Category Archives: 2011 SB Election

An excellent day

My day started out at 3AM after five hours of sleep. I have had a lot of irons heating up in the fire. While none are fully molten this is what I accomplished today.

1. My lawnsigns were delivered. The first two are up. Both are at my house and I know that’s a bit of a cheat but my house has 25,000 cars pass by it every day. I’ve got almost 150 other lawnsign locations and I’ve just started collecting addresses. If any of this blog’s readers are interested in helping me out I’ll have a box of them in my patio over the weekend with a sign out list for people wishing to put some up. When Let Duluth Vote put up signs I must have had 50 picked up and signed out. Or send me an email and let me know who to deliver them to.

2. I started and finished and emailed my last Not Eudora column until the November 5th election.

3. I finally got the navigation of my campaign website organized. It still needs a good look for editing and will be an ongoing project for the next seven weeks. Take a look

4. I ordered and previewed my first print ad for a local paper.

5. I took my sweetie out for lunch at the Zeitgeist and we watched a very funny movie (90% “fresh” approval on Rotten Tomatoes) titled “In a World.” The ten people at the theater all roared and I wasn’t the loudest. I’m still smiling.

6. Then when I came home I thought of an advertising campaign which might be able to win over the hardest core of Duluth School Board haters. I’ll be interested to see if it still makes sense to me tomorrow morning after I’ve had a night to sleep on it.

and Oh, Yeah…7. I managed to find time to post one blog post and it was an upper. Hooray!

Panic Attack

I’ve had a couple people send me emails asking me what the heck is happening in the Duluth Schools relative to Dr. Foster’s being frozen out of his office. I’ve had to tell them I have no idea. I’ve never met Foster. I’ve had plenty of food for thought for him should he bother to read my blog but I’ll bet he’s been warned that reading it will contaminate him should he choose to consume any of it. I’ve read the Trib’s story and the Trib’s Editorial and lately I was pointed to the short squib in the Reader Weekly. I’ll have more thoughts on this as time goes by but I’ll hazzard a couple ill informed observations.

First, only a fool would blame Foster for the problems that Dixon left behind. Unfortunately we have some on the School Board.

Second, I suspect Foster came into town blithely unaware how quickly the District would start spiraling out of control.

Third, I’ll bet those minions of Dr. Dixon who have been left behind have bent over backward to cover their arses so that Foster wouldn’t realized their complicity in the Red Plan’s growing debacle.

Fourth, I’ll bet those minions would much rather have Dr. Gronseth as their go-to guy because he was Dixon’s hand picked successor and he’d probably shield them if for no other reason than his own survival in perilous times. They are a team. It probably came as an unpleasant surprise to them that Mary Cameron would tip the balance away from Gronseth when a suitable minority candidate would surface.

Fifth, This is not a big surprise. Mary did the same thing to her old allies when the Hispanic Dr. Almanza became a candidate and voted for him over the white male candidate her allies preferred and with her rivals on the Board.

Sixth, Mary has a Doctorate and a lot of experience in Human Resources. If this is a putsch to get rid of Foster the mutineers better make sure they have dotted all their i’s and crossed all their t’s or it will get very ugly. He could easily force the District to pay the rest of his three years’s salary if they don’t have cause to fire him. That would cost the District another half million dollars.

Seventh, Dixon’s old minions have friends on the Board. Just after Foster was closed to being selected Ann Wasson desperately tried to get Gronseth the job.

Eighth, If Foster is removed, and even if he isn’t, look for a loud series of accusations to pin the blame for the District’s mess on him and to obfuscate Dr. Dixon’s role.

Ninth, A whisper campaign has been started to undermine Foster. I was told from a source that began with one of the Board members who hired Dixon that Foster had not been to work about 35 days in his first sixth months. If true that would be troubling without a very good explanation. I’ll bet its greatly exaggerated. Furthermore the person who told me this wondered if Foster might be an alcoholic. I don’t know if this is also part of the rumor mongering or just a happy addition to an initial smear.

Tenth. Two of Foster’s early critics have been in effect Dr. Dixon’s dupes.They are Chamber of Commerce CEO David Ross and Union Prez. Frank Wanner. Neither have seemed to have the remotest interest in the District’s unsustainable finances relative to the Red Plan.

