Category Archives: 2017 Sch. B. election

Elevating the Duluth School Board

I have not made a school board meeting since my “retirement” in December. I’m grateful that Loren Martell keeps attending. Recently he attended a “retreat” for Board members to get to know each other outside of the Board room. Loren was not impressed.

I will add that Art Johnston and I begged for such a retreat unsuccessfully for three years. Whether the current board members need to introduce each other to themselves seems doubtful.

Loren writes about the facilitator’s recommendation of using “elevator speeches” and acting (feigning?) unity in the face of internal divisions. On the other hand she also advocated openness and seemed taken aback to learn that agenda setting sessions were held behind closed doors with only two board members present. Here’s Martell’s description of her reaction:

“The next thing Ms. Gilman inquired about was the procedure for putting something on the agenda of Board meetings. When she discovered that only two Board members attend the agenda sessions along with the Superintendent’s team, she asked if the meetings were open. When she found out they were closed meetings, hidden from the public, she said, “That would be something to think about.””

To Loren Martell: Je suis vraiment, vraiment désolé

The title is French, my new preoccupation, meaning: I am very, very sorry.

Loren called me to let me know he was very hurt by the beginning of my last post about his column describing our final Business Committee meeting.

He didn’t give me time to apologize and all I could think was that I once again neglected some critical proof reading in my Christmas-time haste. It was true.

I checked and edited the offending implication that I was tired of Loren lecturing me. I was in fact tired of being lectured too by some of my fellow school board members. I know, I know. Its a two way street. I offered a lecture/warning to the new board about the likely inevitability of our District falling into Statutory Operating Debt. This is the video and my lecture comes a little after 2 hours and 40 minutes. I tell the newly elected school board members to begin researching SOD. Annie Harala called my description of this evenings budget cuts “flippant.”

If Loren is in any doubt about my true feelings about his coverage of the Duluth School Board in the Reader they are these:

1. I regret only that Loren never got a chance to be elected to the School Board and display his rich knowledge of our District’s financial situation.
2. I’m grateful for his tenacity, dedication and toil in explaining the long and tedious school board meetings he has attended without fail for a great many years.
3. I will regard him as a friend and ally forever.
4. I pray for his forgiveness of my occasional carelessness……Annie Harala characterized it as flippancy at our last meeting.

Fighting my Blog freeze

I began writing the second fuzzy post on Kindergarten but stopped half way through. I’ll finish it and unlike its predecessor I may even proof read it. Why did I stop? Well, as I’ve confessed before my enthusiasm for writing about the Duluth Schools is significantly blunted at the moment what with Christmas, learning French and preparing to write a book and all. And did I mention I put five hours in starting a snow sculpture yesterday. I have even backtracked on a promise to the Business Office to turn in my post election finance report.

But today Jana Hollingsworth managed to put some special ed cost numbers in the Trib that our District has been unable to scrounge up what with its penchant for picking fights with Edison. I’d like to put that in perspective here and now but I won’t. I have to try to finish a snow sculpture before a noonish Christmas Concert for my grandsons. That’s become another priority over my receding compulsion to write about everything ISD 709.

Its kind of too bad that someone like me has been pushed off the 709 School Board. I am a genuine see-both-sides-of-the-story kind of politician. I want what’s best and fair for both our public school systems in Duluth even though I was elected to serve the larger 709 schools. Now the Superintendent has reinforced his anti-Edison majority which will not bode well for passage of future operational levies. (Why should Edison families vote for 709 operational levies when they feel under assault?)

Edison is quite right to claim that its schools are being scapegoated in the current 709 financial shortfall. But 709 has a legitimate beef. Edison spends twice as much on its special ed students as 709 does and then puts 709 in the position of paying for their more generous special ed spending. That creates a bidding war that 709 can never win with parents determined to get the best education for their special needs children.

But for local taxpayers Edison is something of a godsend. Other than the cross subsidy for special ed almost all of Edison’s financing comes from State taxpayers. To keep the numbers grossly simplified lets say each public school child (not counting special ed kids) costs $10,000 a year to teach. To keep things just as simple lets say that Edison has 1,000 students and ISD 709 has 9,000 for a total of 10,000 students. (In reality Edison has more and 709 less) This would mean that Edison gets $10 million for its kids and ISD 709 $90 million or a total of $100 million.

Normally 709 taxpayers would cover about 20% of the costs of local public school kids while the state would cover about 75% of those costs. Twenty percent of 10,000 students would cost local taxpayers $20 million each year or $2 million for every thousand students. Ah, but the state pays the full freight (not counting the cross subsidy) for Edison’s thousand students. Local taxpayers thus get a $2 million savings. Even when you subtract out the cross subsidy local taxpayers are getting a nice subsidy courtesy of state taxpayers.

That doesn’t mean that 709 doesn’t feel the burn as parents pull their children out of 709 school for Edison’s special education which then bills 709 for its more generous spending. Yes, yes, yes. The state law only lets Edison charge 90% of its special ed costs to 709 but considering they are spending double on each special ed student that’s a very modest break.

I’ll keep things grossly oversimplified again. Assuming that 20% of Edison’s students are special ed students (200 kids) and cost double what 709 spends. And assuming that the costs are $20,000 for Edison SPED students and $10,000 for 709 kids. And then, completely forgetting the 10% reimbursement discount. Edison could demand $4 million from 709 or two million more than 709 would pay to educate Edison’s SPED students if they were all in 709 schools.

