Category Archives: Education

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

.

.

School Maintenance – another gift of the Red Plan

Today’s DNT readers learned that we are negotiating to get an acceptable offer to sell Nettleton School.

Selling our empty schools was always part of the poorly executed Red Plan financing and we were led to believe they would be much more remunerative than they have proven to be. In fact, all of them have been white elephants except for the Woodland property that now has the extensive Blue Stone development sitting atop the land. Meanwhile the empty buildings impose annual maintenance and heating costs on our strained District finances.

Although I have been censured by our Board previously by blogging about prospective buyers let me add this to the story. Another larger offer was made on Nettleton which we are not pursuing even though we have no current agreement with the buyers mentioned in today’s story. Unlike the buyer mentioned by the Trib the second more generous offer that we are not considering would not involve razing Nettleton. I’m in the minority on this deal.

Loren Martell’s lengthy column in this week’s Reader digs deeply into a subject that I haven’t touched for years – How the District will pay for the long term maintenance of all the new buildings that were built in one massive eruption of construction:

The larger point is: while we spend so much money on Old Central over the next ten years, much of the maintenance in our new or like-new buildings, already deferred five years, is also going to be deferred further down the road. (Some of the earliest “like-new” Red Plan buildings, such as Stowe Elementary, are already nearly ten years old.) During this February’s Business Committee meeting, our school board, ever desperate for funds in the wake of the failed Red Plan, advocated deferring even more maintenance.

We just blew half a billion on a problem blamed on poor maintenance and maintenance is again being shoved onto the back burner.
The repairs and renovations of Old Central ($17,899,595) are scheduled to consume 71% of the money district 709 intends to spend for facilities maintenance in its current ten-year plan. All the other facilities combined are only scheduled for $7,364,508 of repair and maintenance. Subtracting $850,000 just for the new roof on Lakewood Elementary leaves about $6.5 million (or $650,000 a year) to maintain all the other buildings, every one not really made “like-new.”

Obviously the district is already stretched thin to properly maintain and protect the obscenely expensive investment we just made in our school buildings.

I’ve frequently mentioned the other financial shortcomings brought about by the Red Plan. 1. Spending down the Reserve. 2. negotiating higher teacher salaries to avoid labor conflicts during construction. 3. Funneling millions each year from the General Fund’s classroom money to pay for the Red Plan costs that kept ballooning. 4. Laying off teachers to pay for the Red Plan. 5. An exodus of students making use of Open Enrollment. To this list we must add 6. the failure to set aside the cost of ongoing upkeep for our shiny new schools. It was typical of the previous Board to add things like glorious swimming pools to the Red Plan during the orgasm of construction. That’s why they decided not to spend the $18 million set aside for the semi-decrepit, National Historical landmark – Old Central. That would be a problem for future schools boards to deal with. Just add that cost to the Red Plan.

Its ironic that the Red Plan was pushed down our throats with the accusation that our buildings had not been maintained making it necessary to build all new schools to keep up with 21st century needs. Now at the start of the new century we are once again behind the eight ball of inadequate maintenance for these new buildings.

Here’s a historical footnote from my first couple years on the school board 1996-97. Supt. Mark Myles pissed off teacher’sunion President Frank Wanner by plowing money into long term maintenance instead of teacher contracts. Myles compounded this by promising to spend voter approved levies for building up a reserve fund and after he’d accomplished that for new programming but not increases in existing teacher’s salaries. It can be argued that Myles wasn’t very diplomatic but he had the best interest of needy kids very much in mind. you can get a glimpse of his priorities in as his recent letter to the Trib.

Rolling seven

Sunday the DNT had a story with the pros of a Seventh Hour Day and the many caveats and fears being thrown out to slow down instituting it next September.

Emotionally I side with Alanna Oswald. I am angry with myself for fretting along with foot dragging former Chair Harala about rushing to fully institute it. That’s why last month I offered up a motion to grease the wheels by giving the two western middle schools “more resources” meaning money for next year to demonstrate that our School Board is no longer inclined toward benign neglect.

I’ll share this email to the Board from Tom Tusken’s evaluation of the Trib’s seventh period day story:

Dear School Board and District Administration:

I feel compelled to write based on my unresolved feelings generated by the article in today’s Duluth News Tribune, “Seventh period: the answer?” While I was able to contribute to the article, I was unsatisfied by what I read as a whole.

Do we have an itemized list of costs associated with adding a seven period day? Why will it cost $2.6 million? Numbers get shared with no supporting documentation. I apologize if I missed the details at a recent school board meeting.

