Category Archives: 2015 SB election

Shhh, Mum’s the word

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

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

Your Buddy,

My explanation:

Jeez Buddy,

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

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

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

Harry

The Mourning After

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Congenial School Board – thoughts on election day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now go out and vote!

Some hard truths from a man of good will

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ditto, Ditto, Ditto

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can’t fix stupid

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

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

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

Harry:

This, at http://www.duluthnewstribune.com/news/3869249-martell-sandstad-face-district-3-school-board-race, puzzles me:

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

See https://www.revisor.mn.gov/statutes/?id=13D.01, which pertains to meetings of public bodies in Minnesota. Has the Board ordained that its agenda sessions are not to be open to the public?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No grounds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Art Johnston

Duluth

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

In the Dark

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Boop boop diddum daddum WADM Boom

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

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

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

This is a loss of 227 students compared to the start of last year. Continue reading

East against West Pt 1 Stained Glass

God is giving me this wonderful weather. That’s a pretty remarkable thing for an avowed agnostic to say but it’s how I’ve felt for the past two weeks as I’ve gone door to door passing out flyers for my candidates. Today, Monday, will be the same. I got out of bed at 2:30AM and checked the sky for Venus, Mars and Jupiter. Astro Bob wrote that I’ll get a good chance to see them along with Mercury while standing on the fifth member of the inner planets in a couple hours. I can see them because its not overcast, meaning I’ll have another sunny day to feverishly go door to door. I’m not the only one doing this. Loren Martell has done the same. I think he will be rewarded by voters pleased to see a candidate out on the hustings fighting for their vote. Certainly he tells me that, after discovering he lived in the Third District which is largely the Denfeld and Lincoln Park attendance area these residents and voters are as feverish to see justice done as he is. Some background.

I came to Duluth 41 years ago thinking my future lay in politics. To that end I needed to study this city and I never let any scrap of information about Duluth get past me unread. When I had a chat with Greg Fox a couple weeks ago up at the Kirby Ballroom on UMD I was pretty certain that he had in mind the same long Tribune story I had read a few years after arriving in town.

Like many others who are movers and shakers in Duluth Greg, the long time Number 2 administrator at UMD was a Denfeld grad. I made a biting comment about Denfeld’s fate and I saw him narrow his eyes and launch into the story this Tribune article told. It was about Duluth’s demographics. It explained, as Greg explained to me, how the ambitious students in eastern Duluth had for years left town to pursue college never to return while up and coming Denfeld Graduates moved to East Duluth and stayed in town to run it. I suspect I clipped this old article and saved it but, if so, I know not where I might have filed it away.

I’ll stop the history here but come back to it in a later post. What I woke up thinking about this morning is the unpleasant possibility that Denfeld could be abandoned like some ghetto school. Its what I hinted strongly at two years ago when I talked about gangrene spreading from west to east.

The great irony to me is that some of the most loyal Denfeld Alumni seem blind to this possible fate. Continue reading

Don’t walk away Renee

Renee Van Nett made the most compelling argument for her election to the school board early on; that when she comes to a school board meeting she doesn’t see anyone like herself.

Had things worked out differently I can imagine that before our meeting yesterday, I would have put up five Van Nett signs beforehand and not five Alanna Oswald signs. I’ll keep putting up Oswald signs for the next sixteen days but not because Van Nett is not a good candidate. She’s just not Alanna. My unwavering support for Alanna will become more apparent in future posts. I just can’t deny that Renee Van Net is a poster child for children who have been ill served by modern public education as much as she is a model of resilience in the face of great hardship.

When I met Renee at a Coffee House her daughter, Nevada, was playing on her Mother’s cell phone watching videos produced by some crazy Dad who evidently dresses up like Batman while his wife waves a frying pan at him.

We spent about an hour and a half getting to know each other. She met a sort of cerebral, white guy who defined “agnostic” for her. The white guy met a woman who gave him invaluable insights on growing up Native in Minnesota.