The actual numbers can be found in today’s Trib story. To me they strongly suggest that some compromise ought to be sought in state statute. They also suggest another reason for the 709 schools to be resistant to the sale of Central to Edison. Edison would be able to charge special ed costs to 709 for 9th through 12th grade students that currently attend 709. That would be a special ed enrollment jump of about 25% for Edison meaning more costs charged to 709.

It took the News Tribune to ferret out this information and so local 709 junkies can be sorry to see Jana Hollingsworth leave the education beat. There is no trust or cooperation between Edison and 709. The bridge I might have formed has been severed by the voters and that is a loss. My daughter was an Edison SPED teacher for the last couple of years until she left for another Independent School District and, through her eyes, I had an inkling of that took place in Edison. At double the spending of 709 they offer wonderful special ed services but even they have their challenges.

I’ll add one other marvelously oversimplified wrinkle to this story. At present Minnesota taxpayers are able to deduct all of their state and local taxes from their federal tax returns. The Congressional Republicans and President Trump are diminishing that deduction with the soon-to-be approved new tax changes. They don’t want the penurious (cheap) super Republican southern states to look so bad by comparison with Blue states in their public ed spending. I called that the “Deep Southification” of America in a recent post. Its better that northerners are penalized for having better schools. My hero, Lincoln, must be rolling in his Springfield grave over that.

If Minnesotan’s tire of funding the cost of Special Education because they can no longer deduct those costs from their Federal taxes it could be curtains for lots of children. Its too bad that Republicans only care about children when they are in utero instead of after they are born.

Being willing to lose

For the past week I’ve had a post-it note on my keyboard with the phrase “Being willing to lose” stuck to it. It is one of dozens of posts I’ve not posted as I begin turning my attention to my new postschool board life. I’m in the state of metamorphosis and so are my eight loyal readers. My Anti Trump rants seem to have have cost me two regulars who no longer write to challenge or debate me. They’ve gone to their own silos. But others have discovered my blog. A month after the election with very little being posted I’m still averaging 400 peeks a day. That’s a rough doubling from the pre-election numbers.

By the way, its 3 AM. I’ve been sleeping poorly of late and I think its because I haven’t been posting. Spending an hour or two during the day emptying my head onto the Internet seems to let me sleep through the night. Therefore, not blogging about the School Board or the titanic national political climate has been a poor option for me. I need the sleep if for no other reason than to fend off dementia. Look what the absence of sleep has done for our President!

I recycled a file cabinet’s worth of School Board meeting books yesterday. It felt good if not quite final. I’m keeping that campaign account open for two years from now and have even disclosed that fact to Claudia. “Why would you want to run again?” she asked me. That’s a good question that I’ll answer in a couple years if I still have that burr under my saddle.

I’ve stuck all the remaining School Board related materials in one corner of my office to sort through. I still owe the public and our CFO’s executive secretary one last campaign finance report. She gently warned me I was late with it a couple days ago. It was due December 7th. She also told me that not turning it in put my status as her favorite school board member in jeopardy. I’ve told her before that I suspect she says the same thing to all the other school board members – about my being her favorite. As for the current delay I explained that this date has long been noted as a “Day of Infamy.”

Other than stewing about the world’s, and the school district’s problems at night I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my pending status as a free man. I just started my third holiday jigsaw puzzle. I’ve decorated the house for Christmas. I’ve made more time for my grandsons. I’ve made my lawn ready for Winter. I’ve been reading books and the New York Times. And, I’ve decided to take up French. Now that I’m free from the school board I intend to write about my Grandfather a century after his militarily service in France. Claudia and I have begun looking at trips we might take to Ooh La La land. I’ve found it very easy to get lost in the French language App Duolingo. I’ve got s’il vous plait down, finally, thank you very much.

Tonight our grandsons were over and we watched Home Alone with them. Its the first time I’d seen it in twenty years. Oh that Culkin was cute. Afterward we baked Gingerbread Cookie, Xmas ornaments. Tomorrow we will go to church to rehearse Sunday’s children’s service with a Christmas pageant. School Board! What’s that?

After showers and a very late nine O’clock bedtime I read the boys a small slice of my blog’s “Harry’s Diary” from three years, ten days ago. They were a big part of that post – the day my Mother died. I didn’t write it for children but I did write it for them much as my Mother sat me down and told me family stories. If I write that book about my Grandfather Mom will be my co-author. As I did the day Mom died I sang Good King Wenceslas to the boys after I finished reading them the post. Then I went downstairs to watch Washington Week in Review with Claudia. Hooray for Alabama!

Oh, and about this post’s title. I began my political career 16 election campaigns ago with the idea that I had an obligation to make clear what I stood for and that this obligation took precedence over getting elected. I hate the idea of keeping one’s political agenda to oneself for fear of losing an election. For instance, I’d be embarrassed to let the people of Duluth think I was open minded about selling an empty ten million dollar albatross to a competitor. That’s the modus operandi of our probable next school board chair.

With my retirement the blog will have far fewer revelations about the Duluth Schools which will make our Superintendent happy. He set his wife and the union to work to elect a more compliant school board and succeeded mightily. Now he has a lot more positivity to deal with the two million shortfall he recently revealed to the world.

Here’s one of Jana Hollingsworth’s last stories as the Trib’s Education Reporter on the District’s attempts to solve its financial difficulties.

Not my problem. My last meeting is Tuesday night.