Eleventh, I have no idea why the Mayor who is belatedly commenting on the destruction of the central schools has weighed in against Foster. That was Dixon’s doing. Foster is simply picking up the pieces. Besides, Don Ness never says anything critical about anyone. Why is he starting to choose sides now? I haven’t the foggiest reason why.

Twelfth, Apparently the “investigation” of Foster began in secret, like so many Dixon inspired actions of the past. All the better to make an end run on those board members being kept in the dark.

Thirteenth, Judy Seliga-Punyko who began the witch hunt is no doubt a little inflated with her success in the recent election. This is not the first time she has ridden such a high horse. Just after she was elected to the PTSA (Parent Teacher Student Association) presidency, she circulated a list of administrative jobs to be eliminated in the face of that era’s financial difficulties. She did not clear them with the rest of the PTSA council.

Fortheenth, The success or failure of making Foster a scapegoat for the mistakes of Dr. Dixon and his minions will not in any way resolve the Death Spiral that will occur when we spend another six million dollars we can’t raise in taxes.

Fiftheenth, I often say that voters get the representation they deserve. I don’t really believe that. They do however choose their elected officials.

Sixteenth, There isn’t an obviously good excuse for Foster taking his time to get a Minnesota Superintendent’s licence. On the other hand, other than the delay, its not that big a deal.

My Buddy challenges me on Lakeview

On Mon, Dec 19, 2011 at 12:12 PM, my Buddy wrote:


Regarding what you say at, aren’t you missing something? Shouldn’t the objective of the school district, be to provide the best education for children residing in the school district, at the lowest cost to taxpayers; and wouldn’t that be accomplished by the school district’s willingness to sell its surplus property to the highest bidders, and by the school district’s acceptance of whatever winnowing that resulting competition might provide?

My Reply:

That’s a valid argument. I wasn’t on the Board when it sold off five elementaries to known alternative educational sites. It made peanuts on those sales.

You could make the same argument hear [sic] (should be in this case) but let me turn the tables on you. You are arguing that making money is the prime motivator [in order to educate our kids]. If so, the District by giving one of its rivals enough room to grow and land to sell to make the growth possible would be financially foolish. After giving Lakeview all these resources for a song Lakeview would be in a position to poach more students from ISD 709 and thereby causing it to lose more state aid.

I don’t know that this would happen. Central could end up being an albatross around the Christian Academy’s neck. If I were on the Duluth School Board, however, watching it hemorrhage students I wouldn’t want to give my gun to someone else willing to use it against me.

The post title wasn’t really very apropos to the situation just the season. Lakeview has done nothing wrong by promoting their take over of the site.


Reaction to my recent letter to the Trib

One of the most finance savvy past School Board members wrote me this email.





We did a little cooresponding afterwards and I thought you’d enjoy the repartee: Continue reading

Holy Cow! The Trib printed my letter

Apropos the last post:

Reader’s view: The flight of Duluth students is Dixon’s legacy

The writer of an Oct. 6 letter seemed disappointed Red Plan critics weren’t the ones who set fire to a Lester Park playground. He bemoaned the “vitriol” endured by Keith Dixon, writing, “I believe the former Duluth superintendent was one of the most brilliant, courageous and gutsy administrators.”

The writer, a former Budgeteer columnist, knows something about vitriol, having used it three days before a primary to eviscerate mayoral candidate Herb Bergson without mentioning Bergson once ran against his brother.

This columnist doesn’t seem to mind the regressive taxes that made the Red Plan twice as expensive as other such projects in Minnesota history. When School Board member Gary Glass estimated Johnson Controls’ no-bid contract could entitle the company to

$33.4 million, the columnist gave Glass the “Bergson treatment,” calling him dishonest days before a general election. The “brilliant” Dixon and his staff convinced the News Tribune that Johnson Controls would earn only $4.5 million, 2 percent of costs (“No $33.4 million ‘plum’ in contract,” June 19, 2007). Yet, six months earlier, the district signed an agreement giving Johnson Controls up to 11 percent of costs as payment and to use to pay contractors and subcontractors. Since when is lying courageous?

