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Investigation Ahead for Duluth School Board Member

Updated: 06/10/2014 11:19 PM
Created: 06/10/2014 9:34 PM WDIO.com
By: Travis Dill
tdill@wdio.com

The Duluth School Board voted to investigate member Art Johnston for alleged assault, racist comments and a conflict of interest among other offenses.

After two hours of discussion the board approved an independent law firm to investigate the allegations.

“If this goes through with this firm on there this will clearly be a witch hunt, nothing else but a witch hunt,” Johnston said.

The allegations include assault of Superintendent Bill Gronseth and School Board Chair Mike Miernicki. Neither wished to comment on the allegations during or after the meeting.

Only Johnston and member Harry Welty opposed the motion.

“We're talking about a process that I find deeply flawed and the motivations of the people highly suspect,” Welty said.

Johnston said he believes the alleged assaults stem from a frustrated exchange at the Duluth East High School graduation ceremony last week, but he denied touching Gronseth or Miernicki.

“My demeanor is I'm a fairly strong person, I have a loud voice, but I wasn't yelling at anybody,” Johnston said.

Johnston said he has had a 14-year relationship with a special education instructor at Duluth East, and he said he was upset the district was moving her to another school. He said his involvement in those proceedings may be the support for the conflict of interest allegation.

“I'm assuming they're saying that conflict of interest was me as a school board member was speaking up for my spouse,” Johnston said.

He said made it clear he was only involved with those proceedings as a supportive spouse.

Johnston is uncertain why it is alleged he made a racist comment, but he said he has support from the minority communities in the district.

Johnston also denied the remaining allegations saying they are an attack on him for his questioning the school district on many topics including the controversial Red Plan.

The school board vote initiated an investigation, but members said answers about the allegations could take weeks or longer.

Johnston was disappointed the board chose to spend the money on the investigation, but he was able to introduce an amendment requiring the school board be updated on the cost of the investigation every month.

The list of allegations against Johnston include, but are not limited to:

Alleged abuse of authority as a school board member as it relates to staff member/members.

Alleged conflict of interest in relation to a staff member. Alleged violation of the Code of Ethics, Board Policy 8050.

Alleged assault of or otherwise improper conduct toward the Superintendent of Schools.

Alleged assault of or otherwise improper conduct towards the School Board Chairman.

Alleged racist or otherwise improper comment about a staff member.

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