Shhh, Mum’s the word

November 11th, 2015

In case any of my other eight loyal readers were wondering my Buddy sent me this question.

Jeez, Harry. No comment for a week. Were you neutered by the recent election?

Your Buddy,

My explanation:

Jeez Buddy,

Can’t a jabber mouth ever get a chance to shut up for a few days?

Blogging now could be counter productive to my goal of having a more rational school board. The last thing I need to do is antagonize some of my new seat mates. Take your pick between either of these two overused maxims: “Silence is Golden” or “Discretion is the better part of valor.”

I’ll hide behind either of them at the moment……Besides, I have lots of things to catch up on after knocking on thousands of doors for the past month.


The Mourning After

November 4th, 2015

I’m laughing at the title right now. It cheers me to no end finding a good pun.

I told Art after the filings that even if none of our champions won the new School Board couldn’t help but be a big improvement over the current board. That said I did regret Loren Martell’s loss personally. He’s such a good guy with a brave heart. It would have been poetic justice for him to prevail.

He’s doing OK. This morning he returned the call I gave him after the results were posted last night. While he wasn’t chipper he tossed in that old saw about being resilient. It was Loren’s third loss so I joked with him that I lost three school board elections in a row before I won on the fourth time. He assured me he was hanging up his boxing gloves after this fight. Well, he won’t run for the Board anyway.

I am elated that Alanna Oswald won comfortably. I’ve spent several hours looking over the precinct by precinct results. I may have done her some damage in my area of town. I gave her the maximum contribution to pay for lawnsigns and when I could give her no more I excercised my first amendment right to pay for my own flyer extolling her virtues. Actually I reprinted the News Tribune editorial which extolled Alanna’s virtues. However, to be kosher I hand wrote a disclaimer explaining that I paid for the flyer. The gushing of the Trib may have been canceled out by my neighbors recoiling at the thought I had a hand in Alanna’s campaign. Gosh, my nightmare school board Censured me for defending Art Johnston….oops, I mean for revealing the price we sold Central High School for twenty-four hours prematurely.

The new board members and I may have a little fence mending to do before we unite on January but so far I don’t think our transgressions against each other are too severe. The positivity stuff is a bit hard for me to take when there are so many alligators in the swamp. We need to be on the lookout for the drain.

Alanna’s results surprised me. She did well both in her western precincts and carried many of Rosie Loeffler-Kemp’s First District precincts. She did that with just a few lawnsigns.

My Buddy sent me Karl Schuettler’s take on the election results.

Here’s Karl’s big picture summary on the School Board race:

School Board Big Picture: It’s a potential changing of the guard in ISD 709, as three consistent votes in the monolithically pro-administration bloc retire and three fairly new faces in Duluth school debates make their way in. Unlike some of the current and outgoing members, they don’t have long records siding with one side of the dead horse Red Plan debates. With two solid pro-administration votes and two staunch critics among the remaining members, these three now have the power to play kingmaker. Whatever they decide, one hopes they will stay above past squabbles, ask tough questions, and dig into the district’s most pressing debates. Color me cautiously optimistic that some new blood will leave the old debates behind and provide a much-needed jolt of energy for the real issues at stake.

I want to make one thing perfectly clear. A lot of innocents out in voting land think that new board members feel beholden to other Board members so that they will be pawns after their election. I don’t expect that to happen on our Board although I am aware that it happens on occasion. I can’t speak for Dr. Kirby or Nora Sandstad but there is no way Alanna Oswald won’t make up her own mind. I wouldn’t have been interested in supporting her had this not been been the case. We’ve already had several spirited debates where we look at issues through different lenses. And besides, I told everyone at every door I knocked on that I wrote in Alanna’s year book back at Morgan Park – that she was a lot smarter than me. Thank goodness. Our Board could use an IQ boost.

I was up for most of the night driving through the fog tracking down lawnsigns to pack up till the next election. I’m a little bleary eyed. Fortunately, Claudia and I are heading up the North Shore with our grandsons for a couple days of unwinding.

