Lemon drop hill

April 16th, 2015

Duluthians will understand this reference to the hill that is the last major obstacle to runners at our famous Grandma’s Marathon. That’s what today was like for me until Claudia suggested we go to Tavern on the Hill so she could use their WiFi connection to finish her third paper this week for this quarter’s seminary classes.

While Claudia worked I tapped out a one finger email to myself to incorporate into a blog post. It was a little like breaking out of writer’s block. It would take editing but I had it ready. (yeah sure, just like the latest MAJ post) I had to attend a meeting first, however. It was a Committee of the Whole on a pretty trivial subject having to do with the City of Duluth’s Civil Service Commission and the District’s maintenance bargaining unit.

I’d already told our Education reporter Jana Hollingsworth I didn’t figure it would end up being particularly newsworthy. That turned out to be the truth. What I didn’t expect was that I would get really angry with Chair Seliga-Punyko who interrupted me to tell me my questions were not appropriate during my questions related to the subject we had met to discuss. Art stepped in to stick up for me which is about the reverse of how it usually works.

I wasn’t eager to attend this meeting. It turns out no one was. I was tired as I collected the paper work I’d already read through pertaining to the issue. So here’s the issue and a little background on why we were meeting tonight. Read the rest of this entry »

Morgan Park, Rockridge schools to be sold

April 14th, 2015

I sat down next to Claudia to read today’s newspaper with the story headline (above) in the title of this post. She asked me suspiciously, “Well did you leak the sales price yet?”

I barely glanced in her direction and lifted by hand to my lips and pantomimed a zipping motion across them.

“That’s good” she replied as we both broke into a chuckle.

There is no dearth of things to blog about but my head has been elsewhere lately. The carpet will be installed on Thursday so much of my house is still cluttered while I wait to move into my new office. I have been on my knees for the past day shoving items for storage behind the “knee walls” I fashioned to hide the stuff. It will take me a week or more to move in and clean out my old office which will be given over to Claudia.

I know, I know. I’ve tantalized my eight loyal readers with the preceding post with no content yet. Its mostly written by I haven’t had the energy to do the proof reading. I suppose it will be a great disappointment to my eight loyal readers when it’s done. I’m not writing about national security issues here – just a bunch of dysfunctional, civic minded citizens caught up in a self-righteous slug fest.

I rarely suffer from writer’s block if anything I suffer more from Writeiarrhea. I occasionally start blog posts that don’t cut it or don’t go anywhere or wait in vain for me to return to them. Here are a bunch I saw as I looked at my blogs “dashboard” that are unlikely to be finished but which I haven’t had the heart to erase:

Walkin, Walkin, Walker to February 17, 2015
My Buddy who is a gadfly’s gadfly (to me) sent…

The Snowy Tuesday School Board meeting February 13, 2015
(no title) January 23, 2015

Claudia and I took a day off of sorts to…

Get out of Jail Free card? January 11, 2015

My better half knows what I’m contemplating and is a…

Thoughts on censorship January 10, 2015
As opposed to censureship. My daily reading includes Andrew Sullivan’s…

Having spent so much time on my knees they are stiff and sore. I decided to go out into the sun today and rake the back yard and pause for a few minutes to kick a hackysack around to limber them up. I’d already spent an hour in my basement after removing a portion of the things that are destined to be returned up three flight’s of stairs when the attic carpet is put in. The blog nagged at me while I worked but not too desperately. Heck, I’ve had a week of a full night sleeping. I owe it to a head slowly clearing as I’ve been making progress towards a summer of electioneering, court room drama and fundraising. One good night’s sleep is only a sign of making up on some sleep deprivation. A week’s worth of good night’s sleeping is a sign of approaching sanity.

Before I return to my house (I’ve got three attic window shades to install thanks to Claudia) I’ll just note that the two-and-a-half hour business meeting yesterday which we held immediately after the closed meeting on property sales was a model of business-like conversation. We even spoke rationally about some policy changes that are fraught with political time bombs. Like another recent meeting that was adult in tone we were missing Chair Judy Seliga-Punyko. A coincidence? Hmmmmm.

I’ll be back with much more soon. I’ll even write more MAJ posts. I haven’t even gotten to the martyrdom part of the story yet since I’ve been so busy with the background on all the Torquemadas.

MAJ 7 – Rosie’s Hardball

April 9th, 2015

Look for it Saturday

My Dad’s Obituary

April 9th, 2015

I began writing this a week ago. Might as well post it.