I lost. I’m free.

The Esko Girl was missing

There was one noteworthy absence from yesterday’s special School Board meeting to give the Western School Equity group a public hearing – the newly elected representative of the Denfeld area.

A short while ago I spent an evening in the Duluth Public Library looking through the annuals of Duluth’s high schools to get a better picture of the many connections between current poobahs in the Duluth Schools. I looked through a great many Denfeld books trying to figure out which class Jill Lofald had been a member of. When I failed to find any evidence of her I was puzzled. During every public forum I was at Jill made it sound like she was Denfeld born and bred not just a long time Denfeld teacher. When I asked a friend about this they pointed out that Jill graduated from Esko’s schools. I guess I should have figured that out in advance because her older sister was a member of the Esko school board.

The meeting itself turned out to be a much bigger deal than I had anticipated. Alanna Oswald, Art Johnston and I had originally wanted no more than to let the equity group sit with us at a school board committee meeting to talk with us. When our Administration and its majority on the school board did its best to thwart this discussion the three of us once again made use of the State statute allowing three board members to call a special meeting. It was the Central High School sale discussion all over again with a large audience of concerned citizens.

Board member elect Josh Gorham was at the meeting. He’s been a regular at our meetings for a couple months now. I even saw Sally Trnka briefly when she hugged her old rival Dana Krivogorsky who had been watching the meeting on youtube before she arrived to watch the meeting in person for the last hour and a half.

There were a lot of Denfeldites at the meeting as well. At the beginning of the hour the three meeting callers had to plead with the majority to allow the equity folks get that chance to have an exchange of information and discussion as Chair Kirby seemed intent on limiting non-school board members limited to the three minutes they have at our regular public comment portion of school board meetings. We managed to soften up the opposition to this so that Kevin Skirwa-Brown and others managed to say just about everything they wanted to the School Board.

But the discussion included a couple of eastern parents who spoke in support of continuing to spend the western kid’s money to keep eastern class sizes small. They had been whipped up to attend by reelected member Rosie Loeffler-Kemp to counteract the lobbying by the western parents. Their appeals did not do them much credit and took on a very NIMBY tone even when they bent over backward to try and sound fair minded. Fortunately, one Eastern parent who described himself as a “cake” (East High cake eater) took the opposite approach expressing embarrassment that his kids got to have poor kid’s money spent on them. I thanked him after the meeting.

These comments brought two more Denfeld supporters out to stick up for the work of the equity folks. Dr. Mary Owens spoke eloquently about this being an issue of Justice. At the end of the meeting I told her that if she ever wanted to run for the school board I would be her campaign manager. Denfeld grad and teacher Tom Tusken also spoke forcefully and mentioned that anyone who thought there were small classes at Denfeld should sit in his class of 37 kids.

Jill Lofald’s neice Jana Hollingsworth was at one of her last school board meetings and wrote a fair news story about it for today’s Trib. Its one of her last because the Trib has concluded that her familial relationship with Jill will call her journalistic impartiality into question. Someone new will become the education reporter for the Trib and that’s too bad because it takes a reporter years to figure out the complicated story of our schools. When I served on the Board in my first incarnation near the end of the golden era of Newspapers the Trib had three education reporters. Its too bad that Ms. Lofald’s election will put the school district on the Trib’s back burner. I suspect the Superintendent and the majority of School Board members will breath a sigh of relief.

The new allure of Books and Bombs

A few minutes ago I grabbed my gym bag and got ready to head to a pool to swim laps. Swimming a thousand yards seemed vastlp preferable to continuing to pick up my office and sort through the detritus of my recent campaign. Trouble was I forgot that I had taken my second car in to put on snow tires. Claudia was with her book club so I disconsolately tromped back up to my office and turned on Pandora to listen to the Arron Copland station I created to write blog posts. I’ve been putting off my eight loyal readers for almost a week now satisfied to leave the most recent post where it was rather than cover it up with a string of less important additions.

Its only about 1200 words but they were very personal to me and I was very pleased with what I’d written. On the other hand I often second guess myself after such posts, even those I go over carefully edit. With some trepidation I just reread it and other than finding the word “sexed” instead of “sex” in the next to last paragraph I found it every bit as satisfying as I remember feeling about it upon first posting it.

I have often pulled my punches for the past four years of being a school board member. I know that this statement will shock a few people that I’ve written about but I have. Pulling punches is a habit. Abe Lincoln would write hot letters to his critics but then put them in his hat to think on and usually discarding them a short while later. The act of writing a response settled him down although he had as long a memory as any other person. He put up with his Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P Chase for a couple years because he had not practical option to dump the man who was helping figure out the complicated financing of the Civil War. But when the opportunity to dump Chase turned up he did so without a second thought…….except that he also gave Chase, who desperately wanted to be President, a royal send off making appointing him Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Not a bad second act for the politically duplicitous Chase who nevertheless shared many of Lincoln’s political views.

Just before his assassination Lincoln was talking about traveling abroad for the first time in his life with Mary Todd Lincoln. He was ready for a second act himself which, however, would not be over for another four years of his second term. That never came to pass. His second act was as Martyr to the cause and civic saint.

My second act is about to start in a month’s time and I’m already slipping into it comfortably. I started growing a beard, still seedy at this early point, at my youngest grandson’s request. Maybe no one will recognize me. I have stopped hoarding unread Duluth News Tribunes and will end a 22 year habit of clipping out every article about the Duluth Schools. I’m even tossing my school board meeting books. Twelve three quarter inch books for each month for four years will empty out a file cabinet drawer.

