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Photo: Commander Paul Sommer of the Anoka County Sheriff's Dept.

Brian Peterson, Star Tribune

Anoka County sheriff investigating St. Francis schools chief

  • Article by: Paul Levy and Shannon Prather
  • Star Tribune
  • April 10, 2014 - 10:15 AM

St. Francis schools Superintendent Edward Saxton, placed on paid administrative leave in January by the district’s school board, is the subject of a criminal investigation, the Anoka County Sheriff’s Office confirmed Wednesday.

Saxton has been accused of misrepresenting facts to the Minnesota Department of Education to get more funding for his district, Anoka County Sheriff’s Cmdr. Paul Sommer said. Saxton, superintendent since 2003, has not been charged, and he has not been accused of misappropriating funds for personal gain, Sommer said.

Sommer said he could offer no other details while the investigation continues.

The Minnesota Department of Education said it has received no complaints and was not aware of any alleged misconduct concerning Saxton, department spokesman Josh Collins said.

Saxton, interviewed at his home in Corcoran on Wednesday, said he was unaware that any information had been forwarded to the Sheriff’s Office. “No one from the district has communicated with me since January 26,” he said.

He said he received a letter from the district outlining proposed discipline against him, but he declined to discuss why he was put on leave or what discipline was mentioned.

Asked whether he knew the investigation involved financial matters, Saxton said, “I knew it had something to do with a program we were running.” He declined to comment further.

St. Francis school board Chairman David Roberts confirmed that the district had been in communication with the Sheriff’s Office. “There was information we were obligated to forward to the Sheriff’s Department,” he said. “I don’t know if they are actively pursuing it.”

Sequence of events

Saxton, who is paid nearly $145,000 in salary by the north metro district, was placed on leave on Jan. 21, when the school board began investigating allegations made against him by David Lindberg, the district’s human resources director.

Thirteen days earlier, Saxton had fired Lindberg. In a two-paragraph letter signed by Saxton, Lindberg was told that he was being terminated immediately for “a variety of factors.”

Lindberg said he was given no notice or further explanation. He said he was a “whistleblower” who confronted Saxton about his “management style and ineffective cabinet meetings” and at one point complained about Saxton to Roberts.

At the Jan. 21 meeting, the school board voted to place Saxton and Lindberg on paid administrative leave pending investigations.

On March 10, the board voted to discipline Lindberg after its attorneys said there were “grounds to discharge.” School board members offered no public explanation. The district also declined to release information concerning Lindberg’s discipline, saying it is not yet final.

In correspondence with the Star Tribune, the district said the school board also has proposed disciplinary action against Saxton, pending the results of its investigation. It did not say when that proposal was made or what action was being considered.

Lindberg remains bitter. He said that he and Saxton argued about the district’s projected enrollment figures for next year. The number of students helps determine the size of the district’s budget.

“I accused him of fraud,” Lindberg said. “We were $400,000 apart on projected budget cuts. He asked me to put my name on the number he wanted, and I refused to do it.”

Roberts said he will disclose details when any discipline is finalized. “I have every intent to make it public as soon as I can. I am all in favor of the public, my taxpayers knowing,” he said.

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.

 

plevy@startribune.com • 612-673-4419

shannon.prather@startribune.com 612-673-4804

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