A Congenial School Board – thoughts on election day

November 3rd, 2015

I went out and waved lawnsigns yesterday morning. It goes against my grain to do this no matter how much of an exhibitionist I appear to others. When I saw the Stauber family doing this a few elections back I had the sinking feeling that someday this would be expected of me too.

I had other plans for the last day before elections too, leafleting a few missed cul-de-sacs, putting up unused lawnsigns some of which I’d begged for a week in advance of election day. Some were discovered hiding two days before the election. It took me until 2 PM to work up the enthusiasm to get to them. I was already spent from a furious last month of going door to door. A rough guess is that I visited between six and eight thousand doors. Toward the end I stopped knocking and just passed out flyers for my candidates. I don’t think I worked as tirelessly for myself two years ago.

We’d been hearing reports for a few days of lawnsign theft. Alanna had one fellow tell her not to bother to give him a sign because he knew where a bunch of hers had been dumped. All he had to do was just go get one of the discards for himself. I hope we pick up the rest later. Alanna could use them again if she is disposed to run for reelection in four years. So I decided the least I could do was restore and improve upon the lawnsignage I’d put up along lower Woodland and 21st Ave leading down to the I-35 exit.

Right now is a little about 7 AM on the day of the election. I will soon be heading out to make sure these signs survived the vandals last night. And no, if you were wondering. I never heard back from the police about that SUV that was stealing lawnsigns last week even though I gave them its licence plate number.

Last night as dusk was descending I headed over to a missed neighborhood and began putting a flyer I designed for Alanna and one for Charles Obige in screen doors. (For Alanna I simply printed out the marvelous DNT endorsement with my disclaimer that I’d paid for its printing) I could still pick my way through the yard when I got to what would be my last house. There I found a woman furiously raking her yard in the dark and announced myself well ahead of reaching her so as not to scare the bejeebers out of her. We had a very cordial conversation about the state of the School Board. She liked the beginning of the patter I’ve been using for the past couple weeks when I told folks I was suggesting candidates who would be congenial Board members. She liked that word, “congenial.”

This last year has been a nightmare. I felt the way Congressional Democrats must have felt when Newt Gingrich and the GOP took it upon themselves to impeach and remove President Bill Clinton for being a lying cad. At least the fellow I was supporting though his own impeachment was honorable. I think it is this, as much as anything else, which has made me a one man campaigning machine for the past month. I crave respectful congeniality and open and honest discussions when discussing the state of the Duluth Schools. For well over a year I’d been telling Art Johnston that our only hope for a sane and sensible school board would come with today’s election. As today’s date has come closer I’ve doubled and redoubled my efforts to make congeniality come to pass.

Oh, congeniality won’t solve our problems. Duluth’s school board took ten million dollars from the classroom for the next twenty years to build “state of the art” (read vanity project) buildings. Cries for more teachers, more course offerings and more of everything else will not be solved by congeniality. What this Board needs is “grace under pressure” as Hemingway defined courage.

I’m reminded of the poem “If” by Rudyard Kipling which begins:

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;

It was a poem of advice to Kipling’s son who, by the way, was one of a million British boys killed in the First World War.

Congeniality will not assure anything like courage but if paired with the latter our Duluth School Board might find itself becoming part of the solution for ISD 709 instead of being so much of the problem.

Now go out and vote!

Francis Gary Powers should have taken cyanide

November 2nd, 2015

When U2 pilot Gary Powers was shot down by the Ruskies I was 9. For long afterwards I was convinced that he should have taken his “cyanide pill.” After all, as I just wrote, “My grandfather was shot in a war and he didn’t cry.” It was Power’s duty to kill himself.

Such are the thoughts of innocent youth.

Claudia and I took in Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies last Thursday not expecting much. It did have something like a 93% approval on Rotten Tomatoes which was promising but other than knowing it was about the prisoner exchange bringing Powers back I didn’t know much more about the movie. It was so good that Claudia even said she didn’t wonder what time it was through the whole production. High praise from Claudia.