To wrap up the last little bit of my Mother’s estate I was advised by our attorney that he needed two items that would prove that my Father had died. I had neither his death certificate or his obituary.

Dad died 28 years ago just shy of his sixty-second birthday. That period of time was something of a bookend to the times I’m in now. We had just purchased a new home on 21st Ave East and moved in when my Father was failing and had no way to come up and take a look at it. I rented a VHS camcorder and had the family walk around our soon-to-be new home that summer so we could give him a video tour. VHS tapes have about a twenty year life and I haven’t seen that one since we made it. I wonder if it still exists?

At the same time I was trying to recover from having lost my third teaching job. That was a trifecta, lost job, dying father, new house. Two years ago, I was interviewed by the Trib’s education reporter as part of her coverage of the 2013 school board election and reflected on that time. I brought myself to tears thinking about the time, just before his passing, that my Dad told me he thought I had a will to fail. God, I hated to see him die thinking his oldest son was a failure.

I put in a call to Blue Earth County to ask that they send me the death certificate – cost $13, and the Mankato Public Library asking that their reference desk send me a copy of my father’s obituary. I had a bit of trouble understanding the librarian but I left the conversation fairly certain that they would email me the obituary, now on microfilm.

As I lay in bed this morning stewing about how to write the next Martyrdom (MAJ) column I got thinking back on the obituary I was trying to retrieve. I am a collector of such things and I didn’t seem to have it. That got me wondering if it had ever been written. I would have been the likely writer but I couldn’t recall writing it even though I was in Mankato at the time of my Father’s death.

I do have a vivid memory of writing a funeral oration for my Dad. The year before my Father had written a memory of his Mother’s life for her memorial service. I wanted to do something similar. I think I referred to that in a recent post, my staying up late cranking it out on a Mac Computer in the College’s library only to have the computer crash at about ten O’Clock as the library closed. But I don’t remember writing an obituary.

At my parent’s grave site last weekend I offered a similar but extemporaneous eulogy for my Mother. I had been thinking about what to say for a couple days. It contained many elements of things I’ve posted over the past years. The chief job was mentally editing it down to about twenty minutes and not missing any of the key junctures in her life that I thought her small circle of friends might like to know about. I told them I’m thinking about putting a small book of her life anecdotes and art work. That would be a more fulsome project. But what about Dad’s obituary?

I wrote more but this as good a place to end as any for now.

I’m still here

April 9th, 2015

Fortunately, the news has been a little light on education related stories and we’ve gone a while without school board meetings. I’m grateful because that would have put a strain on me to upload more blog posts. As it is I’m closing in on a project I’ve been begging Claudia to let me do for better than a decade – turn our old fashioned attic into an office. The last week I’ve been busy every day with some aspect of the work. The last three days I’ve painted the walls and stained the new molding and caulked and primed and painted the stairway. My right shoulder feels like I’m suffering from repetitive rotator cuff displaysisa. I made that up but its long enough to cover the discomfort.

We are heading out of town today with grandkids but the electrician will be here to give us lighting for the weekend. Carpet comes early next week and once it is in I can clean out all the rooms that I’ve stuffed attic related storage in. I’ve been hurrying to beat the carpet layers. The stain is a lot easier to put on pre carpet.

I’ve been taking boring pictures of the process from beginning to end for my wife’s brother in law who retired to volunteer nearly full time with Habitat for Humanity. He’s helped build forty houses or so. He likes this kind of stuff and requested more pictures. I’ve put them all on Facebook for my handful of family and friends so that their eyes can glaze over.

I’m winding lots of distractions down. My Mother’s estate is a month from being settled. I just need her last income tax refund, a conservator’s bond refund, a division of “mineral” assets she inherited from her father and a final payment of legal expenses. That requires a death certificate from my father. She’s out of my closet thank goodness but its a damn shame I can’t write a book about her life in art. Instead I’ll be working on an expose of the School Board. Maybe I’ll just print out my blog. I’m still catching grief for shedding a tiny ray of light on our recent closed meeting. Maybe I’ll be censured again. If so, this time I wouldn’t vote for it.

I’m filing this under Harry’s Diary. Its just to let my eight loyal readers know I haven’t fallen off the edge of the world…….not yet.

Commands from Olympus

April 3rd, 2015

Chair Seliga-Punyko sends her greetings:


It has come to my attention that you have been publicly sharing private confidential data on your blog that was discussed in the 3/24/15 closed session. Releasing confidential questions and information about consequences is a violation of state law with regards to private data. As a representative of the public, having inappropriate information and language or violating laws about private data is unacceptable.