I’ve resumed reading. I just finished listening to a book my daughter raved about by Trevor Noah, “Born a Crime.” Actually I listened to it as an audible book while I put together my first jigsaw puzzle of our Holiday Season. Actually its not done yet. I have about 200 of the 1,000 pieces left to insert. Its a hellish puzzle we stated a year ago and which I kept intact to finish this season out of sheer stubbornness. I’ve got another five puzzles after it to keep working on after I finish it. This is how it looked when I started but by now almost all of R2D2 has been completed:

Noah’s book is a marvel and a far cry from Alan Patton’s Cry the Beloved Country which may be the last full book I’ve read about South Africa and that was almost fifty years ago.

I’ve complained a couple of times about how the campaign was so all consuming that it put an end to my book reading for a couple months. Actually I’ve read a fair number of books in 2017 many about China. (I just added Trevor’s book to the list and Lynne Olson’s as well even though I still have another 74 pages to finish.)

I’ve got a couple of Pulitzer Histories that are half way done which I’d like to add to the list. Meacham’s book on Andrew Jackson and Tuchman’s on Vinegar Joe Stillwell and a book about the financiers behind the recorporatizing of American Politics, Jane Mayer’s Dark Money. They will have to wait however as I’ve finally finished a chapter in Back Over There by a World War I enthusiast Richard Rubin. Remember, I’m hot to write a book myself next year about my war hero grandfather. He’s already made it into the blog with over 40 posts.

As part of my research I’m keen to travel to France and walk the battle grounds of the Meuse-Argonne. That’s what Rubin’s book is about. It was a helluva war and this tidbit from Rubin puts it into perspective. Experts say that the unexploded bombs and shells of the Great War still lying in the old battlefields exceeds all of the bombs and shells expended in the Second World War. Farmers don’t much mind collectors going through their lands, after asking permission first, because they can spray paint the old bombs that turn up in the wake of a tractor, orange.

I don’t have much interest in blowing my leg off collecting old buttons and cartridges but I’d like to get a gander at the land my Grandfather spent almost all of 1918 defending. I’d rather begin preparing for that more than I would tonight’s meeting about our use of Compensatory Education funds to keep parents in eastern schools happy.

Our Little Thing – 2, Addendum

It is time for me to confess that Mary Rice, the attorney hired by the district to defame Art Johnston, was right to stress that I didn’t have perfect recall about what took place in 2004. Its because the accurate information was never entered into the record that I have just cast aspersions on those who did know what in fact had taken place.

I was probably wrong about the person I was sure had attempted to suborn a witness to give false testimony. The Duluth News Tribune made that clear a few weeks ago with information that was a surprise to me.

It now seems that, despite my imminent retirement, one school board member with good recall of what took place in 2004 will remain on the Duluth School Board.

Our little thing – 2

Last spring I learned that my daughter was applying for a position with the Duluth Schools. I quietly cringed but said nothing. There is more than a whiff of favoritism about our District which only seems to have intensified during the Keith Dixon years. I would hate to have my daughter suffer for my perceived crimes.

The thing I regret most over the past four years was my reluctance to visit schools early on. I stayed out of them because I had taken Art Johnston’s side in an almost unfathomable war and was worried that my comings and goings would be reported to higher-ups who would not forget the transgressors willing to talk with me. It’s often said that no good deed goes unpunished and associating with lepers is not popular.

Sometimes it was painfully obvious that the District’s employees felt the same. For instance, I made a date to speak with one principal but when I arrived at the office learned that she had decided to travel up the North Shore with her husband instead. She had called my land line to warn me but I rarely answer that phone anymore and missed the heads up.

In recent weeks something else has become painfully apparent to me. When I was defending Art Johnston back in 2014 one Board member had inside knowledge that could have supported a claim I made to the investigating attorney hired to flay Art Johnston alive. I gave evidence of an earlier attempt to give false testimony to the District by one of the chief witnesses against Board member Johnston. That employee’s former boss was on the Board with me and read the claim but never stepped in to support my testimony. He also helped the same employee exit her school gracefully after her colleagues learned of her actions. She later became an administrator and once again supplied misinformation, in an attempt to give the School Board grounds to remove Art Johnston.

Old friendships die hard in our District and it pays to be a favorite.

The night the attorney made her report to the School Board I ended up looking like a fool by attempting to act out what I guessed had taken place after the East High School graduation. My mistake may have given the Board more confidence to embark on the futile year-long fight to remove Art Johnston that would mar our reputation and waste $200,000.

For a long time I believed that Mike Miernicki had honestly described his interaction with Art Johnston following Art’s argument with the Superintendent. I no longer believe Mike was being honest. I know Mike willingly, if reluctantly, agreed to make racism one of the complaints against Art. They were the foul harvest of a spy network set up by the staff member who had attempted to subvert the 2004 investigation.

This is what I now suspect happened on that fateful night. Art Johnston found Mike Miernicki and expressed his outrage with the Superintendent for the harassment of his long-time partner. Shortly after this Mike was besieged by three irate female Board members who insisted that Art had assaulted the Superintendent. (The Superintendent himself denied any assault) In an attempt at gallantry Mike embellished his account of being accosted by Art explaining how he had been spun around. That charge forced his best friend, the former supervisor of the spy mistress, to either back Mike up or undermine Mike’s testimony. I believe friendship prevailed once again and recall how uncharacteristically passionate Principal Westholm was in defending his own honesty.