Don’t read the link at Wikipedia in the first sentence if you plan to see it. There are too many spoilers for those of you who don’t know your Cold War history and would like to get the movie fresh.

I long ago dropped my disapproval of Captain Powers but a week ago I saw shades of my earnest youthful conviction in my Grandson. He had just learned the National Anthem in Kindergarten along with the history of the bombardment of Ft. McHenry. After he sang the song to us flawlessly he told us he hated the British.

Some hard truths from a man of good will

November 1st, 2015

I was still smarting from having lost my first campaign for the school board in 1989 when I sculpted this out of snow. I would lose two more elections for the school board before finally winning a seat at the table.

Back then the building was called the CAB or Central Administration Building. Today its called HOCH or Historical Old Central High. The sculpture suggests that there has been an air of controversy about the Duluth Schools for a very long time. The big fellow on top of Old Central I called Phil. The little fellow joining him in raising an angry fist is my son Robb, then all of five years old. That’s the same age as my grandson who stars in the preceding video. Today Robb is in this third year of a Doctoral program in Chemistry.

Robb was never very happy about the attention I brought him as Duluth’s foremost snow sculptor and iconoclastic school board member. I don’t think his teachers ever punished him for being the son of a School Board member even when I got national attention for my voodoo stunt. But my school board work kept him in the spotlight from 4th grade until his graduation which he pointedly skipped because I was the one designated to hand him his diploma.

I can hardly fathom that my previous record has been surpassed by recent events even if they have failed to draw national attention. The Trib’s photographer, Steve Kuchera, snapped an animated me at the school board meeting when our Board decided to kick Art Johnston off.

Perhaps the singular difference between me and most school board members is that when calamity hits, say an imminent teacher’s strike, or a thousand angry parents rage against school closings, or a top hockey coach is about to be fired I’m not inclined to hide in a janitor’s closet. I blame my Mother who told me repeatedly when I was small not to cry when I skinned my knee because my Grandfather was shot in a war and he didn’t cry.

In two days we will have an election to replace three school board members (old friends of mine) who hid in a janitor’s closet rather than acknowledge a bitter truth. They so preferred the closet that they even ginned up a malicious excuse for removing a colleague they didn’t much like who asked too many questions. The bitter truth is going to haunt us for half a generation to come. It is this: Before the Red Plan we spent twenty million of our locally raised property taxes in our classrooms. After the Red Plan we spend ten million of our locally raised property taxes in our classrooms. That annual ten million loss to our classrooms will end when we’ve paid off the Red Plan. So much for “moving forward.”

In the meantime our students still melt away to other school districts. Our Western Schools have become the province of Free and Reduced lunches. We have overcrowded classrooms and diminished course offerings. No amount of happy talk will alter this. Replacing three people with their heads in the sand with three like-minded candidates is not what I would call a sure-fire recipe for success.

The photo of my son with Phil on Old Central comes from the web page I set up to run for the school board two years ago. I haven’t looked at it until I googled “Harry Welty” last night and clicked the “images” option.

The first paragraph on this page is pretty hyperbolic but also sort of prescient:

“If I get elected to the Duluth School Board to save our schools, after eight years worth of well intentioned idiocy, it could be like winning a deck chair on the Titanic. Our schools are foundering and in one year, two at most, they will probably sink to the bottom of the Atlantic.”

I only promised one thing in that campaign – that I would practice a simple rule of thumb. “Honesty is the best policy.” I hope this blog has generally lived up to that standard.

Our challenge is nothing less than finding some significant portion of the annual lost ten million dollars the Red Plan diverted from
Duluth’s classrooms. There are three school board candidates I hope very much to have at my side as we go treasure hunting.

I will be passing out flyers for them door-to-door this afternoon and tomorrow. Two days ago my cell phone’s pedometer told me I’d taken 32,000 steps passing out flyers. My 64-year old knees are pretty sore but as my Mom told me all those years ago – my Grandfather was shot and he didn’t cry.