This was previously addressed through censure and needs to be removed from your blog immediately.


Confidentiality Notice: This E-mail message, including any attachments, is for the sole use of the intended recipient(s) and may contain confidential and privileged information. Any unauthorized review, use, disclosure or distribution is prohibited. If you are not the intended recipient, please contact the sender by reply E-mail and destroy all copies of the original message.

I salute back:

Chair Seliga-Punyko,

You have been misinformed about my post of March 25th. The extent of my reporting on the closed meeting was to refer to a question asked by a member of the School Board. As you recall when we embarked on our investigation of Art Johnston we determined that School Board members were not subject to the same data privacy rules as our district’s employees and students.

This is the extent of my reporting on that closed hearing:

“Young Annie Harala asked one question of District officials at our closed meeting yesterday. Were the students subject to expulsion remorseful for their actions? I’ll only say that the response was what the person putting such a question might hope for.”

Excepting the question and the questioner everything else contained in these three sentences had already been aired publicly in Duluth’s newspaper of record, to wit: We held a closed meeting. We passed a resolution of expulsion directed at two students. All of this was public knowledge. Furthermore our resolution was public data. Only the identities and actions of the subjects of our resolution were covered by Minnesota’s data privacy law. These I did not reveal.

Yours cordially,

Bless you Mike Jaros

April 2nd, 2015

I was very pleased to see that a couple letters to the editor appeared while I was busy tending to family business over the weekend. They took a very different tack than a Mr. Keller who wrote a couple weeks back that Art Johnston was draining money from our children by defending his free speech rights. NO, NO, NO. Its the School Board that is violating Art’s free speech in a travesty of justice.

The first letter took the majority to task for harassing Art Johnston for asking questions that should be asked:

It’s time for all School Board members to have the integrity to ask such questions. It seems a judicious time to stop harassing a board member for raising these questions.

Then Mike Jaros weighed in with a full fledged rebuttal of Mr. Keller’s arguments. Here’s Mike’s letter in its entirety:

Reader’s View: School district continues to waste taxpayer money
Posted on Mar 29, 2015 at 8:33 p.m.

A letter March 15 claimed School Board member Art Johnston’s lawsuit will cost the district money that could have been used for children’s education. Why didn’t the letter state that when our school district hired a Twin Cities law firm to investigate Johnston it also cost our children?

The district spent $315 million plus interest on new schools, which was too much. It could have remodeled solid old buildings.

I am not against taxing and spending, as I am a liberal. But I am against wasteful spending, such as with the Red Plan, as conceived by Johnson Controls of Milwaukee. I tried to correct that mistake in St. Paul in 2007 and 2008 with a bill to require a referendum first. But Johnson Controls hired a former Republican legislator and revenue commissioner-turned-lobbyist, and Gov. Tim Pawlenty said he would veto my bill.

I lost and had to go on because that is the way the democratic system works.

What I cannot understand is how our superintendent and former School Board chairman are using hired guns and lawyers and even a retired judge to go after Johnston. Why didn’t they call law enforcement if they felt threatened during the incident for which Johnston was investigated? Probably because they didn’t have a case. It also seems they went after Johnston’s lady, a school district employee.

Sounds like what Vice President Dick Cheney did to Valerie Plame when ambassador Joe Wilson, her husband, said Saddam Hussein didn’t have nuclear weapons in 2003.

I chaired three committees in the Minnesota House and some members were difficult. But I never even imagined cutting them off when they wanted to say something with which I didn’t agree. Free speech protects even those who may be wrong. We should expect more from our most educated people.

Mike Jaros

The writer represented District 7B in the Minnesota Legislature for more than 30 years, resigning in 2008.

Thoughts on the RICO law

April 2nd, 2015

Georgia just found a dozen Georgia teachers guilty of violating the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. Their crime? – cheating on student tests to make the Atlanta School District look like it was doing a better job educating their children than was in fact true. Here are the details from a CNN Facebook “alert” that a friend emailed me this morning.

All but one of 12 defendants charged with racketeering and other crimes in the Atlanta Public Schools cheating scandal have been convicted.

A total of 35 educators, administrators and testing coordinators were indicted in 2013 on charges of racketeering and corruption following a 2009 investigation that revealed systemwide cheating in more than half the district’s elementary and middle schools on the state Criterion-Referenced Competency Test.

