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Viewpoint: There are reasons for suspicion in School District 833

We are well aware of the resignations in District 833 and take little comfort in the YouTube video produced by Superintendent Keith Jacobus. As a homeowner who pays taxes to support my school, I will say that a public official doesn’t have the right to resign from a position and keep the information “private” from the people who pay their salaries. We recognize that our district is the “heart” of our community. If we lose our schools, we as a community will suffer. We have seen this before in District 622 where property owners can’t sell or are forced to sell at a reduced price because families refuse to move to a district with poor performing schools.

The statements made by Jacobus are flawed in that the two assistant superintendents resigned before having a new “opportunity.” While Dave Bernhardson has since been offered the position of superintendent for Inver Grove Heights Community Schools, Keith Ryskoski hasn’t found a new position.

Mary Amidon was Jacobus’ secretary and also served as district clerk. As district clerk, Mary was responsible for ensuring campaign finance rules were followed during the off-year election. A grievance was filed against the Committee for VOTE with the Office of Administrative Hearings because of alleged fraud on their campaign finance report. The complaint indicates that the committee used taxpayer money to support a referendum. The contribution from the district’s principals association has an address listed as the district offices and the district offices are supported with our tax dollars. We also know that Kraus-Anderson Construction donated a considerable sum of money to the committee. One of the ballot questions asked taxpayers for $8 million to purchase land for a new school. This seems very suspect. Twelve-thousand dollars in donations came from the powerful teachers union. The donations weren’t listed on the initial campaign finance report, leading many to believe that the committee and the district didn’t want to disclose the donations until after the election.

Randi Anderson was responsible for a district travel budget increase of $196,000 per year. Her brief stopover in our district included a trip to San Diego for teachers and administrators for AVID training at the cost of $152,505. We obtained the breakdown of costs for the trip via data request and found huge discrepancies in the amount some teachers and administrators spent on hotel and flight arrangements. Our teachers and administrators fly while our kids walk to school in the cold. Her implementation of common core standards in reading and social studies coincided with a more than 10-point drop on student test scores.

Aaron Bushberger helped Jacobus create the budget matrix, a soft accounting system that allowed the district to hide hard numbers from the public. Under the matrix, the cost per student was given in each of five budget cells (i.e., transportation, School Support Services, etc). This convoluted accounting system produced distrust in the public.

School Board Member Jim Gelbmann resigned after being threatened with a special session which included district counsel. After he submitted his resignation, the special session was pulled from the agenda.

Jay Kolls, from KSTP-TV, did an investigative report in which Jay can be seen chasing Jacobus down the hall at the district offices. Jacobus asks Jay to leave a public meeting in a public place. How much longer can the board and the superintendent continue to run and hide?

Susan Richardson is a Woodbury resident and a former District 833 School Board candidate.

Editor’s note: An administrative law judge dismissed all claims made in a citizen complaint against the Committee for VOTE, a group that campaigned for the School District 833 referendum last fall.