Happy Halloween

October 31st, 2015

Ditto, Ditto, Ditto

October 30th, 2015

Another friend sent me a link to Board Member Annie Harala’s endorsement letter in today’s Trib for the same three candidates Rosie Loeffler-Kemp endorsed in her letter yesterday.

My corespondent noted with some puzzlement that Member Harala didn’t really offer any reasons why they should be chosen other than that they would continue the Board’s successful work of the past two years. Its funny but most voters probably only know one thing about what we’ve done for the past two years. Annie sort of glossed over our best known “accomplishments” by writing: “In spite of public distractions…”

I’m sad to say that all our accomplishments did not bring new students to ISD 709′s schools. Art Johnston sent the following to the Duluth News Tribune two weeks ago:

A year ago, there were headlines on your front page that the Duluth Public School had an increased enrollment of “10″. We now have had a decrease in enrollment of -228. What’s happening to enrollment in Duluth Public Schools should qualify as news, particularly for this election cycle.

Nearly all newspapers that I’ve seen in the last month have been reporting on enrollment in their prospective schools. As far as I can tell, our Duluth public school have had one of the largest decreases of enrollment in the state.

I suspect that our student loss was precipitated in part by the “distractions” Annie mentions….the ones that started when her sharp eyes saw a “shove” that was not verified by the person alleged to have been shoved. How like-minded (to Annie) school board members would help us get past the “distractions” is hard for me to fathom.

Rank Vote

October 30th, 2015

I don’t have a category for just “politics” or “elections” so I’ve lumped this post about Ranked Choice Voting under “hope” and “moderation.”

My Buddy has become a fan of Karl Schuettler’s blog “A Patient Cycle” and he sent me this link to Karl’s very sensible appraisal of the debate over ranked choice balloting. This is Karl’s last paragraph but the whole post is well worth a read for those still pondering the question.

From :

The shrill tenor of the debate and dismissal of critics as simpletons or bigots is especially ironic, given the claim that RCV is supposed to reduce negativity in campaigns. Somehow, RCV has become part of a religious cause; one that is incapable of self-reflection and above any criticism, and considers the cause more important than the deliberative democratic process it needs to go through to become reality. If only it were actually a cause worth fighting for.

As of yesterday Lincolndemocrat had 5,447 “unique” visitors for October

October 29th, 2015

That’s not a record but its close. My head is so full of stuff to blog about it could explode. Instead I’m going to keep my fingers busy today passing out Obije and Oswald flyers.

The thought of the School Board remaining in the hands of the crowd that gave us the last Godawful year keeps me awake at night. Eight hours of going door to door is the best narcotic know of to provide a good night’s sleep. I didn’t dose myself yesterday so I was up till 3AM tossing and turning. Heck, some of our possible new school board members refuse to meet with me. Two thirds of them are Rosie Loeffler-Kemp’s choices.

You can’t fix stupid

October 27th, 2015

Big Dorothy’s picture prompted one wag to send a friend of mine a video of the comedian Ron White. The post was titled “You can’t fix stupid.”

I’d never heard of White before but I got sucked into watching the routine which ended with that pronouncement. It fit perfectly with the set up. It may very well fit with the Duluth School Board. I didn’t take it personally but got a good laugh out of it. However, White’s humor is not for the faint of heart so I won’t go linking to it.

My friend was prompted by today’s Trib story about Martell and Sandstad to send me another email with a question in it that I don’t have THE answer to. Its a good question. Here’s the email:


This, at, puzzles me:

The board currently has a problem with transparency and isn’t welcoming to the public, Martell said. Among other steps, he called for agenda sessions to be open to the public, similar to the Duluth City Council’s sessions.

See, which pertains to meetings of public bodies in Minnesota. Has the Board ordained that its agenda sessions are not to be open to the public?

I’ll let my friend read my reply here in the blog.