Seven periods may not be the best practice, but if it is not, where is the urgency of the school district to research and implement something different right now? Continue reading

When 87% of Duluth’s 9th graders had the reading skills to function as adults

I can’t find DNT’s “Bygones” section in today’s online paper but it reported that on this day 20 years ago:

“About 81% of Duluth ninth-graders have the math skills they’ll need to function as adults and 87% have the necessary reading skills, according to test results released yesterday. More than 90,000 student state-wide took the Minnesota Basic Standards Test in January.”

I had been on the Board for a little over a year on that date and this was a test that has likely changed several times since then so that it is hard to make a comparison with today’s testing results. Still, those sound like pretty good results for kids with just three more years of high school to finish. I’m not sure we could match those results today. If I’m right that’s a sad commentary on our progress.

I will have several other local news related posts to make later this morning. (I’m catching up from a weekend with family and reading history.) This is meant to whet your appetite so come on back when I’ve posted them.

Friends in strange places

The Duluth School Board is and ought to be paranoid about voters who distrust it. We should be especially concerned about driving more of them to paranoia. That fear was on my mind when I wrote an op-ed piece a year ago lamenting the continuing 709 feud with Duluth’s charter school, locally known as “Edison.”

I grew up with the Roger’s and Hamerstein song “getting to know you.” I sang it often to my Mother after she lost the capacity to talk. I write the following 1000 words with the song’s sentiment firmly in mind.

I gently disagree with one sentence in an otherwise excellent DNT editorial published on Monday. The sentence?

“How we got to this troubling level of inequity isn’t nearly as important as what we’re doing about it and what we’re going to be doing about it – as a community”

The editors give short shrift to history. As we can see in black/white relations history is critical to understanding why race is still a subject of miscommunication 150 years after slavery ended. It won’t take 150 years to get over the Red Plan but if anyone thought we were over it that hope was dashed with the attempt to remove Art Johnston from the School Board for asking about Red Plan funding. The DNT editors need to understand that the “inequity” in our schools today, started with the Red Plan. Today it steals $3.4 million in equity relief from ISD 709 every year. Ironically, the Red Plan was meant to undercut Edison. It failed miserably. Now, more than ever, we need the help of Edison for the ISD 709 schools. Simply put, we need Edison parents to vote to renew our $1.8 million operational levy. What’s more we need them to vote for a bigger operational levy for ISD 709.

Duluth voters could triple our existing $1.8 million levy. That would be about $3.6 million dollars. THAT IS A HUGE COINCIDENCE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Our brilliant Red Plan school board so alienated voters that when they ran out of money they stole (legally) money from our General Fund to pay for more borrowing. Today we are transfering $3.4 million annually for this purpose. We laid off the equivalent of 37.7 teachers to pay for nice new schools. That’s almost the same figure as the additional money we could raise in a referendum – if voters trusted us.

That won’t happen if we keep thumbing our noses at an ever increasing population of Edison supporters (and voters). I explained this in a January 2015 post: (The “Bill” is Bill Morris, a Minnesota pollster)

“I asked Bill about parents who had children open enrolled out of their district or who were attending parochial, charter or private schools. Duluth has a lot off all three categories. The news he offered was not good for ISD 709. He told me these parents became openly hostile to public bonds because they considered the public schools as their children’s school’s competition. The swing is dramatic. While 80% of elementary children’s parents tend to vote for levies it changes to 80% voting against when their children attend other schools.”

That should give the willies to every ISD 709 teacher with five or six extra Red Plan students crammed into their classrooms.

The Edison parents have been remarkably patient with our ungenerous, paranoid, School Board. I think they must be suffering from “Stockholm Syndrome.” They have been so abused for so long they are desperate to prove they don’t have a grudge against ISD 709. That won’t last forever but I think its still exists. And to that point I got a big surprise at Tuesday’s Denfeld meeting when my grandson’s Northstar teacher came into the Denfeld meeting.

When I saw her yesterday while picking my grandson up at Northstar I mentioned my surprise. She told me that, in fact, the largest contingent of parents at the Denfeld meeting were Northstar (Edison) teachers and parents. Their children attend Denfeld and they are as concerned about the inequity in western schools as anyone else in Duluth. Some of them love Denfeld’s diversity and have chosen to send their kids to Denfeld over East. When I heard this you could have knocked me over with a feather.

Now I’ll get even more personal. My daughter, a proud 1999 East High school graduate, teaches at Northstar. She can’t wait for an Edison High School but she is a public school booster. (Northstar is a public school). Like me she is soured by the selection of Betsy DeVos to be our nation’s Secretary of Education.

