While St. Francis School Boardmember Matt Rustad still has his seat on the board, his troubles are not over yet.
The board voted 4-2 during the Oct. 22 meeting to have an independent hearing officer hear the district’s case against Rustad, who was caught plagiarizing a 2010 Iste Community Ning blog entry by Vernon Smith, technology director of Socorro Consolidated School in New Mexico.
“(Rustad’s) actions do not justify this,” said Boardmember Suzanne Erkel, who along with Chairperson Marsha Van Denburgh voted against the action.
He used the author’s name in his column for The Courier, the district’s monthly newsletter, even if he did not properly attribute it in the beginning, she said.
Rustad received no benefit from it nor did he receive any money for it, Erkel said.
Schools do not expel on the first offense and schools are about teachable moments, she said.
When other board members use ideas given to them for their columns by friends and family members, they don’t attribute them, Erkel said.
Van Denburgh said she has some concerns using the state statute that allows for the removal of an elected school board member.
Board members are the only elected officials that can be removed and she thinks that is unconstitutional, she said.
This statute has only been used once and that was to remove a board member that had a conflict of interest, Van Denburgh said.
If the board uses this method to remove Rustad, it could lead to a costly constitutional challenge, she said.
“Plagiarism is not a crime, but is unacceptable,” Van Denburgh said.
But the cost to removing Rustad may be too high for the taxpayers, she said.
When the board censured Rustad Sept. 24, it was the appropriate action, she said.
During the Sept. 24 meeting, the board voted unanimously, including Rustad, to censure him. Censures carry no penalties.
The action the board is taking will bring in an independent hearing officer and that person will hear both sides and make a recommendation on what the board should do in this case, Boardmember Amy Kelly said.
“This board is in the business of education and it better not be saying plagiarism is OK. I don’t think the board is taking this seriously enough,” said Boardmember David Anderson.
“It might not be a crime, but it’s right up there.”
Several board members reported getting additional calls for Rustad to resign as well as calls encouraging it them to take action on his removal.
Rustad said he has also received a few calls, some asking him to resign and other encouraging him to stay.
In the district letter outlining his offences, it says he made inaccurate statements to board members and the administration during the initial closed meeting. How was he inaccurate when he admitted to his mistake, said Rustad, who abstained from voting.
The story Rustad gave at the closed meeting was different from the information Rustad gave in an interview with the Star Tribune earlier this month, said Human Resources Director David Lindberg.
According to the letter, during the meeting with the board members and administrators, Rustad claimed he turned in the wrong document to The Courier.
In the interview with the Star Tribune, Rustad said he had hoped people would know whose work the article was by the quote at the end of the column.
The letter also defines plagiarism and the district’s view of it as well as how the district, and presumably the board members, feel about Rustad’s actions.
“The school board takes plagiarism very seriously. Plagiarism is the theft of another person’s intellectual property. It is a serious offense in any work environment, but especially serious in the school district work environment. School districts take special care to ensure that students are taught that plagiarism constitutes theft, is dishonest and is punishable. The district is no exception. In fact, District Policy 406 states that plagiarism is an example of ‘scholastic dishonesty’ and is unacceptable behavior subject to disciplinary action,” it said.
“Plagiarism is a serious offense. The school board is extremely troubled by your behavior and the lack of care and professionalism you exhibited in stealing another’s intellectual property and displaying it as your own before the entire community.”
“Allowing you to remain on the school board would send a message to students, their families, district staff and the community, that the school board and the district do not take plagiarism seriously and that there are no significant consequences for misconduct such as your’s. This is not a message the school board feels it would be appropriate to impart.”
In a separate motion, Van Denburgh also asked that Rustad receive all legal documents that the district receives from the district attorney on the case.
The motion failed with a three-three vote with only Van Denburgh, Erkel and Boardmember Harry Grams voting for it.
Tammy Sakry is at