Rosie’s Hardball

July 2nd, 2015

(This post was first conceived as: MAJ 7 Rosie’s Hardball on April 9, 2015)

At our closed school board meetings Rosie Loeffler-Kemp regularly says to no one in particular, words to this effect, that she hopes everything we’ve discussed is understood to be confidential. I’ve always taken this to be an unsubtle warning about her displeasure with my blog. She joined with the others in censuring me last December for what I put in my blog about the now lost offer on the Central High School Site. I’ve never said anything in response to her at the closed sessions but I’ve come to doubt my colleague’s dedication to “transparency.” A lot of folks prefer the shadows.

Rosie and Judy Seliga-Punyko have had the chance since the beginning of the year to meet privately with the Superintendent and his cabinet. What they have discussed is completely opaque to me but I suspect it has had a big impact on the developments in Art Johnston’s litigation. I have even been denied the chance to listen in on any conversations with the attorneys our District is paying with taxpayer’s dollars. For this and so many other reasons my standard joke to people who ask me what’s happening in the District is that I’m only a school board member so I don’t know anything about what’s happening in our schools.

I am concerned about who will join us on the School Board next January. As a result I’ve spoken with a number of outstanding potential candidates. Read the rest of this entry »

For newbies to LincolnDemocrat

July 2nd, 2015

I expect that as the election season begins this summer I’ll pick up new visitors. I often explain how I operate here but every once in a while like a serious journalist I need to reiterate old information for new readers. You find this often in ongoing stories. Reporters are compelled to explain the basics over and over again in each new story every time there is some new wrinkle. I fear that for some folks this simple repetition makes the details outlined become true. I complained about it here regarding what people read over and over again about Art Johnston and the Rice “investigation.”

So, for the newbies who read the preceding post an hour ago let me explain that I wasn’t done with it. I tend to edit online as I keep writing. What you may have read was a mess that I paused at because my grandson wanted me to play teenage mutant ninja turtle with him. I was Donatello. He was Raphael. Then we went out to have breakfast. Then I came home and moved a raspberry cane to a more sunny place in my yard. After that I polished up the mess to make it slightly more comprehensible. I do this often.

Oh and go make a donation to Art’s legal defense fund. I’ll be giving a book about our school board’s recent history out with any donations of twenty dollars or more. You can donate online here.

From the Zenith to some Nadirs

July 2nd, 2015

As I went to bed last night I reminded myself to check to see if I’d mentioned Tony Diercken’s name in a blog post when he spoke to Glen Avon’s Men’s group. I plugged his name in LD’s search engine but came up with nada. So I tried to put in his website Zenith City Online. What popped up were a couple other posts about the Zenith Weekly newspaper. Again nothing on Tony.

But they were, as my old posts often are, instructive.

The first I read described the candidates who ran for office back in 2013. It had a link to a letter to the Zenith Weekly tabloid penned by Loren Martell. He suggests that the 2013 candidates were over dependent on the District administration for financial information. I now serve with two of the candidates mentioned.

But this first post demonstrated something even more important, the complete financial ignorance of their school board predecessors who also depended upon the administration for financial data. These earlier board members had no idea they were taking money from the general fund, available for classrooms, and funneling it into Red Plan debt repayment. Worse they falsely, perhaps cluelessly, informed the public in op ed columns that no such thing had been happening. At no point did the Tribune’s editorial board call them on the carpet for this gross misinformation which was being pedaled in their paper.

The second post described the all too brief sea change after I was seated when I was still trying to be a good sport about our work on the board with my fellow board members. I wrote this which is perhaps suggestive of what was to come:

One last anecdote which I found very humorous and I hope doesn’t twist anyone’s knickers. I plan on jollying up my sometimes contentious Board colleagues and will tease them mercilessly, if gently, as time goes on. During our meeting Rosie Judy and I had a short conference over something I’ve long forgotten when Rosie answered a question I tossed to her by saying, “Art…uh Harry…..” I piped up and asked, “Rosie, was that a Freudian slip?” Flustered Rosie explained, “Well Art’s been on my mind a lot lately.” Judy and I both guffawed at that. BTW, I’ve been teasing Art a lot lately too. Kumbayah here I come.

An example of something we have too little of on the Duluth School Board -

July 1st, 2015

Humility.

Today I learned of a fellow who has it and I wanted to give him some well deserved credit. John Ramos told me about him this morning over coffee.

I got an email from John yesterday at lunch. He told me that the link I had put in a recent post to make contributions to Art Johnston’s Defense fund was not working. I thanked him by email and asked if he’d like to meet for coffee. I’d never met him but I’ve enjoyed some of his recent Reader Weekly columns about the Duluth Library and Spirit Mountain and considered him a bird of a feather.

