost.
As for my attack on Tony. Upon reflection I regret my choice of words to describe Tony's accusations. I just read Dayton's report. Dayton does criticize Nolin for failing to follow established procedure and puts little credence in Nolin's explanation that the District was in a crises. Jim, If I had my letter to write over again I would describe Tony's accusations as overblown. Overblown because compared to the administration under Willcoxon, Nolin's errors were minor. As near as I can judge Willcoxon took part in *******, ********, **********of*******, ********** of ****, ******, ********, let alone book juggling. Stauber's courting of Willcoxon and denunciation of Nolin are like Prince Charming turning his back on Cinderella to date the Evil Step Mother.
Unlike the State Auditor I do agree that Nolin was flying by the seat of his financial pants because he had no idea what his budget contained. When I said that a team of local accountants poured over the books I wasn't kidding. What they uncovered was appalling but Nolin didn't want to fan the flames by pointing fingers and the State Auditor turned his back on past misdeeds because they were all beyond the statute of limitations. Ironically, Dayton's criticism of Nolin was matched by his criticism of Stauber although he did not name him.
My impression of Stauber like the one I've formed of Peter Willcoxon is one that has developed over the course of several years. I'll relate two experiences from last Summer that help explain why I look on him with a jaundiced eye.
At a Central Hillside Community Club meeting Tony was taking some heat from the audience. To deflect the audience's hostility he pointed an accusing finger at Dr. Nolin. "You should ask the Superintendent," Stauber asked rhetorically, "why he bought off former Executive Director for $100,000?" It was a fair question and I asked several of the school board members about it afterward. I was told that contrary to Stauber's implication Nolin had urged the board not to buy off Willcoxon saying that he thought he "could work with the man." If this is true it was unfair of Tony to pin Willcoxon's buyout on the Superintendent rather than on the Board.
Worse yet was Stauber's implication that Stauber wouldn't have agreed with a buyout because apparently Stauber not only wanted to keep Willcoxon around he was the most sympathetic to the idea of a buyout when it became obvious that the other Board members wanted Willcoxon removed.
A month later at a meeting of the West Duluth Businessman's Club I was behind Tony in a line while he talked to Dick Palmer. Tony was telling Palmer how the administration had "lied" the day before about an alleged stroke suffered by the woman who entered the daily enrollment data into the computer. Tony told Dick that he had just talked to the woman who, he assured Dick, was indignant at having been lied about because there was nothing wrong with her at all.
I'd have thought little of this conversation except that the night before I had been to the Board meeting where this woman's plight was discussed. While I sat in the back of the audience an old friend from high school sat next to me and we kibitzed a bit. An employee of the District she was waiting for the discussion of an action item she had placed on the agenda. The Administration needed to hire an additional secretary to work with a woman who had suffered a stroke and was now blind in one eye. Her stroke had come about as a result of the long hours of overtime she had spent typing attendance information by herself into the district's computers.
I later told Palmer that Tony was way off base but Palmer who has his own axe to grind shrugged me off. Like you he puts more faith in Tony than I do.
Tony may take comfort in the idea that this Administration has mismanaged but Tony is ignoring widespread impropriety which took place during his own years as an administrator. I've written down a couple hundred pages of anecdotes about this district and its past administrations. Turning it into a book that only a dozen people will read is a questionable use of my time but when I run into people who rely on their ignorance of the past to feed today's prejudices I can't help but think the past must be exposed.
I get the impression that you're angry at me for turning against teachers but that's a misperception on your part. I'm defending Nolin out of a sense of fairplay. I have little use for big bureaucracies. If I had my way our administration would shrink to a fraction of its current size. Nolin is probably an administrator who never met a job title he didn't like but when I stick up for him I'm not sticking up for his bureaucracy. I just resent his being crucified for wrongs he didn't commit.
Our District has too many administrators and they all play by Machiavelli's rules. I've heard that Pete's old secretary is now Nolin's and that he can't trust her. I've heard that *********'s secretary has a crush on another administrator who has designs on *********'s job. Lots of old timers have plenty to gain should Nolin bite the dust. It might even be argued that the teacher's union has an interest in keeping the Administration weak and divided against itself to exercise greater leverage in the prolonged contract negotiations going on. The only people not benefiting from all the palace intrigue are the kids in the classroom.
I've gotten a lot of good natured grief from the employees at my kid's school because of the letter I wrote. It must be distressing to them that a friend can take the side of the bad guys. I wish they wouldn't regard my defense of Nolin as a rebuke to teachers. I remember reading "Profiles in Courage" as a kid and being impressed with the revolutionary lawyer who vigorously defended the Redcoats who shot the protesters during the Boston Massacre. It wasn't a popular thing to do. It was simply the right thing to do.