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Randolph reinstated

With the East hockey coach controversy behind them, school board members and the district administration can get back to other business. The row over rehiring Mike Randolph took attention away from such district issues as the budget cuts, middle ...

With the East hockey coach controversy behind them, school board members and the district administration can get back to other business.

The row over rehiring Mike Randolph took attention away from such district issues as the budget cuts, middle school curriculum and excess capacity, according to board member Mike Akervik.

It was a view shared by Superintendent Julio Almanza, who seemed more than ready to move on.

A confident crowd packed this week's board meeting as former Duluth East Hockey coach Mike Randolph got his old job back.

Randolph lost his position last spring when the district refused to renew his contract amidst allegations of financial mismanagement regarding a hockey fund-raiser.

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And in May, as hundreds of Randolph supporters looked on, the board voted not to reinstate him.

That action fired up a controversy that carried over to the November school board elections. The result was several new board members and a renewed effort to bring Randolph back. He had coached for 15 seasons at East and won two state titles.

While much of the controversy took place behind closed doors, his dismissal raised concerns about coaching contracts and rights.

"There is no such thing as tenure for coaches," said East Principal Laurie Knapp. "It is considered employment at will on both sides. It does not have the same status afforded teachers."

"It has not been easy," said Knapp, who was often reviled by Randolph supporters. "It is time to put this issue to rest and move on. It is in the best interest of students of East High School that Mr. Randolph not be reinstated."

Several other speakers urged the board not to reverse its stance. Only Robert Brooks, who spearheaded the move to bring Randolph back, spoke on his behalf.

"I've never had so many calls from people who are upset and afraid to speak," said board member Dorothy Neumann, who criticized the board's handling of the issue. She cited possible violations of the code of ethics and the open meeting law.

"The coach and his assistants were found to have mishandled money by the state auditor," said board member Laura Condon, who went on talking about the money issue even as board chair Mary Cameron warned her against it.

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Condon said the fund in question had $750 remaining at the end of 2003, while it had $10,030 at the end of this year.

Board member Tim Grover took offense at Neumann's statement and accused Condon of piling on. He said they owed the board a public apology.

"We've spent enough time on this issue," said Superintendent Julio Almanza. "This single issue which does not impact the classroom has taken a lot of our time.

In the end, the board voted 5-2 to reinstate Randolph, as well as assistant coaches Larry Trachsel and Terry Johnson.

"It's been very difficult, and I'm very happy it's over," said Randolph after the vote. "I don't care what those people say, they were wrong.

"It's over, behind me. We got the job back, I can't wait to get back to work."

As for current East hockey coach Todd Wentworth, one board member suggested giving him one of the openings at Duluth Central or Denfeld.

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