Dixon’s haste to complete Red Plan projects forced children to move en masse to new schools. The flight of 10 percent of students is Dixon’s legacy. When the administrators he left behind claimed this year’s loss of another 15 students was really a gain of 300 it was as though Dixon never left.

Surely the “educator” in our columnist would agree small class size is one of the few necessities for successful learning. Yet swollen classes are also Dixon’s “gutsy” legacy.

Sadly, having a small School Board has not improved its education. It turns off microphones when people ask questions.

Harry Welty


The writer was a Duluth School Board member from 1996-2004.

Spoiling for a fight

Art Johnston is a pain in the neck. He’s also been elected to represent the people on the School Board. He’s proven to me to be far more trustworthy than other people representing the School District. If I were him I would have told the rest of the Board that I wouldn’t record the School Board meeting. That said, I don’t blame him one iota for not telling his fellow board members whether he had a recording device at the closed meeting or not. If he had recorded and played back privileged information he could have been prosecuted. That would have been his problem. Asking him whether he had a recorder was a sign of paranoia by the Board majority. If anyone should be paranoid its Art.

Even though I would have said I didn’t have a recorder had I been in Art’s situation I don’t blame Art for not saying. It was offensive of the Board members to ask him if he was recording.

Its apparent to me that after winning so handily Judy Seliga-Punyko is feeling her oats. Maybe that’s arrogance. The previous Board was mighty tempted to remove Gary Glass from the Board. Obviously the Board hasn’t learned its lesson. If they keep this up they will get their comeuppance.

Grover, Cameron, Seliga-Punyko as cheerleaders for levies

Reading this story of three board members blaming another for the failure of the operational levies brought the following history to mind.

1997, Tim Grover blackmailed me into agreeing that I would keep taxes flat before he agreed to support an operational levy.

2001, Judy Seliga-Punyko told me she would vote against an operational levy because the School Board had not closed a high school.

2001, I desperately wanted a levy to pass and to reelect my friend Mary Cameron to the Board after her defeat two years before. I got her to grudgingly agree to support an operational levy. She was, however, not very enthusiastic about it because it was opposed by the Chamber of Commerce and was generally not popular. I wrote a flyer supporting Mary on one side and the levy on the other and we passed them out together to rural mail boxes.

I’m glad I’m out of town…

…even though Oklahoma’s earthquake has been shaking things up here in KC.

They’re not as severe as the ones shaking Duluth.

2nd District………………Votes………Percent

Judy Seliga Punyko (i)….3322………..64.31%

Loren Martell………………1844………..35.69%

Now let’s see how the winner does with no new levy money. I’m sort of glad that Loren won’t have to deal with those decisions. They will not be pretty and Loren was innocent.

Its not my newspaper – I just subscribe

Unless my five week old letter was published in some obscure corner of some back page that I missed its still waiting to see the light of day. I can’t publish it here for fear that the Trib will decide not to publish it. I’m mildly aggravated. Mildly because I don’t think my letter would have made much of an impact on the school board election tomorrow.

Today’s paper made a veiled criticism of the Red Plan critics (at least that’s how I took it) in their get out the vote editorial. They made a comment contrasting the penny pinchers against the progressives that want a new an improved Emerald City. (I’ve embroidered the comment a bit)

My letter did not endorse or criticize any candidate so in the past two weeks since it was approved the Trib’s editors can’t be criticized for keeping a non election related missive from the public. However, my letter was meant to put the entire School situation in perspective – dire perspective. It was a riposte to Ralph Doty’s encomium to Keith Dixon. Ralph’s letter certainly gave comfort the folks who have overseen the current downward spiral. By not letting my rejoinder make it to the opinion page before the election they left his plaudits of the Dixon crew go unchallenged. That is aggravating.

Also aggravating is the incredibly long wait to let me respond. If I were a little more jaded I’d almost say that the nitpicky editorial changes I had to make over two weeks were calculated to delay my letter’s publication until after the election. That would suggest the editors did not want my credibility to be used against the folks they were endorsing. BTW – Did the Trib ever endorse the school district referendum? I sort of think they implied it would be good without actually taking a stand but perhaps that gives the Trib a bit too much credit.

live wire

I was going to title this with the cliche about being up to the wire then thought of a better cliche. The District’s hopes for passage of anything will look a bit like that poor fellow in the Green Mile who gets smoked in the electric chair. I just saw the Art and Gary show on Almanac North and then on Fox News. That two Board members are so diligently undermining the levy campaign suggests to me that if the lowest level offered gets 30% approval it will be a miracle.