I recalled dimly that John had many years earlier written articles that had soured some folks on him although I could not recall what they had been about. I joked that with his Latin name I probably thought he was a communist or radical or, John suggested, a “Che Guevara.” Those earlier stories had been about the booster-ism of Duluth’s elite when they pushed through the Aquarium and their gullibility in the face of optimistic consultants who told them what they wanted to hear. I confessed to John that I had written one column for the Reader which pointed out that, however it had turned out, it had been built with the rather lofty goal of fostering an appreciation of fresh water’s importance.

More recently he has taken aim the City’s involvement with, and financing of, Spirit Mountain and a new library. Like me he is very fussy about transparency which, it turns out, annoys a lot of movers and shakers.

He just wrote a first article for the Zenith City Online website about one of his heroes, John Morrison, and his controversial newspaper the Ripsaw. The things Morrison wrote about local bigwigs of his day are ghost peppers to my blog’s oatmeal. John also mentioned a related historical article by Heidi Bakk-Hanson about the victims of the Duluth’s infamous lynching. Both are excellent.

Here’s what the Zenith Online says of John:

John Ramos has been reporting on Duluth politics since 1998. If measured by the total number of people outraged by his work, Ramos’s career in journalism could be called Morrison-esque. He considers angry snarls to be a form of applause. He currently writes the hard-hitting City Beat column for Duluth’s Reader Weekly. An earlier version of this story appeared in the Spring 2005 issue of the Cheerleader, an annual publication published by John Ramos from 2001-2006; back issues can be found at the Duluth Public Library.

We could use a little more Ramos in the Duluth School District but he’s not the person I have in mind to award the humility prize to. That would be Tony Dierckens the brains behind the Zenith City website and many books and videos about Duluth’s history. Tony came to my church’s men’s group two years ago to talk about Duluth’s history. I was impressed enough with him then to suggest it would be great if our history teachers could incorporate his historical work in their classrooms. Then, of course, I let that idea drop when our school board decided to lynch Art Johnston for aggressively asking too many questions and defending his partner from administrative persecution.

Then I read about Tony a couple weeks ago in one of John’s columns bashing Nimby’s. John reported what Tony said while lobbying against a zoning change at the City Planning Commission. Tony was concerned about hurting the character of his neighborhood. Tony does not come off well in the story and I suspect it galled him to read Ramos’s portrayal of him in the Reader with its 30,000 press run. But Tony did the unexpected. He contacted Ramos and asked him if he’d like to write something historical for Dierckin’s website. What a mensch!

No one who would be a saint can be so without owning up to their sins. I don’t expect School Board members to be saints. I would hope, however, that they would acknowledge their human limitations.

Our old schools were supposed to fetch us $26 million

June 30th, 2015

The center piece overlooks Duluth’s Down town.

From tomorrow’s Tribune:

The Duluth Central High School development project agreement — touted as a much needed antidote to housing woes and key to removing a heavy financial burden for the Duluth school district — has fallen through.

Here’s what I said about the apparent sale that got me censored last December.

Segregating Duluth

June 30th, 2015

In preparation for writing a book about what led up to this last disasterous year I found a couple interesting tidbits after dusting off my old Red Plan records.

First, was a 6/15/2007 News Tribune editorial calling for a division of the School District into halves along Lake Avenue and opposing a division of the School District at 14th Ave East. The editors were worried that a 14th Ave division would cause “a serious demographic imbalance between the two schools along racial and economic lines.” Perhaps its most important to remember their hearts were in the right place despite the fact there was no way any east west division could avoid this result. They concluded their editorial bravely:

“Fifty-three years of experience gone right and wrong since the U.S. Supreme Court decided Brown v. Board of Education have shown unquestionably that racially defined school districts affect the demographics of neighborhoods and vice versa….It’s time to do the right thing and unite Duluth.”

Eight years and half a billion dollars later the Trib’s hopes have been utterly dashed. 2007 was the year I began speaking out against the Red Plan. It prompted me to run again for the School Board that year. The Paper ended up endorsing my opponent, a supporter of the Red Plan, who helped bring about just what the editors feared would happen. I lost. Now eight years later, my opponent is stepping down from the Board pleased with its many successes. Equity is not one of them.