We need to think long and hard about our foolish assumptions lest we make the mistake of bringing our “self fulfilling prophecies” to life. The simple fact is that even with another 350 students an Edison High School will not so deplete Denfeld that it will cease to exist. That’s especially true if we give Lincoln and Denfeld the resources they need to keep their families happy and help keep them in the running for new students.

Oh, and I’d like to share the Facebook rant that my Edison teaching daughter passed on:

“Sad day for public education in the United States. The U.S. House of Representatives has introduced Bill 610. This bill will effectively start the school voucher system to be used by children ages 5 to 17, and starts the de-funding process of public schools.

“The bill will eliminate the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESSA) of 1965 which is the nation’s educational law and provides equal opportunity in education. It is a comprehensive program that covers programs for struggling learners, AP classes, ESL classes, classes for minorities such as Native Americans, Rural Education, Education for the Homeless, School Safety (Gun-Free schools), Monitoring and Compliance and Federal Accountability Programs. Continue reading

The Good Donald Trump

I had every intention of watching President Trump’s first address to a joint session of Congress last evening. Instead, I got Trumped by the School Board. We altered our February schedule so we could meet on the last Tuesday of February rather than the third Tuesday. And, as I’ve explained, our new more amicable Board pulled a Trump on me without warning. They rehired our oily, Machiavellian attorney, Kevin Rupp, whose practice has pioneered the removal of school board members who ask too many questions and bother their Superintendents.

So, I’m only catching up on Trump’s speech that today’s commentators are explaining was a traditional stick-to-the-teleprompter affair. (I gave a couple of those myself last night sans teleprompter.) But I haven’t changed my mind about our new President or the staff he has surrounded himself with – a staff that I think Attorney Rupp would find very agreeable.

An an old highschool acquaintance of mine and I recently “friended” each other on Facebook. Sue sent me a post this morning from the Guardian Newspaper that helps cement my contempt for our new “Common letcher and Chief.” Coincidentally, it involves an author whose book I plan to read at Lakewood Elementary next week. Its author is Australian, Mem Fox.

Last year when I read at Lakewood they asked me to read a book on forestry and suggested Dr. Seuss’s the Lorax. This year they are talking about recipes and asked if I had anything that might fit that topic for which I could bring a recipe for the students. I thought of Pavlova.

I love visiting book stores in other nations to see what local authors are writing for children. In England decades ago I discovered the charming book Five Minutes Peace. Four years ago in Australia I discovered Mem Fox among others.

My old classmate, Sue, sent me this disspiriting story about Mem’s latest trip to America and the moment she “loathed” America.

Thank you Mr. President. You have more than made up for the awful Nobel Peace Prize that those ditzy Norwegians gave President Barack Obama when he was beginning his administration.

To Err on the side of self flagelation is….

Loren Martel.

Loren has been outdoing himself lately. His columns have been churned out almost weekly and he is in the Duluth Reader yet again this week aiming a blow torch very narrowly at his favored whipping boy “The DFL-endorsed Board majority.” He has a little left over for our Superintendent’s wandering eye as well. More on this in the next post but I’d like to linger on the meat of his retraction in the first paragraph. Loren admits a mistake, not his first, but offered one of his most important corrections.

He recently explained that since the days of Dixon our taxpayers had suffered a 60% increase in their local school taxes. It turns out Loren was way off the mark. He corrected himself: “Our tax levy from the district has risen by a whopping 246% since the start of the Red Plan.” Yup. Yup. Yup.

I’ll add some additional details, one of which I learned today in a conversation with an MDE finance expert from that Era who watched with astonishment as the Duluth Schools proceeded with their exploding hot potato. I learned that a few years ago the District had the opportunity to raise money for capital costs to help pay off the Red Plan but chose instead to take the money out of the General Fund and thus from classrooms. The reason is understandable. Having already failed miserably in their promise not to raise taxes as a result of the Red Plan, the powers-that-be decided it was better to raid classroom money rather than further anger voters. For many years we took six million annually from the classroom for bond payoffs. Now its a little over three million stolen annually- and that’s not an unfair description.

I asked if any other school districts in the state had ever done such a thing. “Yes,” I was told. Minneapolis and St. Paul did it briefly. I asked if they took anything close to 5% out of their General Funds for bond payoff purposes. “No,” was the answer. And of course we both knew that Duluth will be doing this for ages. “Some of these bonds won’t be paid off for 35 years,” I was told. (Or was it 50 years?) This major outlay from the General Fund was made necessary by change orders, cost overruns, lying, grossly inflated charges even more excessive than those recently exposed at Prior Lake. What makes it worse is that the Red Plan Board members regularly denied that they were taking General Fund money to pay off the bonds on the Red Plan. No wonder they wanted to remove Art Johnston when he kept asking for the public data that confirmed how bone headed the Red Planners had been.

