Category Archives: Duluth Schools

Old News – A blogging “agist” rattles the School Board

Any new readers to this column may not know that I was a sometimes controversial member of the Duluth Board for twelve of the last 24 years. Loren Martell, the Reader columnist who has doggedly replaced and excelled the News Tribune as the chronicler of the Board, took my advice from a year ago and listened in on the tapes of closed School Board meetings about the 2017 Contract negotiations. As he explains in this week’s column these are kept confidential until the negotiations for all our bargaining units are completed. Afterwards, they are available to the public. Until Loren the only people who ever listened to them were members of the various unions who wanted to get ideas for the next round of negotiations.

Loren summarized the three closed meetings we conducted my last year on the School Board. I was amused that he recorded the bickering between me and my fellow board member, Annie Harala, in the second meeting. She was probably in fifth grade during my most challenging contract negotiations which took place in 1997 when Duluth’s teachers were hellbent on a strike. Her mother, a former teacher’s union negotiator, likely shared her prejudices about me with her school board daughter. Here’s Loren quoting us verbatim:

Meeting two

The middle meeting, 5/31/17, was held so that Administration could get the go-ahead for negotiating four years (two, two-year) of contracts with teachers. Friction between some Board members grew fairly intense, when Superintendent Gronseth mentioned that teacher representatives had expressed concern about comments member Welty had posted on his blog about the negotiations.

Member Harala dressed Welty down with the most pointed ire: “We want our negotiations to go well, and we don’t want what happened, historically, the last time you were on the Board, when you had to quit being Chair and the voodoo doll and all of that stuff–we don’t need that! What we want to do is move forward and have healthy conversations with our staff…”

“I will operate the way I think makes the most sense for me.” Mr. Welty responded. “I’m quite familiar with what took place in the past and make no apologies for it. I probably prevented a strike.”
“That’s fine.” Harala shot back. “We’re not moving towards that (a strike.) You were the leader at that time; it didn’t work. And now you don’t have that leadership role on our Board.”
Mr. Welty fired back: “Well, you’re speaking as though you have a great deal of knowledge about what took place at those negotiations a long time ago, and you were in third grade at the time.”
“Excuse me! I would ask that you not use such age-ist comments!”
I’ll make an age-ist comment about this internecine squabbling. It’s probably getting pretty old, so I’ll move on.

Years ago I explained that dramatic negotiation in my old Website. Snowbizz.com. I titled the lengthy story “Who do the Voodoo? I do.” It’s a fifteen minute read unless you follow all the links I embedded in it. (many of them may no longer work twenty years after I wrote this). Reading everything could take an afternoon.

I have church to go to. I’ll edit this later re: George Bush and other stuff

This Harry’s Diary post didn’t start out with a title drawing attention to my dawdling over posts. But its a good reminder to my eight loyal readers that I don’t always consider my posts finished even at first posting……and here’s a pic of the cookies we decorated for shut ins at Glen Avon Presbyterian last night.

I watched the funeral for President George H W Bush this afternoon. Last night I watched, for the first time, the two-hour American Experience program about George Bush. It is at least ten years old. I learned some new things most of which softened me up toward the man I wouldn’t vote for in 1992.

Although I voted for George and Ron in 1984 George lost my support initially when he joined the Reagan campaign as the VP candidate. In 1980 I couldn’t bring myself to vote for a Democrat so I voted for Independent candidate John Anderson.

My principle grievance is simple. As Reagan’s successors turned their back on Reagan’s “big tent,” George Bush could only succeed by being complicit in the new GOP regime’s marginalization of moderates like me and like George Bush had once been. Where has the party of Lincoln gone?

I was reminded of this during my ongoing process of reorganizing my office files today. In a folder labeled “Crazy Republicans” was this newspaper clipping: Reuter’s story. 30 percent of Republicans considered Obama a worse threat than Russia. Holy S’moley!!!!!!!