Twenty-one of those indicted took plea bargains. Two of the defendants, including former schools Superintendent Beverly Hall, died while under indictment.

I think I have a problem with this result. The RICO law was first dreamed up to fight organized crime and the Narcos who were using banks to launder their drug money. Murder, Mayhem, Drugs and outlawry were its targets. Its hard for me to envision a bunch of teachers in RICO’s gun-sights. Sure they were cheating kids of decent educations but their reward was a little gratitude by the Superintendent who wanted to look good. They were also likely motivated by the punitive actions of legislators who like to take funding away from failing schools which then will in all likelihood fail even more. In some perverse way it could be argued that these teachers, some of whom face twenty year jail sentences, were trying to protect their children from law makers.

Ah, but when a prosecutor wants to win a conviction the more dire the law that can be thrown at a miscreant the more successful will the prosecutor be. Like the RFRA law this was originally a bipartisan piece of legislation. How interesting to learn that it now includes teachers under its growing umbrella.

Thoughts on the RFRA law

April 2nd, 2015

I don’t always know why my Buddy sends me links to stories but this link to a Jonah Goldberg column could have been prompted by my crack about Indiana being to skittish about so many grooms placed on wedding cakes.

But we live in an age where non-compliance with the left’s agenda must be cast as bigotry. Everyone is free to celebrate as instructed. This is what liberals think liberty means today.

Ignore Goldberg’s jab at the left (above) and read the column. Its thoughtful and I agree with it. That doesn’t mean that I’m not enjoying the spectacle of a Rightest schmoozing Governor getting baked in the glare of righteous indignation over Indiana’s law protecting conservative florists from having to supply flowers at gay weddings.

I’ve evolved myself over the years and am reasonably patient with folks who haven’t evolved as fast as me. Here are glimpses of my evolution first outlined in a column thirteen years ago that I wrote for the Duluth Reader titled “Selected Scenes from my Queer Life.”

Let me point out two of the incidents this story outlines:

1971, Age 20 – I become a summer intern for our local Congressman. I move into a seedy townhouse a short walk from the Nation’s Capitol. I borrow a cake pan from neighbors. When I return the pan I am invited over for dinner and a cocktail. I discover that fresh tomatoes with a little salt are really tasty and drink my first martini. My neighbors are the first wave of new residents who are gentrifying the neighborhood. I suspect that they are gay. I am invited back and find myself among five urbane men in their thirties. One is an internationally famous premier danseur, a male ballet dancer. He regales us with stories about how as a young man all the ballerinas tried to bed him for good luck. The men find this story of heterosexual promiscuity very funny. I excuse myself from the gathering after one of the hosts, who had been petting a kitten, begins petting my thigh.

Before I return to school the neighbors ask me if I would like to house-sit for them next summer while they are abroad. I think they have surmised that I’m not gay. I tell them I’d like to. When I mention this to my Dad he strongly discourages me because the homeowners are gay. I drop the idea.

1982, Age 31 – Duluth overwhelmingly defeats a “civil rights” ordinance which would require landlords to rent to gays. I tell my Dad that I’m inclined to oppose the ordinance. I feel bad that conservative Christian property owners could be forced to rent to open homosexuals. My Dad asks me why gays should be denied access to housing. I am ashamed.

That latter incident in 1982 is the one that falls in line with the furor in Indiana. Note first that my Dad and I seemingly changed political positions between 1971 and 1982. In 1982 I was trying to fit in, however uncomfortably, with the Republican Party that had not yet begun purging RINO’s. President Reagan kept talking up the Party’s “big tent.” Here my Father was sticking up for gays. In effect he let me know that my tolerance for refusing to rent to gays wasn’t any different from practices that let white folks deny housing to black Americans.

One of the fellows working on my attic was listening to conservative talk radio yesterday and one of the bloviators was going on about Native American’s using peyote in their religious ceremonies. That’s what gave birth to RFRA the Federal law analogous to Indiana’s law. The Supreme Court ruled that Indian religious practices, involving hallucinogens, were not protected under the law. Liberals of that Era jumped to the defense of Native America and RFRA was born. The bloviator used that history to defend Governor Pence and today’s Conservatives. Bloviators aren’t always wrong.

I wished Bill good luck

April 1st, 2015

The Superintendent is one of six candidates for the Prior Lake Superintendency. The Board is being pretty circumspect:

We heard back from six of the school board members by Tuesday evening, all but Member Bill Westholm. The others did not want to do an on-camera interview.

