I’m not the only one bird dogging it. Take it away Loren.
Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category
I just mowed the lawn I’ve got a funeral memorial in a little over and hour and then Claudia and I are taking our grandson’s to the Wisconsin Dells to splash in a water park. The load of verbiage I’m carrying would take weeks to dispense and frankly, even if I was up to it I don’t have the time. Thus I will once again disappoint the 2,000 plus of you who have peeked at my blog over June.
I’ve been telling some folks recently that our Board members have been thinking with all the clarity of soldiers returning to home with PTSD. I got a couple years to recover from mine when I retired from the active fight against the Red Plan in 2010 as Art Johnston took up his lonely crusade for clarity.
At first he had Gary Glass with him but they were no match for a board majority that was still in musk oxen mode having formed a circle to keep the wolves out. For six years now the majority of the Board refused to ask questions almost as aggressively as they have asserted that their brilliant administrators were working miracles in the Duluth Public Schools. Perhaps its the PTSD that blinds them to classes of the high thirties in elementary schools and 40′s in our secondary schools.
A newly elected School Board has renewed the old practice of question asking but one are remains off limits, the Red Plan. This seems silly to me. The main perpetrators of the Red Plan are gone, Dixon, Wasson, Hustad, Grover etc. Furthermore, it is likely impossible to understand our crowded classes and lost music program without understanding the financing of the Red Plan. Finances have been particularly difficult subject to breach. We have one Board member who insisted for years that we were not taking any money from classroom operations to pay off Red Plan debt. And yet four straight years on her watch we transferred $6 million annually from operations to debt service.
Apparently the Finance Office never wanted to correct her fiscal myopia because she has never recanted her financial ignorance. Art and Harry Welty are a threat to a clearer understanding of our district’s iffy finances. For months I’ve moaned about the document shown to me briefly last January that projected a $13.7 million deficit when I run for reelection in 2017. At no point has the Finance Dept. attempted to assure me that this will be averted.
David Bolgrien who ran against Art Johnston last year (perhaps at the urging of one of our assistant principals) met with me over coffee at a point when I despaired of ever getting along with Art. I was at that point officially neutral about who the western fourth District should elect. David disparaged the days of the “Harry, Gary and Art show.” I suspect that is how the entire Move Forward Duluth crowd talked for years. There is a great desire to get over the Red Plan but to my way of thinking that is leading folks to ignore the elephant in the room. Why is Denfeld in ferment? If you can’t examine the history of the Red Plan it will remain a mystery. If you can’t get honest, practical explanations for the current finances of the District it will remain a mystery. However, the real mystery to me is how the majority of the current school board has come to the conclusion that it must remove one of the question askers and on such pathetic grounds.
I think its worth understanding how a $19 million change order that renegotiates Johnson Controls earning from 14% to 25% can be authorized without a vote of the entire school board. But asking such a question, even after receiving a warning from the State Auditor that such an action is unwarranted, is apparently verboten.
As long as Art Johnston wants to ask the same questions that I have I will be his ally no matter how sullen he gets when he is denied the information he requests. As long as there are 40 kids in our high school classrooms I’ll keep asking why? That’s why I’m quite confident that if the current school board refuses to ask those questions it will be replaced in the 2015 election with a Board that is every bit as curious about the answer as me. I expect that to be the case even if this Board dim wittedly wastes tens of thousands of dollars on lawyers to find some pathetic justifican to remove Art Johnston.
I confidently predict that only death will prevent Art Johnston from serving out a third four-year term on the Duluth School Board.
As always I have a lot more to add. Ah, but I’ve got grandkids to vacation with. Ta ta.
It appears the Superintendent wants to remove Art Johnston from the Duluth School Board. Public hearing this afternoon at about 5pm. Come watch the spectacle.
I’m indebted to Loren Martell for writing a review in the Reader Weekly of the most critical school board meeting I’ll have attended in the four years of my service on the Board. Because it wasn’t our monthly meeting we didn’t video tape it for later posting on Youtube.
I’d forgotten the Superintendent’s description of Bill Hanson’s financial forecast as being a “worst case scenario.” Of course it will be even worse with the acceptance of even more pay for our staff than the forecast outlined.
