I’m a big fan of the Harry Potter series. One of my favorite quotes is near the end of “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.” It’s when Dumbledore commends a student by saying, “It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to your enemies, but a great deal more to stand up to your friends.”
I kept thinking of that saying when I read through the NeuVest report. The close relationship between Rod Thompson and the school board is cited multiple times. The report notes that Thompson made board members honorary godparents to his kids and openly told staff that the board “has my back.”
In another instance, the reports says, “Some have even heard one board member publicly state that the two of them are best friends.” That person is identified later in the report as former board chairman Scott Swanson.
“Most of those interviewed believe the Board is compromised because of their closeness and thus, have hesitated about approaching them with their concerns,” according to the report. Another section noted that the board oftentimes unanimously approved Thompson’s recommendations 7-0, without asking any hard questions.
Nothing in the report was particularly shocking to me. It mostly validated and added more context to stories that have been circulating for years. The only details new to me were the way Thompson was said to have used vulgarities and sexual references when talking to or about staff. It certainly doesn’t surprise me; I’d just never heard it before.
For the most part, people interviewed in the report didn’t seem to have any issue criticizing Thompson, which begs the question of why they didn’t bring their concerns forward until they sat down with NeuVest. I get that they had reservations about talking to board members because of their personal friendships with Thompson, but it’s really not a blanket excuse for not speaking out.
Two people interviewed in the report claimed they were “asked to do things that go beyond what they feel are ethical or even legal.” Yet they apparently didn’t report it. Some high-level staff did meet to discuss how to voice their concerns about Thompson, but then didn’t take action.
“In September 2016, cabinet members held an off-site secret meeting to strategize on how best to approach the Board with their concerns,” according to the report. “Shortly afterwards, however, their attentions were diverted to dealing with the budget fallout.”
This doesn’t make sense to me. If the staff was really concerned about Thompson, it seems that the budget crises would be even more motivation to speak out. Personally, I think staff could have done both — deal with the budget and voice their apprehensions.
Something else that jumped out at me in the report was a comment from Dale Anderson, president of the Shakopee Education Association. “If Thompson leaves, he [Anderson] suspects Thompson’s progressive vision will leave with him and Shakopee will revert back to being a conservative-minded community,” the report stated.
I’m not sure if “conservative-minded” referred to a fiscal approach, academics, politics, or something else. Regardless, he certainly frames being conservative-minded as a step backward.
In my mind, if being conservative means having $13.4 million in the reserves like we had in 2012, I think that’s a positive, not something we needed to change. I also think that reckless spending doesn’t make a district progressive. It makes a district irresponsible.
The two superintendents since Thompson have both said they wanted to move on from the problems resulting from the previous administration. And it’s hard to blame them. But part of the reason there hasn’t been closure is because until now, the NeuVest report has not been made available to the public, which stoked distrust and suspicion.
If an unredacted report had been released back in August 2017 rather than the almost entirely blacked out version, many of the issues that are mentioned would probably have been put to bed by now. Instead, with the full report only now becoming available, we’re once again talking about past events and wondering why, when so many administrators knew Thompson was a liar and a bully, no one took action or asked his friends on the board to stand up to him.