Fargo superintendent suggests race a factor in remote work controversy

It came as a surprise to many when the Forum recently revealed that 18 employees of the Fargo School District live out of state and work remotely from as far away as Texas and Arizona. The expose also revealed that some remote workers earn well into six figures from afar.

They include two of the more highly compensated administrators in the district.

Jeff McCanna is paid $154,779 annually as human capital officer, dividing time between Fargo and his home in the Houston, Texas, area.

Tristan Love is paid $131,370 a year as director of educational justice and also resides in the Houston area.

The district’s remote work policy was implemented in January 2021 during the COVID-19 pandemic, before either man was hired.

McCanna is white and Love is Black. Love was the more recent hire of the two men.

Concerns over highly-paid government employees working out of state in the post-pandemic era has cropped up and led to a robust policy debate in other places, including Hennepin County. At a Fargo school board meeting following publication, however, the paper says Superintendent Rupak Gandhi suggested another factor may be behind the issue locally.

“I don’t have enough information to say that race is a factor, but I do have enough information to say … someone can reasonably expect that’s a consideration when we’ve been employing a practice in our district for a very long time,” Gandhi said at the meeting.

Gandhi began his comments tied to The Forum story by reminding board members that district decisions are guided by the district’s unified strategic and operational plan, focused on improving all student outcomes.

In the process of vigorously defending the remote work policy, Gandhi acknowledged Fargo Education Association members had raised concerns over the issue with him previously.

Gandhi said he’s had conversations with the Fargo Education Association teachers union about remote work and how the district was “doing something bad” by providing it as an opportunity.

He said he was bothered by discussion of the remote work policy and the timing of the news story, which was published less than a year after Love was hired. He displayed art from The Forum’s article while he talked about the remote work policy for 10 minutes at the school board meeting.

After Gandhi finished, there were no comments or questions from members of the school board. But the Forum had plenty of questions over whom the superintendent was referring to at the meeting.

The Forum requested a follow-up interview with Gandhi to ask for clarification of the comment about race and at whom it was aimed.

Gandhi said the remark was not aimed at The Forum for writing the story or at the Fargo Education Association. But he said it’s reasonable to question why the issue intensified after Love was hired.

“I’m unsure who raised these concerns or their level of insight into the matter, but the timing makes it a valid question,” he said in a follow-up email.

It’s not clear to what extent constituents have contacted school board members about the issue. Meantime, the 18 remote workers employed by Fargo Public Schools will continue to earn a total of more than $1 million in compensation.