It has been reported that the Clintons and Trump did not shake hands when Donald made his sulky appearance at George Bush’s funeral. I don’t blame them. He led cheers of “Lock her up.” at his rallies. That’s close to the equivalent of saying “F*** America” considering that over half of the votes went for Hilary Clinton in 2016. Think of that – Trump’s “Republicans” wanted to jail the American that half of America voted for for President. Is it any wonder that Hillary’s supporters are licking their lips at the prospect that the President who led that cheer might himself face a life behind bars? Would Pence pardon him? I wonder. It cost Jerry Ford the Presidency in 1976.

Although winnowing my voluminous files has been my primary activity for the past few weeks I managed to crank out a new column for tomorrow’s Reader. Its called 100 pints of blood. I also applied to renew my substitute teaching license. Returning to the classroom, even as a sub, has intrigued me for the past twenty years. I chatted with 709’s Human Resource Director for a summary of how to go about doing it. It turned out to be pretty simple.

Among the items I reorganized yesterday were the documents from my legal challenge to the District in 2009 “Welty et al” vs. the Duluth School District and Johnson Controls. I rediscovered one of our attorney’s discoveries which greatly amused me.

The current School Board’s attorney, Kevin Rupp, had a hand in that case defending the Board against me and four other plaintiffs. In the Trib he claimed that a school district could not be sued for violating its own policies. Here’s what the plaintiffs attorney, Craig Hunter, discovered:

This only amplifies my frustration at not having been successful in severing our School board’s ties with Rupp’s firm when I served on the School Board. NOTE: Readers of this blog will find ample examples of my jaundiced view of Mr. Rupp’s legacy in this blog.

And while our lawsuit fell apart for reasons pinned to Mr. Hunter he had the District scared witless while single-handedly fighting off dozens of attorneys for three top legal firms. I found Craig a sensible and honorable man. I’d hire him in a flash if I needed legal help again.

Glad that’s over with…..OMG, there’s another election coming!!!!!

I’m too fatigued from worry to think much about the 2020 election but I’m sure it will be another doozy. I simply feel relief. A Reagan Era Republican and columnist Max Boot said it was a “rebuke” but not the “repudiation” he had hoped for. I am disappointed but not dissatisfied. I have one ultimate objective. I want the restoration of the Party of Lincoln. I don’t see how that can happen anytime soon if ever.

Under the best circumstances it will take a decade for voters to forget what Donald Trump said and did to shore up his base. As Republicans voters age and die and Democrats undo state-by-state the election law mischief of the last ten years they will deserve the Congressional level ignominy that they endured in the post world War II years. I was going to add “but didn’t deserve” but then I remembered Joe McCarthy, the Red Scare and the HUAC Investigations. But that all happened before I hit First grade. After that “Cloth coat” Republicans suffered a couple decades out of power. (It was forty-six years in the House of Representatives! From 1948 to 1994)

Here are a few of my takeaways: Continue reading

A tale of two Editorial Boards

These days I’m not cranking out five or ten daily posts as I have in the past. I’m being very selective. Even my eight loyal readers eyes must be burning out from gazing at their cell phones this election cycle. But before I attend to this post’s headline I have to follow up the powerful video I posted last night from Fox News’s, Shep Smith, on the real threat of the Migrant caravan, still one thousand miles from the border. Even if it doesn’t crumble under withering 105 degree temperatures it won’t even reach America at its current pace for 44 days – a full month after the election!

As this morning’s NPR interview with an economist makes clear keeping migrants out impoverishes all Americans. Our public schools and colleges don’t spend much time training American students to clean motel rooms, bus tables, or pick vegetables.

Now to this post’s headline.

I was taken aback by the DNT’s Editorial headline this morning – “Yes,” “no,” “no,” on School Questions concerning the School District three part ask for tax revenues. Continue reading

Politics at the DNT

The new more fair and balanced Duluth Trib that has apparently been endorsing a bunch of Republicans did them all a big favor a few years ago by dropping Gary Trudeau’s Doonesbury. If it hadn’t been for Facebook I would have missed this one. It gives me hope that despite my agnosticism the evangelical God will welcome me into heaven.

https://www.facebook.com/619396493/posts/10156841988991494/

But not everything out of the Trib rings false. They did not endorse my 2013 school board opponent, Nancy Nilsen, for the County Auditor’s position. Instead they pointedly mentioned her role as a Duluth school board member helping give birth to the Red Plan.

