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Nevis, Minn., school bookkeeper placed on leave after son questions superintendent's use of district vehicle

NEVIS, Minn. - A school district bookkeeper here says she was placed on "leave" last week after her son questioned the local superintendent's use of a district vehicle in southern Minnesota Aug. 21.

Betsy Anderson said she was asked to meet with Superintendent Steve Rassier and School Board Chairman Ed Becker Aug. 25 after the two learned that Jon Hoffman, Anderson's son, had been publicly questioning the use of the school district vehicle.

But due to the nature of prior meetings, Anderson said she told them she would not meet without an attorney present.

Rassier and Becker offered to include another office staff member in the discussion, Anderson said. But she declined, reiterating her earlier statement, "Not without an attorney."

At that point, she said she was told by Rassier to "turn in her keys and leave the building immediately due to insubordination."

Anderson asked for this in writing, which she received.

"I was of the impression I was fired," Anderson said Monday, "not administrative leave."

The School Board has scheduled a special board meeting for 6 p.m. Tuesday in the school's media center to discuss "action on confidential bookkeeper's contract."

Anderson said she will ask the meeting remain open to the public.

"He did nothing wrong; I did nothing wrong," she said of her son questioning "personal use of a Nevis School vehicle."

Last week, Hoffman questioned the use of the vehicle in letters to newspapers, alleging that personal use of a district vehicle is an "abuse of power" by the administration. He also cited the Nevis District 308 transportation handbook which says "School district vehicles will not be used for personal convenience."

Hoffman said he saw the district's Suburban hooked to a trailer hauling a '67 Camero at Rassier's former residence in Ghent.

Hoffman, 29, who resides in the Ghent area, took photos of the vehicle.

Anderson said Hoffman told her about this. He contacted an unnamed school board member via e-mail who told him, "His (Rassier's) usage of the vehicle was not against school policy, but maybe not a real good idea."

"The board member assured me," Hoffman states, "that 'he (Rassier) had filled out the proper paperwork on the Suburban in question. This Suburban has been taken out of school service two years ago. It now can only be used for staff purposes. He, of course, paid for all expenses. He received approval from the chairman of the board, Ed Becker.'"

Monday, Rassier said the board will make the final decision on Anderson's contract, which, he said, "can be modified or terminated."

Rassier states the district has provisions for use of school vehicles, classrooms, computers and other equipment. The district's insurance, he said, covers use of equipment by employees.

He said he paid for the vehicle's gas and completed a form requesting the use of the vehicle prior to departing.

Rassier said he and board members have reviewed the policy subsequent to the accusation and determined his use of the vehicle "had not violated any policy."

But Rassier acknowledged this is an issue that may need to be addressed.

"It is time for more accountability," Hoffman wrote. "I am going to use this opportunity for a call to action of the Nevis community and stand up for what's right.

Jean Ruzicka is a reporter at The Park Rapids (Minn.) Enterprise, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.