I’m not positive but I think Loren quoted me not from comments made from the meeting but from a little speech I’d planned to give a couple weeks earlier. I didn’t give that speech since I’m trying to bite my tongue and stay positive but I’m glad Loren publicized them: As Loren reported (although the quotation marks aren’t as orderly as I’d like) I wrote:
“If a contract is brought to us that I view as destructive to the District and our children, I will make that case in public with particular ardor. We were given a ten-minute preview of our future in January during our first budget meeting… The year I will be facing the voters again [2017-18]… we have a projected $13.7 million deficit… I worked very hard to persuade people we would be in a dire situation if we did not add $1.8 million with that levy [approved by voters last fall] so we could try to keep our classrooms from getting any more crowded than they are—40 to 50 kids in some of the high school classes. You cannot teach that way. So if this is, indeed, ‘Treat Our Teachers Decent Week,’ accepting a contract which is going to cram more kids into the classrooms is no way to treat them decently.
“I would point out… or at least amend,” Welty went on, “what Member Loeffler-Kemp pointed out: We did talk about [contract] parameters, but… we could not fully realize what the next four years was holding in store for us when we set the parameters.” He said the District would “hire 13, 14, or 15 teachers with the [levy] money the voters authorized” but then “have to lay off twice that many” due to an increasing deficit. He finished by deploring the lack of information Board members have to work with: “I’ve been trying to have a discussion about our fiscal future for a month and have only received three very slender pieces of paper from our business office that give us no clue as to how we end up $13 million in debt.”
The superintendent and Board chair did not deny that the doomsday deficit numbers Member Welty referenced were indeed the projected estimates of the district’s finance department, but argued this was a “worst-case” scenario.
I got this email a couple days ago. I have confidence in the integrity of the person who sent it and I take it at face value. I’m not inclined to check out the numbers. They seem to make sense to me. My thoughts follow the email:
Impressive melting witch.
I think I saw this [web] address in the Minneapolis Tribune last year. It is extra.twincities.com/car/schoolsalaries. Number one select year, check all employees, check outside metro, check public then click “go”. Number 2 select district, select school if desired click “search”. Jana’s article on Duluth teacher’s salaries stated that very few teachers get to the high pay of $69,000.00. A tally that I ran, not saying it is totally accurate 403 of the Duluth teachers in the year 2012-2013 school year earned 60 thousand to 67,216.00. That is an average of 65,248.48 for those 403 teachers. The total for these 403 teachers was 26,295,136.00. Again a quick check may not be totally accurate.
Then 133 teachers, some part time earned from 35,000 to 55,000 for the year 2012-2013. The total for them was 6,065,00.00. The average was 45,601.50. I remember a large number of teachers retired last spring so this could have eliminated some top salaries. The 2013-2014 stats won’t be added to this web site until after June when the school year ends. It also gives salaries for principals , councilors etc. I found it interesting.
Other than vote against the contract next week and speak against it there is little I can do short of throwing an unproductive hissy fit. I don’t believe our teachers are overpaid. Neither to I believe that they are underpaid. What I know is that keeping this contract will make it almost impossible to lower class sizes in the time I serve on the School Board. That was my reason for running for the Board so in some ways a hissy fit seems justified.
I will do everything I can to lower class sizes. One possibility would be to renegotiate our bonds. Note that Gary Glass and later Art Johnston suggested this but were told by the Finance Director that it wouldn’t be possible to lower our payments. I don’t know that I believe the Finance Director but if he’s right its one more reason to vote against the contract. I have my eyes on a couple of programs that, should we shut them down, could allow us to direct a half a dozen teachers into the classroom. Some of these programs are pets but as we begin to face laying off the measley 14 or so teachers who will be paid for by last year’s levy it may not prove to be that difficult a decision.
What does this contract mean?
Our classes will remain the most crowded in Minnesota.
We will not resume a zero or seventh hour which will in turn limit our course offerings.
Among the limitations will be the continued sparse music opportunities which are a shadow of what the district once offered and one of the opportunities that kept iffy kids in school.
I could go on and write about some other grievous problems facing our district as a result of laying off teachers. I know this kind of talk flies in the face of what I consider happy talk by our administration. Call me Winston Churchill and call our Administration Neville Chamberlain delivering “Peace in our Time” upon his return from Adolph’s Germany.
I have been whining about my health for the past couple weeks. That’s over with. I’m writing this with a great deal of equanimity. I’ve had a number of folks, including my wife, remind me of what I already knew. I can’t fix the Duluth School District by myself and its clear that I am part of a minority on the Board that doesn’t buy into happy talk. After getting a good health check up and thinking about my modest powers to influence the future I’m no longer feeling panic and waking up after mere hours of sleep. I’ll be much healthier than our schools and I’ll just have to live with that.
I serve with folks who care about our schools, I can’t fault them for that, but we are in for a long slog. WW II lasted four years. So will the teacher’s contract. Our war won’t end when the contract runs out. It will just be heating up.