I will vote for the levy yes, yes, yes despite dis-ingenuousness on the part of the School District. In fact, Art’s argument has made me think long and hard about claims I’ve made in the past. Art is definitely right. We haven’t cut $24 million over the past several years. We’ve moved our spending from one part of operations budget to another. In fact, as I said before considering we’ve still got about the same budget as we had five years ago with 2,000 fewer students you could argue that per pupil spending has soared.

I suspect school districts all across Minnesota make the same argument and most board members just go along without thinking much about it. Art and Gary, however, have endured two and four years respectively of being lied to and frozen out of the loop. Dixon may be gone but his henchmen all remain to carry on. I don’t blame the Board dissidents for their hair trigger suspicions about the District’s advertising campaign even though I have no doubt the consequences of a levy failure will be terrible.

Frank Wanner who was one of Dixon’s top enablers and deifiers, had a lot of gall complaining about them at the special meeting tonight. He just won 2% in unaffordable benefit increases for his teachers which was the Judas money Dixon paid him for not rocking the boat. Now Frank’s teachers have impossible class sizes. Frank should stand in front of a mirror before he gives his next tongue lashing. Rep. Garofalo may deserve it. Art and Gary don’t.

So to end this post let me ask the question that I don’t expect Bill Hanson to give me the answer to:

When the Board spent a ton of money to pay for all-day kindergarten did Bill count the program cuts he made to pay for Kindergarten as part of the $24 million in cuts the District is whining now about?

Cluck, Cluck, Cluck

It took the DNT nearly a month to get around to publishing my letter replying to Ralph Doty. I still haven’t seen it. Tomorrow maybe.

It only took about 12 hours for school board member Ann Wasson to get a reply in the paper to Art Johnston.

Ann calls Art uncivil which I’ll bet teaches him a lesson. Too bad she can’t shut off his microphone.

I was in Ann’s position ten years ago when I wanted a levy offered and one School Board member refused to support it. I spoke for ten minutes about the subject and as I got worked up ended up saying “God Dammit.” I then apologized. Five years later Ralph Doty reported that it was part of an unforgetable “profanity laced” tirade. I don’t know who couldn’t forget it and made sure Ralph heard about it. He had, afterall, been in Ohio when I gave the speech. I’d be interested to know if he watched it after calling it profanity laced. I was so proud of it that I posted it on the Web and anyone could have watched it. If Ralph watched it and still called it profanity laced he really is a sensitive fellow. If he didn’t bother watching it and called it profanity laced he’s a very lazy journalist.

I was frustrated at the time because Bob Mars opposed the levy. The standard belief ten years ago was that operational levies faced almost certain defeat if as much as a single school board member stood in opposition. So today Ann is frustrated because two board members stand in opposition to the levies she wants passed. Not only that but one of them is actively campaigning against their passage by pointing out inaccuracies in the District’s propaganda campaign.

Like Art I have no faith in the administrators who are explaining why the levy is needed. I will, however, vote for the levy. I expect to be in a significant minority voting Yes, Yes, Yes.

As Ann writes plaintively:

The upcoming levy could provide much-needed funding to reduce the need for teacher layoffs and to help manage class sizes. It could help update textbook and classroom materials, a growing need in this district, especially in the area of social studies. Many of our social studies materials are approaching 20 years old. A recent textbook adoption for math alone cost about $750,000. A recent reading adoption cost about $1 million.

Too bad Ann was more interested in schools than students when she got on the Board.

Chickens coming home to roost

Today’s Trib was non-stop coverage of a failing school district. I hardly know where to begin except to say that it all began with a vile abuse of trust.

I don’t think the Dixon remnants know how to communicate honestly any more. Its the old story I always give for sticking to the truth – I’m not smart enough to remember my lies. Neither is the District and with the smooth talking Dixon gone none one is left who can soft soap the DNT’s editorial board.

