Firing of St. Francis Schools HR chief is latest issue to roil district

  • Article by: SHANNON PRATHER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 3, 2014 - 4:22 PM
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Commander Paul Sommer of the Anoka County Sheriff's Dept.

Photo: BRIAN PETERSON, Star Tribune

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St. Francis Schools’ human resources director — who accused the superintendent of fraud, canceled labor talks with the teachers union and used social media to publicly criticize the district — was fired this spring over 30 allegations, according to newly released district documents.

The school board terminated David Lindberg in March, two months after he and Superintendent Edward Saxton, who is currently the subject of an investigation, were placed on paid leave.

In dismissing Lindberg, the board cited “substantiated” allegations that included escalating a “legitimate disagreement” over high school enrollment projections into accusations of “fraudulent and illegal behavior,” according to a redacted copy of a district report obtained by the Star Tribune through a data practices request.

The report also said Lindberg had an “aggressive and unyielding” leadership style, clandestinely recorded meetings with staff, missed critical project deadlines and boasted that he was “good at firing people.” He created a series of YouTube videos titled “Why I Laugh at ISD 15” that was cited in the investigation, referring to the district.

On Monday, Lindberg said, in part, that the report was prepared by a law firm that “regularly represents, and protects the district.”

The northern Anoka County school district has been roiled by events in recent months. Lindberg, who earned $110,000 a year, and superintendent Saxton, who makes $145,000, had been on paid leave since January after Saxton tried to fire Lindberg.

Saxton, who is still on leave, is the subject of an investigation by the Anoka County Sheriff’s Department about allegations that he may have misrepresented enrollment to the Minnesota Department of Education to get more funding for his district.

Sheriff’s Cmdr. Paul Sommer said detectives are awaiting an audit from the Minnesota Department of Education before completing their work, which will be forwarded to the county attorney.

Earlier this spring, the district said the school board also had proposed disciplinary action against Saxton. It did not say when that proposal was made or what action was being considered.

District officials including the acting superintendent and school board chairman have declined to comment. “There is nothing to add to that,” board Chairman Dave Roberts said Monday.

Controversy surfaced in early January, when Saxton tried to fire Lindberg. Lindberg, a district employee since 2011, appealed to the school board, arguing the termination was not properly done.

The board placed both men on paid leave at its Jan. 21 meeting.

According to the district’s investigation:

• Lindberg missed numerous deadlines related to a salary survey. “As a result … the school board went into a closed meeting on December 23, 2013, to discuss negotiations strategy without meaningful salary survey data,” the report said.

• Lindberg abruptly canceled negotiations with the teachers union and four other bargaining units. Education Minnesota, the state teachers union, sent the district a letter in January complaining about him. “Announcing a unilateral decision to postpone negotiations indefinitely has all the markings of an unfair labor practice,” said the Education Minnesota letter.

Lindberg declined to discuss the specific points of the investigation, but in a written statement said, “The report provided to the Star Tribune was authored by the law firm that regularly represents, and protects the District. I did not have an opportunity for due process such as an independent investigation, hearing, calling witnesses, etc. My former supervisor, whom I accused of fraud in January, is no longer the superintendent and being investigated by the Anoka County Sheriff. I am happy to be moving forward from this unpleasant situation.”

Saxton, who could not be reached for comment, started in the district on Oct. 31, 1995, as an administrative assistant. He was promoted to high school assistant principal in July 1996. He was named high school principal in 2001 and became superintendent in 2003.

The St. Francis District has 5,000 students and more than 800 teachers and other staffers. The sprawling district covers 165 square miles of northern Anoka and southern Isanti counties.

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