Critical Race Theory in Westonka Schools

Powerline Blog’s John Hinderacker posted an excellent discussion this morning on Critical Race Theory (CRT) being the top issue in school board elections throughout the country. I encourage voters to read it here: CRT: IT DOESN’T EXIST…AND IT’S AWESOME! The local Westonka community has had it’s share of these discussions and the issue will hopefully drive a much higher turnout to the school board election tomorrow, November 2, than most.

CRT, as Hinderacker states, “is a racist and anti-American set of dogmas” and is a vehicle to influence our students’ perceptions of the world and indoctrinate them. We must ask current school board members why they don’t denounce it. To claim it doesn’t exist is nonsense but unfortunately that is all the incumbent school board members are willing to say and how they have evaded the issue that everyone else is aware of.

GET TO THE POLLS, WESTONKA, AND VOTE!

November 2, Polls open from 7am-8pm. Two locations:

  1. Mount Olive Lutheran Church fellowship hall, 5218 Bartlett Blvd., Mound
  2. School district offices, Educational Service Center community room, 5901 Sunnyfield Rd. E., Minnetrista

To determine your polling location, use the Secretary of State pollfinder, http://pollfinder.sos.state.mn.us.

Westonka Schools’ contempt for election law

Westonka Schools established additional criteria for people to serve as election judges on their absentee ballot board for their 2021 school board election scheduled for November 2. One had to have served as an election judge in the 2020 general election in order to serve. At least that’s what this Republican applicant was told by the school administrator.

The school board then appointed five school employees, who had not served as election judges in the 2020 general election, to their absentee ballot board and appointed them election judges as well. When they realized that ruffled the community they called a few ‘real’ election judges and scheduled them for a few absentee ballot board duty shifts. The problem is these five school employees, who do not qualify to be election judges according to the school’s criteria, are, and have been, scheduled on the ballot board duty roster without ANY election judges present since the beginning of October.

This means employees of the school are accepting and rejecting ballots for the same candidates who will have authority over them and their livlihoods. This is the very reason the legislature mandates that election judges, and not government staff, must accept and reject absentee ballots. Elections should be fair and free of any appearance of conflicts of interest. No one is accusing anyone at Westonka Schools of mishandling ballots and that is not the point here. The point is the Westonka school board has shown contempt for Minnesota election law by violating statutes they have been made aware of:

Vote NOW for Westonka school board!

This school board election is one of the most important votes you will ever cast and will determine the curriculum and values taught to our students for years to come.

There is literally NO EXCUSE not to vote. You can vote any weekday between now and the official “election day” of November 2 by going to the school district offices (doesn’t matter what precinct you’re in) at 5902 Sunnyfield Rd. E, Minnetrista. Bring an ID with you because technically this is absentee voting, but it’s “no excuse absentee voting”. Between Oct. 26 and election day the process is a bit more simple and voters can feed their ballot directly into the voting machine intead of putting it in a sealed envelope to be processed by the absentee ballot board.

Challengers to the school board incumbents are:

Rachael Myers: https://www.facebook.com/RachaelMyersforWestonka email: rachm82@hotmail.com
Dr. Gregory Snyder: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100073424764260 email: greg@snyderemail.com
Kathleen Olesinski: https://www.facebook.com/Kathleen-Olesinski-for-Westonka-School-Board-108677431555264
Katie Holt: https://www.facebook.com/holt4westonka/

The above challengers are focused on education, not politics, and making sure our students get the skills they need to become productive adults in our communities. In my opinion any of them would be preferrable to the incumbents below. GET OUT AND VOTE!

Current school board incumbent candidates (running again) are:

Brian Carlson: Unable to locate candidate FB page or website at time of publishing
Loren Davis: Unable to locate candidate FB page or website at time of publishing
Gary Wollner: Unable to locate candidate FB page or website at time of publishing

Westonka improper resolution set to undermine integrity of school board election

How to win an election in Minnetrista? Have your friends accept and reject all the absentee ballots and exclude statutorily required election judges from the process. Done.

Despite being informed on Monday of Minnesota’s election law requirements for establishing absentee ballot boards (203B.121) for school board elections, the Westonka school board voted unanimously at it’s Monday, October 4 meeting to ignore the law and appointed five school employees to the ballot board instead of election judges.

