Category Archives: Education

Thank you M’am

A couple days ago I volunteered to read to my grandsons before bed. Its something I did all the time a couple years ago but since they both began reading copiously I’ve fallen out of the habit. I miss it. I love to read to kids. Here’s one of my favorite books. For more push the “up” button. I’ve read a lot of books to Claudia too including all seven of the Harry Potter books – twice, except for number seven. I’ve only read The Deathly Hallows one once.

For this reading I pulled out a wonderful story from the time I led Great Books classes for my daughter back when she was in fifth grade. The story I chose to read was Thank You M’am by Langston Hughes of Harlem. It was written in 1931 a few steps from where my Grandfather earned his Masters Degree at Columbia University. Columbia and the Harlem Renaissance were next door neighbors. I thought I’d share it with you.

Today’s news requires me to lay out my first campaign plank/planks.

And these are no where near the top of my list in importance.

The Red Plan set aside about 18 million dollars to fix up Old Central High School. It was spent on other goodies instead. I can’t recall how much the cost of repairs had risen to when I was on the Board, perhaps ten million more. Today the Trib reports that the current estimated fix up costs are $48.5 million.

When I was on the Board in about 2002, Garry Krause asked me to second a motion to discuss selling Central despite its iconic and historic value. A buyer who has subsequently bought other abandoned Duluth Schools even came into the picture. But Old Central (also referred to as HOCH Historic Old Central High) remains.

Here’s my first campaign position. If we can sell it to someone who would abide by the National Historic Preservation guidelines I’d sell it in a heartbeat pending a vote of Duluth in a referendum to take place preferably in 2020 when the maximum voter turnout can be expected.

No Boards before the Red Plan or afterwards has been willing to raise taxes to bring it into full repair. It is a lovely symbol of our schools but a terrible drag on them as well. I personally don’t want to case a vote as one of seven school board members to sell it without public support and in this case I don’t think my election in 2019, should I succeed, ought to count.

On the other hand my view on New (but abandoned) New Central is simpler. I’d vote to spend the million or so needed to demolish it. I would do so for two reasons. It costs money to maintain. It will pull down the price we can claim for selling the land to a private developer. HOWEVER! I am in no hurry to sell the land unless we got an offer we couldn’t refuse. Today I’d say that price should be fifteen to twenty million dollars. Why see it so dear? Because our District has held empty land for years for future use. I think global warming, unless it can be reversed – and it probably can’t will make Duluth a prime location for coastal and sounthern people to move to. That could make a third high school necessary and there could be no better location for a third high school than in this central location. It would be Central risen as a phoenix from the ashes.

On my mark, Get set…….

I have a week to organize myself for my school board campaign. I’ll have two shots at a Reader column before its publisher cuts me off as a candidate. I sent one in today. It contains a cartoon I drew borrowing heavily from a children’s illustration. I figure that I’ve had a year to undo the damage Donald Trump inflicted on my school board campaign in 2017 by leaving Duluth’s outraged voters under the mistaken impression that by voting against me they were voting against Trump. Actually, I have enjoyed my vacation from the School Board and the Superintendent. Thank you Donald.

Here’s the cartoon. You will have to wait until the Reader comes out to see how its used.

Since the blog will be my daily contact with voters I’ve gotten interested in seeing how much attention it attracts by analyzing this year’s blog stats. Although less than half complete June is by far the most visited month for a long time, maybe ever. I’ve averaged 4,674 page views a day. And each “pageview” includes twenty posts.

In looking at my blog I checked out the very first post from March of 2006 where I declared my separation from the Republican Party. I also just discovered a post meant to be a quick reference to finding stuff on my first website: www.snowbizz.com.

If I have to lie to get elected I don’t want to be elected

And I do want to get elected:

I missed my deadline for the Reader. I haven’t done any serious recent blog postings but a few days ago I responded to a Facebook comment that every beginning teacher ought to be paid $60,000.

