Category Archives: Duluth Schools

The ISD 709 demographics meeting

I just listened to the meeting yesterday about Demographics. I have some catching up to do because I missed the first half hour. These are dry meetings but already on youtube there have been 45 viewings. Praise be to Art Johnston for pushing the school board to video these meetings to make them available to the public.

Rob S. Schwarz, AICP, of RSP is quizzed about the plans he might help Duluth’s schools design after their demographic study. Mr. Schwarz begins by talking about the Cedar Rapids, IA, experience and urges us to google RSP’s work there while warning us about “fake news.” He proceeds to say that RSP would never encourage a city to do anything as preposterous as build 13 new schools in a five year time period.

I was among those who let loose an involuntary chuckle because that’s just what Duluth did with the Red Plan. Too bad we didn’t have RSP advising us.

Closing schools? Rehabbing schools? Shifting boundaries?

I missed the first portion of yesterday’s Committee of the Whole (COW) meeting with the demographers we hired to map out the future needs of our schools. Alanna Oswald tried to protect me from showing up late yet again but once again I had the phone on mute. I quickly scanned the handout I was given and was intrigued by one glaring bit of information. Of all our newly fixed up schools only one, Congdon elementary, could expect future enrollment growth over the next ten years. “Well,” I thought to myself, “The parents and teachers have been begging the Board to change their boundaries for the last three “Think Kids” meetings.” I wish we had done this a couple years ago.

When I suggested that we could change the Congdon boundaries by ourselves now and skip making any further payments to the demographers for a year’s worth of community meetings some of my colleagues were appalled. The defenders of the “process” rolled out the big guns. Why we needed community involvement. (three years of Think Kids meetings evidently didn’t count) – If we tampered with even one school’s boundary we would cause a domino effect just like in Vietnam and all the adjoining school boundaries would have to be tinkered with (nevermind that all the other schools were predicted to lose students over the next decade and have plenty of room for reboundaried kids) Also, nevermind that we could do this now and grandfather in existing families and let them stay at Congdon…….NO, NO, NO…….we had to delay decision making for another year. No one seemed to know how much we would pay these consultants for a year’s worth of meetings but Alanna Oswald sent them to me last night. We would pay another $31,000 or as I think of these expenses one-third-of-a-teacher.

I also missed one big headline from the beginning of the meeting. Alanna told me it was suggested that our declining enrollment might necessitate closing one of our existing elementary schools. Lakewood was a likely candidate. Golly, what a testament to the demographers of the Red Plan!!!!

After having this COW I hustled down to Congdon Elementary where 85 folks were assembled to tell us how overcrowded their school is. I don’t think the delay pitch went over very well with them. Here’s the DNT story about that meeting.

And here’s the DNT story about our demographer COW with my suggestion that we try to entice students to our western schools by letting them have more of the Compensatory Education money that they are entitled to. That fits into the spirit of the law rather than letting our District spend poor kids funding on rich kid’s schools.

And finally, our plans for Rockridge resulted in my getting a call from the Real Estate expert who valued our facilities for the Red Planners. He wondered why we were paying rent to use another school’s building – the old Cobb School that we sold to Woodland Hills twenty years ago. I had no ready answer for him. Then he asked if we were going to set up an amortization schedule and make certain we would have Woodland Hills rent the Rockridge facility at a rate which would pay off what it would cost us to fix Rockridge up. I explained that we don’t know how much it will cost to fix up Rockridge yet. We are paying experts one-and-a-half-teachers to estimate those costs before we agree to fix Rockridge, however the current guesstimate for fixing it stands at twenty-five teachers. I didn’t think to mention that we might not bond for this. We might pay for it out of our capital costs and general fund. General Fund????? Yup, that’s being researched even as I type this. More classroom dollars will go for rehabbing old buildings.