WDIO’s story

Oh yeah! And its too bad that our recent Board Chair, who gushes about the Superintendent in this interview, didn’t listen to the Superintendent when Mr. Gronseth advised the School Board not accuse Art Johnston of having “assaulted” the two of them.

So much important boring news

April 1st, 2015

I spent an hour with our very threadbare Duluth News Tribune today. I’d already listened to NPR while ironing a weeks worth of long sleeve shirts so I had it turned off. It will be a damn sad day if and when the people of Duluth have to depend on the news releases reported to them by our local television news crews.

I won’t link to the stories just enumerate them:

Page one: Judge dismisses Duluth’s casino challenge: Darn. Its hell to be treated by Fon du Lac the way Native Americans have been treated for generations. They don’t even have to pay property taxes for the services their Trojan Horse Reservation on Superior Street gets from the City. Anyone who has driven on Duluth Streets since 2009 when they “were ordered to stop” contributing six million to the city annually can feel the pain.

Page one: Minntac expects 700 layoffs: That’s about the fifth “ouch” in the business cycle for this commodity since I moved to Duluth forty years ago.

Page 4: Indiana governor vows to ‘fix’ law: Governor Pence probably would be glad to defund liberal arts educations too. I guess there are just too many little men holding hands on wedding cakes in Indiana these days.

Opinion Page: Minnesota moving up among most-taxed: Well argued but barely any acknowledgement of the Red Plan’s contribution.

Page 7: Decision delayed on building Edison high school: ISD 709 better help recruit 600 high school students to move to Duluth to replace the Edison kids. We have a lot of Red Plan still to pay off over the next fifteen years. And I find it hard to believe the Superintendent’s claim that 60% of the 650 kids Edison will take with them currently attend Marshall School and Harborview. The former costs an arm and a leg to attend and the latter only has a very small high school population. Do 390 Edison kids (60%) really attend these two high schools?

Its too bad that the highfalutin demographers we paid $40.000 to look at our school population weren’t told that we are about to lose these students to a new high school. They might have extended their study to test the Superintendent’s optimistic numbers.

Page 9: Minnesota gets renewal of waiver from No Child Left Behind: Rehashes many recent stories including Duluth’s disappointing lack of success with minority children.

In defense of the liberal arts

April 1st, 2015

My Buddy sent me a good read from Fareed Zakaria panning our current political fad for STEM education. The quote he sent me to tempt me into reading the column had to do with computer billionaires who started out in Liberal Arts but I like this quotation as much:

For most of its history, the United States was unique in offering a well-rounded education. In their comprehensive study, “The Race Between Education and Technology,” Harvard’s Claudia Goldin and Lawrence Katz point out that in the 19th century, countries like Britain, France and Germany educated only a few and put them through narrow programs designed to impart only the skills crucial to their professions. America, by contrast, provided mass general education because people were not rooted in specific locations with long-established trades that offered the only paths forward for young men. And the American economy historically changed so quickly that the nature of work and the requirements for success tended to shift from one generation to the next. People didn’t want to lock themselves into one professional guild or learn one specific skill for life.

I’ll go further: Zakaria explains exactly what I’d like the Duluth Public Schools to be able to provide for its students.

MAJ 6 – Mean Girls

March 31st, 2015

I’d suggest starting at MAJ 1 (Martyrdom of Art Johnston)

Art and I have joked that the three women on our board remind us of the Tina Fey movie “Mean Girls.” I don’t know if the analogy is apropos because I’ve never seen the movie. I gather it is about popular girls making life miserable for kids who aren’t cool like, for instance, Art Johnston.

If the analogy holds I would have to add that Annie and Rosie seem an unlikely pair to finish off Chair Seliga-Punyko’s sorority.
Annie, seems to be an independent and confident woman who stands on her own abilities. As I’ve written she is a commanding chair of her Education Committee. But this outward appearance may be all whistle. At a Wellness round table during her election campaign Annie explained that she had suffered bullying as a youngster. Perhaps the back story fits the Roger’s and Hammerstein song that begins, “Whenever I feel afraid I hold myself erect and whistle a happy tune so no one will suspect I’m afraid.” It’s a strategy I’ve employed myself. Read the rest of this entry »

My Fraternity

March 31st, 2015

The last post is the first one in nine years to have mentioned the name of my college fraternity, Phi Delta Theta. This is the second. Searching the blog I only found two mentions of the phrase “my fraternity” in previous posts. One is unflattering the other harmless. I spent four years with some of my brothers and have complicated thoughts about my time with them – too complicated for a simple post or two.