Six months after my defeat on April, 12th of 2008 the DNT published my defense of Mike Jaros who had been attacked by the Tribune for expressing the very same sentiments that had motivated the Editorial Board the previous year. I said in part:

“There is only one problem with the red plan that the top dogs have conceded. It will, according to a map sent by the district to the Minnesota Department of Education, split Duluth along 14th Avenue East into rich / poor, high minority / low minority halves. There is a great irony in this and Jaros knows it well. His law originally allowed some building without referenda for, among other reasons, to encourage integration. It’s ironic because the red plan kills our integration program and segregates Duluth. It completely violates the spirit of Jaros’s law. Over time the red plan will impoverish Jaros’s western District as its prosperous residence flee to eastern Duluth. Shiny new schools will not stem this Exodus.

The News Tribune’s passive-aggressive criticism of Jaros is an embarrassment. Instead, the newspaper should be asking the same questions that Jaros has been asking. Why should the voters in Jaros’s district pay taxes to segregate themselves from the rest of the city? And why should they give up their right to vote?”

I truly hope that whoever steps into the shoes of our departing school board members steps up with their eyes wide open and a willingness to peep under the rug that their predecessors nailed to the floor.

The book, should I undertake and complete it, will be written to help pay for Art Johnston’s legal bills. I will send a copy of my book to any contributor who makes a donation exceeding $20 dollars to the cause of free speech. You can make a donation on line here.

3,000 books should cover the cost. Twenty bucks is a helluva lot less than anyone, especially our children, is having to pay for the Red Plan.

Somebody’s Knocking on my Door

June 29th, 2015

After a week or more of blog inactivity but mental overload its, as always, hard to know where to begin. The School Board race? Oh, you betcha,that will determine how successfully the new school board will thread its way through a minefield sowed by past and the current Board. The remarkable week of the Supreme Court and Charleston? Absolutely. What the court does has been on mind since second grade when my five year old neighbor Donna Beth parroting her father declared to me “I don’t want to go to school with no niggers.” This is one of the first quotes I heard that I’ve never forgotten along with: “your Grandfather was shot [in World War I] and he didn’t cry.” The former was in Topeka, Kansas newly ordered by the Supreme Court to integrate its public schools. The latter was what my Mother told me several times post toddlerhood when I came crying to her with skinned knees and such.

To escape the School Board on the eve of School Board filings I’ve once again begun reading a book out loud to Claudia. I’m over half way through with the 550 page Wild Swans. One of the recent chapters really had me thinking about the Duluth Schools. Called “Famine,” it described the dim witted policies of Chairman Mao who single-handedly forced tens of millions of Chinese Peasants in the late 1950′s to leave their farms untended while scouring the landscape for old nails and scrap metal to melt into nearly useless pig iron. Millions starved while, like in the tale of the “Emperor’s New Clothes.” no one in the Communist party had the courage to say his policies were misguided. Boy, if that doesn’t lead into a discussion of the Red Plan and its aftermath I don’t know how else to take it.

Meanwhile my posts on DWBP were in large measure a sideways way for me to address the recent events in Charleston. I don’t attend many politically tinged community events. I’m sort of stand-offish that way. But years ago I had my family go up to the memorial for the new gravesite for the three black lynching victims from 1920. Formerly they had been laid to rest in unmarked pauper’s graves. There was a connection between one of the victims and Topeka Kansas and Brown vs. Board of Education. I’m not a particularly spiritual fellow but that connection has stuck in my head for at least fifteen years since reading Michael Fedo’s book “The Lynching’s in Duluth.” Actually I think my reading it in 2000 was my second reading. I think I first read it under its original title “They was Just Niggers.”

I’ll just repeat this for about the umpteenth time. I like President Obama. Unlike most of his critics I think he has negotiated the Presidency pretty darned well. I’m especially pleased that in the recent weeks he has finally felt comfortable enough to be more candid. That’s something I appreciate just as I appreciate how candor can be an impediment to progress. The President himself recently uttered the “N” word. Charleston has done a lot to upend the Red Neck self righteousness that used the Stars and Bars like a big middle finger.

I enjoyed his launching in to an out of tune rendition of Amazing Grace at the Pickney funeral. I almost did the same at St. Marks AME church in Duluth last week but thought better of it. It was at a memorial for Charleston. Instead I sang a solo at our church service on Sunday. It was the old spiritual “Somebody’s Knocking on my Door.”

Somebody’s always knocking. It leaves me with so much to blog about.

Facts and fairness

June 23rd, 2015

My Buddy has been waiting to jump all over my DWBP post for a week and kept sending me hints that he was waiting for me to post it. When he finally pounced he didn’t really criticize its contents that much except for that issue of imprecision. He has a point. When I first wrote about Tim’s being pulled over many time this is what I said:

“He’s been pulled over for DWB (driving while black) not just the one time I mentioned previously but six times and just this summer. Last month it was three times.”

