Burke will not seek reelection
Public battles kept some candidates from Farmington but attracted Haugen
by Laura Adelmann
Farmington School Board Member Tim Burke will not seek reelection in November.
“I don’t plan to run,” said Burke, whose 2010 censure by then-fellow board members and complaints about district operations under former Superintendent Brad Meeks made headlines statewide.
Burke’s plans against seeking a second term were set months ago, although kept confidential.
Among those few to whom Burke confided his plans was Ken La Croix, the search consultant the board hired last spring to lead its superintendent hiring process.
Burke said he disclosed his plans to La Croix so the recruiter could inform superintendent candidates who might have been reluctant to apply in Farmington because Burke was on the board.
“I didn’t want any candidate to think I’d be a problem with them,” Burke said.
La Croix said there were candidates who did not apply for the position because of publicized turmoil in the Farmington School District.
“Relationships between board members was a concern and what influence that might have on their life as a superintendent of the district,” La Croix said.
Even La Croix admitted he had concerns about whether he wanted to take the job of trying to lure a new superintendent to Farmington.
“I thought twice about taking it on,” La Croix said, noting that while he’s seen boards not get along before, he had never seen a member censured by his own board and so frequently appear in the press.
The censure came after years of vocal concerns Burke raised about district leadership, finances and communications.
Before he was a board member, Burke led a vigorous opposition campaign to a 2007 district proposal for a $24 million sportsplex connected to Farmington High School.
The facility was proposed to include tennis courts, two ice rinks an Olympic-sized pool and a four-court auxiliary gym.
Farmington voters overwhelmingly rejected the bond proposal, but the issue sparked controversy that grew as did contention between Meeks and Burke, who questioned district spending and criticized Meeks for running what he said was a top-down command structure.
Burke’s campaign and crusade for open communication in the district eventually led to an unprecedented investigation into whether Burke, a board member by then, had broken data privacy laws.
Multiple legal agencies reviewed investigation findings, but the matter was eventually dropped for lack of evidence. although the 2010 board censured Burke for allegedly violating board conduct codes.
The investigation also included allegations some district staff were instructed to regulate how and when Burke received information he requested.
In February, 2011, Meeks resigned mid-contract after a closed board meeting, an unexpected development that led to the search for a new superintendent.
After years of news accounts relating conflict in the district, concerns were raised about whether superintendent candidates would want to lead Farmington schools.
La Croix said he shared Burke’s decision with the two finalists, Jay Haugen and Rod Thompson.
“I think it did have some influence,” La Croix said of the revelation. “There was so much publicity about (Burke) and they were concerned about their own opportunity.”
Thompson dropped out of the race, taking a job leading Shakopee Schools, and Haugen accepted the Farmington superintendent position.
Under the new district leadership, Burke and the board have worked to mend relationships and focus on student achievement.
The investigation hasn’t been mentioned since last fall, when Burke requested reimbursement of $5,183 in legal expenses he incurred.
His request was denied; Board Chair Tera Lee cited concerns about setting precedent.
The morning after that September, 2011 vote, Burke sent an email to supporters, thanking them but stating he is finished with the matter.
“It’s time to move on. We have a new superintendent which is certainly one of the most beneficial by-products of this whole mess,” he wrote.
Burke said Monday he has received several checks from constituents meant to help defray his legal costs, but he has returned them.
His reimbursement request was never about the money, he said. It was about the district saying it was wrong.
In meetings, Burke and the board are focusing on budget and student achievement; Burke publicly speaks highly of Haugen’s leadership.
“Now that we do have a new superintendent, and we’ve essentially had a change of administration, I think the district is in considerably better shape than it was,” Burke said, noting the current administration is “much more straight forward in dealing with the budget.”
Meanwhile, tension in the district has eased considerably.
Haugen told Thisweek Tuesday that during the interview process, he was not concerned about Burke’s plans, and they played no role in his decision to accept the job, although he could see how it could be a concern for some people.
Instead, Haugen said, Farmington’s challenges drew him to the job.
“It attracted me,” he said. “I’m always up for some kind of a challenge and you could just feel this was a great place and could do lots of things.” La Croix agreed, noting the board worked together well during the hiring process; he is confident things are improving in the district under Haugen’s leadership.
“I feel really good about what happened there,” La Croix said. “Jay brought a whole new dimension and it’s been very good how that board worked together and I feel good —there