By John McLoone
Editor’s note: After receiving numerous emails from Hastings School District Board Director Mike Reis, we decided that this is a matter that the public has a right to know about. Reis has said he will be bringing up numerous issues at the next school board meeting, some of which are highlighted below. These are emails between elected and public officials regarding public policy items.
Hastings School Board member Mike Reis has for the past two weeks sought answers from administration and board members on a variety of subjects. He has copied in the Hastings Journal and KDWA radio on a slew of emails – usually about five at a time several times a week – questioning treatment of new board members, contracts that have been signed, board members staying in a hotel at a school board convention and a variety of other topics.
Reis was elected to the board along with Jessica Dressley and Carrie Tate in November, and they were seated as directors in January.
In the first few meetings, Reis voted in opposition to the board on several matters, and
at times there was a distinct division between the existing and new board members. Board President Brian Davis at times commented that the board was working to come together still, and he pointed out that on one vote, he had sided with Reis. At the February meeting, Dressley and Tate were admonished for their part on books they deemed inappropriate for grade level being removed from the middle school book fair. With a Twin Cities station running footage of that meeting, Davis proclaimed, “This is our last made-for-TV moment,” urging unity on the board.
That period of peace lasted through the March meeting, which ran without dissent.
Shortly after that meeting, Reis started copying emails to Superintendent Robert McDowell and other board members to local media.
Reis said Tuesday morning that he and other new board members are facing resistance on the school board.
“We’re not getting anywhere. We’ve done a lot of emailing, communicating, talking. We’re getting nowhere,” he said. “One of the things we ran on was transparency, and we’re not getting that. It’s not just us. I’m hearing from a lot of constituents. Community members are concerned. We’re hearing more and more about what the board has been doing. People are concerned.”
Reis said that they’ve had difficulty getting things placed on an agenda for board discussion.
“I decided to start forwarding these emails because I’ve had it. I wanted to reveal what we have to go through, and it’s very one-sided. We can’t get things added to the agenda. We can’t ask questions,” he said.
“I’m done playing nice guy,” he said. “I’m done.”
Reis said he knew that when the three new board members won the election in November, perhaps they wouldn’t be welcomed with open arms.
“I figured we’d get some resistance, like they would stick to their guns on things like masks. We thought they’d be open to some things and be willing to have discussions. We’re not getting anything,” he said.
Superintendent Dr. Robert McDowell and Davis were emailed for comment. McDowell responded: “Thank you for reaching out. While Mr. Reis has chosen to include media outlets as part of his email responses, there is nothing for the district to comment on, at this time.”
Following are excerpts of emails Reis forwarded. Grammar is unchanged in the emails, since oftentimes emails are more casual conversation.
Middle School thefts, April 1
April 14, 7:23 a.m.
Hi All, I have been hearing incidents of theft going on at the middle school. Based on the information I’ve been told, this has been an ongoing issue for awhile and the parents don’t feel that the District is taking this matter seriously.
I am wondering what the District is going to do about this and what steps they are taking to stop this from happening. I have advised the parent(s) I’ve spoken with to contact the Police for any thefts.
I’ve also been asked about the cameras and if they would be used to find out who the thieves are.
McDowell responded: Good morning Brian and Mike, I know we had some things hit social media last night. I will look into this today.
Davis responded: Good morning Mike I will take a look at this and respond to you and the board.
Reis emailed again on the matter Monday afternoon: Hi Bob, Do you think the appropriate response to the thefts is to not hold anyone accountable?
I would like to see the Video audit logs that show someone had viewed the videos since I have a hard time believing that it was looked into. I’ve heard numerous instances of theft but nothing came from the District until I brought it to your attention.
April 27 meeting Reis said that at the next board meeting, set for 6 p.m. Wednesday, April 27 in the Hastings Middle School Media Center, he will be bringing several matters up for discussion. The district sought legal advice on what individual board members can ask for and do. On that, Reis emailed that Davis is in violation of board code of conduct personally.
“I see you and Bob had reached out to them to try to scare us into not talking about things but even if that does become a policy, your code of conduct incident happened before the ‘lawyer scare tactic’ you are using. So you are still going to have to answer to this.”
“We’re going to clear the air and get it all out,” he wrote.
Annual superintendent review
Reis asked for previous review of McDowell that were conducted by the board in an April 10 email to Davis.
“I would like a copy of the all the previous reviews that the Board has done with Bob. If there weren’t any reviews, then please provide the reasoning for not following MN state law.
“I have asked a few questions that I’m still waiting on your response to. I’m concerned about your lack of effort and providing timely, and accurate, responses.
“I’ll go ahead and re-send all those emails (and I’ll try to send all the other ones that I haven’t asked yet as well).
“And just a heads up, I’ll wait to bring up these issues up at our Regular School Board meeting so we know it’s being recorded and presented to the public.”
Davis answered the following evening: “Good evening Mike “The process that has been out in place as there was no review process when we arrived on the board. As such we had to develop a process in conjunction with the strategic plan. That is why this is the first review exercise that we have gone through. Going forward with a process in place, you should see everything fall into the correct timing with these reviews done regularly.”