Recent events in Oklahoma have been on all fraternity men’s minds lately. I’ve been so preoccupied I have probably paid less attention to them than most. I mentioned to one of the fellows while in Mankato that I found it ironic that it had been an SAE (Sigma Alpha Epislon) chapter that had its members shout racist stupidities. That’s because forty years ago, just after many national fraternities (including mine) had dropped their Aryan membership requirements, it was our local SAE chapter that pledged a black fraternity member. Then my brother explained that the offending Oklahoma chapter had a black member!!!!!! I’ll let the exclamation points speak for me. Read the rest of this entry »

Goodbye Mom

March 31st, 2015

Short posts are easy. Long ones take work. When I have something I want to say well I often fail to do so because I crank them out and then fail to edit them because of time. That was the case the day after my Mother died in December. I wrote a 2,500 word post that contained all the information I would need to have a splendid little memory but when I read it last week saw how rough it was. I had thought about sharing it with my Mother’s friends but even the hour I took to start editing it was not nearly enough.

The reason I looked at it again was the fruition of long talks with my brother about putting her next to Dad in Mankato’s Woodland Hills Cemetery. Somewhere in the files I’ve preserved over forty years is the reading I cranked out a day or two after my Dad died. (One of the reasons I am so eager to have a proper place to organize and store forty years worth of memories. Maybe I’ll also find the remembrance he wrote the year before to read at my Grandmother’s memorial.

On that occasion 27 years ago I headed up to Mankato State’s library and hopped on a Mac computer and cranked out about seven pages of text only to have the computer seize up with about ten minutes left before the library kicked me out just before I got the chance to print it out.

Unlike that earlier time my Brother and I had made no plans to hold a memorial for Mom. It had been years since my Mother had lived in Mankato and we weren’t sure anyone would show up. We did, however, settle on a date. Our fraternity was holding a fiftieth Anniversary Gala of its founding and although between us we had only attended two “Founder’s Days” in the intervening four decades we thought a March date seemed fortuitous. I’d contacted the cemetery and arranged for an early Saturday interment. Read the rest of this entry »

This is why folks dread vacations

March 31st, 2015

Not that driving my Mother’s Earthly remains to Mankato, Minnesota, to lay them beside those of my Father was a vacation but after five day’s of silence I have a lot I’d like to write about. The trip to Mankato is first among them but that is not what will interest most of my eight loyal readers. (I see this morning that I’ve crossed the 4,000 visitor mark for March. That is a monthly unique visitor total I haven’t achieved since the 2013 election)

The 500 folks per day who visited during my silence were most likely showed up to read updated MAJ posts. They will come. They really will, but I’ve got other things to do. Yesterday I spent four hours with Claudia painting a Sunday school room at Glen Avon Church. Its in a room that my church asked me to paint a mural in many years ago. I painted a desert scene from a red tent which was a popular book from that Era). BTW – when I painted it I had no idea what the import of the Red Tent was. It turns out that its not exactly what I think of as Sunday School material.

From the side wall:

We didn’t paint over the mural just the rest of the wall that needed a fresh coat. The wooden risers have since been removed. Claudia tells me they were too precarious for the kids so the mural stretches again to the floor.

Last night I attended one of the first “Think Kid’s” meetings with a paltry 24 parents in attendance at the active parent school Congdon. Today I woke to discover that Superintendent Gronseth is a finalist for a position in Prior Lake. Golly, Such a lot to take in and opine about. Oh yeah, and Loren Martell quoted me in his Friday column that I missed when I drove down to Mankato.

So I’ve got MAJ, Martell, Mankato, Makeup posts and much much more ahead of me. That’s a lot even for a bloviator like me.

MAJ 5 – Posts

March 25th, 2015

As I get around to them I’ll start denoting some posts as MAJ meaning the Martyrdom of Art Johnston.

NOTE: this addition posted on Friday, March 27th.

To say I’ve been busy the last few days is an understatement. I have written some rough drafts of MAJ posts yet to come but I’m not content to write and post anything too hastily or carelessly. My horizon is the November election. At the moment I’ve got a lot on my plate not the least of which is a major home improvement project for which I have made half my house uninhabitable.