When the Congdon parents asked if we were trying to come up with innovative ways of educating kids with our fewer dollars I pointed out that we have fewer teachers (and the larger classes that they deplore) because: 1) The Red Plan takes $3.3 million (34 teachers) out of our General Fund for debt repayment annually and no experts have come up with a plan for us to restructure this debt so that we could return this money (and 34 teachers) back to our classrooms. And 2 our unhappy voters have only authorized a pitifully small $1.8 million referendum annually (14 teacher’s worth). When I told the Congdon crowd we had the ability to offer voters a referendum for two or three times that amount the Superintendent explained that my calculations were an oversimplification. (One I got from him I might add)

I’ve put in a call to our new CFO to find out about the Rockridge financial mechanics. I’ll report back to the realtor when I get that straightened out. I may even share it with my eight loyal readers. In the meantime I’m going to swim a few laps to work off my frustrations before I head over to serve food at the Damiano Center.

an email re: the last school board meeting

To All School Board Members,

At the regular school board meeting of April 18th there was a very large audience of Denfeld parents, students, teachers and principal Sconers. They were in support of the Denfeld community who is demanding equity . They have been asking the board and Mr. Gronseth for 3 years to have equity with East High School and it has fallen on deaf ears.

Just prior the public speaking portion of the meeting started I saw Mr. Gronseth talking quietly with chair Kirby and before the audience participation portion of the meeting began chair Kirby asked the audience to hold their applause because it disrupted other speakers. I believe that Mr. Gronseth didn’t want the viewing public to see the huge support that the Denfeld community has. A parent from East also spoke to the fact that the Denfeld students are being short changed and the East community is in full support of having this change next fall. She had a petition of over 70 parent signatures to see that change has to come.

The other very interesting aspect of the night were the East Middle School Science class students who presented at a competition and won awards for their excellent work. The children shall lead, the two students study on rubber mulch proved that the mulch is harmful to living organisms. Thus harmful to children. The board should remove the rubber mulch from all playgrounds in the district that are using this harmful substance and replace it with wood chips like the Congdon Park School has.

Thank you

And my reply:

Hi xxxx,

Thanks for your thoughts.

I agree that Denfeld has been short changed in recent years although it seems more inadvertent than purposeful and not unlike that poor frog put in a pot of cold water that turns to boiling.

I think its fair to conclude that Chair Kirby was anticipating some demonstrations in response to Denfeld speakers and his comments weren’t uncalled for. However, his call was heeded from the outset which had one unfortunate result. The crowd did not applaud the wonderful achievements of the students whose work was highlighted at the beginning of the meeting.

In fact, the Superintendent and I exchanged a little quiet small talk about that unfortunate non applauding for the students ourselves after it was too late to remedy the situation.

As for me, I don’t mind applause from the public even when it demonstrates dissatisfaction with the School Board. I’d rather hear it at a meeting than experience it when running for reelection. It gives me time to mend my ways.

As to the mulch. I agree.

Harry Welty

We don’t want to build new schools for those Duluth kids!

But we will bus them in so they can attend our old schools. Such was the overwhelming decision of Wrenshall’s voters in yesterday’s building referendum.

I’d be happy to welcome the 100 Duluth students currently attending Wrenshall back into the fold. Heck, I’d welcome the entire Wrenshall student population open enrolling into our brand-spanking new schools.

Annie Harala suggested sending our buses into outlying school districts last night’s meeting conjuring up the image of a dog-pound van hunting for strays. I don’t see that as terribly practical but if I thought a mass exodus was about to occur I’d have no problem sending our buses elsewhere. Think about it Wrenshall!

Getting to know you, Getting to know all about you

As I was about to head early to yesterday’s school board meeting I thumbed through my notes I discovered to my great annoyance that I had overlooked a 5 O’clock meeting to discuss negotiations “parameters” behind closed doors. We had called the same meeting the week before and two Board members weren’t in attendance so we postponed it and I failed to note the change to today. Practicing my most inelegant vocabulary inside the safety of my Toyota I got to the meeting over an hour late with eight minutes to spare. I shared my thoughts with great economy and was relieved to discover that the Board members who were going around the table seemed to share my thinking. Had I not been charging my cell phone I might have heard the urgent text message that the Superintendent sent me when I failed to show up.

The official 6:30 meeting followed and with an hour and a half of public comment we didn’t adjourn until 10PM. We gave the go-ahead to the administration to proceed with a budget that will require making $2.3 million in cuts after adding three-quarter-of-a-million to the expense side. Before voting for it I asked a question that had already been answered – would all the initial elements of this budget still be in play until we finally adopt a budget in June. The answer was “yes” so it was easy enough for me to vote “yea” knowing that I had two more do-overs.

