Category Archives: Education

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.

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

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.

Education – Issues before Congress

The Federal Government only funds about 7 percent of the cost of public schools. Most of this money is meant for school lunch programs and special education. The latter is a particular bugaboo for schools across the nation because originally the Congress had promised to fully funding it. But the full funding idea disappeared into a dark corner leaving a mostly unfunded mandate that is forced on local taxpayers to fund from property taxes.

I’ve written millions of words about education in the twelve years I’ve served on the Duluth School Board. In Duluth I’m best known for two things. Old time teachers have not forgotten that my school board invited a charter school into Duluth 20 years ago to bring in a school that might better address the needs of some of our lost kids. While some teachers have not forgiven me the community has generally been pleased with our Charters.

The other issue is the massive building plan authorized by the Board after my initial retirement from the Board in 2004. The So called Red Plan was put into place without a public vote and I raised hell about that. I saw “too-good-to-be-true” promises made in its behalf and scanty back up information supporting the promises. I took the School District to Court. There are two history books worth of day-by-day musing on that fight in this blog. I’ll just sum up by saying I was right and the School Board and the Unions and the Chamber of Commerce and the Duluth News Tribune have been proven wrong. The latter has never forgiven me for being proven right. Their editors love to call me a “perennial candidate” as a rebuke. No one likes an “I told you so.”

The buildings cost half a billion dollars. To pay for them the District laid off over a hundred teachers. Today almost all our local school taxes are going to pay off building bonds with very little left over for teachers. When I was on the Board we spent about 10 million more on teachers than we do today even though today’s school taxes are much higher. Now class sizes routinely hit 40 students per class.

Donald Trump has no monopoly on standing up for the voters. Sadly he is all hat and no cattle in the brain’s department.

Here’s one of several thousand posts on education. Its nothing special but it does express my deep reservations about Trump’s astoundingly rich Secretary of Education Betsy De Vos.

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.””

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.

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.

Coda Coda

Before the day is out I will write a second coda of sorts to the previous post which I billed as a coda or the last word on the subject of the Twain and Lee books being taken out of 709’s curriculum. Saner heads have spoken out since the DNT first suggested that this curriculum change was an assault on civil rights. Perhaps the best so far comes from a Denfeld teacher Brian Jungman who concludes with these thoughts:

I would ask that white readers consider what would happen if the district required a book that explains why women should be treated equally and the dangers of sexism but that did so by mentioning the c-word more than 60 times. I don’t think we would be surprised to find out our female population was offended. So why does the n-word — when used to that same degree — get a pass?

Atticus said, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” I think this is what we need to do because my worry here in this debate is not that we are being Atticus. I worry that we might be Atticus’ Maycomb, Ala.

My coda will be for my next Not Eudora Column in the Duluth Reader coming out Thursday. I’ve already written two of them but each day some new angle begs for a better response. And what I will likely respond to is this self righteous email written to our current school board (no longer including me) that cries out for a riposte:

To members of the Duluth School Board,

Good job Duluth. Let’s ban more books. How about a public book burning. While your at it why don’t you ban these important books in order to reveal your Fascist colors. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, The Call of the Wild, The Autobiography of Malcom X, Beloved, Catch-22, The Jungle

But that will be for later today before the Duluth Reader’s submission deadline. For now I want to keep practicing my French. I’ve averaged about thirty minutes a day of practicing the language for two months. I hope to be semi-conversant before I arrange a visit to France in September on 100th anniversary of end of World War I. I’ve also begun a self-directed course of French History reading. I’m holding off on writing more about my Grandfather for the time being but that too involves the issue of the integration of black American’s into the life of the Nation. And I’ve got another trip planned this time with grandchildren. And I have three days of church activities ahead of me before my departure including an Ash Wednesday Service, a choir practice, a men’s group meeting, a pancake flipping dinner and the church building and grounds committee meeting. Pretty busy week for an agnostic like me.

The blog may suffer as a result of my other preoccupations but I don’t plan to.

Censoring Mark Twain and Harper Lee?

The DNT’s story on our Administration pulling Huckleberry Finn and To Kill a Mockingbird out of our curriculum made it to the Washington Post and the New York Times. A friend of mine asked me on Facebook about it today?

