Duluth School Board Pays Out $55,000 to Citizen Watchdog

Schools exist to disseminate knowledge and information, right? Apparently the Duluth School Board didn’t get the lesson plan. This week the board of Minnesota’s 22nd largest district by enrollment reached a settlement with a former board member turned citizen watchdog who’d sought  information on Duluth school’s controversial Red Plan, according to the News Tribune.

The Duluth School Board on Monday unanimously approved a $55,000 settlement with former member Art Johnston, ending Johnston’s quest for data involving the district’s long-range facilities plan and other matters.

“What you as a district would get would be dismissal of this lawsuit,” said Trevor Helmers, the attorney representing the district in the matter, as he presented it to the board in special session. “You can’t turn around and be faced with these same issues next week, next month, next year. It’s final. It’s all done.”

The Minnesota Department of Administration backed up Johnston’s data requests for detailed information on millions of dollars in change orders for construction projects.  But the school board ignored the nonbinding opinion and continued to stonewall Johnston, who then sued the school district last August in district court.

But the newly announced settlement doesn’t mean Johnston’s backing off.

Although he will make no further data requests, Johnston said afterwards that he’d encourage other people to do so. He also will work with residents of other school districts in the state to make sure their districts are held accountable, he said.

“I get calls from all over the state asking, ‘What do we do? I can’t get any information from my school,'” Johnston said.

While the district did not admit wrongdoing, Fox-21 News reports the Duluth School District agreed to follow the Minnesota Data Practices Act in a more timely manner from now on.

In September, the district released the data Johnston requested. He says he is now reviewing the data.

“I’m doing this one, because school districts should not be immune to obeying the law and two, they have to tell the truth. And I think one of the settlements were that the school district would comply with the data practices act in future requests,” said Johnston.

Another up side? Local taxpayers will get a break with the district’s insurer agreeing to pay the settlement in order to avoid the expense of going to trial.