I didn’t take notes and it’s not for me to write Renee’s history but I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t mind my sharing a few of the basics which are key to her character. Her Dad came back to the Rez from “the war,” Vietnam, in bad shape. Some combination of Agent Orange and too much alcohol brought about his early death at age 35.

Although born in Red Lake Renee, unlike her father, was not “enrolled” into the Red Lake band. In this she is like many other Native Americans who have tenuous ties to their tribes. She has moved between multiple Ojibwe reservations, the Twin Cities and Duluth through the years. She attended both the Duluth and Fon du Lac schools. In comparing notes it seems she might have been at Washington Junior High in ninth grade about the time I was teaching there in 1984-85. She has taken in foster kids to give the stability she had so little of during her youth.

I don’t know if Renee has ever read my blog but I’m sure someone has brought my previous comments about her to her attention. I haven’t really had much critical to say other than to point out that her cheerleading for our District’s successes seems to be in conflict with her real world experiences. At any rate Renee didn’t seem the least bit concerned by my comments.

I asked Renee what it was like in the Twin Cities with other Native Americans from a variety of Reservations. I got the impression that the main thing that connected many of them was their sense of otherness which also has driven them into the same neighborhoods. This is true of the Ojibwe from different bands and even more true of different Tribes. Renee told me that the Sioux and Ojibwe have kidded each other for generations about their dining habits. Today its kidding but it was more likely taunting a few generations back. The Sioux call the Ojibwe “rabbit eaters” while the Ojibwe call the Sioux “dog eaters.” I asked Renee how long it had been since she had eaten rabbit (I’m not sure she ever has)and pointed out that I’d be surprised to meet any Sioux today who had ever tasted dog.

I teased both Renee and her daughter and poked fun at myself. Nevada, like my grandsons, was too engrossed in the cell phone’s offerings to pay much attention to the adult conversation. I told her how I had put our movie “Zombie Grandson” on youtube and they both wanted to watch it before I could escape. I just told them to type in its title in Google with my last name. Of course, its also on the blog.

Renee strikes me as having a naive but also profound faith that she can find solutions and answers to the problems in our schools. Just as important is a welcome lack of egotism to interfere with finding those solutions. Whatever I might have written about Renee didn’t bother her. If anything it prompted her to ask me to meet with her and I was grateful for the chance. Her erstwhile allies both have two advanced degrees apiece but are keeping their distance from me lest, I suppose, I quote them out of context or say something unflattering about them. About the toughest thing I’ve said to date about either of them is their apparent trepidation to meet with me. Should they be elected they will have to meet me eventually. I can’t help but wonder if they could endure a meeting with a thousand angry Duluthians lined up to lambaste them like I have.

I know both David and Nora have much to offer. At Myers-Wilkin’s forum on Thursday both were asked about their previous experiences with minorities. Dr. Kirby surprised me by saying he had marched with Martin Luther King in Cicero, Illinois. I instantly envied him. My regard for King is so high that he is one of the few American luminaries I regret never having seen in the flesh. Dr. Kirby marched with him.

And I remember that march well. It made the news when I was 15 because someone threw a brick that hit the Reverend’s head. That was 1966 the year I entered high school. It was also the year the Left Banke put their one-hit-wonder “Walk Away Renee” (borrowed for this post’s title) on the pop charts.

Renee’s campaign was handed a blow when the Tribune changed its tune. Prior to the Primary the editorial board lavished praise on Renee. More recently, and to my delight, they lavished praise on Alanna Oswald. In this second endorsement the Trib confidently predicted that Renee would remain and offer valuable help to our schools after the election. I hope the Trib is right. I can’t help but like anyone that tells me I’m funny. I can’t help but respect anyone who has overcome so many obstacles placed in their path and then turned around to help others get past the same obstacles.

A little filler between political and other chores

I only have thirty minutes to add something of note before I head over to the Damiano Soup kitchen to serve lunch. I got up late after a welcome long night’s sleep. I followed that by catching up on some old Tribs I had set aside.

