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Sunday, January 24, 2010

Worker: St. Paul schools retaliated for report

Please click onto the COMMENTS for the story.


Anonymous Tribune said...

She says she was pushed out of her job for accusing the St. Paul schools of misusing some federal grant funds.

By EMILY JOHNS, Star Tribune

Last update: January 23, 2010 - 10:44 PM

A woman in a three-year court fight with the St. Paul School District over the loss of her job alleges that one of the reasons the district wanted to fire her was because she blew the whistle on its misuse of a $3.3 million federal grant designed to improve teacher quality.

Betty Holz-Bergmann, who was the district's assistant director of human resources for six years, said that after she complained about how grant money was used, district employees "started a campaign of retaliation," said her husband, Daryl Bergmann, who is one of her attorneys. "She's still traumatized by the whole experience."

In January 2007, three days after she told the U.S. Department of Education and the Office of the Inspector General that she was being pressured to approve inappropriate spending, the grant funding was suspended.

"If there was misappropriation of funds, it's my butt that was on the line," said Holz-Bergmann, who was the grant manager. "And I'm not willing to take that risk for any job."

An audit showed that some of the money was misspent. Less than a month after complaining, she lost her job, according to court documents.

The district told the Court of Appeals that it accepted her resignation in 2007. But Daryl Bergmann said the district reported to one government agency that she retired and told two others that she was terminated.

This month, she won a partial victory when the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled she didn't have to sign a settlement agreement mediated between her and the district and can pursue her claims against it.

However, the court dismissed her counterclaim that the district has in some respects acted in bad faith.

Spokesman Howie Padilla said the district has no comment on the ongoing case.

'Unallowable costs'

According to court documents, the U.S. Department of Education awarded the district a Teacher Quality Enhancement matching grant in August 2005. Holz-Bergmann, as the grant's project director, certified the district's use of the money.

The grant was intended to help the district recruit and train special education teachers and teachers for English Language Learners, according to Shirley Heitzman, director of the district's Office of Innovation and Development.
Once federal funding was suspended, the district continued to pay for the program because "we really believed ... that the project was just really good," Heitzman said.
In court documents, Holz-Bergmann said the director of human resources tried to get her to approve inappropriate expenditures such as computers for the department and dues for the Human Resources Society.
The audit, conducted by the Office of Inspector General, found that:
• During the 2005-06 school year, the district had proper documentation for $163,193 in matching funds, $159,827 less than required.

12:34 PM  
Anonymous story continued said...

• The district charged "unallowable costs" of almost $20,000 to the grant, including computers and printers auditors found in their original boxes, and $1,268 for costs "in violation of the cost principles."
• The district did not have an adequate "property control system" for equipment purchased with the grant.
The district's response to the audit attributes some errors to staff turnover and a misunderstanding of the documentation required. It also says that Holz-Bergmann "retired from the district in June 2007."
The district "instituted new accountability and documentation procedures for grant management and development work," Heitzman said.
It hired a trainer for employees who manage grants and adopted a new reporting system to make sure certain federal forms are properly filled out.
The district receives about $6 million a year from corporate and philanthropic partners and about $10 million in federal and state education grants.
Heitzman said that the U.S. Education Department reinstated the grant money after the audit was completed in May 2008 and reimbursed the district for money it had withheld during the process.
'Emotional distress'
The court fight between Holz-Bergmann and the district has been long and complicated, but it boils down to this:

She thinks the district treated her unfairly after she raised concerns about the grant money. The district wants her to sign a settlement agreement protecting it and its employees from future liability.
According to Lisa Lamm, an attorney for Holz-Bergmann, during settlement negotiations, Holz-Bergmann was allowed to raise only those issues considered "grievable" under her union contract.
But the district, Lamm said, wanted Holz-Bergmann to release it from any liability it might have under state laws that protect whistleblowers or bias victims. Those are matters the district told Holz-Bergmann she couldn't raise.
That's a double standard, Lamm argued. "They want to get something they didn't pay for," she said.
When the district sued to try to force Holz-Bergmann to sign the settlement, which included a $75,000 payment to her, she filed counterclaims alleging that the district mistreated her in a number of ways.
She said that after she questioned the spending, employees defamed her by saying things like she "had a nervous breakdown and couldn't handle working during the busy time of year." She also claims the district retaliated against her for using medical leave to deal with "embarrassment, humiliation [and] mental and emotional distress."
In court documents, the district denied it broke the law. All its actions "were done for a legitimate business reason, in good faith," the district claims.
"I would like an apology," Holz-Bergmann said. "I would like closure, I would like to be vindicated, and I'd like to have my professional reputation restored."

Emily Johns • 612-673-7460

12:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cannot be true. Government agencies would not do something like this. They are there to help us. Right Eric?

6:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

6:08 PM,

Sorry to burst your bubble, but it happened. In fact it has happened several times. The St. Paul Public schools are totally controlled by the DFL and they have an, "I can do as I want" attitude.

State laws are ignored, like having an unlicensed superintendent for 10 months. The District thumbed their nose at the State of Minnesota.

Retaliation is the norm, as the union is weak and powerless and follows what the superintendent does. The union focus has switched from supporting teachers to getting DFLers elected.

