Some Shakopee residents have rallied together to form a community watchdog group with a single, unifying purpose: a demand that the school board step down. They want all seven members to resign but say they'll settle for a few.
"The group as a whole is negligent — at best. But some are more culpable than others," said Carrie Ferris, an active member of FACT: Friends & Concerned Taxpayers of Shakopee, an offshoot of the "Concerned Citizens of Shakopee" Facebook group, which helped launch an inquiry into former district Superintendent Rod Thompson.
"We don't want to wait until the  election," Ferris said. "And we shouldn't have to."
Organizers say they're upset that the school board failed to recognize overspending by Thompson, who resigned in June amid allegations of misusing a district credit card. According to a sworn statement filed to obtain a federal search warrant, Thompson is under investigation for spending public money on personal expenses, including a flat-screen TV and a trip to Nashville. He later reimbursed the district for those purchases. Investigators also allege that Thompson got kickbacks, including vacations and loans, from companies that were awarded contracts with the district.
The fallout, residents say, is a complete deterioration of trust between taxpayers and their elected school officials.
"It's heartbreaking. What do we pay taxes for?" said Joseph Ditto, a Shakopee resident and chairman of the Scott County Republicans.
A petition calling for a vote of no confidence and censure of the school board has racked up about 300 signatures since June 27. The letter asserts that a majority of the community now believes that board members "are fiscally incompetent, noncommunicative, ineffective, and cannot perform their duties as elected officials overseeing Shakopee ISD 720."
In a statement from board chair Scott Swanson, the elected body said that they are taking steps to regain the public's trust and improve transparency under interim Superintendent Gary Anger and new directors of human resources and finance and operations.
"As a school board, we understand the frustration felt by some in our community," Swanson wrote. "While we cannot change the past, it has served as a learning tool as we continuously work to get the district back on track."
"… We are moving forward solely focused on what's important — our students."
Concerned parents and others began their own investigation into Thompson in March, shortly after Thompson notified staff of a $4.5 million budget shortfall, which he attributed to "human error."
Two FACT members personally examined credit card receipts and sent their findings to the Minnesota State Auditor's Office and Shakopee police. Organizers, augmented by reporting in the Shakopee Valley News, created a Facebook page, ordered their own business cards and helped build a case against Thompson.
"HELP WANTED: Clean house now!!" the cards read. "The Shakopee school board has FAILED Us!"
At one of the group's first outreach events, about a dozen members gathered outside Shakopee West Junior High School to hand out fliers outlining their demands. They want the removal of all board members and an immediate special election to replace them. The fliers listed 10 reasons behind the demand for their resignation, ranging from an overall lack of transparency to questionable ethical conduct.
An American flag waved above a handmade sign that read "Step Down Shady School Board" as activists approached parents and students entering the school for an unrelated public forum on redrawn attendance areas.
"There's people in the organization who are scared to speak up because they have kids in the district," said Deb Krause, a longtime resident who has two students in Shakopee High School. That hasn't kept her from writing critical letters to the editor about the need for fresh representation. Krause said if her activism causes problems for her daughter, she'll move the 10th-grader to another school.
The group of 16 vocal activists is hoping the Thompson investigation will result in criminal charges.
"Let our district heal. Let us have a clean slate and trust our officials again," Ferris said. "Right now, there's no trust in the school board."