Of course, Mr. Miernicki suffered a few slings and arrows himself during the two years he fruitlessly attempted to kick Art off the Board and I’m sure he nursed his wounds carefully. He wrote two savage critiques of Art this election season. One came before the primary and the second arrived before the general election. And the false claims leveled against Art will not die in the public imagination.

During the campaign the spouse of one of the “positive” candidates posted on Facebook the claim that Art had assaulted Bill Gronseth. When the spouse was informed of her mistake she took the post down with a replacement explaining that she guessed she had gotten in trouble for posting it. She chose not to admit any mistake.

It is important to discredit such uninformed thinking and to make sure the heads of our new school board members stay free of fog. They will face enough of it for the next four years.

I’ve been lauding the book “Last Hope Island” a lot lately and I’m reminded of the story it tells of Czech President Edvard Benes. The British forced Benes to hand Czechoslovakia to Hitler at Munich. Fleeing to England afterwards Benes was ill used by the British government which blamed the Czechs for not defending themselves even though they agreed to let Hitler take it over. One British diplomat said of Benes’s treatment that it was “a tragic illustration of the dislike that men feel for those whom they have wronged.”

Et tu, Mike?

Our little thing – 1

A quick search on Wikipedia tells me that “little” is not originally part of the Sicilian Mafia’s term for itself, “our thing” or “Cosa Nostra.” I’m not sure where the “little” came from but since I’m talking about our public school hierarchy here rather than organized crime its seems more appropriate and less threatening to insert the qualifier “little.” We educate children. We don’t put people’s feet into cement before tossing them over a bridge into a river. Although, come to think of it, IV Foster might beg to differ.

This is a topic I’ve covered before. To commence this post I began by entering the term “parking pass” into my search engine which led me to a post I recalled composing a few years back in which I made this assertion:

I have felt for a long time that there is an unhealthy favoritism riddling the Duluth Schools which I believe is corrosive. I’m just not sure that my corrosive criticism will make things better. I’ll try to stick to simple criticism from now on.

And this led me to the post preceding it which I began by grimly describing how our closest relatives, chimpanzees, reacted to perceived unfairness. Its always a surprise to jump back and read my old posts. Continue reading

End of the Campaign odds’n ends

I’m not yet ready to start my new life free from the School Board. The final step will be to put all the campaign debris on the floor of my office away. That won’t take too long because I’ve already done it a couple of times earlier when it was a major task. Perhaps the biggest thing I’ve begun doing to pull myself away is to begin reading aloud a new book to Claudia. I’ve said before that Last Hope Island is great. I’m about half through it. There have been several stories in it with pithy commentary about human frailty that I couldn’t help but associate with the campaign and the Duluth School Board. Those associations are among about ten items I’ve jotted down on a pocket sized note pad that are begging me to become future posts.

My readers are slipping away. What had peaked at over 600 has been winnowed down to 377 undernourished daily visits. Undernourished because I’ve not posted regularly. I suspect I won’t be able to help myself commenting on the School District over the next two years despite my yearning to write a history book or two. I’ve even mentioned to the publisher of the Duluth Reader an interest in writing about the Board. I told him a column might be called the “Minority Report” but frankly, I’m too eclectic to want to limit myself to writing about the School Board. A better name might riff on my old column’s name Not Eudora Redux. The Reader has a lot more eyes than my blog and I’d like that. Continue reading

The 2017 election’s good news a post mortem and a caution or two

A week ago I wanted to begin a post by writing that my defeat for School Board was a small price to pay for the successes of the Democrats in many regional elections. I attribute my defeat mostly to President Trump and the outrage he has caused and continues to cause as President. I anticipated that I could have a very difficult time with the election after I participated in the woman’s march early in the year simply because I was a man. That proved not to be the case as Josh Gorham won handily enough so it was something else that drove the numbers. (One woman’s organization did pester me)

Angry Democrats just would not give up. Continue reading

Anticlimactic Moody Mulch meeting and a jab back at the editors of the Trib

I am beginning my posts today with a throw away post about yesterday’s Business Committee meeting. I post it because I’ve tried to provide my ISD 709 wonks with ongoing information about the concerns of the District and mulch and District finances have both been part of that. But for me the first half of this post is strictly a chore. In eight weeks I’ll be free from an almost oppressive sense of obligation to keep readers informed.

So, here’s today’s News Trib story from soon to depart education reporter Jana Hollingsworth. (She won’t be allowed to report on ISD 709 while her Aunt sits on the Board) The headline, which Jana and her predecessors have always stressed are not the reporter’s to write, trumpets reduced costs for the mulch. In short, a simplified plan made for a $60,000 reduction in the million dollar project. This made it a little easier to swallow a $12,000 “change order “addition for the company overseeing the mulch replacement as they designed the simpler plan. Only Art Johnston objected and his qualms may be justified, however, for me this is not a battle I choose to continue.

The bigger deal was having our bond adviser explain to us how the Moody’s Investment Service downgrade of our financial status affected our borrowing for what is now to be called the Rockridge Academy. Steven Pumper said two things I found difficult to square. In response to my questioning about whether it was ultimately the state or the District taxpayers that were on the hook for bonds (or COP) repayments he explained that it fell on the state’s shoulders. He added that this meant that there was really no reason for our bonds to be downgraded forcing us to pay higher interest rates. However, he explained, Moody’s was simply giving bond buyers information that managed to raise our interest rates based on (and here I’ll insert my own words) the dimwittedness of ISD 709’s financing which has left us with virtually no reserve cushion. That last sentence almost deserves an exclamation point.

