Posted on Wed, Apr. 21, 2004

ANALYSIS: Reinstatement proves that persistence of Randolph, supporters paid off


Former Duluth East hockey coach Mike Randolph and his supporters tried many methods in the past year to get his job back.

They held protests, circulated petitions and wrote letters to the editor. Randolph tried applying for his old job, and when that failed, he filed a grievance through the teachers union.

But from the beginning, Randolph and his supporters knew the easiest way to reclaim his coaching job was to start at the top, with the Duluth School Board. In the end, that's how they accomplished their mission when the board agreed to reinstate Randolph with a 5-2 vote at Tuesday night's meeting.

Trying to win over a city of 87,000 is fine, but it's a futile effort if you don't win over the seven people who meet at the Central Administration Building.

Many thought this would never happen. A June 17 School Board and a desire to take the program in a different direction.

An internal audit released in May found that an annual Christmas wreath sale that benefited the hockey program was mismanaged. In December, the Minnesota state auditor released a review that confirmed the district's findings. Fund-raiser organizers, including assistant coach Terry Johnson, deny intentional wrongdoing.

District administrators reiterated policy that extracurricular assignments can be discontinued on an annual "no cause" basis, as is the policy across Minnesota school districts.

The move to reinstate Randolph, Johnson and assistant coach Larry Trachsel for the 2004-05 hockey season was brought forward by board members Cameron, Grover and Hustad. They said district policies and procedures, such as annual performance reviews and the use of an athletic grievance process to deal with complaints, were not followed.

"I've always looked at this as a fairness issue," Hustad said.

More than 125 people attended Tuesday's meeting.

"It is in the best interest of students of East High School and East High School that Mike Randolph not be reinstated," East principal Laurie Knapp told board members before the vote, beseeching them to trust and support the administration by standing by the April 2003 nonrenewal of Randolph's coaching assignment. Superintendent Julio Almanza and district human resources director Rob McLachlan repeated that they stand by that decision.

The board's interest and action with an individual employee and position is unusual, but chairwoman Cameron said that board members were exerting one of their most important roles as elected officials.

"If we don't make sure administration is following policies and procedures, who will?" she said.

The revived reinstatement effort came after the November 2003 School Board election that changed the board's makeup. Before the election, a June 17 reinstatement effort failed 7-2. After the election, the board was trimmed from nine members to seven, with three new members -- Grover, Hustad and Wasson.

Those board members bristled and defended themselves from insinuations by other board members and community members that their election was related to Randolph's reinstatement.

"I owe no favors to no one," said Hustad, who worked with Randolph's wife before he retired from dental practice.

"I hope that now, finally, the School Board can move on to bigger issues," said current East hockey coach Todd Wentworth, who has said he won't seek other coaching positions in the district.

Members of People Concerned For Fairness, a group that supported Randolph, filed out at mid-meeting to celebrate in a prearranged room at the London Road Pizza Hut. It's where the group first organized last year to fight Randolph's ouster.