The Trib gave a good reading the meeting. My biggest concern will be how we deal with the spending recommendations of the Denfeld community which has some powerful arguments for the District’s financial attention next year.

For me the most interesting thing that took place last night followed the meeting. I sit by the Superintendent during meetings and we write each other the occasional note. Bill (I’m beginning to call him by his name in informal settings to remove the distance that referring to him as “Superintendent” imposes) drew a picture of a mug of beer with a frothy head on it on his note pad and I replied by jotting down the question, “IPA or root.” He laughed and wrote “IPA.”

I only knew that the acronym stood for something having to do with beer. Its not what I thought but it definitely means beer. After the meeting I asked if he was suggesting hoisting a brew and he assented. I asked if he wanted to invite more school board members along and he did not object. Three of the board members had already beaten a hasty retreat but Art, Alanna and I coaxed Chair Kirby into joining us and we met down at Canal Park where we chatted and noshed.

For me this was a return to the past. When I first joined the Board in 1996 Board members and administrators adjourned to Grandma’s or the Green Mill to unwind. We didn’t talk shop. That’s forbidden under the open meeting laws. Instead we kibbutz-ed and got to know one another. We are on the honor system whenever a potentially fatal quorum forms. The closes we got to such a flirtation was when Art quipped that he wasn’t the longest winded Board member at the previous official meeting.

David and I talked medicine, children (our own), and classic movies. Alanna and the Superintendent talked about Western Duluth and the old days with Art. It was fun and I hope its repeated with even more board members after future meetings. It was a small but welcome step away from the Civil War I was plunged into in my first two years back on the school board.

Daphnia in tire soup experiment

Today’s lead story in the Trib highlighted the scientific investigations of two Duluth Middle School students. These young people were way ahead of the School Board when they decided to test whether our rubber tire mulch might be toxic. It is. At least it is to water fleas otherwise known as daphnia.

Whether it is hazardous for children has yet to be established but the story certainly reinforces my decision to replace the rubber mulch in our school playgrounds.

Maybe if we dumped our tire mulch in Lake Superior we could kill off the invasive spiny waterfleas that our fish can’t eat and that so annoy anglers.

Demography fail

I was sent this article by a Twin Cities school watcher. The story explains how demographer Hazel Reinhardt, who was wildly optimistic about the Duluth Schools enrollment growth after the Red Plan, did the same disservice to the St. Paul Schools.

Art Johnston who also read this story commented:

In 2006, she predicted that the Duluth Schools would have a low of 9,200 students in 2013, and then it would increase to 9,500 in 2017.

Well, we currently have 8150 students. Not only did she miss her mark by about 1400 students, this is the lowest number of students that I’ve been able to find for in Duluth.

In 1885, the oldest data I can find, Duluth schools had 8,600 students!

–ART

Save the Earth – start with rubber mulch

Duluth Parents for Healthy Playgrounds Playgrounds Fundraiser for Duluth Public Schools

Join the PTA for a family-friendly event with food, fun, cash bar, silent auction, and prize drawings! They are raising money to help the Duluth Public Schools remove tire mulch from the playgrounds and resurface them with wood fiber. Every dollar they raise (up to $30,000) will be matched by an existing playgrounds improvement fund started decades ago by the Miller family. Check their Facebook page for a list of the silent auction items that will be up for bid!

TICKETS FOR SALE!!! ?
Where to purchase:
Lester Park Elementary 4/13/17 at 5:30-7:00pm
Lowell Elementary 4/14/17 at 7:30-8:30am, 1:44-2:45, & 4:00-5:00pm
Skyline Bowling at front desk – Available Now!!… See More — with Duluth Public Schools in Duluth, Minnesota.

The fifth “C”

Last night I decided to skip singing in our church’s Maundy-Thursday service to attend Denfeld’s meeting where parents concerned about their children getting the short end of the stick reported back findings after a similar meeting a month earlier.