What makes this post worthwhile to me is a chance to point fingers back at the editors of the News Tribune who gratuitously gave Art Johnston and me a swift kick in the posterior the day after the election results were announced saying of us:

“Also Tuesday, voters picked a positive fresh start for the Duluth School Board, rejecting doomsday-trumpeting incumbents in favor of elected leaders who said they wouldn’t ignore the district’s very real challenges, including financial ones, but committed to working together toward solutions. It’s on the new board now to do just that. They can be held accountable, even if the task is thankless and won’t be easy.”

I consider myself an optimist not a doomsdayer. But optimism must be earned by realistically evaluating current situations. Our financially crippled Duluth Schools will continue to give lots of kids an education which will launch them into successful lives. But there will be fewer successful launches while the District lacks the adult contact time that many of our students need. That’s not a catastrophic tire blow out but it is a slow leak. Rather, I’ve always considered myself a “Cassandra.” She was an ancient Greek prophetess who predicted the future but was cursed by Apollo who made sure that no one would ever believe her prophecies.

FINGER POINT —> the Editors of the Trib who failed to heed my warnings are also flattering me by imitation by explaining opiningthat Duluth may not get permission from St. Paul to implement the sales taxes for street repair despite a whopping 76% yes vote in the recent election. As in my case I think the Editors are simply being prudent not doomsayers when they point out this glaring fact:

“It’s a good question, especially on the heels of a 31 percent water rate increase in Duluth, a 9 percent electric rate increase, revaluations of properties that are driving up property taxes by as much as 30 percent, and the coming unknown costs from Superior Street’s reconstruction and the Steam Plant’s conversion.

Like Duluth’s residents, businesses can only be asked to give so much. While fixing potholed streets is a basic city service and something voters Tuesday clearly declared as a do-it-now priority, workplace benefits are appropriately left to employer-employee negotiations. Government intervention here is government overreach. Calling on elected leaders to pick up the slack where union negotiators fail is inappropriate.”

A few weeks back I wrote a very modest column which I meant to keep the eyes of our next school board faced on the realities they will deal with so as not to find themselves mired in impossible promises to make the Duluth Schools the best schools in the nation. In that column I noted that twenty years ago local taxpayers put $14 million into our classrooms. Today we only put $2.5 million into them. That burden no longer rests on my shoulders and I’ll confess this is the first time in ten years that I’ve felt free from the responsibility of fixing things since I first predicted the District’s unhappy future.

Oh, I am not done blogging –

I’ve done a lot of thinking and had a number of things to write about among them…..

uprooting lawnsigns and my keeping my bank account and options open

Post mortem

“Doomsday” Cassandra, Prophecy

2016 and The good news

Western Lens wakes up?

… Its taken me a little time to come up with a sound analysis of the results and consequences of the recent election and settle on my likely future plans. But I find that I have more fire to blog early in the morning. Instead I went swimming at the Fitness Center and resumed reading that fascinating little book to Claudia I mentioned a short while ago about England as an Island of Hope during the Second World War. I found myself identifying with the leaders of all the nations overrun by the German blitzkrieg.

But its dark out and I’m not in the mood to post at the moment. I may not be tomorrow morning either as it turns out. Claudia just told me that tomorrow is the last day of the Minnesota History Museum’s World War 1 exhibit. We decided to go see it. I’ve missed writing about that war and my grandfather as I campaigned this summer. I will now have two years of vacation from public service – at least. Maybe a book will escape from my fingers.

Eternal Vigilance

I have had a night to sleep on the final words of my last post:

“I have no plans to comment on the Duluth Schools very much in the future. It’s time for me to write a book.

Sayonara.”

I am reconsidering this. The words that ring in my ear are these: “The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.” The last ten years of watching the Duluth School Board and its recent Superintendents have driven this point home to me. For instance:

I blogged a few days ago about the special meeting Alanna Oswald, Art Johnston and I called, under the provisions of Minnesota’s state statutes, about the expenditure of Compensatory Education funds in the western schools. We called it for November 15th at 5 O’Clock in the Board room. I took letters to be mailed to all of the school board members into the Superintendent for his executive secretary to mail to board members to make this official. The letters were not mailed out according to my request and according to the statutory provisions. The time was also changed to 4:00 from our designated time of 5:00. Par for the course.

I’ve mentioned to a very few people what I will now declare to the blog. I told Superintendent Gronseth that I knew we didn’t trust each other at a meeting a month or two ago. He doesn’t trust me because I blog. I don’t trust him because of stunts like this. By making it appear that the Administration has called the meeting and by not sending out the letters I took to his executive secretary it makes it seem as though the Superintendent will be in charge of our agenda. I don’t know that this is what he’s planning but it would be easier for him to endure our complaints should he decide to set the agenda for our meeting now that Art and I will not be returning the the School Board. That leaves Alanna Oswald, our fairly regular ally, at the mercy of the majority and in the same unenviable position that Art Johnston was in for the two years before I was elected – a lone voice of reason doomed to be ignored. That the Superintendent may be starting this with two months left of our tenure is unpalatable to me to say the least.