My Buddy points out that in my latest post I describe those numbers differently saying:

[my] “new friend Tim, a young black fellow, told [my emphasis] . . . [you] last year that he had been pulled over half a dozen times in as many months.”

Its true that the most recent post varies from the earlier one in the numbers expressed. Most recently I wrote that Tim was pulled over six time in six months. In my earlier post, just after talking to Tim I put it at an even more alarming number – six stops over a summer or six stops in three months. My Buddy says of the inconsistency that I am not “forthright.” I can’t deny that the two figures are inconsistent but I think I can be largely excused for this on two grounds.

First, I myself linked to a previous post which exposed my earlier claim. I’ll admit I did not go back and reread it to guarantee consistency. Rather, I recalled what I could remember being told. Secondly, I avoided escalating my numbers which might have been expected of a person attempting to bolster his arguments. Instead, I halved the real numbers thus undercutting my case. I’d like to think that is evidence of my natural inclination to avoid exaggeration.

I’m not a fanatic about what I regard as details. I will round figures up or down for simplicity’s sake. I write that the Red Plan cost a half billion when it was twenty million short of that total. I just don’t happen to think that the difference between 480 million and 500 million is that big a deal.

Earlier my Buddy criticized me for unfairly calling out Duluth’s police force for leaning too heavily on black drivers. There is some justice in this criticism. I didn’t go to the police department with my complaint. Instead I aired it on this blog. In doing so I was relying on my sense that Tim’s story had the ring of truth to me. I do trust my judgement in such matters and the anecdote I just related from last week adds weight to my judgement.

I’m not sure what I would recommend our police force do. I think patrolling high crime areas makes sense. However, knowing that spending time in such areas where pulling over black drivers is more likely it might make sense to start making a point of pulling over white drivers for small infractions to even the score. Certainly, if I’d been pulled over without Tim in the passenger seat I wouldn’t have felt called upon to reiterate my earlier concern about unequal treatment of black drivers.

Some folks have made a big deal out of the fairness issue when it benefits them. Some white Americans have killed off a lot of Affirmative Action by complaining that it unfairly favors minorities. Well, if we are going to eliminate quotas to keep things equal perhaps we should bend over backward to make sure white drivers are pulled over as often as black drivers – to keep things equal. It might not improve anyone’s driving or catch any more criminals but I think it would have the salutary affect of putting suspicious black drivers in a much better frame of mind. Fair’s fair.

DWBP (Driving with a black passenger)

June 18th, 2015

I take it for granted that black drivers are subjected to being pulled over by cops (black or white) far more than white drivers are. Not everyone takes this for granted. My Buddy gave me grief when I wrote a post saying that my new friend Tim, a young black fellow, told me last year that he had been pulled over half a dozen times in as many months. Had I confirmed this by speaking to the police, he wondered. I hadn’t. Even if true a half dozen stops could have been warranted or coincidental. Anecdotes fall notoriously short of statistics in the proof department.

Tim keeps showing up in my posts. I’ve noticed that some of my fellow School Board colleagues seem to be working harder to prove they don’t have a problem with black people. They so often seem to be a source of never ending consternation.

Last Wednesday I saw flashing lights in my rearview mirror for the first time in two years. The last time I was pulled over for speeding along Wisconsin’s Highway 2 while taking my family to the Ice Caves. It’s one of only about a dozen such stops in my 45 year driving career.

I had just picked up Tim three blocks before turning right at 24th Avenue West. My first thought when I saw the lights in the mirror was “I’ve got a black passenger.”

The polite young officer who came to my door lowered his head subtly to peer at my passenger and asked me why I thought he had pulled me over.
“I might have been speeding a little,” I suggested. This was possible. I know I sometimes step on the gas to charge up Duluth’s steep hills. I had been paying more attention to Tim more than my speedometer.

I handed over my driver’s license and proof of car insurance. I don’t know if the young officer recognized my face but I wouldn’t be surprised if the name on my license rang a bell. He was unfailing polite to a 64-year-old gentlemen in a relatively new hybrid car who was unfailingly polite in return.

The policeman told me he had seen me stop at the intersection of Third Street and 21st Avenue West. I deduced that he felt I had blocked the driving lane. I explained that I had stopped to pick a friend up to take him to work. The officer told me he hadn’t seen anybody get into my car.
However, the officer told me I had not engaged my right turn signal when turning onto 24th Avenue. He said nothing about my speeding. It was a short stop. No warning tickets were issued and I was allowed to go on my way.