Yesterday, my neighbor, friend and political raconteur Dick Gastler died. I regret I didn’t look in on him recently. Many in the Denfeld family will be in mourning for him and his infamous green leisure suit.

I only tended to politics yesterday when I attended the Myers Wilkins’ forum for school board candidates. Most candidates were pretty evenly matched but I lingered afterward to talk with folks from the three campaigns I’m championing. I also caught up with Renee Van Nett to check that we were still on to meet tonight. We are. Would that the other two candidates had been willing to meet with me prior to the election.

I’ve always said that I’ve never met anyone who ran for the School Board who didn’t have our children’s interest foremost in their mind. That is certainly true of the three board members who are not running for reelection…….who perhaps took their focus off that target over the past year and a half. I’m confident that we will have a much different and more productive board starting next January no matter who is elected.

I promised some important analysis from Alanna Oswald last night but it will take me a while to format that for the blog so that will have to wait. I have crowed about the recent leaps in visitors to this blog but I discovered to my annoyance that they may not all be my target Duluth audience. Among the welter of information my stats gather up are visitors from servers in other nations. In the past few days visits from the Russian Federation have surpassed those of servers in the U.S. This has happened in the past with the Ukraine and China. I don’t trust the visit counts when this happens. It probably just means someone;s computer robot has planted something on my blog that I don’t want in order to attract hits of little consequence.

After lunch I’ll hand out more flyers, this time for Loren Martell and Alanna. I’ll post her research later tonight.

A turkey – the third day in a row with over 1,100 visitors

So a little more on the campaign front to keep folks interested.

I spent yesterday morning finishing up the last few homes on Park Point. It was a lovely day and I found willing takers for Loren Martell and Alanna Oswald signs all the way to the end of the Point. In the afternoon I tackled Arlington Avenue. Signs fairly few out of my car. These folks have not forgotten Central High’s fate despite many calls by Red Planners to Move forward.

At one home a burly young man asked me what happened to his East High. He had been gone to the service for a decade and was astonished to discover what had happened to his old alma mater. His reaction was the same as many others. Why was the high school located in his old junior high?

At the end of the day I stopped by the candidate’s forum at the School Board Room for a couple minutes. Denfeld and East students organized it with a heavy emphasis on the minority students who have fared so poorly in our schools lobbing questions at the candidates. I only stayed for one round of questions but thought Alanna’s explanation about the importance of school to her must have rung true with the students present. School was her home away from home. All the cuts to our schools since her graduation make that more problematic today.

Perhaps the most notable thing about Alanna is her deep knowledge of just how things operate in the schools. She recently got the master class schedules for Duluth’s two high schools and poured through them to make comparisons. She hasn’t shared her study with me but at the forum she pointed out at least one of the differences to East’s advantage over Denfeld. There are many more. I asked her to send me a summary of her discoveries. Much more on this in a day or two.

Here’s the Trib’s story on the forum. There will be another candidate forum tonight at Myers Wilkens Elementary School at 5.

Something new – for a thousand of you

Two days in a row Lincolndemocrat has had over 1,100 visitors. This is better than three times the average of the summer which itself was up from the period before the school board filings opened.

As I wrote two posts ago I am more inclined to put up lawnsigns at the moment than blog but I realize my original eight loyal readers like fresh content and I have a lot of that. I just don’t have the time to spill it out here without some serious proof reading. Knocking on doors gives me lots of new insights. For instance I ran across two families along Park (Minnesota) Point whose children attend East High and not Denfeld which includes the Park Point attendance area. This is good evidence of the squeeze being put on western schools.

It also reminded me that there were no meetings of the attendance appeals committee which I sit on. This committee hears appeals from families who want to send their children to schools outside their attendance area. Two years ago I only heard appeals from a dozen or so families. This year there were none to hear. I can only presume that our administration decided what the heck. Let everyone send their kids to whatever schools they want western schools be damned. That is a presumption only but if it should be true its an abandonment of western schools. Families that want to escape ought to have to fight to justify their flight.

