Carlton parent: School Board acted improperlyOnly one day in to Peter Haapala’s new job as superintendent of the Carlton school district, at least one parent Monday was calling for his termination.
By: Jana Hollingsworth, Duluth News Tribune, Pine Journal
Only one day in to Peter Haapala’s new job as superintendent of the Carlton school district, at least one parent Monday was calling for his termination.
She’s also calling for the resignation of the majority of School Board members.
Julianne Emerson, a lawyer and mother to three Carlton students, said the board has violated the state open meeting law and the trust of the community.
“This board has been given the opportunity to do the right thing, and has failed to do so,” Emerson said. “This new superintendent is insisting that now, even after he hears from constituents, that he wants to continue to make these cuts without looking at any other plans.”
Haapala and some members of the board spoke Memorial Day about Haapala’s plans to lay off some teachers and reduce the hours of others at the high school. Teachers were informed the next day. Community outcry led to an emergency meeting later in the week where the board decided against making the cuts. The district has until mid-June to cut about $350,000 after an April failed referendum.
“We don’t have any confidence in them anymore to make the right decisions,” Emerson said. “Any trust that the superintendent might have had is gone.”
She said key people, such as board member Ryan Schmidt, were left out of last week’s decision-making.
Schmidt said the first he knew of the layoffs was Tuesday morning when a teacher called him.
“Talk about being in an awkward spot,” Schmidt said. “The first thing I did was got up and went over to school and saw the superintendent. He made it clear that this was only proposals, but teachers felt the layoffs were happening.”
The News Tribune wasn’t able Monday to reach Haapala or the board members he consulted about his plan for budget cuts. It’s not clear how many members he spoke to and whether the board members participated in full discussions or simply received information. Therefore it is not clear if open meeting laws were violated, according to Minnesota Newspaper Association attorney Mark Anfinson.
In order to satisfy open meetings laws, Anfinson said any meeting held with a quorum of board members (in this case four of the six) must be public and posted at least three days in advance.
“If indeed the superintendent in consulting by some mysterious means with some School Board members came to a decision about anything — but certainly anything having to do with cutting teachers — these things have to be done at a public meeting,” he said. “He (Haapala) might have a little bit to learn.”
Anfinson also said calling an emergency board meeting as Carlton did last week was “nonsense.”
“This is a serious matter, but not an emergency,” he said. “An emergency is a boiler’s gone out.”
The board on Friday posted notice of a meeting of the Finance Committee to discuss the district’s debt reduction plan. The notice said it will take place at 6 p.m. today, although the location (at the high school) wasn’t posted on the notice, Emerson said.
“In light of mistrust and the law, this action is unacceptable,” she wrote in a letter to the Duluth News Tribune.