Tim was silent through the stop but he was quick to poke holes in the officer’s statements. Tim told me I had used my turn signal moments before the stop. I do consider myself a bit of a turn signal fanatic even routinely signaling lane changes. I also often fail to turn off my signal after switching lanes much to Claudia’s annoyance. I can’t recall whether I signaled a turn.

What Tim said next was a lot harder to dismiss. He was wearing an intense sky blue jacket as I approached the intersection. My long stop was meant to let Tim walk in front of my car to reach the passenger side door. If the officer saw me stop for a long enough to block the quiet intersection he would have been remarkably unobservant to miss Tim getting in. Tim is not a small man no matter the color of his coat.
Tim also told me that I had not stopped in the driving lane but had pulled over to the curb. This seems possible but I couldn’t recall for sure. I might not have because I saw no other traffic and could also see that Tim was likely to cross the street almost as soon as I hit the intersection. Under those circumstances I may have concluded that there was little need to pull over.
For an old white fellow who has only been pulled over once every three or four years it was a pretty painless stop. But for someone who did no more than hop in a car to hear that he had entered unobserved was not creditable. It sounded more like a little white lie invented to avoid admitting that we were pulled over because of Tim’s complexion.

Yes, it took place in a heavily policed neighborhood with a high proportion of minority residents at a time when drugs, often trafficked by minority entrepreneurs, are proliferating. It may not be fair to a black person but these reasons do seem to explain a great many traffic stops. The officer could have been looking for drugs or a pimp having sized me up as a potential customer.

I chose to treat the stop with some levity which Tim’s parents might not have found so funny. I’ve never been pulled over for looking like a Presbyterian or a Kansan or a college graduate. But now I seem to have been pulled over for something almost as innocent – giving a black man a ride to work.

Seven Period Day

June 17th, 2015

The school board received an email a couple weeks ago which I’ve been meaning to reply to. Its timely and this is a portion of it:

The district’s finances have been tight the past few years with all the changes that have been made, but with the closure of numerous schools, and the selling of the buildings and properties, now is the time to look to our future. The Duluth Public School District is losing students, along with the funding to neighboring schools and districts. Lincoln Park Middle School has had 19% of its students transfer out of the Duluth Public School District the past two years. That is an alarming percentage. There is no question that this loss of students is currently happening on the west side of Duluth. The question is when will it spread to other schools within the district, and how can we as a District change and make students and families want to attend the Duluth Public Schools. As each child leaves the district, so does their funding from the State and Federal Government. As representatives of all of the students in the Duluth Public Schools, it is your duty to provide our students with the best education possible. Please consider adding a 7th hour at middle school and high school. As you are aware, the neighboring school districts all have 7 period hours as seen below:

Hermantown Middle School -8 periods
Hermantown High School -7 periods
Proctor Middle and High School- 7 periods (offer free busing into the Duluth District)
Wrenshall Middle and High School-7 periods (offer free busing into the Duluth District)
Esko Middle and High School – 7 periods

To which I replied:

Xxxxxxx,

It’s hard to know where to begin so I’ll start with the obvious. We don’t have the money now to begin a seven hour day. Offhand, I don’t know what it would require but a few months ago I got the impression that a million dollars would be needed annually to add a seventh hour to either the middle schools or high schools. We would have to double that if we wanted to offer seven hours at both the middle and high schools.

I think it is safe to say that after the last year of school board bickering it would be damn near impossible to convince the public to pass 2 million or so dollars of new tax levy increases. I think the only way we could pass such a referendum would be for the School Board to promise new classroom programming rather than staff pay raises.

I think the argument we would need to make would run like this:
1. For good or ill we’ve just bought ourselves half-a-billion dollars worth of new schools.
2. We would be foolish to let that investment turn into empty schools that would drag all of Duluth down at a time of promising economic growth.
3. New housing and business is the only way to help reduce the per capita debt load of the Red Plan. If successful it would also result in new state revenue when students returned to the Duluth Schools.
4. We acknowledge our past mistakes but promise that, with the public’s passage of a referendum, we will put all new revenues back into the classroom.
5. We owe it to ourselves to give Duluth’s children the same educational options available to children in every other school in the area.

Xxxxxxxx,

I’ve started and stopped this reply to you on several occasions. That five point program at the end is the most hopeful I can be for now. I don’t see us asking for such a levy until we have a new and trustworthy school board. Hopefully, we will have it after this year’s school board election.

Sincerely
Harry Welty

Keep reading to view X’s entire letter: Read the rest of this entry »

About this graph

June 17th, 2015

At last night’s school board meeting (about which much could be said) other than the Trib’s take that we are getting past the bad old days of teacher layoffs, Art Johnston passed out several graphs related to student enrollment.

