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Former Duluth school superintendent spent 31 of 117 work days out of office

Editor's note: The News Tribune first requested I.V. Foster's attendance records on Jan. 4, about two weeks after he was placed on leave by the Duluth School Board and two days before the board reached a separation agreement with him. The newspap...

I.V. Foster
I.V. Foster

Editor's note: The News Tribune first requested I.V. Foster's attendance records on Jan. 4, about two weeks after he was placed on leave by the Duluth School Board and two days before the board reached a separation agreement with him. The newspaper made additional requests, under Minnesota's open records laws, on each of the next two days and again on Jan. 9 and 11. After partial materials were received from the district, the newspaper made two more requests on Jan 20 and 30. The materials were received in their entirety only late last week. We are publishing them in our role as Duluth's newspaper of record.

Former Duluth school Superintendent I.V. Foster was out of the office for more than a quarter of the time during his 5½ months on the job, employee records obtained by the News Tribune show.

According to public data the News Tribune requested in January, the new superintendent used 21 days of combined vacation, personal and sick time and 10½ days of professional leave from July 1 until he was put on paid administrative leave Dec. 19.

The 31½ total days away from his office represent 27 percent of the 117 work days in that period.

Foster parted ways with the district because he had been working without a Minnesota superintendent's license -- a violation of both his contract and state law. He and the School Board reached a separation agreement Jan 6.

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Foster said Friday that he had no comment on the question of his absences from the district.

Many district employees noticed Foster's absence, Duluth Federation of Teachers President Frank Wanner said, either through canceled meetings or inaccessibility. City leaders have echoed that.

"He was gone all of the time," Wanner said Friday. "It was really hard to get ahold of the guy. It was incredibly frustrating. Nobody takes 10 days of conferences in the first few months they are there."

Others have said they had no problem getting time to meet with Foster.

Board member Mary Cameron, who works in human resources at the University of Minnesota Duluth, said the number of days he was gone is excessive.

"But I can't hold him at fault because I don't know what was going on with him medically," she said. "He had those days coming and he called in, and that's between him and human resources. All kinds of things pop up. It doesn't look good on a person's record, but it is what it is."

Both Cameron and member Art Johnston said the number of days Foster was out of the office had nothing to do with why he was put on leave.

"I was told there was nothing else but the license," Cameron said.

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If there were other problems, Johnston said, the board should have been notified.

"Maybe he had illness, maybe he had family that was ill," Johnston said. "If these questions were there, they should have been brought up to the board. But his contract wasn't violated (in that regard)."

Foster, who came to Duluth from a superintendent post in suburban Chicago, has said previously that there was a misunderstanding about the application procedure for a provisional license. But Ken Dragseth of the search firm that brought superintendent candidates to the School Board last year said Foster was told at least twice after he was chosen April 30 that he needed to apply for a Minnesota license.

"I don't think there is any question he knew he had to go through the process," said Dragseth, a partner in School Exec Connect. "He misinterpreted what he had to do. He thought other people were taking care of it for him. In some states, human resources does it for them. Minnesota is different."

Foster's three-year contract included a yearly allowance for 25 vacation and 13 sick days, 10 paid holidays and three personal days, with the second and third of those used charged against sick time. In the time before Foster was placed on leave, he used 11 vacation and three personal days and 7.3 sick days.

School district records also show that Foster had $5,064 in work-related expenses during that time, mostly for conference fees, airfare, mileage and lodging. Those expenses include two four-night trips: one to Albuquerque, N.M., in late October for a conference of the National Indian Education Association and one to New Orleans in mid-November for a conference of the National Alliance of Black School Educators.

Foster also attended three short conferences, two for new Minnesota school administrators and one for strategies on using culture to address educational problems. One of Foster's top priorities was narrowing the achievement gap between white students and students of color.

Conferences are sometimes seen as a networking opportunity, Wanner said.

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"I have no doubt that he is a bright guy; that he is a very intelligent person," he said. "But it's like his heart wasn't here."

Related Topics: EDUCATIONSCHOOL BOARD
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