My plan is to begin writing a book having nothing to do with the School Board. Not campaigning every living hour will make this possible and still leave me time to report on the happenings of the Duluth School Board. I expect that Loren Martell will give up that ghost. He too has been operating on fumes for the past couple of years. But I will not leave Alanna Oswald to the mercies of a system that has been incredibly cruel and myopic to dissenters. I’ll be happy to pass on a minority report especially as I’m leaving two very good eyes on the Board as I depart it.

Time will tell whether the new Board with the machiavellian Rosie Loeffler-Kemp and Superintendent in charge will allow Alanna to be run over by its freight train. I like and trust David Kirby and Nora Sandstad and am convinced of Sally Trnka’s good intentions. About the others I have my doubts which I will share with far more candor than even my eight loyal readers have grown accustomed to.

As a friend who offered me condolences in a text said, this Board will have a very hard time overcoming the difficult problems my blog and my campaign have taken pains to enumerate. Ah yes, I allowed, but that doesn’t mean our new school board can’t make things a lot worse by making stupid decisions. Perhaps while I’m writing that book I’ve been pining to begin, I can keep the School Board on its toes and make sure it doesn’t pull an Art Johnston on Alanna.

Sayonara

I got a very sweet phone message from Sally Trnka commending me for my service and telling me how nice it was to get to know me through the campaign.

I left a message back and commented that her call was very nice and that under the traditional roles it should have been me as the defeated candidate making a call to her.

I told her she had a good attitude that I was sure would serve her well and wished her the best of luck serving Duluth.

I have no plans to comment on the Duluth Schools very much in the future. It’s time for me to write a book.

Sayonara.

Harry’s Gang

I had about 1000 pieces of literature to drop on this the final day of campaigning. I fell short only dropping about 600 of them. I only failed to stuff 500 envelopes and they are next to the 400 I just emptied that I ran out of time to pass out on the East Hillside. There were 31 of these boxes of 500 envelopes which I stuffed at night until near bursting. I got 29 boxes of envelopes crammed with lit dropped.

I started just after 9 which would have been 8AM before daylight savings kicked in yesterday. I got 18,000 steps in before I had to call it a day and drive to Cloquet to be on Harry’s Gang at 4PM. I finished e 4th Street which I had skipped a month ago to hunt for lawnsign locations. By the time I got to the street today I didn’t have anymore lawnsigns left. I did notice these hoof prints in the cement which was laid down a couple weeks ago.

Some guy got jail time for writing his name in fresh cement recently. Its not fair that deer are made the exceptions. Oh Wait! I forgot. Its still their hunting season.

I managed to find Cloquet Public access television in their high school. At five we were seated, Cloquet Attorney, Pete Radosovich, Jill’s sister Patty Murto, a Barnum school board member Mike Line and me. I understand you could watch our hour long talk already on youtube. Its CAT7TV……This is as close as I’m going to come tonight finding it. Maybe I’ll look again tomorrow.

Near the end of the broadcast Mr. Radosovich asked us if we had any opinions on the Jill Lofald Art Johnston race. I said I’d prefer not to weigh in on that. Its gotten a little hot on Facebook lately. We dusted the topic off a bit but I don’t think anyone was damaged.

At the end of the interview I got a surprise from Mr. Radosovich, Attorney Radosovich. He handed me an envelope and I presumed it was full of agreements assuring CAT 7 TV that I didn’t mind them putting me up on the television. But the words I heard were different. I tore the envelope open roughly before realizing that I was being served a document from Mr. Radosovich for a lawsuit he was preparing against the Duluth School District. It was so unexpected I couldn’t help but laugh…..about being served after shooting a talk show. It was a little like showing up at a Thanksgiving feast and discovering that I was the turkey.

I will tape the envelope back up and take it into the Business Office tomorrow – unread .

Hillside Stories

Three months of walking Duluth will come to an end today. Looking at the city-wide map I’ve been marking in I’d guess that amounts to 40% of the city. By the time you count similar travels through 20 previous election campaigns there are very few corners of Duluth I haven’t seen.

Although I’m not knocking on many doors I have fascinating little chats with people every day while finding surprising connections. Yesterday was no exception. I began at the top of Lake Avenue passing out flyers in a spot I’d covered door-to-door 41 years ago when I first ran against Mike Jaros. Although the steps were covered with ice and snow my legs, thirteen years shy of becoming the legs of an eighty-year-old, did surprisingly well left foot be damned.

In one of the gems built since those ancient days with a spectacular view I paused take it all in. The homeowner saw me and invited in “to warm up.” He looked a little familiar. Like the other stories here today I’ll be vague so that few will be able to tell who he was but when he introduced himself I knew immediately what my connection with him was. Continue reading

“Dear Fellow Sufferers”

The paper version of the DNT today ended its extensive letters to the editor with an unintentionally funny critique of me from a Mr. Paul Podemski. Sadly I can’t find it in the online version but while looking for Mr. Podemski I discovered that he and his wife wrote a glowing letter endorsing Jill Lofald back in June. Its Jill’s older sister that has been waving my fund raising letter around telling everyone that I have violated the law asking for donations for the several candidates I’ve been championing. No doubt echoing Patty Murto’s concerns Mr. Podemski can’t quite bring himself to say I broke the law. He simply wonders if I might have. Maybe he’ll be the person to take Jill’s sister’s advice and plunk down the money to file a complaint against me.