Art Johnston will be made out to be a boogeyman for saying the District’s figures are a sham but the District hasn’t made much of dent against his arguments. Even the Trib’s Education reporter had to say that many of the disagreements between Art and the District can’t even be compared. The two claims he has made that can be measured against each other do suggest that the District is providing self-serving data. 1. That the District has repeatedly exaggerated the cost of inflation and 2 That while the District has made “$24 million” in cuts in recent years that hasn’t actually meant less spending.

Point 2 is pretty bad for the District. What makes it worse is that our District is still spending about the same amount of money it did five years ago despite losing 2,000 students or just under 20% of its students during that time period. Presumably that should mean even more spending per child today and yet the classrooms are far more crowded than ever.

My guess has always been that this is a result of operational money going to pay off Red Plan debt but the District keeps denying this. Where has the money gone then? They’ve got the same money. They’ve got 18% fewer students. But classes bursting through the walls. A healthy dose of truth, no matter how embarassing, is very much in order. Don’t bank on ever getting it from the Dixon crowd.

I’ve said before that I plan to vote “yes” on all three levels of the proposed levy. The District and our kids need the revenue. My prediction is that the District will never see a dime of it. Why?

Throw in the loss of the homestead credit. Throw in a near certain 4.9% school district tax increase that can’t be prevented by referendum and an uncommon City referendum asking for more. Throw in great uncertainty over the European Common Market……. Well. you get the idea.

And by the way, I sort of agree with Frank Wanner that GOP Rep. Garofalo has declared war on our children. They say it takes one to know one. I can’t, however, explain why Frank has such a high opinion of Keith Dixon.

It takes one to know one

Today the letters to the editor really kicked in. That is a phenomenon that always emerges when the general election draws near. It means that the letters are no longer all that important as each one is lost in a sea of ink. The letter I submitted three weeks ago and had to resubmit with alterations nearly a dozen times will fall subject to this as well when it finally shows up.

I didn’t bother to read most of the letters. I looked at the headlines to get the gist and then the names of the authors to see if I knew who they were. I read the ones I recognized. One was from the fellow, Tom Hustad, who filed against me in 2004 the year I had intended to step down from the Board.

Tom’s letter is full of praise for Judy Seliga-Punyko. It must be gratifying to Judy that she no longer needs her family to manufacture Pro Red Plan letters supporting her.

I would like to note with some irony that my first contact with Mr. Hustad was during a Tea Party-like tempest in a teapot. He was one of the East Hockey fans who showed up in large numbers to beat the School Board up for letting the Superintendent replace a coach that treated many of his athletes like losers and fund-raising drones. I remember one particular meeting that Tom raised his finger at then Chairman Robert Mars and made some harsh charges against his friend. I think it was for Bob’s attempt to prevent a long line of critics from speaking to the board and continuing to heap abuse on us. Perhaps because I had successfully prevailed on the majority of the Board to overrule Bob and let the crowd keep on beating us up Tom favored me after the meeting with a little talk. He told me how he and Bob were old friends but that he could tell that Mars was out of it now.

I did feel sorry for Bob after we gave the angry hockey crowd more time because many of them leveled their most ferocious criticism at Mars.

So with that as a preface I’ll post Tom Hustad’s first two paragraphs of today’s letter:

Our country continues to be divided on many important issues. Many of us are disappointed with the anger, lack of civility and lack of reason that is pervasive among us. The best policy decisions generally occur as we come together near the center. This is true with government at all levels.

I learned that well as I served on the Duluth School Board from 2004 to 2008. It was a great learning and giving experience as I represented the 2nd District.

I’m just disappointed with Tom. I thought it took one to know one.

Keep on the Sunny Side

I’ve given Judy Seliga-Punyko a cold, calculating treatment since she bested me in the school board election four years ago. She’s tall, pretty, athletic and was so focused on winning a pink Cadillac from her Mary Kay Cosmetic sales I couldn’t talk her into running for the School Board one year (1999 I think) when we were allies because she wanted to earn a new car.

A lot of water had already rushed under the bridge from that earlier election when she ran for the school board in 2007 as one of Dr. Dixon’s most passionate advocates. She was endorsed as a fresh face by the Trib’s editors when I ran against her and I can’t fault that characterization. This last Sunday the editors in their recap of her endorsement this year wrote some gibberish about her asking tough questions as the Board Chair. That judgement I can fault. I’ve not seen a scintilla of evidence that Judy has asked anything about our blind march behind the now absent Dixon.