That elicited the following from Reis: “So you are saying that the previous Board didn’t do their job and failed to do a review that is required by law? This is not a new process and has been a law for numerous years.
“Therefore, I would expect at least a strike against all of the previous Board members for failing to follow policy and MN state laws.
“Where is the accountability for the previous Boards lack of responsibility? What is the consequence for failing to follow a MN State law?”
The board was forced to do a second vote to ratify a contract with its teachers’ union, because Davis, whose wife is a teacher in the district, voted on the contract the first time.
Reis said he was told he couldn’t ask questions on the contract.
In an email to McDowell April 8, he wrote: “Do you care to comment about your quote to me on when I asked about the Teacher Contract? Why weren’t we allowed to ask questions, and why wouldn’t you make it a closed meeting so we could have those conversations? Why did all questions have to be sent to you and Brian, and not share them with the other Board Members?
“Just in case you forgot or can’t search your own emails for the original: Me: ‘How am I supposed to vote on something without discussing it? How am I supposed to know what can or can’t be said about the contract?’ You: ‘Basically, nothing about the contract negotiations can be discussed in an open meeting.’ “And, just to clarify this issue, we had to revote because I had to point out the conflict of interest that Brian had, yet he had still voted on the original contract. Should I bring up the issue about how the signature lines were switched and yet we were told to still vote on an unofficial contract?”
Reis sent a third request for a response on that email Monday afternoon.
In an email to Vice Chair Stephanie Malm, Reis alleged that only she and Davis were told that they could stay at a Minneapolis hotel during a board convention.
Reis brought up the $600 expense for the hotel rooms when he said he was told he couldn’t contact the district law firm.
Reis wrote on April 6: “I have asked about six or seven times but now they aren’t even responding to the email, thinking it will go away; but it won’t.
“ Bob originally stated that it was a waste of money but had no problem reimbursing over $600 for a hotel stay in Minneapolis for 2 board members… and that wasn’t offered to any other Board members… Yet me wanting to ask a legal question that no one in the District can answer, is wrong?”
Malm responded: “Again, it was brought up to you after the Organizational Meeting when Lisa offered to carpool and I mentioned you can stay at the hotel. Was it in writing, no, because it was an in-person conversation. I'm sorry you don't remember us talking about this. Did you inquire about accommodations available to you so you could attend the leadership conference? Were you ever denied accommodations to attend the leadership conference?
“I was reimbursed for staying at the hotel to attend the MSBA leadership conference. The expenses were in my official capacity as a board member for board member development and I was reimbursed for the expenses affiliated with my attendance at that conference. I'm not sure of the relevance of your inquiry about visitors, I am unaware of any policy prohibiting employees or board members from having visitors so long as the visitor's expenses are not paid for by the district. But no, no visitors at the hotel but I did have a nice lunch with my husband at a local restaurant in MPLS (which was out of my own pocket, not reimbursed by the district but I could have had my own meal reimbursed).
“Please stop emailing/cc'ing the news outlets on board correspondence.”
Reis responded April 14. Here are excerpts: “Neither Carrie, Jessica or I were asked about the Hotel. We are new members, I would expect to be offered information from previous Board Members, especially Mentors… “Did you offer that to your mentee? No, you didn’t so that seems like a failure on your part. Did the other ones offer it? No, and they also failed… “Why can’t I CC the news? Are you trying to hide something? There is not nothing illegal or unethical about this and you just don’t like being exposed. I’ll also be going to the National News stations next.
“I will continue to copy the news on just about all my emails and shame on you for trying to prevent me from doing that.
“So you think it was a wise use of money to spend over $600 on a hotel that was 30 miles from your house? I’ll be bringing this up at our next Board Meeting as well, along with your violation. We’ll get all of these issues aired out at the next meeting, and if you choose not to discuss them then that only proves you have something to hide and don’t want to be exposed… “Again, at the next meeting, I’ll be airing ALL of the issues and we’ll talk about them. Even if it’s decided that the Board doesn’t want to, I have every right to speak and no one has the authority to not let me.”
Reis requested information on access to school district emails. He wrote on April 4: “I just reviewed the report from HR, that I had requested, regarding who had accessed our District emails and when.
“The numbers are staggering… “Since 01/05/2022, these are the total times our District emails had been accessed by someone other than the email account holder.
Becky, Stephanie, and Lisa: 0 times Jessica: 2 times Brian: 4 times Bob: 6 times Mike (me): 36 times (no that is not a typo, I have a detailed log that shows all the information).
“This includes them asking for personal emails (which Brian is still preventing me from speaking with the law firms about) and they also have access to Draft messages in our District email (though it initially seems those were excluded from the search). It is apparent that we are being targeted and different rules are being applied to the new Board members versus the others. You’ll see additional proof of this in my other emails that will shortly follow.”
In response to the Reis emails, Malm wrote to him on April 5: “I’m really frustrated because these issues are pulling us away from doing the district work that we were all elected to do.”
She continued, “We all have our own voice and bring in different ideas and perspectives, and that is awesome, we just need to figure out how to work together for the bigger cause. I want to see this board be successful for the students and staff of the district and for all of our community.
“Help me help our team, Director Reis and thank you for your fierce advocacy.”
Photo by Bruce Karnick.