The Independent Business News Network blog has repeatedly savaged the reputation of the Minneapolis schools, calling the district "disastrous" and accusing Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson and others of mismanagement.

Now the blog's owner, Donald W.R. Allen II, is getting taxpayer money to recruit students for the very district he bashed.

The Minneapolis school board approved a six-month, $15,000 marketing contract with Allen last month.

The contract was pulled off the December agenda after former board member Chris Stewart raised questions about doing business with a vocal critic, especially one who, in the past, threatened to publicly allege district misconduct.

With Stewart gone, the new school board approved Allen's contract. New members should have been notified of Stewart's concerns, board chairwoman Jill Davis said.

"It was something that was missed," Davis said. "We needed to vet that a little bit more."

In an August post, Allen called the Minneapolis schools "disastrous."

"Our good friends that run the Minneapolis public schools are in for a rude awakening when the nation finds out how bad a once-envied public school system is being beat-out by backwoods schools in Kentucky," the blog read.

Roughly three months later, Allen had a contract to produce public service announcements and print advertisements to recapture Minneapolis students who opt for suburban and charter schools.

Allen said that with the district's battered reputation, he saw an opportunity to help by showcasing successful alumni.

"They gave me an opportunity; I had to produce," said Allen, who estimates that he could have charged between $30,000 and $40,000 for the work.

The speculative or proposed print ads Allen drew up and used to secure the contract for the "Bring Them Back" campaign contain factual errors.

One placard with a likeness of musician Prince indicates he's a North High graduate; the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member actually attended now-closed Central High.

In another proposed ad, Allen lists Nobel Prize-winning scientists Peter Agre and Roderick MacKinnon as Roosevelt High School graduates. Agre is a Roosevelt alum, but MacKinnon grew up in Massachusetts.

The school district's legal department reviewed and approved the contract without reservation, district spokesman Stan Alleyne said.

"This was a good proposal that will benefit the district," Alleyne said. "It's legit and quality. We thought it was worth trying."

The Minneapolis Television Network recently shot video and captured audio at Nellie Stone Johnson Community School for one of Allen's three commercials.

"It may have been a bad call to give me a contract," Allen said, "but they didn't have the talent in-house."

More scrutiny?

Allen has a history with the Minneapolis schools.

In 2008, he peppered the district with information requests about a contract the district granted the Minneapolis Urban League. In November of that year, he wrote a scathing e-mail threatening to go public with his findings of claims the district has denied.

"This 'hush money' ... leaves the [district] in question on why there seems to be no accountability for these dollars and is a slap in the face to the black community, [the district] and more importantly -- the children loose [sic] on this deal big time!" he wrote to Daniel Loewenson, the current assistant to Superintendent Johnson in an e-mail obtained by the Star Tribune.

He continued: "I am still waiting for the information from the Minneapolis Urban League before I go to print."

Allen sent copies of the message to a district public relations coordinator and the district's legal counsel.

Davis said that with Allen's contract in mind, she will ask her colleagues to review policies and to better scrutinize no-bid contracts. The district currently requires bids for contracts of $50,000 or more.

"We want to be partners with people who are going to support our district," she said. "It's about relationships, and Minneapolis can be murky."

Corey Mitchell • 612-673-4491

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