I took a little break after an hour’s French studies to clear my mind and I began thinking about that post and my reply which is copied below.

That $60,000 salary is bullshit. Its bullshit in the same way as some folks are saying the United States should pay full tuition for every college student. I called it Pie-in-the-sky in my reply which I think was thoughtful but America doesn’t need thinking on the left to be as addled as Trump’s tweets.

Here’s the facts. Public School Teachers make good livings. They are paid the same whether they are brilliant or mediocre. This offends some Republicans but who cares. Let them go into teaching. I’ve known dynamic teachers who petered out because of the demands of the job. Its called “burn out.” The challenge for any successful school is to prevent burn out. Using high pay to keep teachers motivated is a lost cause. It’s a lost cause that teacher’s unions chase after vigorously. They are as addicted to pushing up high wages as District Attorneys too often are by high conviction rates……whether the convicted are guilty or not. The rates become their bragging rights for reelection. Ditto teacher politicians in their unions. “We got you more pay and we poured out a lot of crocodile tears about all the other stuff like big classes. Keep us negotiating for more of the same.”

For instance, in Duluth our Teacher’s Union has made it damn near impossible to hire more teachers. Every scrap of money the state gives us goes into to paying existing teachers not hiring more to have smaller classes. When I asked Frank Wanner, then the DFT President, why his union would not support a levy referendum request in 1997 that the Board promised to use to hire additional specialist teachers his response to me was “What’s in it for us?” meaning the existing teachers. But the DFT got behind the Red Plan. They had to to stay in good stead with Duluth’s languishing construction unions and supported the ruinous Red Plan that diverted so much local levy into building bonds at the expense of a couple hundred existing teaching jobs. Ah, but after silencing teachers worried about the Red Plan, Frank did ridicule the School Board after the Red Plan’s damage was done – for not knowing better. Thanks a lot.

Some union leaders do see the forest for the trees. I once fell in love with the AFT’s (American Federation of Teachers) gnarly old President Al Shanker. As he aged he realized that public schools owed more to their students. Please read the link.

Here is a basic truth about teacher pay. Teachers, protected by tenure and unions, have it pretty good if they are reasonably good teachers. First, Its a secure job. Its protected during economic downturns because the public will continue to keep them employed. Second, Its a job with a summer vacation. I know. I know!!!!! Teachers hate it when this is thrown into their face but its undeniable. Three months of summer off to take more classes for a higher better paying degree, or to garden or to travel. Hell, I wanted to be a teacher for this reason. My father left a full time public job to become a college teacher who taught one summer session but discovered he could take his kids on six week camping trips to introduce them to America and Canada. Third, Its modest wages (which are looking better and better to a lot of low level service employees these days) are vastly supplemented by a generous public retirement plan…..in many states like Minnesota. My Dad’s TRA money covered half my Mother’s living expenses and housing needs until she died after six years in a dementia wing of a nursing home here in Duluth. Fortunately, she had some other income and savings for the other half thanks to prudent children who looked out after her interests.

What I wrote in my reply was this:

Harry Welty: Easy to say but a very tall order. How about guaranteeing all parents $40,000. How about guaranteeing no classroom has more than 25 kids. Both are worthwhile goals but pie in the sky. If Duluth was to implement this overnight on its property taxes I can’t calculate the cost but I can imagine it. $60,000 is probably the average pay without benefits for a Duluth teacher. Starting everyone at this salary might be like giving 500 teachers 10,000 each or $5 million. It won’t reduce class sizes. It won’t make kids learn more. Multiplied across America It will make Democrats very unpopular overnight.

A FRIEND’S REPLY: It is a commentary on our society that people would rebel against paying teachers a decent wage – commensurate with the importance of the job. But, people pay hundreds to see a professional sporting event, and the players are paid exorbitant salaries. We pay thousands for vehicles, and auto executives make millions. We pay for those salaries, and maybe we don’t like it, but we keep buying cars and trucks and we keep going to sporting events. But, we won’t pay what teachers are truly worth. It shows how little we truly value education.