I’ve met only a few folks who narrowed their eyes when I introduced myself. These are folks who have every right to be disgusted with the last year and a half of the School Board. Others raised their eyebrows a bit but otherwise didn’t chastise me. In the harshest cases I always plead guilty. Everyone on the Board, including Art and me, have been part of the dysfunction. I tell people I want to get past it with new colleagues who will be committed to addressing issues like the student attendance at western schools rather than personal feuds or attempts to stifle debate.

This week I’ve attended three fairly brief school board meetings. They were fairly sparsely attended by board members. Because of the Columbus/Indigenous People’s Day interruption in the mail none of us had been able to read the agenda items in advance. Still, we soldiered through.

Yesterday there was a small item about a $46,000 grant from the Northland Foundation. By coincidence this morning’s Mens Group at our church had the Foundation’s new head, Tony Sertich, as its speaker. Tony was born two years after I first ran for office in 1976. When his turn came to run for office his ascent was little short of meteoric compared to my long stall. I followed his career with interest as I have his fellow Xgener Don Ness. He’s a sharp fellow. Perhaps the thing I thought stood out about him was his saying that, like Don, he had taken a look at national office (read Congress) and decided ten years ago that this was not the life for him. Smart.

That reminds me. Stewart Mills is selling off his Fleet Farm business to take up an even more serious run for Congress next year.

I don’t expect Congress to reform next year so I can guess what Mr. Mills will find should he succeed in his quest. I, on the other hand, fully expect our School Board to stop imitating Congress after January when a new board is seated. Wish me, wish us, wish Duluth luck on that score.

Hmmmm. Put up lawnsigns or write for my blog?

I have scads of thoughts to spill out but I’ve decided that Lincolndemocrat’s 450 daily viewers of late pales before the tens of thousands of eyes that pass by lawnsigns on our streets.

I did write a 1200 word rough draft post about the visit of the Supreme Court but, I haven’t got time to proof read it. It may never be posted.

The Trib has endorsed two more school board candidates. Oh I have lots to say about that. Maybe tonight. I’ll summarize here:

David Kirby got the nod for the District two seat as he “shines.” It mentioned his ability to work with all sorts of people. Well, he hasn’t called me back to meet me over coffee. Meanwhile Charles Obige seems to shine too but just not as brightly. Charles gladly met me long before I had any intention of helping him. That’s better evidence of an open mind and heart.

The Trib endorsed Nora Sandstad. As Loren Martell told me she’s right out of Central Casting. But Loren’s column out-shown every other school board candidate’s and took me by surprise with its simple elegant accuracy.

He began:

During candidate forums, my opponent in the 3rd District School Board race sincerely has recited a long wish list for Independent School District 709. She says she will lower class sizes, encourage more physical education and art, restore the music program to what it once was, introduce more language classes, bring back seven periods to the high schools and more.

I don’t doubt Nora Sandstad’s sincerity. I want the same list she wants. A lot of people do. If it was as easy as just wishing for it, everything on the list already would have happened.

What I bring to the table is a creative mind, always rooted in pragmatism. I will wring every bit of good out of the real things I have to work with. For too long, we’ve been led by wishers and dreamers. The entire Red Plan was a wish list with no truth to all its glittery promises. If I had been on the board, the Red Plan contracts never would have been signed.

My warnings concerning the long-range facilities plan were valid, but I won’t flaunt all the evidence. I’ll just wonder why anyone would continue following the side that has been so clearly wrong.

I will confirm the problem that the dreamer, Nora Sandstad, faces. When I was on the Board in 1997 (I’d get more recent data but the 5-2 majority never wanted me rooting around the District’s old records) we levied $22 million in property taxes. $20 million went to the classroom. $2 million went to paying off old building bonds. Today we only put about $10 million of local property taxes into the classroom not the $20 million of 1997. At $90,000 per teacher, per year that’s a loss of 111 teachers. And some of you wonder why our classrooms are so crowded.