Much of the meeting was a repeat but I did note some information that I will keep in mind for future reference. In particular one MOAB. Mother of all Bombs (for you current events fans)

One of the speakers of glittering generalities listed their group’s “four C’s,” Communication, Collaboration, Creativity and Commitment. But then the bomb dropped. It was a fifth C that I remember well from my early years – 1996 through 2003 – on the School Board – Compensatory Education.

This is one of the extras in state funding for public schools to address serious needs over and above their “base” needs. Do you have a vast school district with long bus runs? The state gives your district extra money for gas. Of all these extras Compensatory Education funds are perhaps particularly important, especially in this day and age where we wring our hands over the achievement gap between have and have-not students.

In my first two stints on the School Board my western colleague, Mary Glass, complained bitterly about how comp Ed dollars were spent going to schools in the east that did not generate much of the funds. I talked to administrators I trusted and learned that they were abiding by the laws which gave District’s a lot of discretion about where to spend the money. In ISD 709 we use some of this money to keep class sizes down across the entire school district.

In my old days we had much smaller class sizes, better funding. I wasn’t convinced that a tilt toward the East was all that outlandish. But that was then. Red Plan financing has forced us to take $3.3 million each year out of the General fund to pay off building bonds (something Art Johnston was irritated wasn’t mentioned in this otherwise excellent budget story.) And our voters are so jaundiced about the Red Plan that they have refused to pass a fully fleshed out operational levy which could add another three million to our budget. That’s at least $6.3 million dollars which @ $96,000/average teacher salary would allow us hire an additional 66 teachers. HOLY COW!!!! Thank you old school boards for short changing today’s school children.

The achievement gap in Duluth has never been any wider than it is at present. And last night for the first time ever I saw a side-by-side list of which Duluth schools children generate State Compensatory funds and which schools consume them. Talk about adding kerosene to the fire.

For the uninitiated – Compensatory Education funds are simply called “Comp Ed.”

School……………Comp Ed Earned…….Comp Ed received

Denfeld……………$852,007.00……………$684,128.00
East…………………$136,555.00……………$518,212.00

Lincoln Park……..$973,192.00……………$496,264.00
Ordean/East…….$203,578.00……………$436,741.00

Congdon………….$ 95,567.00……………$400,548.00
Homecroft……….$ 79,622.00……………$295,671.00
Lakewood…………$ 70,212.00……………$181,315.00
Lester Park……….$ 65,506.00……………$324,110.00
Lowell………………..$287,330.00……………$440,228.00
Laura MacArthur..$849,445.00……………$503,071.00
Myers-Wilkins…….$971,153.00……………$573,732.00
Piedmont…………….$715,138.00……………$532,207.00
Stowe………………….$446,994.00……………$402,512.00

What ISD 709 is doing is perfectly acceptable under the language of State Statute. Whether it fully comports with the “spirit” of the law is another thing.

Another lost opportunity to sell an empty school

Jana Hollingsworth was busy yesterday. She also updated the news on the Rockridge School which the District once hoped to sell for about a million dollars to defray the cost of the Red Plan. Today it looks like instead we will be fixing it for use by the Woodland Hills School at a cost to the district of about $2.5 million.

About all I can do about this is swallow hard. I agree that we have little choice but to proceed although Alanna Oswald has made a case that using the empty Secondary Technical Center Building (next to the empty Central High) might have made more sense if we’d considered it earlier. The Board never had that discussion.

Exercising 20×20 hindsight on the Red Plan I would simply say that the Board of that era never seemed to consider that any of its rosy plans might ever come to grief. That’s the power and the fallibility of rose-tinted glasses.

Budget talks at 709

I posted this headline last night after our Business Committee. Then I left the post blank to sleep on it.

I’m quoted in today’s DNT news story about our budget planning. Frankly, Jana Hollingsworth, the Trib’s education reporter, has offered up a much better explanation about our budget than I would have.

This is ironic because Jana was home with an illness and missed the Business Committee meeting. I encouraged her to watch the four hour meeting on the Internet later that night. I also sent Jana the budget that was sent to the School Board in advance of the meeting for her to peruse before she wrote her story.

The news is grim. We anticipate deep cuts. There is good news. Our administration’s recommendations for next year’s budget bend over backwards to avoid making cuts to classrooms. Everything else is at great risk.