Art passed the graphs out during our discussion of student enrollment but they only got as far as the Chair before Ms. Seliga-Punyko announced that they should not be looked at because they were not reviewed in advance of the meeting. They got no further than Clerk Rosie Loeffler-Kemp who hung on to them before they could get to the rest of us. Mike Miernicki began making his usual huffing and puffing noises fearing the worst. WADM’s discussions (showing a continued decline in students) always drive him nuts. When told they would not be passed out Art announced that he would pass them out himself. This grevious threat prompted Clerk Loeffler-Kemp to let the graphs resume their progress to the rest of the School Board.

I found this graph the most telling:

The graph shows the number of graduating students at the three high schools year by year from before the merger until well afterwards.

You can see that prior to the merger Central and Denfeld had about the same number of graduates between them as East High did. Then they merged and the student population was whipsawed back and forth between Denfeld and Central at the same time as teacher cuts and aggressive staff rearranging. Afterwards that figure drops as Central students opt for East and/or go to Hermantown, Proctor or drop out. This perfectly confirms the contention of my young friend, Karl Schuettler, that the Red Plan’s transition poisoned the well from which we are still drinking. (that last phrase is my take and at variance with Karl who is inclined to think that the Red Plan is over and done with.)

The Red Plan’s greatest damage came in the disruption it caused for so many students, fostering just enough chaos to drive many from it for good. The vicious cycle goes from there. It was school restructuring as shock therapy, as it took the axe to neighborhood schools and gave Duluth a bunch of pretty, hulking shells with large attendance areas. (What better exemplar of the trend than the new Lincoln Park, which lords over the west side at the top of its steep hill, nearly inaccessible by foot and drawing from Kenwood to Fon du Lac.) In a laboratory the new lines and divides would have been fine, but the Dixon Administration and its allies failed to account for how their drastic plan would disrupt families’ incentives. The old order may not have been sustainable, but the rollout of the new one was poor, especially on the west side, where students were jostled from Denfeld to Central and back to Denfeld to accommodate construction. But even now that the dust has settled, East has added students in recent years, while Denfeld dwindles. The damage has been done.

If you haven’t read his full post yet I’d highly recommend it.

I wish that the Red Plan’s supporters would stop being so defensive about the obvious challenges their baby left us with. In some cases, as with our Board members who tried to rid themselves of Art Johnston, this defensiveness seems to have led to a cocoon of self delusion. I’m sorry but when a child of the traumatic transition commits suicide because of the chaos he endured because of it and we refuse to acknowledge the part the chaos played in his death we are not serving any good public purpose. That we wanted to minimize the bad press to help pass a referendum for a new levy for the schools is no excuse. Had we been more honest it would have offered uvoters all the more reason to pass the levy……to get past the chaos and return to normal.

Today’s story is the second recent story that makes it seem like ISD 709 is returning to normal but I don’t buy this conclusion. Our new normal is much reduced from what it was back when, like all the other area schools, we still had a seven-hour day. The chaos may be abating but not our want.

Rainy Morning birdwalk

June 17th, 2015

Rainy Morning: something I’ve longed for during a week of sunny days. Needed to buckle down and sift through oceans of paper that I’ve let accumulate all over my brand spanking new office.

Birdwalk: A term picked I up from Mary Ann Lucas-Houk, former Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum for the Duluth Schools denoting a discursive discussion off topic, i.e. a detour from prioritized work.

Out of bed by 3 AM after much needed four hours of sleep. Ate an apple, made pot of coffee, fought off hungry cats, took a card table to attic office for another flat surface to organized massive amounts of paper. Sat down and made up a list of 20 things on my mind with view to post to show my state of distraction. Cranked up Computer at 4 AM and saw Google’s “doodle” on 130th anniversary of Lady Liberty’s arrival to New York in 1885. Tried to remember if Grover Cleveland was president when my Grandfather George Robb was born. He was. Jotted down the election years just before turn of the century to recall who got elected when. Thought back to the great book, The President’s War, about all the ex-Presidents living when Abe Lincoln got elected. (The last two digits of every year that begins a new Presidential term of office always jumps four years at a stretch each century and remain the same making it easier to recall who was elected when. For example 1792 Washington, 1892 Cleveland, 1992, Clinton). Wondered if I could still recall their order of succession. Couldn’t quite do it. Should have remembered that Taylor was hero of Mexican American War and was elected in 1848. After this review I can once again do what my Grandfather did to my amazement fifty years ago – recite all the Presidents in order……. until I forget Taylor and Filmore again.