Le quatrième jour

I summed up our fourth day of travels this way in my Facebook post:

“We left Paris – for now – well organized and ubered ourselves to the St. Lazare Gare and a smooth RxR ride to Rouan where for a couple of fraught hours we struggled with travel glitches due to an auto pick up and massive crowds at an unexpected Saturday side walk days sale.

But we are in full “glass half full” mode so I will leave you with images from the similarly unexpected light show we saw last night projected onto Rouen’s Cathedral. The Norman’s are proud of their ties with England and their Viking Heritage too. They also make good hard cider.”

I’ll just post 3 images of Joan of Arc’s city of execution, all of them of the Famous Rouen Cathedral.

It was the first stop for Paris bound American tourists in the early 18th Century and for the bumptious Americans the lofty ancient cathedral blew their minds. It was probably two or three times taller than any building in America at that time. It was meant to blow people’s minds like all the other Gothic cathedrals of Europe, imbuing them with the awe of God and beckoning them on pilgrimages for the local promoters, ateliers and religious functionaries.

Enthusiasts for the French tradition of impressionism will remember Claude Monet’s 30 or so paintings of the Cathedral in different light as part of his impressionistic experimentation. And thus the first image of one of his paintings that I took in Paris’s Orsay museum: Continue reading

Giving the Duluth School District short shrift

I presume that one hallmark of my eight loyal readers is their interest in following my observations about the Duluth School District. That’s understandable. I’ve been an integral part of the District for 12 years as a School Board member and many more as a curious and opinionated observer watching the District as an outsider. Well the past summer I’ve almost stopped posting about anything other than details related President Trump and my challenge of his new best buddy, Pete Stauber, and his congressional campaign. Well, that will change. Now I’m into France and back to my obligation to pontificate about the Duluth Schools.

To that end I commend the latest column by Loren Martell in the Reader. Loren’s most valuable gift to Duluth is taking down the actual recorded quotes of our elected representatives during the mostly unwatched Duluth School Board meetings. Its a dreadful responsibility that he’s taken on.

I will share one telling quote from the last meeting taken down by Loren with a few sharp observations but first you should know that I expect to diverge from Loren’s take on the biggest issue facing the District this November. That is the referendum for increasing local taxes to prop up the badly hobbled, Red Plan plagued District.

I will support all three levels of increased support that the District is asking for. I know, I know! Property taxes are the most “regressive” taxes. They lean heavily on the poor both homeowners and renters and landlords giving the rich Red Plan crazed enthusiasts a pass. I know, I know! Passing the levy will allow a Superintendent I have little confidence in a victory that may saddle the District with his presence far into the future. I know, I know! The residents of Duluth have been taken for a costly ride on the Red Plan with no stop at Go to collect $200.00. I’m sorry. Our kids are worth it.

Now, about that quote from Jill Lofald. When I first heard that Jill was planning to run for the school board I was enthusiastic. I thought she might run against Annie Harala and me. Then I discovered she was running against Art Johnston. My suspicion was that she had been recruited to become another cheerleader for Supt. Gronseth. I think I was right. Also, Jill struck me as yet another district insider, like her predecessors Mike Miernicki and Bill Westholm, who would never have the courage to make anyone mad by (gasp) taking a hard necessary stand. Loren makes it clear that that fear of mine has legitimate:

Here’s Jill’s quote related to the unwillingness of the Superintendent to pass on the financial details concerning the District to the elected members of the School Board: Continue reading

Here’s a cheap picture to keep you reading to the end of the post.

The DNT editors endorsed the candidate that strikes me as being the toughest challenger to Pete Stauber on the DFL side today. That’s Joe Radinovich. I can’t argue with their reasoning although its likely to make the supporters of the other four DFLer’s apoplectic. Let’s hope they don’t surrender to Pete Stauber in their disgust.

