by Sue Austreng
March 5 marked what Anoka-Hennepin administrators hoped to be the end of months of tension, angry public opposition and exhaustive mediation. On that day, school board members agreed on a settlement to a lawsuit filed against Anoka-Hennepin School District last summer that alleged persistent bullying and harassment based on sexual orientation.
However, the satisfaction of the settlement was short-lived when, moments after casting the only opposing vote, Boardmember Kathy Tingelstad resigned her position, effective immediately.
“With the school district’s limited legal resources, Anoka-Hennepin has been dealing with lawsuits – brought by 19 lawyers from mostly out-of-state organizations… My concern about the… settlement is the reason why I am now resigning as an Anoka-Hennepin School Board member,” Tingelstad said.
In her resignation letter, Tingelstad cited three reasons she voted no on the settlement: costs, governance issues and precedent.
Tingelstad expressed great concern regarding the cost of the settlement – $270,000 lump sum paid to the six student plaintiffs plus $500,000 in costs to hire an equity consultant, a Title IX/equity coordinator and a mental health consultant and to expand the district’s harassment-prevention task force.
“It will require the school district to hire several additional staff people and consultants,” she said. “In addition, it makes significant monitoring and reporting demands with limited staff, which will lead to additional staff hours and costs.”
She feels that taking that money from the health and safety levy will leave fewer funds for other priorities, Tingelstad said.
Tingelstad’s concerns about government issues related to the settlement have to do with the federal government’s role (the Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights) in prescribing legal resolution, “which may be overstepping its authority in regards to local control school board governance issues,” she said.
Finally, Tingelstad’s resignation was also due to the precedent the settlement created.
“I am concerned about the statewide implications of this lawsuit settlement, and its far-reaching precedent for other public schools in Minnesota and across the country,” she said.
Tingelstad did not expand on what she felt that implication might be.
After announcing her resignation Tingelstad acknowledged her concern about retaliation from the non-local organizations which have “drug (Anoka-Hennepin School District) through the mud.”
“Like a target of bullying, I choose to leave the situation by resigning – instead of fighting back against the out-of-state bullies,” she said.
She hopes by bringing public attention to the situation “others will deal appropriately with the people and organizations who have been bullying Anoka-Hennepin School officials,” Tingelstad said.
When asked Tuesday to describe the timeline and procedure that would be followed to replace Tingelstad on the school board, Superintendent Dennis Carlson said it was too early to comment.
From 1996 to 2008, when she did not seek re-election, Tingelstad served as a Republican member of the Minnesota House of Representatives, serving district 50B, which after the 2002 redistricting became known as District 49B. That district covers portions of the cities of Andover and Coon Rapids.
As representative, Tingelstad served as chairperson of the Governmental Operations and Veterans Affairs Committee during the 2005-2006 biennium and was a member of the Capital Investment, Environment and Natural Resources, Health and Human Services, Redistricting, and Rules and Legislative Administration committees and of various committee incorporations and subcommittees relevant to each.
In January 2009, Tingelstad was appointed to the Anoka-Hennepin School Board, filling the seat vacated by her successor in the Legislature, Rep. Jerry Newton.
She was elected to a full term on the school board in the November 2009 general election.
Tingelstad’s current full-time day job has her serving as intergovernmental coordinator for Anoka County, which includes working as chief lobbyist for the county at the Minnesota Legislature.
Sue Austreng is at [email protected]