The previous post is not finished to my satisfaction so I’m just keeping it until I get back from a weekend out of Duluth. I’m going solo. The post to follow it, tentatively titled “Mean Girls,” will follow.

My brother and I will be attending a college reunion in Mankato this weekend. I’m hopping in the car in about ten minutes. The reunion will give us a chance to place our Mother’s earthly remains besides those of our Father. Sometimes immediate concerns (like my focus on the Duluth Schools) have to take a backseat.

I’m sorry for the recent spate of mangled and incomplete posts. I’ll fix them up when I find time in a few days.

MAJ 4 – Ducks in a row

March 25th, 2015

Last week as I was rummaging through a file cabinet of family memorabilia I opened up a folder about my son. Inside were pictures of all his classmates from second grade. One smiling young lady with long golden hair is now my colleague on the Duluth School Board, Annie Harala.

Lamb eyeballs

If ever I was primed to look forward to a new colleague it was surely Annie. She asked me if I remembered the incident with the lamb eyeballs. How could I forget? A few years back when my son, Robb, decided washing dishes wasn’t a mentally challenging enough career path he began taking classes at Lake Superior College. In short order he began thinking about becoming and EMT (Emergency Medical Technician). Because of the lamb eyeballs I was skeptical about this and a later higher trajectory ambition of his to become a doctor. I just wasn’t sure he was ready for blood and guts.

Annie and Robb both had Mrs. Lemons in their second grade class at Chester Park. Mrs. Lemons, who had also taught Robb’s older sister had some connection with folks in animal husbandry (farming). One day she brought a bucket of lamb eyeballs into her class for educational purposes or maybe Easter. We got an anxious call from the school that day. As soon as Robb got a gander at the eyeballs staring back at him he was out like a light. It didn’t bother any of the other kids. Like Annie it gave them a fun reminiscence and me some concern that my son was pursuing the wrong job.

Easy Victory

Annie easily came out on top in the at large race for school board when I finally ran again in 2013. That was easy to anticipate, far easier than my second place finish.

Duluth was still recovering from the Red Plan and Annie had no political baggage from that brouhaha. She was young, energetic, and had a following of young teachers that she had helped place throughout Duluth as volunteers. My daughter’s friends at Edison told Keely that they were thrilled that Annie was a candidate. That Annie might have had some reservations about Edison no doubt did not occur them. Annie’s Mother is also a long time acquaintance of mine having been a teacher in the Duluth Schools from the time I first began running for the School Board. She was around at the time that ISD 709 teachers got bruised feelings when my school board invited Edison into Duluth. [Public school teachers often suffer from damaged egos. The teachers in Wisconsin where Scotty Walker is busy busting their chops and their unions must be little more than mush these days. But I digress.]

Growing into the job

Annie wasted little time stretching her arms. From day one she asked probing questions, was business-like and had an intuitive feel for the job. I’ve been teaching and poking around the schools for forty years but I’ve missed out on lots of history since I stepped off the Board in 2004. For all these voids in my experience Annie has an easy command.

Of all the chairmen of committees Annie is the most natural leader. If I were to fault her for anything it is in being too sensitive about the other board member’s distaste for Art Johnston. She often artlessly parrots the other board members when they try to get Art to stop commenting on any subject that he is concerned about. This almost always guarantees a much longer discussion. This almost happened at last night’s school board meeting.

When WADM’s came up and Art’s light went on Mike Miernicki, who now sits beside me, let loose a loud distraught exhalation before plunging his head into his hands. Then, no doubt to Mike’s amazement, Art simply noted pleasantly that he was glad to see our student enrollment had ticked up by fifteen students. This is Mike’s kneejerk reaction to Art’s every comment.

It didn’t take long for the other board members to inculcate Annie with their phobic allergy. In particular Judy Seliga-Punyko gathered the three female board members around her. From the beginning I saw them huddled in conferences after every meeting out by the parking lot. It was coalition building; a natural part of the political process. I can only imagine what stories Judy told her new colleagues. I got the same from Art as I became his first ally in two years. There is one other coalition between Mike Miernicki and Bill Westholm that that goes back to their days as students in Denfeld High School.