But the Red Plan brought our overall levy up each year from that $22 million to $33 million. Today $21 million, not $2 million goes to paying off building bond debt – Red Plan building bond debt. The school board of the recent past was too scared to raise an additional $10 million dollars to pay for their half billion dollar building project so they just borrowed half the cost from the classroom

Good luck Mrs. Sandstad recovering that money for the classroom.

I don’t know if the Duluth Reader put my letter to the editor in today’s Reader but I’ll leave it here for the realists to digest. It goes a long way to explain why, as the Tribune’s editors point out, Loren Martell has sometimes shown flashes of anger at school board meetings:

I don’t have to tell regular readers of the Duluth Reader that they have a ringside seat to the School Board when they catch Loren Martell’s reviews of every school board meeting. Now feel free to take what I am about to ask of you with a grain of salt. I have, after all, been censured by our School Board. That was for telling the public that our attorneys warned us how god awful expensive and ugly any attempt to remove Art Johnston would be. If there was anything they hated more than that advice it was me sharing it with the public.

So, here’s what I ask of you, Loren Martell’s faithful readers. Tell the readers of that other Duluth Paper, the Duluth News Tribune, what a blessing it would be to have the decent, fair minded, insightful and literate Loren Martell on our school board. Now I suppose you can take Loren with a grain of salt like the Tribune’s editors have. The Chairman of the School Board once had him handcuffed at the public’s podium when he shut the microphone off on Loren. I, however, consider that a mark of honor.

It’s not hard to email a letter to the Trib. Just Google “letters to the editor Duluth News Tribune” and send them your 200 words of support for the most knowledgeable candidate running this season. Or, sit back and watch as the folks who tried to remove Art Johnston, censured the two of us and put Loren in handcuffs do their best to perpetuate more of their kind on the Duluth School Board.

Nothing snide please! Be “civil” and tell the truth – Loren Martell would be a godsend for Duluth’s dysfunctional school board.

A fine editorial

This is the most heartening editorial I’ve read about the Duluth Schools in the News Tribune for many years. As I told Alanna Oswald, “It restores my faith in humanity.”

Like others in the Duluth school district, Alanna Oswald has noted with growing consternation the number of Duluth students choosing to enroll elsewhere. The potential for an even greater loss of student population as a result of the proposed opening of an Edison high school has been just as worrisome.

“The only option is to make our schools better,” Oswald wrote during a campaign season that has seen her grow stronger as a candidate. With that commitment, she has become the best choice for voters Nov. 3 in the race for an At Large seat on the Duluth School Board.

The editors of the Trib did what I expect them to do. They did the work of good reporters. I’ll humbly add that they made a better case for Alanna in this editorial than I have in a dozen posts in Lincolndemocrat.

“Fair enough”

So, where have I been for the past couple days? I have a post with nothing in it lined up to talk about the persecution of Art Johnston by a gold star teacher. I know what will go there I just haven’t found the time to write it yet. The person who prompted my last post cut me a lot of slack for not polishing up my posts by accepting my excuse that I was too darned busy to fuss about editing so many words. “Fair enough” my critic wrote. But, I have worked harder for the past month trying to smooth out the worst shambles in my writing. too much is at stake for me to lose credibility with new readers unaccustomed to my blithe disregard for well written posts.

I have been, Well, busy. Continue reading

Thou Shalt Not Rat Out Our Friends“ Part 4

This series of posts begins here:

Twelve years sped by, a couple of superintendents came and went, a half billion school building plan became reality, and a succession of heavily pro Red Plan school board majorities were elected to run roughshod over the pro referendum minorities. Superintendents catering to the majority cultivated subordinates who in some cases disdained the Red Plan’s naysayers. There was an attempt to remove the first naysayer, Gary Glass, but Dr. Keith Dixon who probably brought news of this possibility seems to have thought better of this divisive ploy. Glass is joined for his last two years on the Board by Art Johnston but both remain eunuchs by a five to two vote ratio. Then Art Johnston must forge on for the next two years as alone as Gary Glass had been in his first two years.

