An old ally of mine, one of a dozen Bruce Johnson’s in the phone directory, singled me out to cheer for school board’s refusal to sell Central High for $14.2 million to the Tischer Creek Building Company. Since I lost the vote if not the argument a couple weeks ago its tempting to take the letter as a gratuitous (unnecessary) kick in the pants. I hope that’s not the case. Bruce and I were allies two decades ago before the GOP purged itself of moderates. We both fought for Arne Carlson’s election in 1990. That was about the last time any moderate Republican in America was able to stick his nose under the Big Tent. Its all been “small tents” since then. Bruce, an attorney, was appointed an Administrative Law Judge by Governor Carlson or possibly by Pawlenty.
After Carlson’s victory I lost three successive races for the School Board in which I became increasingly critical of the School Board as it plunged the District into Statutory Operating Debt. At some point I discovered that the ubiquitous Johnson name attached to one Duluth School Board member, Jane Johnson, had been bestowed upon her by matrimony to Bruce H Johnson my erstwhile ally.
I am sure my criticism rankled. Jane was an ally of another school board member who I’ve criticized in the past Joan Peterson. Its been a two-way street with Joan. When I defended Art Johnston.
Joan sent a letter to the Tribune calling me “absurd.”
I can’t help but suspect that there may be just a bit of payback in Bruce’s belated criticism. Not only did I beat up the Board for fiscal irresponsibility I helped bring in Edison and like Joan, Jane Johnson has probably viewed the charter more as a malignancy than as a second option for parents.
Here’s Bruce’s analysis with my replies inserted:
Reader’s view: Patience needed in waiting for the right Central deal
By Bruce Johnson from Duluth on May 28, 2016 at 11:00 p.m.
I applaud the four Duluth School Board members who voted not to sell Central so it could be used by Edison.
There’s a reason for the district’s noncompete policy. Selling Central would have been a short-term fix but a potentially long-term disaster. The former Central High School is in the center of Duluth with plenty of parking and no access-road problem. The future potential draining of students from the public schools could force the district to close one of its two high schools. If I were School Board members Art Johnston, Alanna Oswald or Harry Welty, I would have been extremely concerned about what this sale could have done to Denfeld High’s future.
Jane probably voted for the noncompete policy. It springs from the national school board association which has long championed monopoly administration of public schools even as the nation has noted the many children who have been failed by their time in school. Bruce and I are both worried for Denfeld’s sake but ironically it was Jane’s longstanding wish to have a Red Plan imposed on Duluth that led to Denfeld’s losses. Up to now Denfeld students have fled to surrounding high schools. Bruce would deny Edison parents from keeping their kids in the Edison system but he would do this while ISD 709 struggles with Red Plan imposed monster classes something Edison has managed to avoid.
Currently, our state representatives are working on making the sale of Central more attractive to commercial interests. Patience is needed.
Five year’s worth of patience has only served to put nearly a million dollars into the maintence of a white elephant sitting on property worth little more than six or seven million dollars. I think our board majority’s “patience” will be rewarded in a few more expensive years with a sale of six or seven million dollars. In the meantime our Administration has offered nothing but more cuts to our staffing. As I argued a sale would have netted us three million dollars a year for four years which we could have used to stave off a continuing exodus of our students. Bruce as a “Republican” ought to appreciate the commercial allure of keeping our customers satisfied. Instead he roots for the monopoly.
We aren’t on a level playing field. Most Duluth taxpayers don’t know that all special education services Edison provides always have been billed to the Duluth public schools. The district gets some state reimbursement, but last year the Duluth district still paid over 30 percent of these costs, or $1.6 million, money coming directly out of our Duluth classrooms for students we don’t even educate and for whom we get no state aid. As of this year, state legislation requires Edison to pay 10 percent of this unreimbursed expense.
Of all Bruce’s complaints this is the most annoying. I do think that we need to negotiate a more healthy relationship with Edison where Special Ed is concerned. I’m distressed that the Trib didn’t make Bruce research this claim like its editors have often made me research claims I have put into my letters to the editor. At the very least this special ed claim, trumpeted by exChair Judy Seliga-Punyko, deserves a news story. Here’s my take on Bruce’s claim. $1.6 million of Federal money was transferred by ISD 709 to Edison because it not ISD 709 was educating the special ed students it was meant for. Why should ISD 709 get to keep the money meant for Edison’s children when we were not educating them? Bruce is an administrative Law Judge. I hope his rulings make more sense than this poorly thought through complaint. Ditto the remainder of Bruce’s letter.
Edison’s working within the system. I would, however, support legislation to have Edison pay its own costs. Let it deal with the state and Duluth taxpayers.
School Board members need to look to the long-term success and survival of our quality public schools. That’s their job and why they were elected.
I disagree with member Welty when he states that not selling Central for Edison’s use puts the district at great risk. It’s just the opposite.
And I disagree with Bruce.