I discovered that an old acquaintance of mine, Tom West, who used to edit the DNT’s former Budgeteer has offered a brief analysis of all the Minnesota Congressional campaigns for the ECM newspapers. (East Central Minnesota papers) Tom called me a “gadfly” and I gratefully agree. Tom once offered me a job writing for the Budgeteer after reading my work in the Duluth Reader. I declined out of loyalty to Duluth’s now twenty year old tabloid.

With two weeks of campaign left before August 14th’s primary I have been shifting away from a campaign intended mostly as a symbolic stab at Donald Trump clones. My original thought that I might catch lightning in a bottle has not panned out and with two weeks left that is an all but impossible hope. Even Donald needed about half a year to dismantle the GOP Presidential contenders he faced. I am not one for irrational optimism. Back in 1982 I was a campaign manager for, Marnie Luce, a pro choice republican candidate running against the very Pro-life, Jim Oberstar, for Congress. I got in dutch with Marnie’s supporters when I told a reporter that I thought Marnie regarded the campaign as a “lark.” Sometimes one doesn’t need to tread all that heavily on the obvious.

I’ve been planting trees at our church and painting the bell tower recently. I have a second coat to apply today. Then I’ve got a weekend trip to Chicago with my family to see the musical Hamilton. My Grandson’s have come close to memorizing the lyrics and that, by itself, is worthy of a post sometime after we return. My oldest readers have noticed that for the last month or two I’ve held back writing about many of my usual subjects to focus on my “campaign” for Congress. That’s been part of my attempt to attract a lightning strike. The Duluth School Board doesn’t fit well into national politics or Donald Trump’s tweets.

But sometimes I have no choice. Today’s DNT put Art Johnston on the front page again. After eight frustrating years of trying to get the School District’s Red Plan addled administration to hand over public information about the Duluth Schools the state agency in charge of public data came down on Art’s side. Superintendent Bill Gronseth has been as stingy with this public data as Donald Trump has been of his tax records. I wonder why?

For the four years I’ve been on the school board and in my subsequent year of retirement I’ve been thinking about writing a book about how America got so dysfunctional these days. Of course, that implies some kind of Trumpian golden age. Well, there has never been such a thing. Donald Trump who dissed the loser John McCain for getting captured by the Vietnamese and who said that his personal Vietnam was avoiding venereal disease in the 1970’s might like to go back to this forgotten episode of America’s Twentieth Century history. Back in these golden days America knew which sex to put behind bars and it wasn’t the one with big hands.

The limits of Cunning

The THIRD damning story of the Summer about ISD 709 showed up this morning. Its not a surprise to me but Jana Hollingsworth does an excellent job laying out the totality of a catastrophe that the Gronseth Administration was doing its best to keep out of the public’s eye in my last couple months on the School Board. It was about the junking of all the Red Plan’s once trumpeted educational technology. We are scrapping everything at the end of its useful life and doing so at a time when we don’t have the millions necessary to replace it.

This comes on the heals of another story about the unsurprising fact that the cost of fixing up the Central Administration building has jumped from $18 million to 25 million. This was supposed to have been dealt with by the Red Plan but the School Boards I have enjoyed panning for the last twelve years chose to spend it all on the technology that we are now scrapping because there are limits to how many teachers you can lay off and still teach students.

The first of the summer’s blockbusters was a surprise to me, really more of a shock – the unexplained axing of the new CFO for the District Doug Hasler for “inconsistencies” in a budget doomed to spiral into a black hole. My personal belief is that Hasler who had no money to work with is simply Bill Gronseth’s latest scapegoat in a long career of blaming others for problems his mentor Keith Dixon was responsible for. In my opinion, those problems are much worse because Bill Gronseth applied all his best efforts at undermining any reasonable examination of the District’s financial straights.

When I ran for the school board again in 2013 I didn’t rush to take up the Superintendent’s offer to meet with me face to face when I was still a candidate. I was busy campaigning. I’m sure I scared the hell out of him because of my reputation for fighting for the citizen’s right to vote on the massive Red Plan that his mentor put into place despite thousands of critics and doubters. After my election it was a helluva four years for both of us and worse yet for the District and its children.