Reading Jana’s story I discovered something else that was not obvious to me during the meeting. The recommended budget suggests that we spend $150,000 more in Western Duluth to catch up with our spending in our eastern schools. Its not enough and we won’t be able to afford a seven-hour-day out west with all the cuts heading our way. None-the-less, its something.

We have another two months to determine the final budget and we are waiting to see what the state legislature and the Governor agree on. I’m not hopeful.

singing with positivitity

Loren Martell has once again covered our latest School Board meeting in the Reader. I make a couple of his paragraphs:

Mr. Welty referenced a story in the “bygones” section of the Duluth News Tribune about the State test results from 1997. The paper apparently reported, according to member Welty, that 20 years ago “81% of Duluth’s ninth graders had reached math skills suitable for the adult world, and 87% of our ninth graders had achieved reading skills that were necessary for the adult world…So my challenge to you (addressing Tawnyea Lake, the district’s Director of Assessment, Evaluation and Performance) would be this: if you could find some reference to these test results…and see if there is some way to let us know how our ninth graders are doing by these particular measurements, I would appreciate it…”

I am doing what I can to fight the negativity. I brought my grandsons to meet the family of our new CFO, Doug Hasler, Wednesday night. They’ve been in town scouting for houses and Doug invited the Board members over for an ice cream social at the home they were staying at down on Park Point. (Ahem, Denfeld attendance area)

I sang a couple bars of Gary Indiana with Mrs. Hassler when I learned it was her hometown. They’re all Hoosiers. Then I chided her for not forcing her kids to see the Meredith Wilson musical, Music Man, that features the song.

My grandsons ate their fill of ice cream and happily played fooseball down in the basement while we Board members explained the finer points of collecting agates to Doug’s older kids.

PS. our Grandsons enjoyed the Music Man when they saw it with us and Jacob asked me to sing Till there was You a couple times before bed…….of course, he also liked me to sing him songs about people getting killed – Joe Hill, Tom Dooley, Frankie and Johnny.

On that $7.4 million

Board member Alanna Oswald asked our Administration about the $7.4 million extra for the Duluth Schools that Lt. Gov. Smith told the DNT that the Governor has written into his Education Bill.

The answer in short is that the Governor’s budget is still a moving target yet to be worked out with the Republican majorities in both houses of the legislature. If there is that much in the the Governor’s budget for Duluth (probably over a two year period) it certainly is not meant to cover the Red Plan’s unanticipated costs.

Supt. Gronseth suggested that any increase in the base funding for schools would end up being somewhere between a 1.25% or 1.5% annual increase. That sounds like a lot less than $7.4 million so I don’t think anyone is confident that Lt. Governor Smith’s good news is anything we can count on. If we get what the Lt. Governor suggests that would be fine with me.

Dayton’s money for Duluth’s Schools

From an email from a friend from my Let Duluth Vote days:

From the Lt Gov letter:

“Our budget proposal would provide Duluth public schools an additional $7.4 million in funding to hold down class sizes, maintain facilities, and expand access to early learning. ”

Its a shame the State has to give Duluth money for the first two items, those are basic responsibilities of any district.

How would Duluthians feel say if Rochester gussied up all their schools and then received State tax dollars because they couldn’t keep up their new schools?

If all districts receive the same money then fine but otherwise it is a bailout of some bad, very bad decisions.

Here was my email reply:

Interesting. I can’t disagree with you. I hadn’t seen the letter but it’s what Art [Johnston] has been telling me we should be asking for because the state didn’t perform it’s due diligence overseeing the Red Plan.

Selfishly, for 709’s future, I can’t disagree. But I never saw that being in the cards. Even now I find it hard to believe that a GOP legislature will let that go into effect.

One last thought. $7 million would be nice but it’s a pittance compared to the annual bite the Red Plan’s theft from our general fund encumbers us with.

“I am somebody who tries to take my mask off.”