These five people are school employees, who are accountable to the school board for their employment, and will be accepting and rejecting all the absentee ballots (likely a majority of ballots cast) for the incumbent school board candidates that currently fund their jobs in Westonka schools. Somehow that conflict of interest appears just fine with the school board and the incumbent school board candidates running in the November election.

The video below is my testimony to the school board Monday evening.

The school board resolution and list of appointments that passed Monday is below.

“This matter, and how it is handled, will either show the district voters they can have confidence in the school board election outcome, or they cannot.”

Shannon Bruce

An election judge that was trained in the duties of an absentee ballot board in the 2020 election in Minnetrista spoke as well. She had requested to be on the ballot board but was not appointed. No reason given.

How do we expect our children, who attend Westonka schools, to abide by the law when their school leaders thumb their nose at election law and blatantly violate it with impunity for their own benefit.

I thought it was fair to give the school board a chance to do the right thing. However, they’ve made a choice that will undermine the confidence Westonka district voters have in the outcome of the school board election. It would’ve been a simple thing to appoint election judges and put the matter to rest.

Thank you, Westonka school board, for proliferating distrust in our government institutions. And thank you as well to the incumbent candidates on the school board for making sure the votes are counted by your friends. And we wonder why we can’t get good people to run for office anymore.

Westonka election judge and absentee ballot board appointments

The full recorded video of the school board meeting can be found here.

Westonka school board violating MN election law

The Westonka school board is planning to appoint people to their absentee ballot board at their school board meeting scheduled for Monday, October 4, 2021, 7pm, 5905 Sunnyfield Road, in the Performing Arts Center, Minnetrista, MN.

The school board packet shows they are appointing only “deputy clerks” (five of them!) to their absentee ballot board, which is in charge of accepting and rejecting all the district’s absentee ballots in the upcoming school board election, for which absentee voting has already begun. Their resolution shows they intend to appoint five deputy clerks and no election judges to their ballot board.

Minnesota Statutes (203B.121 – see below) require that school districts establish an absentee ballot board that must consist of a sufficient number of election judges…” and the school district is either ignorant of Minnesota election law or has chosen to ignore it.

Chapter 203B.121 goes on to say that a ballot board “may” include deputy city clerks. That means a deputy city clerk, of which the city of Minnetrista has only one, not five, and her name is not on the list of persons to be appointed. There is simply no statutory provision for school districts to appoint school district employees, as the board is planning, to their absentee ballot board and arbitrarily call them “deputy clerks” to get around appointing election judges.

You won’t hear the incumbent school board candidates calling out this election law violation. Who wouldn’t want their school district friends in charge of the ballots?

If the Westonka school district wants the electorate to have confidence in the outcome of the school board election this is no way to go about it. If you care about fair elections and believe your school district should follow state election laws please attend the school board meeting Monday night and let your voice be heard.

203B.121 BALLOT BOARDS.
Subdivision 1.Establishment; applicable laws.

(a) The governing body of each county, municipality, and school district with responsibility to accept and reject absentee ballots must, by ordinance or resolution, establish a ballot board. The board must consist of a sufficient number of election judges trained in the handling of absentee ballots and appointed as provided in sections 204B.19 to 204B.22. The board may include deputy county auditors or deputy city clerks who have received training in the processing and counting of absentee ballots.

(b) Each jurisdiction must pay a reasonable compensation to each member of that jurisdiction’s ballot board for services rendered during an election.

(c) Except as otherwise provided by this section, all provisions of the Minnesota Election Law apply to a ballot board.

Westonka School Board Election-VOTE!

The only school district with a school actually located in Minnetrista is the Westonka school district which has three school board seats up for election in November 2021. If you’re in the Westonka district it is imperative you vote. Our community and students’ futures depend on it.

I attended the League of Women Voters school board candidate forum on September 17 and came away more convinced than ever that the Westonka school board needs new members, more connected to the community. You can watch the forum here. There are four challengers and three incumbents running:

Challengers: Katie Holt, Rachael Myers, Kathleen Olesinski and Gregory Snyder

Incumbents: Brian Carlson, Loren Davis and Gary Wollner

As is typical at LWV events many of the questions were designed for incumbents to answer, containing specifics about past board actions, plans, etc. that challengers weren’t privvy to. Regardless, the challengers stood up well and, frankly, any of them would be an improvement over the tax and spend, mask and vaccine mandate supporting, incumbents.