Here’s his letter:

Reject abusive, pushy candidates

I received a campaign letter from Duluth School Board incumbent Harry Welty. It opened with the salutation, “Dear fellow sufferers.” Unreal. Who writes a letter with that kind of greeting?

The body of the letter included a claim that board member Art Johnston was forced to spend $75,000 to defend his position on the School Board. School Board members receive a payment of $630 a month, which amounts to $7,560 per year. Who in their right mind spends $75,000 to try to keep a job that pays $7,560? Welty has said he helped Johnston cover some of this cost. Anyone spending that kind of money to save a job that pays $630 a month should not be allowed anywhere near a checkbook – let alone one with taxpayers’ money in it.

Welty’s letter also indicated he was sharing campaign donations with Johnston and with School Board candidates Dana Krivogorsky and Kurt Kuehn. I wonder if this is appropriate. [sic]

Duluth, it’s time to wake up. There are many excellent candidates running this year who can communicate with other board members without having to use verbal attacks or without having to push someone to get their point across.

Paul E Podemski
Duluth

My eyes are still rolling at every sentence. Paul has no sense of the value of an election – the abuse of the power of censure -the costs to defend oneself in the face of a year’s worth of baseless allegations spread across the front pages of the local newspaper or, for that matter, campaign finance. He might ask Patty just who it was that asked her sister to appeal to a young lady not to compromise the reputation of an alleged assailant. It might help Paul come to understand the value of something as intangible as “reputation.”

As for “sufferers” its hard to keep track of them all: Taxpayers forced pay for a huge vanity project that has blown up in the City’s face. Voters who were bypassed with the denial of a referendum. Children who lost teacher contact time when earlier school board’s traded 200 teachers for new schools. Parents witnessing a stubborn gap between the success of rich and poor children. Residents of West Duluth who are finding their schools compromised and children exiting for neighboring school districts.

Here’s my letter which I sent to the 4000 people (all sufferers who donated to Let Duluth Vote to challenge our arrogant past school board in court over their Red Plan):

Dear fellow sufferers,

After ten long years its high time that the Red Planner’s death grip on the Duluth School Board is pried off.

You were with me when we demanded a vote on the half-billion spending plan. You saw the School Board thumb its nose at democracy by refusing a referendum and then attempting to remove your champion Art Johnston on phony charges. You saw their promises of an economical plan blow up into classes of 40 students and a mass exit of our students to neighboring districts. You saw them refuse to sell our white elephant buildings which continue to drain our district years after their debacle. All they offer now is cheerleading but the team they are cheering for has a 0 – 10 losing record.

What the Red Planners have done is best illustrated by the twenty years between my second year on the school board in 1997 and today, 2017. In 1997 local taxes for the Duluth Schools were $23 million dollars. Of this $14 million was spent in the classroom. This year our taxes are $31 million but of this only $2.5 million is spent in the classroom.

The Red Planner’s candidates are flush with money from the Democrat Party and Labor Unions. Our candidates are flush with good ideas and elbow grease. We desperately need some help to finally put the school board’s majority into the hands of sensible representatives who respect the public.

We must support Art Johnston, who was forced to personally spend $75,000 dollars to defend the election that put him on the school board. We must support Dana Krivogorsky who, like me, is running for one of two district-wide seats. We must support Kurt Kuehn who is running against the last remaining board member, Rosie Loeffler-Kemp, who tried to remove Art Johnston.

We are pooling our resources so I’m asking you to send a check to my campaign for me to parcel out to our team. Please write a generous check to: “Welty for School Board,” and send it back in the enclosed envelope.

Many Thanks for your past support and for anything you can do to help us win for the first time in ten miserable years.

Harry Welty
formerly of Let Duluth Vote
now on the Duluth School Board running for reelection
and still fighting for honesty and common sense after all these years!

I may be operating on …

Fumes…But even fumes are explosive.

Yesterday I put in five hours and 15 minutes of step climbing, door-to-door lit dropping – 29,000 steps on my pedometer despite an iffy left foot. I must have passed out 700 pieces. I was grateful near the end that I hadn’t fallen in the slush, although I had one close call, and that I wasn’t “suffering” near the end.

I’m working the East hillside which I once represented as a Second District School Board rep. My eastern end of that district contained Congdon so it ran the gamut of rich to poor.

Back when I was putting in 30,000 steps a day passing out literature I started with the neighborhoods with much larger yards planning on ending my door knocking in the closer packed inner city neighborhoods. I now think I’ll end up passing out 13,000 lit pieces. I ordered 20,000 snow sculpture trading cards and others are also passing those out. I’ve held a few decks in reserve for the rare folks who actually ordered one. (Like I said one day they will be worth a mint on Ebay. Yesterday I got an anguished letter hoping I still had some left and putting in an order for two decks) Our flyer went out to 27,000 households skipping my 55812 and the East Hillside’s 55805 Zip Codes. We just didn’t raise enough to cover the whole school district which is likely about 33,000 doors. Not surprisingly, I’m finishing up 55805 which I only began door knocking on a few days back. I’d already finished most of my 55812.

Grandsons came over last night as I recuperated and I consumed a steak dinner while we all watched Antboy 3. Daylight savings gave me an extra hour of sleep and I took full advantage of it. Even so I woke in the dark and had enough fumes to go out and build a very modest snow sculpture. I was tempted to sully it with lawnsigns but decided that I simply wanted to honor the vote – all votes of all peoples for all candidates.

More door knocking this afternoon and tomorrow. I expect to sit in a stupor most of Tuesday.