For as long as I’ve been watching the Duluth School Board the Chair and Clerk have met with the Superintendent behind closed doors with his cabinet to set the agendas. Our policy used to guarantee that any subject that two board members wanted to discuss would automatically be placed on the agenda if they were given to the Chair about a week in advance. If agenda items were brought up at the meeting it required a unanimous vote at the meeting to be added.

The Dixon led Board changed this preventing minority members from placing anything on the agenda in advance or at the last minute.

If this is not illegal it is, as Loren Martell says, lacking in transparency.

Is such a meeting for agenda setting purposes required to be open? Again, I don’t know. Any meetings of a quorum of the School Board must be open unless they involve private student data or personnel issues which are required to be kept secret. We had such a closed meeting yesterday.

As I read the statute I see a likely exception when the Superintendent and his cabinet meet with less than a quorum of the Board for whatever reason. On the other hand I remember bitterly learning that my intentional exclusion a year and a half ago from a meeting by management to consider the teacher’s contract was illegal at a Minnesota School Board Association meeting.

Whether the law that my friend sent me has been violated for twenty years is uncertain. That it keeps the District’s business secret from not only the public but from elected members of the school board is without question. Loren is absolutely right about that.

If you are never told what’s wrong you sure as Hell won’t be able to fix stupid.

Not a laughing matter

October 27th, 2015

I haven’t been motivated to do a lot of serious blogging for the past couple days but NPR had a good summary of No Child Left Behind that answered some questions I’ve been wrestling with since it went into effect the last couple of years of my former school board term.

In fact, there are a lot of things I feel like blogging about not the least being the News Trib story about the 3rd District school board race. Claudia read it and proclaimed it fair and balanced. I agree….but I have some thoughts about the race and the candidates. Some echo concerns I mentioned in the last post while other’s would be directed at the comments from the two candidates. In particular, the historian in me objects to Attorney Sandstad’s comment that we should stop looking back.

I’ll be passing out flyers for Charles Obije and Alanna Oswald most of the day so I may wait until tonight to come back to the blog by which time I may be too tired to think and type at the same time. I was up till eleven last night. I’d gotten a call from an ally who said he’d followed a truck that was picking up “orange” lawnsigns. Since Alanna Oswald has orange lawnsigns I reported this to the police. I then drove out to the neighborhood in question and was relieved that most of the lawnsigns I’d put up for Alanna over several days seemed to still be standing.

I don’t usually conclude that someone’s out to get my lawnsigns in local campaigns. Every candidate’s signs seem to be taking hits pretty equally this year. Win lose or draw I plan to wake up early the day after the election and pull down all the signs of my three candidates and put them away for future use or to junk them.

But the real focus of this post should be the NPR story I linked to at the beginning. What it described as quicksand was very important. So was what it reported about schools that had been in NCLB quicksand for five years. I think there is an important lesson in this for Duluth’s schools. But understanding history is probably the only way it can be taken in. Historical blinders are not helpful, especially when they hide the fact that the Red Plan took ten million classroom dollars annually and committed them to pay off bank loans to finance the building of pretty new schools.

I sure hope that, if elected, the candidate (candidates) encouraging us to look to the future will finally meet with me. I’ve been tested for distemper. Had I not been there is no way I would have put on a dress.

What’s so funny?

October 27th, 2015

Claudia says I know who I am. I take that as the highest compliment from the person who has had to endure all the unwelcome scrutiny I have put her through. She’s a pillar of the community. I seem to be more of a bonfire.

So I dressed up as Dorothy Gale of Kansas. On her Facebook Page, read by many members of our very sober Presbyterian Church, Claudia hinted that the person soon to wear the ruby slippers (my old sneakers) really was from Kansas. I was born in Arkansas City, Kansas in 1950. While a lot of fellows would shrink at the thought of putting on a dress I’m not a lot of fellows. One of my earliest memories of men dressed as women was the Movie/Musical South Pacific. I wonder if that wasn’t the first use of coconut shells as faux braziers? Since then there have been a lot of World War II movies showing the sex starved GI’s and sailors dressed up as women in USO type shows. One of the guys in the gritty Stalag 17 did so too.