Harry, what’s up with the school board outlawing Huck Finn and To Kill a Mockingbird?

I explained:

I am off the Board now so I am innocent. However, they are not banned. They are still in our libraries. It’s just that they won’ t be part of the curriculum. I think this story is much ado about nothing….however another story noted that today only 8 percent of high school students believe that slavery was the cause of the Civil War. That is alarming.

My friend told me I should read an editorial out of Post today that mentioned the 8 percent figure. Here’s the story which first publicized it.

Had our District pulled any book from our school libraries I would have joined the ACLU or any other group to object but that’s not what we did. That issue did face us in 1996, my first year on the Board, in a book which had the “N” word War Comes to Willie Freeman.

Anyone who cares about American history can not escape it. The N word appears in this blog. However, American schools seem to have been paralyzed by all manner of academic controversies. Teachers tippy toe around controversies. Slavery and race are radioactive, and Texas dependably leads the way to keep schools pro-Dixie and Christian Fundamentalist with its state-wide buys of text books that dis evolution, human driven global warming and other verboten truths and consequently impose these standards on all US text books.

Even so, both of the books scrubbed from English classes in Duluth are white centric and tied to earlier Eras in which white Americans were the champions for downtrodden blacks while the blacks had no agency. These are great books but it takes brave teachers to talk about these subjects. Too bad so many keep their heads down. This just keeps the next generation ignorant.

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.

Columbia Height’s school board compares poorly compared to Duluth’s

An reporter acquaintance of mine from the Twin Cities commended me for my recent column in the Reader. Later he told me of the obstacles the Columbia Heights School District placed in his way to cover their meetings. We’ve been communicating since the early days of the Red Plan. He thought the tidbit about the Tribune ending its regular coverage of the Duluth School District was funny. I presume as in funny odd.

He has dug into his pocket to the tune of $200.00 to ask for an opinion to slap the District’s hands. He explained:

On at least two previous occasions, the time they would unlock the doors for free entrance to the building was at 5:30. This was a little painful because a school board meeting might start at 5:30, although they usually start at 6:00. I was able to get into those 5:30 meetings, but the doors would not unlock until precisely 5:30 – and then you had no time to get there a few minutes early to sit down in the meeting room. If the school board chair was running late and they didn’t start precisely at 5:30, then the extra time was yours. I never missed anything because of this 5:30 unlocking time but it’s inconvenient in a way, to be rushing in. (If I ever had to video tape the meeting at 5:30, I would never have had the time needed to set up equipment before showtime – I would need a minimum of 30 min. to do that)

But on this last Tues night, they told me the unlocking of the doors was now at 6:00 pm. I said how the hell are you going to do that when the meeting starts at 5:30 and the public needs to get in?

Furthermore, the reporter was told he had to surrender his driver’s licence to the District if he wanted to enter the building before 6PM. In addition they do not show their meetings live and hold the right to edit community comments out of the video when it plays afterward.

I will miss Loren Martell’s reporting on me

Loren is often a week late for his Reader Column because the Reader goes to print Tuesday night when we have our regular Board meeting and the day after our Business Committee meetings.

I won’t miss being lectured to by my erstwhile colleagues but it’s certainly been gratifying to read the discussions that Loren’s columns transcribe. I hope he does some reporting on last night’s final meeting. This story about our red ink, which seems only to be online, has this brief interchange between Annie Harala and your’s truly:

The reserve, which was $2,359,436 at the start of last year, tanked to nearly half a million dollars in the red. Besides pointing a finger at special education, the district is also blaming that depletion on a levy adjustment for an elementary reading curriculum and a big loss of money due to enrollment once again dropping lower than projected.

