Foster resigns as Duluth schools superintendentI.V. Foster has resigned as the Duluth school district superintendent, which the Duluth School Board accepted by a 5-2 vote.
By: Jana Hollingsworth, Duluth News Tribune
I.V. Foster resigned as the Duluth school district superintendent, the Duluth School Board announced during a special meeting Friday night.
After a one-hour closed session, the board voted 5-2 to accept Foster’s resignation. The board referred to the resignation as a “separation agreement,” entered into to “address the controversy that has arisen regarding Dr. Foster’s application for a provisional Minnesota license,” according to a statement released by the board.
Foster was placed on paid administrative leave by the School Board on Dec. 19, when it also approved an investigation into allegations made against him. The board did not disclose why until Friday, but state records showed Foster had been working since July 1 without a required Minnesota superintendent license. Having a valid superintendent’s license is required by law and his contract.
“Dr. Foster has explained that his delay was based on a misunderstanding regarding the application procedure,” the statement reads. “While the board was anticipating Dr. Foster’s continued service to the district, nonetheless, given the public controversy … Dr. Foster has offered his resignation.”
Contacted Friday night, Foster said the statement also speaks for him, and declined to comment further on the license issue, or on whether he approached the district regarding a resignation or it approached him.
“I want to stand on the mutual statement we’ve made,” he said. “I want to honor that expectation as I expect the board will honor it. I think it’s in the best interest of the district. We need to move beyond this.
“There are a lot of challenges the school district is facing,” Foster said. “It’s better to move forward, and in a very positive way … it’s in the best interest of the students. I thank the board for the opportunity … and I thank the community for its support.”
Terms of the agreement include paid salary to Foster through March and benefits, including full health insurance coverage, provided in his contract through June. His contract was to run for three years, with a first-year base pay of $173,765, meaning he’ll be paid about $50,000 from the day he was placed on leave until March. He also received $12,000 in relocation expenses.
Assistant Superintendent Bill Gronseth has replaced Foster since he was put on leave, and will continue to do so until further notice from the board.
Board members Mary Cameron and Art Johnston voted against the resolution Friday. After the meeting, Cameron said she “had a problem with the process,” but wouldn’t elaborate beyond saying she had issue with the words “allegations” and “charges” in regard to the investigation.
“He’s the first qualified African-American for this position,” she said. “It was positive for the broader community and for our students of color in the buildings.”
She also said Foster had been the most qualified of the superintendent candidates last spring.
Board member Tom Kasper said he voted for the resolution because “it was a mutually-discussed and agreed-upon solution.”
“I really don’t see that there are any winners here,” he said. “I personally enjoyed Dr. Foster’s perspective and wish him well.”
Board chairwoman Ann Wasson said she appreciated the time Foster gave to the district, and that the license issue was the sole reason for Friday’s outcome.
“It’s a sad day,” she said.
Johnston said Foster should have been given the chance to appear before the board to discuss the license allegation.
“I don’t think it was the right way to treat anybody,” he said. “This was a blow to the minority community. It’s going to be hard for us … we had high hopes this was going to be a success. To have it end this way is shameful and I think it’s going to be hard to repair. But we have to.”
In an unprecedented move, public comment was allowed before the board adjourned to closed session, after Johnston made a motion to allow it. Five people spoke in favor of Foster, asking for fairness and second chances.
Foster and his work could change the face of the community, said Carl Crawford, director of the Intercultural Center at Lake Superior College.
“I wouldn’t want this one mistake to snuff out a great opportunity,” he said. “Let’s not look at one part of this man’s career; let’s look at the whole part.”
Foster was the most qualified superintendent candidate for narrowing the achievement gap, said Claudie Washington, president of the Duluth chapter of the NAACP. The gap is the disparity in test scores and graduation rates between white students and students of color.
The license issue is a “minor infraction and a correctable one,” he said, later adding after the vote that it didn’t cause any “irreparable damage to the district. Him having the qualifications that he did, he should have been given more consideration.”
A district leader and some from the community, including Duluth Federation of Teachers President Frank Wanner and Mayor Don Ness, have expressed frustration to the News Tribune about Foster canceling meetings and being inaccessible to various groups in his time here.
Some, including Duane Byrd, director of the after-school program Youth of Duluth, said he had been more than willing to give time. Nearly 40 of those student participants came to show support for Foster during much of Friday’s meeting.
Foster showed those students that it was possible for them to become leaders, Washington said.
“He gave them hope,” he said, and when they learn what happened, “they are going to lose some hope.”
Foster was chosen by the board from three finalists April 30 and began working for the district July 1. He was previously superintendent for the K-8 Prairie-Hills school district in Markham, Ill., 20 miles south of Chicago.
Records show that he had a valid superintendent’s license in Illinois.