Today’s story about the Superintendent canceling his job search began with a post yesterday on his Facebook page. The Trib’s education reporter called me to ask me what I made of it. I promised her I’d take a look and call her back with my thoughts. She only quoted part of my response (my full comments are posted at the end) This is Superintendent Gronseth’s complete Facebook post:

Okay, well, so life in the public eye isn’t always easy. Sometimes I work really hard to make it seem like it is and many people who have shared their support for me have told me as much. So, just for the record, it can be difficult. Also, just for the record, I applied for positions while my contract was being discussed over the course of months–I got nervous and started looking. Yes. I applied for several and ended up a finalist in three of the nation-wide searches. Yes, I came in 2nd three times. I have withdrawn my name from other searches still in progress. Recently, at an event in Duluth, a woman who I know just a little, asked me why I kept interviewing in other places. After our chat, she said, well why don’t you just say that? And so here it is…But first I will say that my family has been a part of Duluth’s history for a long time since the 1890’s at least– as cobblers, grocers, bakers, real estate brokers, etc. I love the lake and the forest, and the change of seasons–and this will always be home and I truly do love it here. The people I get to work with from day to day are amazing. We are lucky to have so many knowledgeable, talented people in our schools. So the question remains, why would I want to leave it then? While others have suggested their own reasons, like more money, or larger districts, it really isn’t about that. It has been about joy, about positivity, about looking at challenges without dragging others down. Don’t get me wrong– I know it isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. We have some big issues to tackle and looking at the data is a big part of it. My focus however, is on the solutions and the process to get there. When we continually focus on the negative, that is what sticks, when we continually look at solutions, things get done. We need to get some things turned around– we need to dig in, and make some pretty significant changes in our schools and our community. We need to have people who are focused on problem solving, on lifting up what is going right so we can do more of it, and less negativity, finger pointing, and shaming. For my part, I am going to start speaking more plainly. I am not going to work quite as hard to make it look easy. Things might get a little messier, but I am hopeful that the right people will step up and join me as champions for our kids, our schools, and our community.

There are those that will tear this apart as well, and believe me to be disingenuous, but here it is– those who know me, know that I take my work seriously and that I care deeply about education.

After I called the Tribune back I spoke off the record for a few minutes while I composed my thoughts. This is what I said after going back “on record:”

I am somebody who tries to take my mask off. I believe in personal transparency and to the extent the superintendent is attempting to be very open about why he has been applying for other jobs, I appreciate his candor. But I do have some reservations about the implications of his message. I believe you can talk about awkward and difficult problems openly and candidly and those conversations don’t have to be regarded as “negativity.” He seems to believe discussions of difficult subjects shouldn’t take place at all, and not discussing them makes them go away. I believe he is wrong in thinking that. I am also troubled that his message seems to be an appeal to get new School Board members who will agree with him on the positivity angle. And if he is successful, the School Board will paper over problems, and that will only lead to a compounding of problems. I like the superintendent and I think he has the best interest of children at heart, and I am prepared to work with him if he continues on as leader of the school district. But I think he needs to examine my point of view with more openness to assure his success and the future success of the district.

And I will add something else. My first two years on the Duluth School Board were spent defending an honorable man accused of malicious and unsupported accusations that seemed intended to 1. humiliate him into quitting the board or 2. give the School Board majority political cover to overturn a recent election and remove him from office or 3. so blacken his reputation that he could not possibly win reelection in 2017.

The first two possibilities did not come to pass but the third has yet to be tested. My colleague, Art Johnston, will be running for reelection this year and we have yet to see if two year’s of taking a blow torch to Art causes him to lose reelection.

As to Supt. Gronseth’s post – I wish there had been more concern shown about “negativity” from 2014 to 2016 when someone else’s ox was being gored. Had some humanity been exercised at that time perhaps there would be a lot less less negativity today. The Superintendent is correct, “…life in the public eye isn’t always easy.”

PS. Anyone who would like to contribute to Art Johnston’s reelection can send me a check for the: “Johnston Volunteer Committee” and I’ll make sure he gets it. My address is:
Harry Welty
2101 E 4th St.
Duluth, MN 55812.

or send me an email telling me you’d like to help at: harrywelty@ charter.net. Sorry, but you will have to copy this and paste it into your browser.

Art will be in touch.

The Rape of Nanking

WDIO’s reporter, Julie Kruse, called me as I was adding another two books to “my reading list.” More on the books momentarily.