Early voting has started so get yourself over to the Westonka School District office now:

In-person absentee/early voting for the November election began Friday, Sept. 17 and continues through Monday, Nov. 1 at the school district offices, 5901 Sunnyfield Rd. E, Minnetrista. Absentee voting is being conducted during regular office hours Monday through Thursday from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and on Fridays from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. On the last day for absentee voting, Nov. 1, the office will be open until 5 p.m.

Beginning Tuesday, Oct. 26, through the end of the absentee period, voters will be able to cast their ballots by inserting them directly into a ballot counter, just as they would on Election Day.

The election will take place on Tuesday, Nov. 2, from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. There are two combined polling places:

  1. Mount Olive Lutheran Church fellowship hall, 5218 Bartlett Blvd., Mound
  2. School district offices, Educational Service Center community room, 5901 Sunnyfield Rd. E., Minnetrista

To determine your polling location, use the Secretary of State pollfinder, http://pollfinder.sos.state.mn.us.

Expertly bamboozled

It was very disappointing to see the preferential deal for the school district’s road assessment, masquerading as a “needed” policy change to the city’s special assessment policy, passed Monday night. Essentially Minnetrista’s special assessment policy has always carried an interest rate that has been the same for all assessed properties benefitting from an improvement. It never mattered, and shouldn’t have mattered, who or what entity owned the property. All property owners were assessed under the same rules.

Last January Westonka School District Superintendent Kevin Borg had asked for the school district to be treated differently in a letter to Mayor Whalen and the city council. Some may remember Mayor Whalen had advocated the city pick up 80% of the cost (policy has been 50%) for her buddies at the school district and to reduce their interest rate to 2% (Borg had asked for 0% interest on the 20 year assessment) but lost that battle with the city council on January 4, no doubt a disappointment to Kevin Borg and school board members that worked tirelessly to get Whalen reelected last November.

Mr. Borg was expected to attend the following council work session on the matter, presumably to plead his case, but never showed.

Amazingly, just days before the assessment hearing on the project, a proposal came forward that the city’s special assessment policy was old and needed updating. Yeah, that’s the ticket! Let’s update the city’s policy based on whether or not Minnesota State Aid (MSA) funds will be used, knowing that this school district project will use MSA funds. Nevermind that all other Minnetrista road projects in the past, that had used MSA funds, were assessed uniformly, under the same rules as all other benefitting property owners, as has always been the case for road improvements throughout the city.

So the new policy to lower the interest rate to 2% on just MSA funded projects essentially benefits only the school district for this year’s road improvements. Mission accomplished Madam Mayor. Minnetrista taxpayers have been bamboozled again.

And Borg gets his deal and no one can say it was a “deal” because they only followed policy.

Crickets on school district favor…for now.

As readers may know there was a public hearing Monday night on the Sunnyfield Road project. The Westonka School District, the only assessed property, and the only property, along the route, had submitted a letter to Mayor Whalen asking the city to waive the normal 5% interest on the school district’s assessment which it would have 20 years to pay. The city has proposed paying for 60% of the project cost and the school district 40%. That is already a deviation from the city’s policy of a 50-50 split for everyone else who is assessed for reconstructions. I wrote about that issue here.

It was anticipated that a school district representative, perhaps Westonka School District Superintendent Kevin Borg himself, would’ve addressed the city council at the public hearing Monday night since his letter to the mayor appeared in the council’s agenda packet. Surprisingly, no one from the school district spoke and there was no mention of the interest rate at all during the meeting. That doesn’t mean the matter has gone away, however.

Perhaps the school district would like the issue to fade from public scrutiny a bit before bringing it up again. That next opportunity will be the assessment hearing, likely in May, when the council will formally adopt the assessed amount as well as the interest rate.

Minnetrista taxpayers will be watching then, just as they were Monday night.

More favors from Whalen?

As a result of a compromise at the council’s last meeting January 4, the Westonka School District will pay 40% and Minnetrista taxpayers will pay 60% of the Sunnyfield Road reconstruction costs for the road to the high school.