Good. First post of the day in. Now off to clip a month’s worth of newspapers to see what I’ve failed to blog about recently. After which I will see how hard I can press my nose to the office organizing grindstone today.

A Time to Fish

June 16th, 2015

Art wasn’t kidding. I found his Father’s book at Amazon on offer for $2,500. Art did most of the writing and its been rated well by the few folks who have weighed in on the book.

Edison

June 16th, 2015

This is today’s big Duluth Education News.

Duluth Edison Charter Schools plans to split from the for-profit company that has helped manage the schools for nearly 20 years.

Beginning in the summer of 2017, the schools will be led independently but will retain the Edison name. It will happen the same year the recently approved new high school is slated to open.

The deed is all but done. Hashing over what we might have done might be instructive (and I will hash things out) but such a hashing won’t change the outcome.

Duluth needs to be clear that we have several public school systems in town. All of them need our support hopefully without them being pitted against each other to everyone’s detriment. It will take a lot more work than the current school board’s ostrich-head-in-a-hole approach to the challenge.

A “brilliant summation!”

June 16th, 2015

If you come to Lincoln Democrat to understand our public schools I must direct you to Karl Schuettler’s demographic analysis of Denfeld’s missing students. It will take more than fancy swimming pools to bring them back.

Its wonderful to see a self described “lazy grad student” explain all the factors that I wrestle with every day concerning the condition of our schools. I wrote to Karl and simply said of his post, “brilliant summation!”

In the long run the whole District’s best hope is all the undeveloped land available out west and a continuing construction renaissance and commercial boom – that and an “inequitable” spending of the District’s resources out west to make up for all the damage we’ve done.

A sailor who can’t bait a hook

June 16th, 2015

Art Johnston’s got a new fundraising website – sorry don’t have the URL yet.

My personal plans are to write a book to help pay off Art Johnston’s legal bills should the Federal Courts fail to order the Duluth School Board to reimburse him for attacking his good character over the past year.

Fortunately for Art his talents as an engineer – the skill that got him involved in helping expose the Red Plan for its flaws – are in such demand by various Department of Transportations, the Forest Service and other public entities that he has managed to keep ahead of the legal bills. I’m still offended that he has to put his retirement time to this purpose and determined to tell the other side of the story if it will help compensate him for his efforts. Geez, being on the Duluth School Board is enough of a sacrifice without having one’s colleagues conspire to blacken your reputation and attempt to drive you into bankruptcy in the attempt.

Even as he continues his service on the Board and pay off his legal bills Art makes time for other community activities. He’s acting as a foster parent delivering Meals on Wheels and the other weekend went fishing on a local lake for some tourney that was raising money for some charitable cause. He told me that five of the homes he took food to had residents that thanked him, out of the blue, for his work on the School Board.

Then he told me that he barely knows how to bait a hook because he doesn’t fish. While he was on a boat with a handful of other folks he was having trouble pinning a minnow to a hook. He didn’t mention to any of his fishing companions that he was a Duluth School Board member but it turned out they all knew it anyway. At some point it came up and he sort of appologized for the Board but everyone laughed and he was told they all supported him. I hear the same from folks in my east end of town but not perhaps quite as often. This is still the end of town with the die hard fans of the Red Plan although few attempt anymore to justify it as our new candidate Dr. Kirby seemed to when he said our new swimming pools were great facilities. They are.

What I found funny was the thought of poor Art killing his minnow. Art comes from a fishing family. His Father was a commercial fisherman on Minnesota’s second larges lake, Lake of the Woods. Art even co wrote a book about his family’s long fishing history which I’d like to get a hold of. Unfortunately, its out of print and I can only find it on Amazon for hundred’s of dollars. Fishing Lake of the Woods made a sailor out of Art and he sails Lake Superior all summer. But his fishing was all done with nets and he never had to bait a hook to haul in a hundred pounds of fish.

That reminds me of one of my great ideas. The first year I was in charge of the Chester Park Carnival Games I thought it would be cool to get a huge net and fill it with balloons to drop on the carnival goers. I called up Duluth’s Commercial fishermen the Sivertson’s of A. Kemp Fisheries and asked if I could borrow one of their nets for this purpose. They said sure and I went over to pick it up.

When I unrolled it on the Chester Park Gym floor it let loose a most powerful fish cleaning table stench that quickly filled the auditorium. I rolled it back up and got it the heck out of the school. Who needs a hook when you’re dragging a net with that kind of fragrance to attract the fishies?

By the way. I love Howard Sivertson’s paintings. I’ve bought a couple of his books. I’ll bet Art would especially like “Once Upon an Isle.”