Today’s ongoing story in the Trib had caught Julie’s attention and the public’s apprehension about our superintendency has too. I gave her some background info and agreed to go on record so she and a cameraman zipped down for a quick interview. I had joked with her in advance that my inclination was to be more evasive than anything else and I tried to hew to that goal on camera.

I was wearing my wolf slippers when she came to the door and holding a stack of books on China. I explained I bought them the new feet with my grandsons at the Wisconsin Dells’ Great Wolf Water Park. Then I explained that I had gathered my books on China together to prepare for a summer trip to the same. Julie asked about the title “Rape of Nanking” which didn’t exactly sound like a travel guide.

The first of the books I entered on my old webpage was the one about the 1920 election. I powered through it and then today found the goodreads website which included almost 100 reviews from readers. Most enjoyed it as much as I did although a few quibbled about the gossipy things in it. Not me. I found FDR’s attempt to hush up the seamiest actions he took as Secretary of the Navy instructive. And when author, Pietrusza, commented archly that divorce rates had tripled in the decades leading up to 1920 so that by that date 1% of marriages had been sundered I appreciated that insight on the Era which was about to plunge into the Roaring Twenties.

I also added the book by Evan Osnos about China’s Age of Ambition to the list even though I still have about 50 pages to finish. Claudia and I have been tearing through it and it has taken some darker turns in the last couple of chapters. Among my unread Chinese related books was “Ancestors” by Frank Ching. I bought it on sale twenty years ago but it looks like just the book to take me back a thousand years into Chinese History. And last night I reread the prologue to Mr. Speaker so I’ll revisit that book about America’s Gilded Age.

All of these books are fodder to help me understand why we are the way we are today. From the preface of Mr. Speaker:

“The party labels of Reed’s day may seem now as if they were stuck on backwards. At that time, the GOP was the party of active government, the Democratic party, the champion of Laissez-faire. The Republicans’s sage was Alexander Hamilton the Democrats’ Thomas Jefferson. The Republicans condemned the Democrats for their parsimony with public funds, the Democrats arraigned the Republicans for their waste and extravagance. …..and what…constituted extravagance in federal spending? …a building to house the overcrowded collection of the Library of Congress.”

As one tidbit to support this I’ll note a news story from the Gilded Age which I found online last year. It mentioned my Republican Grandfather, Thomas Robb, and his neighbors taking the Santa Fe railroad to court for overcharging them. I know whose side Donald Trump would have taken.

Enrollment Chess

Today’s DNT article on a proposed expansion of the Wrenshall schools opens up all sorts of questions that demonstrate the difficulties for Minnesota’s schools. Rudy Perpich opened up a Pandora’s Box with both his Charter School’s and Open Enrollment innovations. He had been a long-time Hibbing School Board member before he got to St. Paul (he wanted to use his tenure in Hibbing to bump up his state pension when he left office) and he wanted to shake up public schools from their complacency.

School Districts and their politically vulnerable school board members have to weigh all sorts of imponderables before making big decisions involving taxes and referendums. Wrenshall schools are becoming overcrowded and the Board wants to hold a referendum to expand and update facilities. Some locals are against the fix up and taxes.

At present 100 Duluth kids are filling out Wrenshall’s student body. That is a trend that predates the Red Plan but which was also inflated by the Red Plan. The Wrenshall voters ought to ask themselves whether those Duluth students might leave them if they don’t fix up their schools. However, the question being asked in Wrenshall now seems to be whether they will spend all that money and then see the Duluth students leave anyway. Put another way will they be throwing good money after bad?

They have only to look at the Duluth Red Plan experience to see a similar result. The Keith Dixon led Duluth School Board gambled half a billion dollars on their great new schools attracting students back from the Charter Schools. Instead, the Red Plan caused a student diaspora. I think Loren Martell’s recent column suggested that Duluth lost 4,000 students after the Red Plan. Who can blame Wrenshall voters for being skittish?

Wrenshall has also been in the news when the Carlton District petitioned to consolidate with Wrenshall and it turned up its nose to a union with its smaller suffering neighbor. That too was a calculation. I’ll be honest. I’d love to have both schools send more of their students to Duluth especially the students that the Red Plan drove out of our District.

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