You may remember Mayor Whalen had advocated the city pick up 80% of the cost for her buddies at the school district but lost that battle January 4, no doubt a disappointment to Westonka School Superintendent Kevin Borg and school board members that worked tirelessly to get Whalen reelected last November.

Now Mr. Borg is back begging Whalen for another special favor. He’s asking the city to waive the interest on paying back the assessment…completely…something the city has never done for other property owners it has assessed.

Think about this. One of the reasons the city’s policy is to cover 50% of road reconstruction costs for property owners and not charge property owners for 100% of the cost is because property owners are taxpayers and some of those tax dollars should be used for their roads. The Westonka School District is not a taxpayer. The Westonka School District is only a consumer of city services (snow removal, public safety) but actually pays nothing for those city services as residents do.

According to city policy, if your street needs reconstruction you, as a property owner, and your neighbors along the project route would be assessed 50% of the project cost which can be paid back over 20 years. The interest rate you and your neighbors would pay the city, unless you chose to pay it back all at once, would be 5%. There have been a handful of exceptions over the years to the policy for some low-density areas but for the most part the city has been consistent in applying its policy.

Mr. Borg, in his letter to Mayor Whalen, claims that it would be reasonable not to charge the school district interest on their assessment because the city isn’t bonding for the project and it’s being paid for with MSA dollars. So what? Whether or not the city bonds for the project has absolutely no bearing on whether the city charges property owners interest. Why should the school district be exempt when no one else is? We’ve never exempted other property owners from interest payments when MSA funds were used on their roads.

What Borg is doing in his letter to Whalen (on page 61) is what’s called “anchoring” in a negotiation. By asking for the interest to be waived completely he’s hoping the council might come back with a compromise and lower it from the 5% city policy, especially if Whalen pleads his case. I hope they have the backbone to say no.

By virtue of the fact the school district isn’t a taxpayer in Minnetrista, has a budget close to ten times that of the city’s, is primarily responsible for the road’s condition and whose students are from many other cities, not just Minnetrista, they should not be asking Minnetrista taxpayers for favors. They should be glad we’re not making them pay 100%.

To listen live to the Minnetrista City Council meeting Monday 2/1/2021, call +1 (872) 240-3212 and enter meeting Access Code 604-552-845 #, or join the meeting from your computer, tablet or smartphone by accessing the following: https://global.gotomeeting.com/join/604552845
New to GoToMeeting? Get the app now and be ready when your first meeting
starts: https://global.gotomeeting.com/install/604552845

Mayor’s attempt to pay back friends?

Minnetrista’s road assessment policy is to assess property owners along a project route (gravel to paved or for reconstruction) 50% of the project cost with the remaining 50% paid by the city. The Sunnyfield Road reconstruction planned this year has only one property owner along the route, the Westonka School District. Mayor Whalen, at the council’s work session last night, thought they should get a break. She suggested only assessing them 20%.

Of course it couldn’t possibly be because members of the school board and Westonka School’s Superintendent were instrumental in her reelection (view story here). Maybe it’s because Whalen thinks Minnetrista residential property owners should be assessed more than a school district with a budget almost ten times that of the city and a much larger tax base over which to spread the cost? Or perhaps she doesn’t realize that school bus traffic and student/parent traffic are largely responsible for the road’s condition and much of that traffic comes from outside Minnetrista.

Yes, there have been exceptions to the city’s assessment rate on a few occasions in areas with low density but the majority of Minnetrista’s road projects are assessed at 50%. That is policy.

Both council members Reffkin and MacGregor responded to Whalen’s suggestion to lower the rate for the school with their opinion that the 50% policy should stand. Whalen kept pressing for her school district friends as council members Mortenson and Tschumperlin remained silent, ostensibly gauging the political wind direction. MacGregor finally proposed 40% in the spirit of compromise and Reffkin supported that although somewhat reluctantly.

Mortenson and Tschumperlin saw the compromise as palatable and indicated they could “probably” support it but Whalen kept pushing for her friends. She then said “What about 35%? Would any of you support 35%?” Ultimately Whalen’s valiant effort went unrewarded and the 40% rate prevailed for the school.

Got to give Whalen credit for standing up for her friends if not for Minnetrista taxpayers. Readers can listen to the recorded January 19 work session.