Over those four years I shared my evaluation of the Superintendent with the other six Board members and each time the overall evaluation was said to be good……by the media which reported it. My personal evaluations were at best modest. I scored Gronseth highly on only a couple of points. I think he cares about kids and I think he hired some spectacular assistants. But, and this is a BIG BUTT, children have not benefited from the Gronseth years and with my departure came the departure of two and maybe three (if you count Doug Hasler as I do) talented assistants.

I didn’t make a point of having a lot of meetings with Bill but we had a couple conversations and I was always cordial and diplomatically candid with him especially about my tough evaluations of him. Among the faults I found with him were his efforts to hide public data from the Board, especially from Art Johnston and me. Nothing has changed. They never got any better except for a brief window right after Doug Hasler was hired. At one meeting I told Bill that he was either cunning or calculating (I can’t remember which term I used). Bill winced a bit as either word has a hint of duplicity about it. But while that is true I understand cunning as also being shrewd and open eyed. My favorite aphorism of Jesus is “be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.” Mathew 10:16 KJV

If anything Bill has got both ends of this aphorism wrong. He has been too smart for his own (and the District’s good) and he has caused the District great harm.

I made no early judgments about the Superintendent. I merely kept my eyes open like a good serpent myself to see what I would find. Early on I heard that Dr. Dixon had started to sour on Gronseth for some reason. Perhaps he came to think of Bill like so many others I’ve spoken to as a weak man. But when Gronseth figured out what Dixon thought of him he pulled his fellow secondary principals together to vouch for him and save his job. Dixon was so impressed that he ended up appointing Gronseth to be his right-hand man. Being Keith Dixon’s right hand always put me off about Bill because I considered his mentor to be a complete sociopath – a liar without conscience.

Perhaps a better example of Bill’s cunning was the maneuvering behind the scenes to get rid of I.V. Foster, the new black Superintendent in Duluth, who only lasted six months before curling up in the same fetal ball that Doug Hasler curled into before exiting the Duluth Schools. The News Tribune bought into the idea that Foster was both inattentive to the District and not fully certified for the job. I know the Trib would reject my analysis but I have no doubts. The school board members who engineered Foster’s ouster were the same ones who had failed at the last minute substitute Keith Dixon for Foster and transitioning later to a Supt. Gronseth.

But Bill got way too comfortable with that sort of cunning. I have always believed that the entire Art Johnston fiasco was kindled, tended and cared for by Supt. Gronseth with a coterie of his hanger’s on. That year and a half of my first two years squandered any hope that the school district could begin winning back the trust of the voters for some critically needed levy referendums. They kept getting postponed because Gronseth couldn’t get the positive vibe needed to pass one. And then last year when referendums were passed all over the state of Minnesota Gronseth spent all his time behind-the-scenes working to get rid of Art and me even enlisting his Hermantown school board member wife to help unseat us.

Ironically and damnably, his efforts were probably completely unnecessary after Art and I failed to win the DFL endorsement with the massive turn out of women voters traumatized by Donald Trump’s election. Had Bill spent his time putting up a levy referendum it would likely have passed and he would also have had the satisfaction of seeing Art and me bite the electoral dust. But Bill, as per usual, put his own survival ahead of the School Districts. I guess his only hope now is to preside over such a pathetically damaged public school district that voters will come to our children’s rescue despite his incompetence and misplaced priorities.

That’s my take at any rate.

For God’s sake. Don’t let me anywhere near Congress. My evaluation of that institution is even worse and they affect the entire nation not just one small struggling local school district. Half of the members of Congress are nestled in Donald Trump’s breast pocket looking for a teat to suckle on. Not surprisingly, their mouths are full of lint.

Two hat Wednesday

I’ve made the press peripherally twice today. I was asked by the Trib, in my capacity as a recent School Board member, what I thought of the disturbing news that the Administration has put its CFO on Administrative Leave. If our District’s sleazy Attorney, Kevin Rupp, has anything to do about this the public will never learn what the hell has been going on. No doubt some sort of agreement will be crafted to prevent Doug Hasler from ever explaining how he became the latest of Superintendent Gronseth’s many scapegoats for the ongoing disasters during his tenure.