I found this picture in a blog post about cross dressing in Hollywood that says a lot more about the subject than I ever imagined writing.

I was thinking about my Dad and humor and ego as I began this. In a lot of ways my Dad had a tin ear for humor. As a kid I would tell him jokes from a book of jokes for kids. Even then I imagined myself as a comedian. I was always discouraged that he didn’t find them funny. They were in the book for God’s sake! They were supposed to be funny! I don’t know if I ever saw Dad laugh at a joke. He told me he enjoyed the absurd. He also told me that his father liked humor that was intended to puncture pretentious and pompous egos. The First Harry Welty, my Grandfather, thought Laurel and Hardy shorts were hilarious because poor old Hardy was as pompous as they got and he always got a comeuppance.

I guess this is just a reminder to my eight loyal readers that I am always my first target where ego is concerned. I might point needles at other people’s balloons but I’ve got a Bunsen burner under my balloon. Its just that I’ve taken the precaution of building my balloon with a hole in the bottom center so that the hot air will keep me aloft rather than blow me up.

I don’t necessarily distrust folks who resist self deprecation. I just worry that they lack the kind of humility that is necessary to work with their inferiors – folks like me. If they don’t watch out the joke will be on them.

Off to see the Wizard

October 26th, 2015

Our “trunk or treat” was sort of like attending a Wizard of Oz convention.

Little Dorothy met up with the Scarecrow and I tagged along. Puberty was not kind to Big Dorothy.

A fond but sad farewell

October 23rd, 2015

This morning I said goodbye to my friend and neighbor Dick Gastler. Dick was a much loved social studies teacher at Denfeld High School for years. An early illness he suffered back in 1983 gave me a chance to take over his class as a long term substitute which led to later gigs teaching in the Duluth Schools.

His funeral was held at Mt. Olive Lutheran Church and there were some fun quotes from his students in several displays. A big celebration had been planned for about this date many months back before Dick was diagnosed with a fast moving illness that replaced the planned celebration with today’s funeral service. It is a blessing that the one event led to so many of his students writing their fond memories of his classes which Dick got to read over and over again in his last months. According to the minister Dick kept singing right up to the end such was his good humor.

I saw Superintendent Gronseth sitting by himself and joined him. I asked him if he often attended other such occasions for lost members of the ISD 709 staff but he said not so much. Mr. Gastler had been one of his teachers and the two had sung together in the “Denfellows” men’s choir. It was nice singing along side the Superintendent whose vocal range is much like mine.

We chatted a bit about the recent meeting at Lester Park concerning rubber mulch. We agreed it was just one more complication for an already overtaxed school system. Although today’s occasion was solemn it was nice to be reminded of what schools are all about. Kids and caring teachers.

My Ruby Slippers

October 23rd, 2015

Two years BK (Before kids) Claudia had me dress up for a Halloween Party as Dorothy Gale. I’m sure I was fetching even with a full beard. I still have the beard although it is salt an peppered now. I have been asked to reprise the role for our church’s “Trunk or Treat this Sunday along Woodland Avenue and Lewis Street from 3 to 4:30 PM. Claudia is making me a lovely blue checkered, gingham dress and I used the magic of spray paint and glitter to make Ruby Sneakers. I hope all you other witches are properly jealous of me.

Trunk or treats are all the rage now. Folks decorate their car trunks and dress up kids to trick or treat in church parking lots. We will be serving hot dog’s too. Dress up your children or grand kids and stop by. Bring a camera and take my picture but be advised. Our nation is a lot more tolerant these days so you might not be able to use it for blackmail purposes in the future. I will be donating blood at the church that morning so I might look a little pekid. BTW – in case you were wondering its for the Memorial Blood Bank and not for any vampire themed reason.

