Transparency Concerns: Duluth School Board Members Flag Hiring Process For New Superintendent

Supt. Bill Gronseth Will Leave After Contract Expires In June Of 2020

DULUTH, Minn. – The search to hire a new Duluth school superintendent to replace Bill Gronseth when he leaves in June is already being called into question.

Board members like Nora Sandstad say there’s still a serious lack of transparency between Board Chair Rosie Loeffler-Kemp and the administration.

And this comes even after FOX 21’s Dan Hanger broke the story last week about the hiring of Asst. Supt. Jeffrey Horton whose three DWI cases were kept quiet from the board, except for the board chair at the time, David Kirby, and Gronseth.

Here’s a breakdown of the heated discussion at Tuesday night’s school board HR committee meeting.

“A request for proposals have been sent out to seven organizations,” said Tim Sworsky, the district’s HR director, Tuesday night to board members.

As Sworsky was saying those works, Board Member Nora Sandstad was shaking her head while finding out board members were not given the RFP to look over before being sent out to potential consulting firms that’ll help in the search for the district’s next superintendent when Bill Gronseth leaves in June of next year.

“As always, we like to see things ahead of time. I’m getting the impression you weren’t even going to give us the RFP at all until I asked for it — and this is my second ask,” Sandstad told Sworsky.

“I will tell you member Sandstad, we have not always participated that way,” Sworsky said.

“I understand, but we also haven’t faced some serious employment issues based on hiring practices,” Sandstad replied.

Sandstad is referring to the 2018 hire of Asst. Supt. Jeffrey Horton who started working in the district before the board signed off on his employment, and who has three DWI cases on his record that the board was never told about by Gronseth and then-Board Chair David Kirby.

“This process is setting up to be one that is done behind the scenes with little bits of information summarized for the school board. That’s not how that’s going to be,” Sandstand told Sworsky at the committee meeting.

Board Member Sally Trnka is also calling on leadership to be extra open with the hiring process, while stepping away from the old ways of doing business.

“One of my least favorite statements is that’s not the way we’ve done it before or this is the way we’ve always done it. So the more information you share with us as you go through this the better off we will be as board members because we are getting asked about this constantly,” Trnka said.

Meanwhile, Board Member Alanna Oswald wants to see the RFP to possibly explore beyond the typical consultant firms that may have been used in the past.

“Following the processes before have gotten us some pretty controversial past superintendents that our community has very recent memories of and I want to avoid any perception of digging in those same pools,” Oswald said.

And finally, Board Chair Rosie Loeffler-Kemp is standing her ground saying she is transparent and is following policies and procedures to hire a new superintendent.

“Whether we want to work together or not, we are a team of some kind and we need to have some level of trust that our goal in terms of the superintendent search in particular — that we all want the best candidates. We want the best process,” Loeffler-Kemp said.

But Board Member Sandstand — who has publicly called on Loeffler-Kemp to step down as chair — isn’t buying it.

“My concern is that, that flow is not going to happen, which is why I’ve indicated my preferences that we have a different chair of the board,” Sandstad said.

Loeffler-Kemp has made no indications of stepping down.

The board is expected to see all RFPs from consulting firms that apply, with presentations by the finalists expected at a future board meeting.

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