Harry Welty: I can’t disagree with you. The challenge is addressing multiple priorities simultaneously. Gas taxes for infrastructure. Taxes for preschools. Taxes for conservation of federal lands and Health care The list is long and has been neglected for a long time while the Kochs and their ilk were spared. I take Bernie’s advocacy as a worthy goal but not as a practical one.

Duolingo and learning lingo at an advanced age

I just spent some time reading a discussion site on my Duolingo ap. One person about my age had expressed frustration with how slow going it was to learn French at 67. She asked if there were other older learners who could give her tips. I just had to add my two cents. For anyone contemplating such an activity this is what I told Dranke (probably not her real name)

Good luck Dranke,

We are the same age and I started from scratch learning French on Duolingo 16 months ago just before my 67th birthday. I’ve had two streaks – 194 days when I quit because I had just begun a month long tour of France. 30 days later I started a 208 and continuing streak. I’ll have more to say after I share this link from yesterday’s New York Times about the limits of online language learning from someone who just passed a 500 day streak:

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/04/smarter-living/500-days-of-duolingo-what-you-can-and-cant-learn-from-a-language-app.html?searchResultPosition=3

I don’t know if that will be an active link when I push post but if not just copy it and paste it into your browser.

The story is spot on but more dismissive of learning Duolingo than I am. I am not someone who simply redoes easy lessons to add points or win lingots or worry about owls. Everyday I try to cram new information in my head. I have put close to 2 hours a day memorizing…..as the article says….the vocabulary and the grammar. Nine months didn’t come close to preparing me for speaking in France. Neither has the subsequent seven months. But I am improving. I have started listening to cartoons in French, Peppa the Pig and Zazou the Zebra. Movies are too hard to follow so far.

I’ve considered similar immersion programs in Quebec. I’ve also considered spending a month in a rural part of France where there will be fewer English speaking residents to hamper my practice. Continue reading

Going to bed with Peppa

Last night for the second time I risked my cell phone’s melatonin messing blue light to watch little snatches of the cartoon Peppa the Pig in French. Between the cartoon’s pictures, its elementary vocabulary and my fifteen months of study it almost seems like I could understand the language if I could only squint my brain enough.

A year ago I wrote a column about my intent to learn a second language in the Reader in a column titled “Pardon Mon French.” That was after three months of studying. Now I’ve got a year and three months under my belt…..except for the month of September last year. That’s when I was actually traveling through France and didn’t have time to keep practicing if I wanted to see the countryside. I had nine months of French practice under my belt and I was hopeless.

To my surprise I resumed my study within days of returning and have added another six months of study. I don’t have any expectation of spending a lot of time with French speaking people but that could change if I actually begin to find myself understanding and speaking it. The US State Department lists French as one of the three easiest languages to learn. The State Department says it takes about 480 hours to become conversant.I presume their preferred teaching methods are a lot more intensive than my home study without other speakers to guide me personally. I am probably beyond that level of time spent but comprehension still eludes me. I take heart in the experience of a polyglot who gave a TED talk type presentation before other polyglots. Polyglot = multi-lingual.

This young lady spoke about six languages. Her presentation followed a year of visiting other polyglots and asking them about their method of learning. She found, as I would have expected, that no two multi-lingual speakers study in exactly the same way. I found their stories very hopeful. All were in their twenties when they began throwing themselves into languages. The speaker had a very useful motivational quote. “The best time to learn a language” she explained “is when you are young.” She added, “The second best time is now.”

This speaker claimed to have spent roughly an hour a day learning new languages. She explained that polyglots generally had a little corner with all their teaching/learning tools, books dictionaries, etc that they cuddled up with. Here’s mine: Continue reading

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

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

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

Meeting two

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.