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Letter To The Editor - Former school business manager takes issue with letter

To the editor:

A few days ago I thought I would check in on what is happening in my old home town. So I went online to the Blackduck American website. I read a few of the articles and letters to the editor. I see that not much has changed when it comes to the school.

In the April 22 edition of the American, I see another fine teacher has decided to move on. I predicted this in a statement I read to the board shortly after I left the school. I said that until some of the board members learn how to treat the faculty and staff with some respect they will be looking elsewhere, much the same as I was forced to do.

So, in the last year the school has lost two excellent teachers and a business manager. I am quite certain this trend will continue if the cancer that is on the school board as well as the backward thinking that permeates the community doesn't change. This thinking was brought out in a letter to the editor in the April 15 edition of the Blackduck American. Mr. Hentges comes across with much the same attitude that three current and one former school board member holds. **

In the April 8 Blackduck American article, a former school board member, Larry Zea, mentions that the school has lost several students due to home schooling. When I was first hired as business manager in 2000, we also had several students who were home schooled. We also had many more open enrolled students coming into the district than were going out. That is not the case today.

In my opinion, the big reason is that so many programs have been cut that students are looking elsewhere to seek more opportunities. This is the reason there needs to be an operating referendum passed. So that the school can offer opportunities to keep and attract students. The state continues to underfund education so, unfortunately, local taxpayers statewide are being asked to pick up the slack. There is a reason why over 90 percent of the school districts in the state have an operating referendum. And the average operating referendum is around $800 per student.

Mr. Hentges says the school needs to be run like a business.

Most successful business owners invest in their business to make it successful. An operating referendum would be investing in the business. Unfortunately the only way to do that is to pass an operating referendum. It's like the old saying -- you get what you pay for.

Mr. Hentges also says the school needs to be run like a business not like one big happy family.

It has been proven time and again that if the working environment is a friendly cohesive one, people are much more productive and do a better job than if they are constantly badgered. Where this attitude that there must be such hostility and resentment between the administration and staff has come from is beyond me. Some very successful businesses are run like a happy family.

There was an article in the Minneapolis Tribune a few years back of one such business. They were far exceeding expectations and people really wanted to work there. The reason given was because of their employee-friendly atmosphere.

When I was first hired there was a good relationship between school board and staff. This seemed to change shortly after the elections of 2000. Why must the faculty and staff be treated with such hostility? Why would anyone want to be a superintendent in that kind of atmosphere? Or are these board members looking for a superintendent who can be their puppet?

Mr. Hentges also makes the comment that he was proud of the community for the good debate at a school board meeting. I am sure he is talking about those who agreed with his perspective. That is not a good debate. That is closer to what I would call bullying. The board recently adopted an anti-bullying policy. There are a few on the board and a former board member who should heed this policy.

This has been a problem around that school for a few years now. If you agree with those who are the most vocal, things are fine, but don't you ever dare to disagree with, or offer another opinion, or you become their target. I know this first hand. I was driven out of my job because I dared to disagree and offer an opinion different than theirs.

Then once I left and had a good job in another community, one day I received an e-mail at my place of work from a former board member wanting to know what my salary and benefit package was. Why on earth would that be any concern of his since he was not a taxpayer in that community? What kind of evil intentions were behind this?

Mr. Hentges also quotes from the Minnesota School Board Association on how to go about hiring a superintendent. The MSBA also has a page on what it takes to be a good school board member. Here is what it says.

What Makes a Good Board Member?

Effective school board members share a number of common characteristics, but it's important to realize they did not become effective the instant they were elected. Many qualities are acquired through experience and are important to consider:

• A conviction that public education is important

• The ability to make decisions

• Loyalty to the democratic process

• Time and energy to devote to board business, including board development opportunities

• Ability to accept the will of the majority

• Respect for district staff

• Ability to communicate well with others

• Courage

In my opinion there have been several of these qualities lacking for quite some time now especially the respect for district staff. Sitting in a restaurant badmouthing employees is certainly not showing any respect for them.

Unfortunately there are too many of the board members, whether they are appointed or elected, who come with their own agenda and refuse to look at the big picture.

It appears that the same old group is continuing down the path of their personal agenda which is going to ultimately destroy the fine school in Blackduck. Alan Hentges' article was a case and point. He points the finger at some of the staff and board members as though they are the problem.

If I sound a little bitter, I am. Blackduck was my home town. I was born and raised there. Blackduck will always be a part of me. I was promised a salary and benefit package to take the job and then a a few years later one board member started attacking me for that. Then in the most recent past, another board member continued that attack by badmouthing me among his coffee shop cronies and went to work behind the scenes to try and get taken away what I was offered to take the job in the first place.

Why was I being singled out? Could it be that I dared to speak up? I had no choice but to move on. I miss my friends in Blackduck but I sure don't miss the hostility and resentment shown towards public employees there. I really don't understand why people have to be treated like that just because they are public employees. These jobs are a vital part of the community and we want those people to be quality employees so that the fine reputation Blackduck School has had in the past will continue. Unfortunately it doesn't appear things are going to change anytime soon.

David Decker