As Art faces reelection he becomes the subject of numerous letters-to-the-editor reviling him for not being a good sport when he is constantly denied the data he requests about the Red Plan. Before the filings take place one of the administration’s most ardent loyalists, Cheryl Lien, draws a bead on him.

Cheryl, (the subject of the original Post 2 in this series – since removed) has never been shrinking violet. One former Denfeld student told me that when she swept down the hallways kids stepped aside. One of her fans at East told me two things about Mrs. Lien. First, that she displayed great compassion for students in need. Lien had taken him under her wing when his family life fell apart and helped him get through it. But second, he conceded that she was driven and could be ruthless. Those aren’t his exact words but I think they are close enough.

Art believes that some of our administrators were urged to keep their distance from him. One administrator who told him she was advised to avoid him also told Art the following story as the 2013 campaign drew to a close.

In about May, preceding the candidate filings, the principals union held a gathering at Valentini’s Restaurant and invited Superintendent Gronseth to be their guest. According to Leea Powers, who I found to be calm, rationale and very smart, the Superintendent asked his principals who would find someone to run against Art Johnston.

“I’ve got It covered.” Cheryl Lien volunteered. She had found a young candidate with the magical last name of Minnesota’s longest serving Governor Perpich who would run against Art. If this took place as described it is stunning. I’ve written before about how Duluth Administrators handled school board elections. It wasn’t generally encouraged.

Administrators, especially the Board appointed Superintendent, put their careers on the line when they interfere in school board politics. There is no doubt that exchange like this took place because it was confirmed by Cheryl Lien’s own supervisor, Laurie Knapp, East High School’s long time principal.

Investigator Mary Rice, who interviewed all the principals at this meeting, chose to take a different interpretation than the one offered by Leea Powers, whom Rice characterized as being a “disgruntled” employee. Rice’s preferred interpretation of this event is that Lien’s comment was made in jest. If so, the levity was missed by Leea Powers who had already been told that Art Johnston was persona non grata as far as the Superintendent was concerned.

If Cheryl Lien was joking at the beginning of the election season she wasn’t joking by its conclusion. Many School Board watchers, including me, thought that Art Johnston was toast. He had been assaulted with several bitter letters to the editor accusing him of poor behavior during school board meetings. He had a strong opponent backed by many administration supporters in the PTA. It was, however, a different challenger facing Art than the one Mrs. Lien had taken credit for finding at her union meeting.

Cheryl Lien insisted that it was merely a coincidence that she chose Election Day, 2013, to warn Art Johnston’s partner, Jane Bushey, that she would be keeping a close watch over her in the coming year. Coincidence or not, Jane Bushey took the dreadful message to heart. She began keeping a diary of her interactions with Assistant Principal Lien and kept them up to date until the fateful East High graduation at the conclusion of the school year.

Next: Thou Shalt Not – Part 5

3 AM to 5 AM

A recurring theme of this blog since the Red Plan smacked me up side the head is my disturbed sleep. I crashed just after the ten O’clock news began. Claudia was watching Father Brown on PBS instead of news pablum and I crawled into bed. I know I fell asleep immediately because I didn’t wake up when she finally came to bed. I woke up at 3AM from a dream about the school board race. That was five straight hours of sleep. It probably isn’t considered sufficient to ward off Alzheimer’s but it worked for me.

Five hours of making apple cider probably helped me fall asleep. We got a little over three gallons. (So much easier to buy it in the store.) I’d spent about six hours over the past week repairing damaged cider pressing equipment. The cider is sweet, almost cloying, but its from our tree.

