Category Archives: Duluth Schools

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.

Back to the school grind – Not

My heart fluttered a bit when three days ago my readership tripled for couple days. (8 “loyal readers” x 3 = 24) Well, a bit more than that. The visitors seemed to be drawn to my comments about the wider world. I presume my “eight loyals” come to see what I’ll pontificate about the Duluth Schools being the consummate, if recently ousted, insider that I am.

I am eager to encourage new readers but I don’t want to disappoint the regulars. Although I look at my current, and perhaps permanent, absence as a vacation, for the time being, I still feel an obligation to keep people up on the Duluth School District’s ongoing traumas. To that end I will point to the paragraph that caught my attention in Jana Hollingsworth’s recent story about the tussle between charter and regular Minnesota School Districts over the division of the special education spoils:

“Gronseth in December, however, overstated the district’s expenses for Edison, citing a number much larger than the actual $400,000 increase from 2015. The $1 million shortfall he cited included the overall increase in what the district paid for all of its students receiving special education services elsewhere. In 2016, Duluth paid for services provided to its students enrolled in 43 other educational entities, although Edison by far gets the largest chunk.”

Second thought – Yes, it seems to me that Duluth’s Edison’s share of special ed is disproportionate compared to the Duluth District’s spending.

First thought – I am not at all surprised that I was given slanted information from our superintendent instead of a fair and dispassionate appraisal. Ah, but I’m gone now so a new crop of School Board members will have to decide for themselves whether this is a problem or not.

I will continue to offer up my thoughts about the Duluth School District as compulsion dictates but I much prefer writing about my other eccentric thoughts. I’ve got to start a column for the Duluth Reader shortly. Deadline is 6 o’clock, today. Six hours……gotta hustle.

Oh, and Loren Martell, Duluth’s most thorough reporter on the Duluth School District, was a little injured that I wrote about ISD 709 in my first Not Eudora column. It is his beat and I have no great desire to horn in on it. He’s been busy.

This’n that before I hit the sack

I had the house mostly to myself today as Claudia went to St. Paul to lobby our legislature with folks worried about the poor and homeless. It was also the week that Duluthians poured into St. Paul to lobby for Duluth. I got to stay home, read the news, grimace, finish Pardon Mon French – my next Reader column and finish Batman for my grandson. Here’s what will melt tomorrow in my front yard.

I also took a picture of a huge contrail over my house from a jet that circled twice. Wonder what that was all about?

I suggested that Claudia watch Hitchcock’s “To Catch a Thief” as part of our viewing of French movies to get us in the mood for our trip to France. Then Claudia watched the CNN coverage of voting results in Pennsylvania. The Democrat Lamb (not to the slaughter) running against the Republican Suckthumb something or other. Poor guy was barely mentioned by President Trump, who came to Pennsylvania to huff and puff about how successful his Presidency has been and, oh yes, support Congressional Republicans. No final result yet. Lamb leads by a hair. We won’t know the results until tomorrow’s absentee ballots are counted. I think Lamb will win by a shake of his tail, maybe 350 votes out of over 200,000. Win or lose the Democrats will feel exultant and so will I. (Trump won here by 20% last November)

Time for bed.

Oh, I almost forgot. Tomorrow’s paper will have a story about how the School Board can’t wait to spend 2 million to tear down New Central High. As of my bed time 101 folks on Facebook have heaped abuse on the Board. That’s what I predicted would happen a couple days ago to friends but – last November Duluth elected a board mostly eager to turn the old school to dust. The lone exception? Alanna Oswald.

The story from yesterday on raising class sizes won’t improve voters attitude and neither will future plans to ask for more $ in a referendum.

Be advised, I spell out the “N” word in the following column – four times!

Don’t worry. I’m sure the defenders of Harper Lee and Mark Twain won’t mind.

Oh, and the Reader found or made up this cool graphic for the column I wrote: Kicking the “N” word out of ISD 709


ONE LONG FOOTNOTE:

For the second time in the last couple of weeks Linda Grover (a fellow columnist) tackles the same subject I have. Her’s is a more measured response whereas mine is a pissed off reaction to some national finger pointing at Duluth’s prissy, parochial, sensitivities as imagined by a bunch of smug, know-it-all elitists.

The one thing both columns share is an awareness of what its like to have your race made a subject of scorn in a classroom. Linda Grover, a proud Ojibwa Indian, recalls Twain’s “Injun Joe” as being a pretty hard pill to swallow. I’ll bet Sammy would have felt the same way.

Sammy was an Osage Indian kid in my sixth grade class. After hearing the author of Killers of the Flower Moon on NPR last year I have added the book to my reading list. I can’t help but wonder if Sammy’s grandparents were murdered for their mineral rights too. Solving the murders is what made today’s Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Ironically, today President Trump is trying to kill the FBI with the help of a lot of Republican Congressional stooges.

A Win for Equity in Duluth

The Duluth School Board is off to a strong start. Last night the new board swept aside Supt. Gronseth’s and David Kirby’s and Rosie Loeffler-Kemp’s objection to fairly distributing the Compensatory Ed funding..

It was important that Member Sandstad brought the motion and that it only started with an 80% figure for schools “earning” the funds keeping them. The new board members all voted in favor despite some early indications that they might heed the Superintendent’s reluctance.

Once again there was a good story in the Trib which gave tenacious Alanna Oswald much deserved recognition for the change.

I watched much of the public comment remotely from Bullhead City, Arizona, until I was called to dinner. I’d been following the push by the Equity group which I thought would fall through after Art Johnston and I were defeated in our reelection bids. Fortunately, my prediction proved far too pessimistic. The vote was unanimous.

You can watch the meeting here. So far 56 folks have watched some portion of the meeting online. I don’t know how many were present at the meeting but 20 people spoke in favor of Sandstad’s proposal.

Jana’s replacement

Adelle Whitefoot wrote a short story on tomorrow’s School Board meeting which will consider Nora Sandstad’s proposal to direct 80% instead of 50% of Compensatory Education funding to the schools which generate them. Good for Nora.

I emailed a comment to Adelle on the story. “Good work.”

As for Jana, Rick Lubbers informed us that she and another reporter were going to become part of an investigative reportorial team. Good luck to them both and Dig, Dig, Dig.

Cheap Schools

Did I comment on Jana Hollingsworth’s recent story about Equity? It was essentially a summary of everything reported in the past. The Duluth Schools doesn’t offer equitable treatment for its students. That would require money we spent on the Red Plan……although that was not a big part of Jana’s story. Maybe we’ve gotten to the point where that fact goes without saying.

Well then, and this is Harry Welty speaking once again. The cure for this is more money…….money unlikely to come from the legislature and unlikely to be authorized by Duluth’s voters in a referendum any time soon especially with the refusal of the old School Board to sell Central for $14 million to Edison a couple years ago.

Which segues nicely to today’s Hollingsworth story about the futie six-year effort to sell Central to someone other than another school system.

The story offers no hope of a sale. It even suggests, to me, that our Administrators were not quite as forthright with us when I served on the Board and there were three board members willing to sell the property. Perhaps the most noteworthy comment in the story came from Nora Sandstead. The story reports thusly:

Sandstad also noted that she would entertain “a very low offer” if it came with property tax revenue.

“That’s much more beneficial than a one-time $15 or even $20 million payment,” she said, referring to Edison’s offer. Public schools don’t pay property taxes.

I texted back to an interested person who noticed Nora’s willingness to unload the property on the cheap. I said that it looked like she preferred to sell the property at a loss just rather than live with the embarrassment. I think voters will keep that attitude in mind when Nora asks them for an excess operational levy.