Lakeville educator’s credibility challenged after two DWIs

  • Article by: HERÓN MÁRQUEZ ESTRADA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 9, 2013 - 9:19 AM

Lakeville athletic director plead guilty last month to drunken driving in a case stemming from his second DWI arrest in four years.

In the past six months, in his capacity as athletic director at Lakeville North High School, Bob Ertl estimates he has had to discipline students and athletes about half a dozen times for illegally drinking alcohol.

Ertl, a 47-year-old former coach, says he has had to do dole out such punishments 15 to 20 times a year since he took over about four years ago.

But some Lakeville residents think he's lost his credibility after pleading guilty last month to drunken driving in a case stemming from his second DWI arrest in four years.

"This has been a very difficult situation for me and the district," Ertl said. "I'm very sorry for the negative light this has cast on our district."

The situation has led to letters to the school board and superintendent, calls for Ertl to be fired or replaced, and questions from students and parents about how he can continue to lead mandatory assemblies where students are warned about the dangers of drinking.

"I'm sorry he has a drinking issue," said Genny Andrusko of Lakeville, one of those pushing for Ertl to be replaced. "But it's not OK what the district hasn't decided to do with this athletic director. I think the district has been grossly negligent in leaving this gentleman here."

The district is standing by Ertl, saying he's undergoing treatment. In fact, officials revealed this week that they plan to keep him on for another two years at a salary of nearly $100,000.

In a written statement, the district said: "During the past seven months he has demonstrated his commitment to positively resolving this matter."

Ertl pleaded guilty to drunken driving on Dec. 20 and was placed on probation and ordered to perform community service. Superintendent Lisa Snyder said the district had until Jan. 1 to notify Ertl whether it was going to renew his contract. The district decided to do so, she said, meaning he will be getting a new two-year contract.

Ertl was arrested and charged with driving while intoxicated in 2008, before becoming athletic director, but in a plea deal, he was convicted of careless driving.

Tough on alcohol

Parents, community members and even some athletes have pointed out the irony that Ertl's job involves telling more than 1,200 students about the dangers of drugs and alcohol several times a year.

The question is especially pertinent in Lakeville, which eight years ago began a campaign against underage drinking after Christine Lawson, a 17-year-old high school student, died in a car crash after a night of binge drinking.

The district, for example, has stricter discipline for athletes caught drinking than that recommended by the Minnesota State High School League.

Also, the district initiated an ongoing program -- led by Ertl -- where several times a year students attend a mandatory assembly cautioning them about the dangers of drugs and alcohol.

The complaints about Ertl have been sent to Snyder and school board members, who were notified in June about the arrest and have thus far supported the administration's handling of the situation.

"It was an unfortunate incident," said Roz Peterson, expected to be the new chairwoman of the school board this year. "We are in support of how the administration is handling this."

But others are not.

"This issue needs to be addressed by you," Katherine Grant-Erickson wrote in an e-mail to the school board last week. "This person involved needs to be made an example of what NOT to do. Should he lose his job, not sure but he should have some repercussions applied."

Ertl said he understands that people are upset with him and that he has sullied his and the district's reputation.

He said he immediately notified his superiors when he was arrested, and Snyder said he and the district worked out an agreement whereby he would get sober and undergo treatment.

"He has complied with every part of the plan and to date he has been very successful," Snyder said.

Ertl believes he can be effective at his job, although he admits that his conviction will make it more difficult to talk to students.

"I am aware of the challenges," Ertl said. "I've made mistakes and I take full ownership. I will ... share with young people that you don't want to follow in my footsteps, you want to make better choices."

Heron Marquez • 952-746-3281

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