This morning I woke up knowing that I had one last long political job to do before going out and putting up lawnsigns for Alanna and Loren. I have to finish the job of filing six months of paperwork and get it off my floor. Last week’s rainy weather was great for starting this task. I filled up my recycling bin for the Friday pick-up but now have to categorize, label and stuff folders with the remainder. Once that’s done I’ll have the month of October to campaign for some sanity with few distractions.

Very recently I ran across an occasional acquaintance who always starts a good-natured conversation with me about the School Board. He asked me who I thought had done the best at the Chamber forum and I said I thought it was Loren Martell. He told me an acquaintance of his thought Alanna had done the best. I quickly added that I thought Alanna was a close second.

For the record, I’d say Loren had the most to gain. He’s such a known quantity based on his disgraceful treatment by our school board and his resultant microscopic column describing our meetings that his presentation had to be a revelation to his detractors. He was not only knowledgeable and articulate but soft spoken. Unlike Alanna, Loren took a macro look at the District and made so much sense that no one could fault his analysis…..except for me. I think he’s far too optimistic about our ability to lease Central High.

Alanna demonstrated deep knowledge of the District on the micro level – in the classroom with the state laws and federal demands made on our teachers. Alanna also had the most laid back, non threatening, and good-hearted manner whereas Loren was focused.

I was curious about where my occasional acquaintance got his view of the debate and it was apparently one of the DFLers who’s party gave the endorsement to Alanna’s alternative, Renee VanNett. In this DFLer’s view Alanna won hands down. I was gratified to hear this and it echoed what I’d heard from a couple other DFL sources – that the DFL had some buyer’s remorse for their premature endorsement which came before School Board filings opened.

I’m not the only critic of the DFL. The Trib tsk tisked the endorsements a couple months ago. The DFL rushed to replace the discredited members of the school board with new allies for the remaining Art Johnston persecutors. I’ve been quick to point out what I regard as weaknesses in these candidates: prejudgment of Art, failure to attend meetings, refusal to meet with me right here on my blog. As I told my acquaintance this may not encourage these new board members to work with me should they be elected. Oh well.

One more thought about political parties. In a lot of ways political organizations can be “us” organizations like a fraternity or a social club. When this happens they promote their team wholeheartedly without ever acknowledging that there may be other folks who are superior to theirs.

Fortunately for my favored candidates, most voters coming to the polls in November will pay scant attention to the phrase “DFL endorsed” when they cast their ballots. In fact, a lot of today’s fractious school board members were DFL endorsed.

My loyal reader challenges me

Loyal Reader:

Not to repeat Art’s Cassandra-like warnings, but…..is this worth the repercussions of revealing the contents of a closed meeting?

I mean, the shit will hit the fan if you do this, and will it even really help Art? Those who will believe it already believe Art, and those who don’t believe Art aren’t going to believe this anyway.

I admire your commitment to transparency. Truly I do. It’s rare to find an elected official who really WANTS the public to know what government is doing. But this is going to get you in a lot of trouble (fines, maybe, or a lawsuit — a real reason to kick you off the board).

Is it worth it?

Me:

Yes. The truth is its own reward or to paraphrase John 8:32 The truth will set you free. Today John Boehner resigned from the Congress. He’s free. I admire his decision and suspect it was prompted in large part by listening to Pope Francis yesterday call on Congress to behave itself.

When I was checking out the Bible verse that this paraphrase was based on I also saw a waggish riposte: The truth will set you free, but first it will make you miserable.

It’s hard to imagine a more miserable experience than being on this school board since the Duluth East Graduation in 2014. I’ve been sitting on what I feel to be the real story and been rebuffed in my attempts to make peace with the warmongers on the Duluth School Board. I’m so galled that they have poisoned so many people against Art Johnston that quite frankly I would regard their removing me from the Board as a badge of honor.

At this moment one of the candidates for the school board keeps reminding us that one or maybe two board members have been the fount of all our problems. I am quite willing to serve with this candidate but I’ll be damned if he will take office in ignorance of the other side of the story.

Next – Thou Shalt Not 4