I had not anticipated the immediate coalition that formed between Annie, Rosie and Judy. I knew that Rosie and Judy had natural antagonisms going back to my earlier service on the Board. I also knew that Rosie had served in a position that was in some respects more exalted when she served as the president of the Minnesota State Parent, Teacher, Student Assn. (PTSA) Rosie had preceded Judy as the President of the Duluth PTSA, where the original antagonism surfaced. I would have thought this formidable background would have made Rosie a little less Judy’s follower than she quickly seemed to become. You would never have known that Art had once urged Rosie to run for the School Board.
These alliances were less obvious in the first three months after we were seated. That’s partly because I told Art that we should back off asking questions about things like Red Plan soft costs for several months in order to build up some trust. We had bright sunny meetings during that all too brief period. That ended once we began asking questions. The three coalitions congealed into two – five board members to two.

Ducks in a Row

One moment in our first month on the Board aptly illustrates the paths we were taking.

The Minnesota School Board Association has its annual conference in January at the Minneapolis Convention Center. I drove down with Art in his car in snowy weather with his wipers on the blink. I spent a fair amount of my time hanging out his car window with a long scraper keeping the windows free of snow so we could see ahead.

I returned with Mike and Bill which (fodder for future posts) because Art was planning to visit one of his children after the conference. I left the conference before its final gathering because Mike and Bill wanted to get an early start home. That left four of us behind.
When he returned from the convention Art described the pivotal scene for me. Art was in the convention hall waiting for his fellow board members to arrive so as to sit with them.

Judy Seliga-Punyko strode into the Center’s ballroom first and walked right past Art without turning her head in his direction. Judy was followed by Rosie who, emulating the leader, also walked past Art without turning her head. Right behind them followed Annie whose heart was not yet turned to stone. Annie didn’t break her stride as she kept up her elders but she did turn toward Art looking resigned and gave Art an apologetic shrug. The die was cast.

MAJ 3 – Remorse

March 25th, 2015

Young Annie Harala asked one question of District officials at our closed meeting yesterday. Were the students subject to expulsion remorseful for their actions. I’ll only say that the response was what the person putting such a question might hope for.

It is the second time Annie Harala has asked this question in my hearing. The first was at the meeting in which she joined the majority to vote for a hearing that would preceed Art Johnston’s removal from the Duluth School Board. She asked attorney, Mary Rice, if at any time Art Johnston has expressed remorse for shoving the Superintendent for which she was virtually the sole witness. The answer did not satisfy Ms. Harala.

Of course, if Art believed that he did not shove the Superintendent he should not be expected to be remorseful.

I’m close to describing the particulars leading up to Art’s antics and they will portray a very different picture which I was unable to divulge to the rest of the Board because of the damned laws on data privacy. Some months ago I did share a more candid description of these mitigating actions with Annie in writing but my explanation obviously failed to change her mind.

Annie is the primary reason that the Board has an excuse to remove Art Johnston. Had she detected remorse in him she might have relented. She did not. As a result we are about to go to court and the reputation of the School Board has been unmercifully sullied and our supervision over our children’s schools deeply unsettled.

I would turn the question on Annie. Is she felling any remorse for the part she played in letting these events get out of control? I don’t know but like her I’d like to think she is suffering some remorse whether she admits to to it or not.

MAJ 2 – Rosie

March 25th, 2015

This post and the next will reference small interactions that too place in the closed session but which, in my estimation, do not give away anything related to data privacy.

Member Rosie Loeffler-Kemp spoke earnestly about the need to keep the meetings discussion confidential. She has done this in other closed sessions almost always with a furtive nod in my direction which I have taken as accusatory and very particularly directed at me. Not tonight. It came out pro forma like something an official is always expected to say much like accountants always quote that paragraph in their audits about its being in compliance with official accounting standards.

Just before the meeting as I was heading in the parking lot Rosie passed me in her car going the opposite direction. She saw me and smiled pleasantly and gave me a wave which I reciprocated. Readers will note that this was quite different than the last time we had eye contact and Rosie was still smarting over my comments about the young African American who attended the conference on citizen involvement. If the School Board wasn’t about to dive full fledged into a courtroom again I’d take these as an excellent sign that we could go back to square one. Alas this is not to be.

Since Art Johnston’s character has come under so much scrutiny I feel compelled to honor the sage old adage what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. For a long time I’ve thought that the only Board member that would escape terribly hard scrutiny in my evaluations would be the youngest member Annie Harala. But no. Even Annie will be subject to my more rigorous scrutiny. I left a phone message with Annie asking that she call me back in the hopes that we could still find one more way to escape the coming legal assault. She did not return my call. Neither, of course, did the Superintendent.

Rosie’s demeanor yesterday suggested to me what might have been an opening to resolve our differences. We have not made that step. Once again I say Damn us, Damn me.