Sometimes your buddies can piss you off but then they send you something to help you take heart. My buddy sent me this after my taxonomically challenged post last night. Many thanks.
e e cummings (from a letter, 1935):
to be nobody but yourself –
in a world which is doing its best
night and day
to make you everybody else –
means to fight the hardest battle
which any human being can fight,
and never stop fighting.
(I’m still taking a sabbatical from reading his emails lest they too exert too much force and pull me into becoming “everybody else”)
This is what greeted me as I sat down to type this morning. It disappeared right away as Pandora’s screen dissolved into my Gabriel Faure playlist. I spent half an hour trying to recreate it by downloading a blue screen taking a picture with my Samsung camera and then trying to figure out how to download that to Flickr or Google Plus or to an email to put on my computer. Well, Flickr won out and I chalk it up to more brain teasing to keep me up on how to work the online world.
I mentioned the Kevin Spacey series on Netflix in the last post. By the way, did I ever tell you that I once worked with Kev in a movie? I did. I was an extra in Iron Will twenty years ago. I got paid too.
Claudia and I laughed along with the Oscar audience when he came out to present at Sunday’s Academy Awards broadcast and said he’d just dropped in from Washington DC. His amoral character breaks the fourth wall all the time to explain what he’s up to and belittle the people he’s busy slitting the throats of. Maybe that’w what my blog amounts to. My fourth wall.
We saw the original BBC series which came out over twenty years ago. I was surprised when I googled it to see it was a mere four episodes long. The American version is up to 26 now and our protagonist, surely not a hero, has climbed the greasy pole and his audience is looking down on the wrecked people in his wake wondering which might pull him back down.
I can hardly wait to write this post.
Claudia texted our children with the news of my slender victory. She asked them both to pray for her. My son texted back his condolences.
There were two predictable letters complaining that I was an eastern elitist for using the word gangrene to describe the Red Plan’s dire results in western Duluth Schools. You can read them here and here.
More prickly criticism came from two of the Red Plan’s staunchest advocates Board Chairs in turn Tom Hustad and Ann Wasson. I am not surprised that they take my constant criticism of the Red Plan and Johnson Controls and their beloved Superintendent Keith Dixon personally. They were elected to save a hockey coach who treated his bench warmers like a bucket of spit. The results of their tenure on the School Board have led to the gangrene which I’m taking heat for describing.
I’ll post the entire letter here as per usual. I like to put the most egregious criticisms of my work and words in this blog. There is one trivial attack on my “honesty” in the letter. It says I falsely claimed to serve on the School Board until eight years ago. I was wrong! I was defeated by Tom Hustad in the Fall of 2003 and stepped down in January of 2004. If you do the math you will see that I’ve been off the Board for 9 years and 10 months. I made a similar mistake when the Tribune mistakenly said that Ann Wasson had served for 14 years on the School Board. I wrote in my blog that she had only served 8 years. It was ten. She was first elected to serve a half term of two years.
As for the other items mentioned I’ve addressed them all in this blog or elsewhere many times. You can find my explanations by inserting the offending terms in the search function.
I’ll mention a couple of things about both of my critics to blunt their analysis.
Ann Wasson was the Board Chair who failed to sign or read the Review and Comment sent to the State Dept. of Education for a quarter billion dollar Building Project. That was typical of her blind career of being a School Board rubber stamp to duplicitous School Administrations.
Tom Hustad was the Board Chair when the first critics of the Red Plan’s denial of a referendum began speaking out at School Board meetings. An email from a friend recently reminded me how he conducted himself on one occasion during criticism of the Board’s anti-democratic actions:
Yup, I did a little digging and found a great article
Hustad is the one that told Brenda to “shut up and sit down” And that pretty much sums up the approach the board has had to anyone who disagrees with them. And they are in charge of nurturing critical thinkers!!
One last anecdote. Last December while I was out in my front yard tending to the candles I placed around my snow angel Mr. and Mrs. Hustad pulled over by the curb and rolled down their window. Tom graciously thanked me for expressing the sentiments of so many other people to the tragedy at Sandy Hook.
Here’s Tom and Ann’s letter to the Duluth News Tribune:
We’re disappointed the newspaper endorsed Harry Welty.
He said he wouldn’t run a “sour-grapes campaign,” but his Oct. 24 “Candidate’s View” column was negative. Honesty isn’t his best policy, despite his lawn signs. As one example, he didn’t serve on the School Board eight years ago, as he claimed.
Welty has cost the district hundreds of thousands of dollars on meaningless lawsuits. He was quoted saying he enjoys creating chaos even when information is wrong. How can we trust him if he manipulates expert information and isn’t truthful?
He blogged about hitting fellow School Board candidate Nancy Nilsen “upside the head with a brick.” Bully? Absolutely. We need to rid our city of bullies, not give them support.