The lack of oversight by the school board is shocking. With a budget that is $100 more than the city of St. Paul, the St. Paul School District is being run by non-elected individuals who are spending money like it is water and the achievement gap is growing by leaps and bounds. The DFL will say they need more money, but St. Paul Public Schools is spending over $17,387.00 per student. Some will say that the achievement gap is due to St. Paul being an urban school district, but you only have to look across the country like Austin, Texas and you will see a much smaller achievement gap and they are doing this for about $12,285.19 per student. Austin, Texas has just about the same demographics as St. Paul, but have more English as a second language and more special education students than St. Paul does.

The minority children in St. Paul are not being served and they are leaving St. Paul at an alarming rate of 500 per school year. They are going to charter schools, as these schools are able to provide a better education than SPPS. The union, along with the administration has kept the same number of teachers since 2000, even though enrollment has declined since 2000. Last year the district let go about 167 teachers. These were the best and the brightest teachers, but they didn’t have tenure. The dead wood was kept instead. The administration has swelled to unprecedented levels. The classroom size has also increased, as these Teachers on Special Assignment (TOSA) are used for administration instead of being put back into the classroom, as they should have been.

Yes, there has been a lot of money wasted in SPPS. Union protection of jobs that needed to be cut is costing millions each year needlessly. This culture has been fostered by the DFL controlled school board. The only non-DFLer on the school board resigned last year so the board has no accountability. The waste of taxpayer money, the high achievement gap and mismanagement
Rests squarely on the shoulders of the DFL. This is their baby, the DFL controlled school board own this mess. No amount of spin by the DFL crowd can take away the fact that our children are not being served, but job protection and mismanagement is being condoned. No bid contracts to DFL friends is where the money is going. You only have to look at the school board minutes to see where these contracts are being awarded to.

The kicker is the union and school board is going to ask you all to renew the tax levy to a tune of $60
million. Get out your checkbook.

11:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

More corruption from the DFL

8:36 AM  
Anonymous Budget Committee Porposal said...

Click this link and look at the names of the people on the city's budget committee on page 127. Is that Eric from A-Democracy advising the mayor on where to spend our money?

How do you get on this committee?
Who decides and is there anyone left from Norm Coleman or Randy Kelly days? When we had money?

11:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

11:32 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Folks, it is a Federal grant that one employee was incorrectly asking for funds to pay for equipment... not stealing to take home, but equipment for the district not allowable under the grant request.

She blew the whistle and the Fed's killed the grant. It has nothing to do with the school board at all and little to do with upper management.

For what ever reason she left the job. For many whistle blowers it is hard to stay on because your co-workers may have liked the person you blew the whistle on. She was not fired and it sounds like the District was willing to pay a settlement if she didn't sue.

The fight is over is the S.D. paying her enough for her to not sue.

This looks mostly to be blowing up a three year old issue to better improve one's settlement negosiation.

...and the CIB committee is appointed by the Mayor and approved by the council. They make recomendations over projects to the Mayor and council.


Chuck Repke

2:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Chuck for an educated person, you are really a shill for the DFL.

The stuff that is going on in is really something, as there simply is no accountability. The school board is not being held accountable for the actions of senior administrators. Money is being wasted at an alarming rate. The sad thing is our children can’t read or do their math. You are smart, why don’t you talk to your friends in the union. Why don’t you start with Roy? Roy is a good place to start.

The mismanagement is shocking and their only solution is to raise taxes with declining enrollment. I know of one principal who has outfitted his home office with district equipment. There is a feeling of entitlement is based on their position that they are entitled to the latest toys at the expense of basic needs in the classroom.

Defend the DFL all you want, but the DFL has no one to blame for the mess SPPS is in other than the DFL school board itself. Chuck this is not isolated to this one incident, but there have been numerous instances of this type of behavior by district officials when they are caught with their hand in the cookie jar.

Soon, Chuck this will drift onto the city council. Your man Thune has always been square with me, but when the crap begins to roll downhill someone is going to get dirt on himself.

Blindly defending the DFL controlled school board at all costs is not in St. Paul’s best interest, as they have shown they are doing a crappy job running the school district and the City of St. Paul.

10:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

10:01 - look man if you know someone who is stealing from the district and you aren't reporting them, then in my book you are as big of a crook as they are.

All I ever try to do is explain in plain language what appears to be the case. In this instance a good employee would not allow a grant to be misspent on non-approved items, but there was nobody saying that anyone was trying to steal anything.

What was the issue here was that someone in the district was trying to get the Fed to reimburse the district for equipment for use of the district in a department not approved in the grant. You can't do that legally and this woman blew the whistle, good for her.

But, to say this is a sign of wide scale corruption is nothing but garbage.


Chuck Repke

12:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yep, I'm on the CIB committee.
Yes there are people on the committee who were appointed by Norm and/or Randy. I'm one of them, reappointed by Chris Coleman.
We don't get paid. It's volunteer work and advisory.
There are several ways to get recommended to be appointed, all them involve more than sitting on your fat rears and complaining.
Appointments are made by the mayor and approved by the Council.

The rest of the info can be found online.


12:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey man, don't be shagging on the schools. Just a little misunderstanding....nothing to see here, keep moving.

5:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm Not A Crook, I'm a dfl'er

Don't Steal
The Government Hates Compitition

8:01 PM  
Anonymous Money said...

Caught Ya!
Keep your hands out of the coohie jar.
Ha ha!

6:02 AM  

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