“This year,” member Welty said, questioning this last point, “using ADM figures, I came up with 60 fewer kids.” Multiplying that with “the $12,300 per kid, I calculated that at about $740,000,” which, he added, “doesn’t account for the entire $3 million deficiency in revenues.”
“Member Welty, I think you missed a section of our conversation,” the Superintendent retorted, referring to the fact that member Johnston had just asked a similar question. “That was what member Johnston just asked —” Business Chair Harala chimed in, “and then you re-asked.”
“I think that question was legitimate from Mr. Welty,” member Johnston countered. “Looking at the numbers: they don’t quite jive.”
At one point, as the meeting progressed, Harala snipped under her breath that some Board members “should put their listening ears on.”
Harala also ventured a query of her own: “I have a question, before any other Board members start asking questions again. It’s kind of a–it’s a four-part question in one, that–aaaaaaah —so I keep thinking about–you know, there are some–I’m just gonna ask them: so what can we control, with where we’re at? And what can we do about what we can control? What can’t we control with how this budget happened, and what can we do about that? I just–we need–what–this is not a good state for us to be in. And what’s the plan for moving forward? So I’d just — I’d like to hear from administration on that —”

Expressing what everyone else in the room was thinking, Mr. G. replied: “I’m not sure I followed your four-part question, but I think I know where you’re headed.”
Over the past four years, whenever our current Chair of the Business Committee has asked a finance-related question, I’ve found myself fumbling with my listening ears, wondering how in the hell I can bring myself some relief by taking them OFF.

Squeezing some blood (thoughts on education) out of a turnip.

I began deleting old email messages on my District website a few moments ago. One gives me a link to clear out all of my district information on Google without disrupting non District info I had on a separate Google account previously. Having finished my holiday decorating…..including a second “fake” Christmas Tree in the basement with grandchildren produced gingerbread cookies I think its time to wrap up my District connections including turning in that tardy campaign finance form my Board policy book and my District ID’s and parking passes. I just discovered another eight inches worth of old Board books I’d put on some shelving to toss out so I’m really freeing up space. I have three or four bins of paperwork to look through some day and clean out as well.

I left my eight loyal readers hanging a couple days ago with assurances that there were subjects school district I intended to address related to All Day Kindergarten and more thoughts on Charter Schools. Promises, Promises. I’ll turn them into bullet points: Continue reading

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.

Two fuzzies, a referendum and a gift horse (2F,R,Horse) – A prologue

NOTE: I ONLY TYPED THIS UP TO CLEAR MY MIND SO AS TO GET BACK TO SLEEP. THESE 1485 WORDS SERVE AS BOTH THE PROLOGUE AND FUZZY NUMBER 1 (SPECIAL EDUCATION) I HAVE NO PATIENCE TO EDIT IT. ITS MY SLEEPING PILL AND I DO NOT PROOF READ SLEEPING PILLS. I’M GOING TO BED AND MAY OR MAY NOT ADD TO THIS ONE MORE FUZZY POST (ABOUT KINDERGARTEN), A POST ON THE NEXT REFERENDUM AND ONE ABOUT A GIFT HORSE.

My last post ended as though I was washing my hands of the Duluth Schools thusly: “Not my problem. My last meeting is Tuesday night. I lost. I’m free.”

Then my one remaining success on the Duluth School Board, Alanna Oswald, sent me an email which kindly punctured my balloon. She pointed out that a special Thursday meeting has been added to our schedule to “fix” our belatedly announced budget shortfall of two million plus bucks. We, the school board, have to do something because if we don’t the shortfall is enough to put us into Statutory Operating Debt otherwise known as Financial Hell. Its where the frog is pithed (made brain dead) just before a couple of high school freshman start carving it up for a lesson in anatomy. So, I will be resurrected zombie-like and made to slap some band aids on our budget before a new posse is sworn in to save the day after.

[I say Alanna is my only remaining success because Art Johnston, (who I helped “tame” the way one might attempt to turn a bobcat into a house cat) and I have both been forcibly retired by the voters. I worked my tuchus off to elect Alanna two years ago and she is by far the only person on the school board who understands our school’s workings as well as our top administrators. I fear the rest of the board will ignore her in deference to the Superintendent.]

So……there is no washing my hands of the District just yet…..especially since I’m keeping my campaign checking account open until the 2019 election just in case. And that means I woke up at 2AM with the Duluth Schools on my fevered brain…..sacre bleu. (I told you I’ve been studying French.)

First fuzzy (and not a warm one) Special Education funding: Continue reading

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.