He blogged about being “canned” from teaching three times. Frightening. So he’s not a retired teacher, as he claimed.
He was School Board chairman for four months and stepped down because he couldn’t build consensus, was ineffective and couldn’t take the heat. Clearly, he still doesn’t understand education funding.
He seems to be violent in nature, blogging about “blood on the floor” and using voodoo dolls. Don’t take it lightly. Welty is unreliable.
Nancy Nilsen is honest, intelligent and respectful — and deserves your vote.
Wasson represents District 1 on the Duluth School Board and is not seeking re-election.
Hustad was a Duluth School Board member from 2004 to 2008 and was chairman of the board from 2005 to 2007.
…says the Duluth News Tribune. I agree with them but I gnash my teeth every time they say that Red Plan was necessary.
I just checked to see how many visitors my blog had yesterday. You might recall I said that by 10AM it was an impressive 750. They must have all come from Russia. The total for yesterday ended up being 1,484 which knocked my socks off until I went to see where they were coming from. The Russian visitors had jumped from 2,000 a few days ago to 5,000. Obviously I got a lot of robot views recently from overseas. Sigh.
That doesn’t mean I won’t get 4,000 views at some time this month from Duluth visitors. It just means I can count all the hiccups from yesterday.
One item jumps out at me from Art Johnston’s op ed piece:
We have gone from a $24 million fund balance in 2007 to what Moody’s Investors Services predicts to be a likely deficit by the end of 2014. In other words, we are very close to bankruptcy.”
I was one of the architects of that ten percent reserve. Its slow disbursement means that from Dr. Dixon’s day to today The District has dipped into the reserve by an average of $3 million a year to keep a classroom disaster at bay. (although with 40 kids in the class the disaster is already well under way)
This is the last year we can draw from my old reserve to keep even more drastic cuts away from the classroom. After today’s School Board spends it down we will have to take $3 million more a year from the classroom to pay off the Red Plan bonds.
Pray the referendum (both of them) pass/passes.
If the first renewal referendum doesn’t pass it won’t just be the $3 million from the depleted reserve that is cut from our classrooms it will also be the lost referendum levy money. We’ll start looking like the Detroit Schools.
School Board incumbent and Red Plan critic Art Johnston makes his case for reelection. He outlines some of the sky that is falling problems Nancy Nilsen brushes off:
“Pulling money out of the classrooms for buildings is wrong, and that is the primary reason why we are in a fiscal tight spot when it comes to our classrooms.
This drain of money is a principle reason why we have eliminated 180 teacher positions, a reason why we have not been able to reduce the achievement gap, and a reason why we have low graduation rates. In the last six years we have lost about 1,700 students, according to district and state documents, and the millions in annual revenue that go along with them. Why have we lost these students? I believe it’s because parents are distrustful of our schools.
We have gone from a $24 million fund balance in 2007 to what Moody’s Investors Services predicts to be a likely deficit by the end of 2014. In other words, we are very close to bankruptcy.”
In her 600 word opinion piece former School Board member and rabid Red Plan advocate, Nancy Nilsen, makes no mention of her half billion dollar baby save for this vague reference:
“I thank all the citizens of Duluth and the surrounding area who contributed to making our excellent facilities. I have heard very positive comments about the work that went into these buildings. Now that the facilities plan has been completed, we can become even more focused on what happens in classrooms. We need to put forth a concerted effort to find proven methods of educating our youth in today’s day and age. I’m willing to put forth that effort. Our children are worth it.
I am not a sky-is-falling type of person. If there is a problem, I roll up my sleeves, dig into the problem and find solutions.”
Having spent four years with a pretty big shovel myself trying to get a vote on and then minimize the damage of a “sky-is-falling” school system I don’t recall ever seeing Nancy wielding any digging implement. Better late than never I guess.
I recently discovered the good reads site before Amazon bought it. It will be a regular place of perusal for me.
I happened to be thinking about writing a Not Eudora column on the subject of not finishing my books. Just now I found that Great Reads had beat me to the punch.
2 cents is fini. I decided that all the things I wanted to write would take too much time and deliver too little.
In the car a couple days ago my five (correction, “five and a half”) year old grandson told me he had a “six pack.”
His three year old (and proud of it) brother piped up and said that he had a “three pack.”
“No you don’t” said the older brother. And the argument continued.
Its midnight and I’m too bushed to fill another post up with my unedited ruminations. If I get to it tomorrow it should tie my recent snow sculpture with a way by which I might emulate Lincoln’s extraordinary liberal inclinations. I’m not sure I’ll have any more to say about movies. They were just a convenient launching pad.