No grounds

October 23rd, 2015

I was glad to see that Art Johnston finally replied to the last news reports about his laying aside his lawsuit against the School Board. No one wants to see this old story drag out any more than Art or me. Its been an embarrassment and given everyone a black eye. I know Art had to tinker with the letter as he negotiated with the Editors until they could find no grounds to refute what Art wrote. While the editors would probably not agree with Art’s thoughts in their entirety neither would the Trib have published them unless they met their journalistic standards. That assures Art’s letter real credibility. For my part I fully agree with what Art has written.

The letter got a pretty good spot today on what will become a busy letters page. The opinion page will fairly burst with testimonials for the various candidates until November 3rd’s election. The letter also had a headline that will assure it gets read. It addresses what I hope will soon become a moot point in School Board deliberations before the November 3rd election. Here it is title and all.

Reader’s View: No grounds to remove School Board member

Posted on Oct 22, 2015 at 9:40 p.m.

It is important to point out the inaccurate information that was in the Sept. 22 story, “Duluth School Board saga ends with lawsuit’s dismissal,” and in the News Tribune’s “Our View” editorial the following day, “Board, district can recommit to cooperating.” Both concerned the Duluth School Board majority’s abandoned attempt to remove me from the board.

Though rich in political innuendo, the effort to overturn my 2013 election failed because there were no grounds to remove me, no intimidating behaviors revealed and no conflict of interest.

Unfortunately, this legal issue cost about $250,000 and resulted in nothing but hard feelings, more angst toward our schools, and more money diverted from education.

Fortunately, three board members who spearheaded this political fiasco decided against running for re-election. None of the six School Board candidates up for election stated they would have pursued such action.

This is a hopeful sign that the health and integrity of our schools once again will be talked about at School Board meetings.

Art Johnston


The writer represents the 4th District on the Duluth School Board.

Mulch Conundrums

October 22nd, 2015

The Trib has a good summary of our Mulch Meeting last night.

This morning I read a short article in the NY Times that related to our relationship with the environment.

The first was on a peanut product made in Israel called Bamba which everybody eats and most from a very early age. Someone noticed that there are almost no peanut allergies in Israel and wondered if there was a connection. Of course, I don’t recall hearing about peanut allergies when I was a kid although I remember some horror stories about milk products. Today, according to the article, one in 50 US kids suffer from peanut allergies. A study confirmed that children whose parents rigorously kept them away from peanuts as infants and toddlers were far more likely to have children with peanut allergies, sometimes deadly allergies, than parents whose children ate peanut laced products at an early age.

Of course, peanuts are not the same as PCBs (poly chlorinated biphenols) and a host of other modern chemical creations such as those that can be found in tire rubber. There is no doubt our flushing of cosmetic and medicines down our sinks produces fish that all turn into females. We have a profound influence on our environment that is, at present, far beyond our ability to fully measure.

So, I offer the following observations I made from last night’s meeting.

Of hundreds of chemical compounds likely to be found in tires the dozen or so measured by a laboratory did not show anything particularly alarming.

That said rubber, like wood chips, degrades over time. In the Lester Park school playground there is mulch from the equivalent of 12,000 tires. However, its much more worrisome than that. The shreds of tires are so small that the surface area of the rubber exposed to the atmosphere is factors above what 12,000 full rubber tires would be. Imagine an entire tire reduced to pencil shavings. Every atom in these tires is mere thousandths of an inch from the air. Its no wonder our kids come in with blackened hands. Kids aren’t very fussy about washing up after playing outside. Whatever is in the tires will be near our kids respiratory system for perhaps a thousand playtime hours before they go on to middle school. The bags of mulch from the manufacturer gives alarming instructions about washing up after contact with the bag’s contents to prevent worrisome things from happening. That’s an ironical warning on contents made for our children to play on.

It will take a couple years before some much more extensive tests on tire mulch are conducted elsewhere. Meanwhile some urban school systems have forbidden the use of rubber mulch.

Hauling off the mulch and replacing it with, oh say, wood chips is the least of our costs which might be $110,000. We might have to completely re-engineer our playgrounds by digging them deeper with new drainage systems and re-installing all the equipment or buying new playground toys.