Then Minnesota Public Radio proved that it could give to my campaign as easily as it could take from it. (be back in a sec. I’ve just been called to Breakfast) Continue reading

When the nail does the hammer’s work for it

I found the contrast between two items in the latest Duluth Reader worthy of comment.

First up, John Ramos was one of two or three people who decided to see the Duluth School Board’s get to know you session. Loren Martell had little good to say about it last week and John explores the meeting further. It was facilitated by a staffer of the Minnesota School Boards Association who took the three hour session to hammer the point home that a school board member must keep his/her head down and tell no one in the community what’s going on by means of giving them platitudinous “elevator speeches” and by telling them Sgt Schultz style that they know nothing and that they must talk to someone in the administration who does know what’s going on.

I’m afraid I’ve come to the realization that is how the statewide organization representing the 300 plus Minnesota school boards sees things. Go along to get along defer to your superintendent don’t argue.

A couple years ago I shocked a seasoned MSBA staffer when I explained that I had been prevented from participating in one of our school Board contract negotiation sessions in violation of our school board policies. I guess this newer MSBA facilitator would recommend I not even take my concern to the MSBA.

Here’s a long post from me on the episode and my discription of how I reacted at the time.

It didn’t take me long to start fuming. At 11:15 AM I texted the Superintendent: “ I don’t do livid. I’m close to making an exception. You are violating school board policy and you have a very unhappy SB member in your foyer.”

In the batter’s box: I can’t seem to find the Reader’ book review of “Beneath the Ruthless Sun.” Its the second review of the book about 1950 racism in Central Florida. Here’s another review that I can link to. If the African American community had followed the go with the flow sentiments of Ms. MSBA they’d still be getting lynched today.

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.””

A fire, a fire sale and 91st bday party

Sometime while I was mid-flight to Florida to attend my father-in-laws 91st birthday celebration Superior’s Husky oil refinery went kaboom. We checked updates during the day concerned for those we left behind. It cut some workdays short in our family but nothing worse for now.

Last night a friend sent me the DNT’s story about the school district’s fire sale price set for Duluth Central.

All is not sunny in Florida either. The Palm Beach Post reported today that huge swaths of the everglades mangroves (up to 90 percent) have been killed by hurricane Irma.

The return of the bad old days?

I have not quite scrupulously avoided mention of the Duluth School District since the public retired me from the Duluth School Board. (a retirement I have been enjoying with gusto I will add) I have largely trusted to Loren Martell to keep the public apprised of its actions. But a couple of recent tidbits relating to the secretiveness of the top administrator and his most sympathetic board members have prompted some reminiscences.

Before I was elected to the School Board its members, some of its members, had a chummy relationship with its superintendents. The one I have in mind is Elliot Moeser. His Era saw the failure of an epic $50 million dollar referendum to replace or fix up our schools. This was almost thirty years ago and that price tag was eclipses six times over by the building plan of one of his successors Keith Dixon now commonly referred to as the Red Plan – a plan not put up for a community vote.

The subsequent years that I ran for the school board I heard that during the planning for this first stab at a facility fix up the board members routinely met with the Superintendent privately at one of their homes. I thought of this recently while driving by and noticing that it was up for sale. I believe that this process of holding private meetings is about to begin again. Its not the sort of process that encourages public confidence as no one is present to document the actions of board members.

And in addition to this a long planned get together for Board members to have a face to face discussion of the their deepest thoughts has been moved from the Administrative Office to a much smaller room in the Duluth Aquarium which will hold at most about twenty people on April 26th. I do not know if members of the public planning to watch the give and take will have to pay to enter the Aquarium. They would not be if the meeting was being held in Old Central and their would be much more room. We had such a meeting one Saturday in the regular Board room of Old Central. The doors were not locked to the public.

I had lobbied fruitlessly for such a get together during my recent years on the Board but was rebuffed by a board leadership that I gathered had no interest in such a meeting with me or Art Johnston who also requested such a gathering. Now that I’m gone I no longer stand in the way……..although the tiny room in the Aquarium does not suggest any particular openness. I’d suggest any members of the public planning to attend brown bag it.