After it was discovered that St. Francis School Boardmember Matt Rustad had plagiarized, the board unanimously censured him Sept. 24.
But some residents of the district are not happy with censure, which carries no penalties. They want Rustad to resign or the board to remove him.
Boardmembers David Anderson and Amy Kelly have heard from several residents by phone, email and while out in the community.
Several of them are concerned “that this board is not taking (the plagiarism incident) as seriously as it should,” Anderson said.
Anderson requested the board consider a resolution at a future meeting that asks Rustad to resign.
Although the board could ask Rustad to resign, it would not compel him to resign and it would be Rustad’s choice to resign, said Kelly.
But the board, after discussion, decided to look into the removal process under state statute.
Unlike other voter-elected bodies, school boards are given an option to remove a board member by state statute, said Human Resource Director David Lindberg.
According to the statute, “The board may remove, for proper cause, any member or officer of the board and fill the vacancy; but such removal must be by a concurrent vote of at least four members, at a meeting of whose time, place and object the charged member has been duly notified, with the reasons for such proposed removal and after an opportunity to be heard in defense against the removal.”
In the September issue of the district’s monthly publication “The Courier,” Rustad submitted a column that was pulled nearly word for word from a blog.
After publishing Rustad’s opinion column, the district started getting calls and emails from teachers and residents from around the district.
Most of the 500-word column was taken word for word from an August 2010 Iste Community Ning blog entry by Vernon Smith, technology director of Socorro Consolidated School in New Mexico.
Before moving forward with the removal process, the board needs to go through all the information on the procedure and perhaps get the district legal counsel’s advice on the situation, said Chairperson Marsha Van Denburgh.
The board needs to understand the removal process as well as give Rustad time to consult his own legal counsel, she said.
To her knowledge, no other school board member in the Minnesota has been removed by these means, Van Denburgh said.
“We need to be very clear on the process,” she said.
But Van Denburgh is also not sure removal is necessary.
There has not been a huge out-pouring of feedback from the public on this issue, she said.
The few people she has heard from want Rustad to resign, but have not asked the board to remove him, Van Denburgh said.
Boardmember Janet Glover said she has heard from PTO members and other district residents that the censure was not enough.
She is comfortable looking at all of the removal information and if there are questions the district administration cannot answer, then the board should seek the district legal counsel’s opinion before making a decision on removal, she said.
Kelly agreed. “It would be fine with me if Lindberg does the research rather than spending money on this (and having legal counsel research it),” she said.
Rustad has already been punished for the plagiarism, said Boardmember Suzanne Erkel.
She has only received one call on it and they just expressed their disappointment, she said.
If the board decides to remove Rustad, “it will be more of a scandal and it will be in the newspaper way worse than it is now,” Erkel said.
Prior to the Oct. 22 board meeting, board members will be reviewing the statute, Minnesota School Board Association information on the process as well as any other research Lindberg has done on the removal process.
Tammy Sakry is at firstname.lastname@example.org