This is just the sort of issue that requires a functional school board to deliberate on calmly. The controversy is only a month old. It could fizzle out or ignite. An unnecessary repair would be expensive but it might offer peace of mind. That peace of mind could end up being as unwarranted as the calm it affords parents who keep their children away from peanut butter in the early years of their lives………or we could discover, years from now, that we subjected our children’s immune systems to substances that could cause long lasting and irreparable harm.

On the Rock

October 21st, 2015

The Trib only mentioned one item from our school board meeting last night – the sale of a small parcel of land adjacent to the Rockridge School for one hundred thousand dollars. That will pay for three years of heating and maintenance on the empty building should we be unable to sell it.

Along with the unsold Nettleton School and Central High its one of the Red Plan’s many albatrosses. We sold Lincoln School for a dollar. That was our lucky day.

Last night at the Board meeting when we discussed the many enrollment difficulties both Rosie Loeffler-Kemp and Annie Harala emphasized that it was the role of School Board members to speak positively about our schools. How they square that with the terrible public record of the School Board over the past year and a half I’m not sure but I do understand the impulse, ignored though it has been.

Annie suggested another way to bring back students. Hiring more people to promote the good things about the school district in addition to our current PR person. Perhaps had we had two such folks they could have masked the antagonisms of the School Board last year and kept us out of the public eye. We might have to list among the qualifications for the job demonstrated previous experience with sainthood.

In the Dark

October 20th, 2015

We had a reasonably calm school board meeting tonight but it left me with many questions.

It was nice to see David Kirby at a Board meeting two weeks before the election. Its the first time I recall seeing him here. He sat with Nora Samstad who made it through her first full meeting. It was a pretty short one, only an hour and a half long.

Art made a motion to add a policy item to our agenda. He had brought it up to our Board and Chair Seliga-Punyko six weeks ago but the Chair refused to let it be discussed. This is a problem because our rules require a unanimous vote to get anything on the agenda on the day of a meeting. Not surprisingly it was two votes to five to deny Art and me a chance to explain the proposed policy’s merits. It simply said that important information would be shared with the School Board in the future.

Then, at the end of the meeting, Art mentioned the recent loss of another 200 plus students. He showed a chart with all the losses and gains in students since 2005 to the present. There was a spirited discussion which was split. One side felt the discussion hurt our reputation with families. The other, minority, side felt that we needed better information to figure out how to stop the continuing loss of students.

I mentioned that I’d like to conduct exit interviews. To my astonishment one of the majority members said we’d discussed exit interviews three times in the last year. I was too dumbstruck to ask what we learned from them having no recollection of any such discussions.

I learned another fascinating imponderable today. Apparently only 40 percent of the families who appealed a decision to preventing their children from attending schools in different attendance areas got their wish. Last year it was 90 percent. I was shocked to hear this because I was appointed to serve on the Transfer Appeals Committee which makes these decisions. I was never notified of its having met all spring.

This information was shared with folks at the meeting called by Rep. Simonson to discuss the Edison schools and its impact on the ISD 709 Schools. Supt. Gronseth offered up this information much as he suggested that ISD 709 will only lose about 200 students to the new 600 student Edison High School. Maybe we should be doing some pre-exit interviews to make sure.

Annie Harala was the insider Board member who attended the meeting with the Superintendent. When the discussion of the new Edison High School came up Annie asked the Edison folks if they would put an end to the project for the good of everyone. She was informed that the project was too far along to stop. This is one time that “better late than never” doesn’t apply.

Boop boop diddum daddum WADM Boom

October 20th, 2015

Art Johnston sent the local press the worrisome news that ISD 709 has suffered another significant drop in its October attendance. He’s a little surprised that no news source has mentioned this, as of yet.

The Duluth Public Schools disclosed to the School Board on Monday our enrollment figures for this fall. This showed another large, unpredicted decrease of students and raises lots of concerns.

The Duluth Public School enrollment for the start of this year is 8366 students in grades K through 12.

This is a loss of 227 students compared to the start of last year. Read the rest of this entry »