I need a rainy day

June 16th, 2015

Claudia asked me why I was pacing the kitchen this morning. She didn’t realize I’d hopped out of bed at midnight too agitated to sleep on my brand new pillow – one that wasn’t crushed flat. I thought running a few errands at Walgreens might work of my restlessness. I should have just started blogging but I couldn’t quite convince myself that looking at a bluescreen was the thing to do. Instead I slept fitfully on and off on our couch till the early hours then paced as I made my morning coffee….. Claudia has given it up for tea to get a better night’s sleep.

I’d just picked up the Trib and saw that the local Edison Board is planning, in large part, to sever their connection with the national Edison corporation. Its been on their minds to do this for many years. Now it will be done in tandem with their setting up their new high school.

Its going to be a sunny day and my grandsons are coming over so I will limit my blogging despite an avalanche of things to shoot my fingers off about. Tomorrow it looks to rain. Maybe I’ll be able to work off my pacing instinct then. But let’s just see if I can work on tomorrow’s foundation till the boys arrive.

My Mini Vacation

June 15th, 2015

I’ve recently began a number posts with a long list of terms or phrases each of which represents something on my mind about which I feel like blogging. On the previous occasions this led me to actually cover the some of the subjects. Today I’m having a hard time conjuring up the dozens of posts I’ve recently neglected to write about. I certainly wanted to follow up the last post five days ago with an item from one of our school board committee meetings that fit right in. At the moment I can’t think what it was either. For better than a week I’ve been telling myself that what I really wanted was a vacation from Duluth and ISD 709. That wasn’t available to me so instead I took a mental vacation thus the absence of posts.

I played on the hammock with my grandsons. I helped mulch our gardens. I cleared out old canes from my daughter’s raspberry patch. I started watching a couple new seasons of some mini series with my better half including the third season of the contemporary spy series The Americans (I’ll never think about packing a suitcase the same again) and Orange is the New Black. These stories took me well away from Duluth as did two books I’ve made a good start on. The first I’m reading on my own is a major new tome on the 369th Infantry Division that my Grandfather fought with in WW I. The other is Wild Swans which I’ve been reading to Claudia. You would have to be a minority American to appreciate the insecurity that was China over the last century. (I know, I know, Buddy. That’s too broad a statement and there have been generations of white Americans that have suffered too.)

I’m not quite ready to end my mini vacation. Its soooo beautiful outside now and will be again tomorrow. A glass of wine on the patio reading to Claudia sounds about right. I’ve earned it. I spent two hours finishing my mulching this afternoon after putting in a thousand yards in the pool. Oh, we have another swimmer who has announced an intention to run for the Duluth School Board today. He’s a competitive swimmer so I imagined myself swimming against him as I swam laps. It takes me ten minutes to swim 500 yards so I doubt I’d be much competition for him.

I’d be remiss not to write about the offerings of Mark Myles and Art Johnston in Saturday’s Budgeteer relating to Rep. Simonson’s column on the Edison Schools or today’s front page story about the IRRRB and Iron Range School Superintendents. (I’ve commented before on the IRRRB in my blog. One of its former heads was a campaign chair of mine……at least I think so. With 15 past runs for public office its a little hard to remember so many details.)

For now…….I’ll remain remiss.

81 percent graduation rate – Pt. 1

June 10th, 2015

Until I get around to clearing out a backlog of posts please listen to, or read, this story from NPR.

She died, of course

June 6th, 2015

Last March my Brother and I met to place our Mom by our Dad in Mankato’s Woodland Hills Cemetary. We didn’t have a funeral but on my way down to Mankato I called one of my Mother’s friends to explain that we would be interring her on Saturday. I asked if she could call a half dozen friends of Mom’s who had jointly owned and run a popular boutique called Harpies Bazaar. I was thrilled when they gathered at the Gravesite the next day and listened as I told them about our Mother’s life and the last few years. They joined me in my Grandfather’s favorite song Wayfarin Stranger and then invited us to go out with them to breakfast.

We shared stories for a couple hours and one of my Mother’s friends told me how Mom had made her a “Little old lady who swallowed a fly” for her elementary school classroom. She just sent me a picture of it and I was pleased. I had no idea how my Mom managed it. You can see the critters from the fly to the horse each of which slide down a channel my Mom made from the old lady’s mouth to her tummy.

I told all the Harpies that I hoped to write a little coffee table book of my Mom’s life and her artwork. That’s why her friend made sure to send me this.

It would be far more gratifying for me to write about my family (for a small circle of my friends and family) than it would be to expose the warts and blemishes of the Duluth School Board. Please Federal Court…… award Art his attorney fees, please, please, please.