In a column she wrote today Judy lists a great many improvements to the Duluth Schools since her election. I think the list is pie in the sky. The only substantial addition to the schools is all day kindergarten which was just one more expense to bleed away other existing programming. The dubious collection of teachers teaching teachers how to teach minority kids are mostly a drain on regular programming. Money spent on them would be better deployed reducing our district’s bloated class sizes. The music and art programs that Judy touts have all been hit hard since Dixon’s regime.

The best evidence of Judy’s blindness is the exodus of a great many ISD 709 students. These students would not have left had their educational opportunies been badly compromised since the inauguration of the Red Plan.

Like Judy, the Red Plan has been all about cosmetics and its only skin deep. This line in her op-ed piece today lays that bare:

I heard how hard it was to bring young families to Duluth because of how aged and outdated our schools were, even if the staff were the best in the state.

Now that we’ve got new schools a lot of those families have sent their children elsewhere.

Finally, a balanced appraisal of Loren Martell…

…in a DNT letter to the editor.

Martell has nothing to gain personally from all of his efforts surrounding the decisions of the School Board, but the community does. Martell has spent countless hours of his own time studying the financials of Independent School District 709, examining the teachers’ contract, delving into the business practices of Johnson Controls and attending all of the School Board meetings for the past four years. He has questioned the School Board when it failed to follow the state’s open meeting law and when constituents’ letters were not made publicly available. He is the watchdog of this race.

Having failed to save the school district millions of dollars…

…JCI is also fighting a ruling requiring them to disclose public data that might help explain where they went wrong in their school building program.

In a continuing David versus Goliath battle, Milwaukee-based Johnson Controls will fight a legal challenge filed by a small Iron Range newspaper seeking records the company has from its work helping to build nearly $80 million worth of new school facilities.

The Ely Timberjay requested records pertaining to Johnson Control’s work for the St. Louis County school district. Johnson Controls refused to release the information, but a state board charged with settling disputes over public information sided with the Timberjay in May.

Johnson Controls, which claims about 142,000 employees worldwide and recorded $34.3 billion in sales in 2010, argued that because it was a private company, the records should be considered confidential trade information. But the state board ruled the records should be released because the work was done for a public entity and was not confidential information.

On the other hand the St. Louis County Schools…..

…has enough money to fight a Court decision that went against them. They want to make it OK for School Boards to sell school referendums to the public and dispense with facts:

[Superintendent Theresa] Strong also reported that the lawsuit filed by Tower Mayor Steve Abrahamson and former clerk Tim Kotzian against the district would be getting a hearing by the Minnesota Supreme Court. That lawsuit charges that ISD 2142 board members were promoting the $78.8 million building referendum. They were, apparently, supposed to not take sides. This lawsuit is getting statewide attention since if it were upheld, it would be difficult for districts to get any referendums passed and could adversely affect education in the state.

I’m not sure if this was from the School Board’s minutes or a news story.

Uncivil civility

The latest letter-to-the-editor alleging that Loren Martell has been incivil has made the Trib. It is the third of a series from women who all have been League of Women Voters types who have been friends and allies for twenty years.

All these women claim to have sat through school board sessions in which Loren was hostile toward the School Board. I can’t say I’ve ever seen Loren raise his voice but I’ve only watched him a couple times. I suspect these writers are all confused about what incivility involves. Criticism is not uncivil. Perseverance is not uncivil. Loren is both

In my opinion hiding public data is uncivil as are shutting off public discussions and spreading lies. So is character assassination. I think all these critics of Loren Martell are treading heavily on the latter offense.

I don’t think that incuriosity is uncivil but I don’t think its virtuous either. After all, we’re talking about school board members who are presumed to be concerned about education and enlightenment. I’d have to say that on this score Loren Martell ranks far above the incumbent he is challenging and the best evidence of this is the column he wrote for the Trib yesterday. I suspect (although it may be uncivil of me to offer this speculation) that the District’s PR person has written most of the stuff that current school board members submit to the Trib to justify their continuing support of the Red Plan.

I’d like to take credit for some of Loren’s perspicacity but he never reads my blog.