Loren quotes one of the applicants for the Superintendent job who the Board passed on in 2012. Stan Mack was a thirty year administrator who frankly told the board that the Red Plan’s financing was “unprecedented in Minnesota…a most serious problem…major leakage from the General Fund, caused by school board action.” Mack did not get the job but three of the Board members were unable to get their preferred candidate Mr. Gronseth hired. But time heals all wounds. Six months later the new Superintendent was sent packing after a well orchestrated campaign to make him look like a ninny. Positivity at last.

PS. That Martell article is in the news stands but not yet online. I think the Reader stalls a few days to keep its advertisers in the print version happy.

Americapocalypse

I love my blog’s search function. It always surprises me what it can reveal in and about my ten years of blogging. Apparently, not counting this post I have mentioned “paranoia” in 47 previous posts. Its easy to count as the search function shows me 20 posts per page and there were three pages with 20 + 20 + 7 such posts. A couple even had the word “Paranoia” in the Title. Now that’s a small fraction of my total 19442 posts (not counting this one). I think that shows some restraint on my part as it means I’ve only mentioned it in .0049724926 percent of my total posts. (You gotta love calculators)

It’s on my mind now despite living a pretty mundane life. Last night my very interesting evening with the School Board (beginning with our hush hush closed meeting to discuss……….) Shhhhhh!

As I was saying – after my night of school board meetings I had eight minutes to drive up to my heart-dappled Glen Avon Presbyterian Church to practice with our choir. This will be difficult for me to continue thru June because Claudia is now working Wednesday evenings helping register homeless folks in at CHUM. Until June I’ll be skipping choir practice to take care of our grandsons. I’m looking forward to these evenings but since I can’t really read music I’ll be missing my only chance to practice our music by ear. I don’t mind looking foolish at a School Board meeting (that’s a lie) but I hate the thought of coughing out an unplanned solo or hitting a false note in church.

Ah, but a sick grandchild and my rare Wednesday board meeting left me free for the night and I hurriedly parked on the south side of Lewis street as I have for twenty years. Thank goodness I got the music. It is tricky and syncopated. When I left the practice feeling relieved I opened my car door and saw a parking ticket fall to the street. Twenty-four bucks! I guess I should thank my lucky stars I got away with that for the past two decades. It was bound to catch up with me sometime.

So this morning I awoke in our guest room bed alone. I moved there after waking up and fretting for a couple hours that would have been better spent sleeping. I have all day to fret. Last night however, I decided the deep well that I have put in my mattress may explain the sore shoulder muscles I’ve endured for the past week after shoveling snow. If so, maybe its not simply the Americapocolypse that has me up at nights. I’m going to lobby for a new mattress.

Claudia, it turns out, had to leave early for her Twin Cities Seminary classes this morning. She left me a pot of coffee and two sleeping cats which she had fed. Nice. Then, I read the 25th day straight of unsettling news about our new Command-her and Chief. Then, I thought about the likely imminent departure of our Superintendent. Then, I thought about how unless we can find alternative funding the School District may have to pull money out of the classroom to pay for replacement of tire mulch. Then, I thought about how to lobby the Minnesota Dept of Education to take money out of our Capital funds instead. Then, I saw my parking ticket on the dining room table. Phooey!

The ticket explained that I could pay easily over the phone and easy sounded, well, easy. But when a cheery voice announced I could do it easily for an extra $3 charge for phone processing I hung up and wrote a check instead. I’ll pay 54 cents for Post Office processing instead, thank you very much.

And behind all this personal minutiae lies a fearful political collapse of the Republic. The press won’t cut Trump any slack as he blunders his way proving that he can make the national political transition of government as chaotic as last year’s election. He has read his political mandate about as well as he can read. The saving grace is that in a pinch the Republican’s in Congress will likely not give him authoritarian powers lest he do to the Republicans what Kim Jong-un did to his half brother a couple days ago. They still need a powerful enough justification to impeach Trump so as to shield themselves from their fire-breathing Limbaugh and Rapture-ridden Christian base.

I take little comfort when I read an old testament Christian’s explanation that God chose lots of evil men to work his will in Old Testament times and that’s why they voted for Trump. Trump is our Nebuchadnezzar. An illiterate, pussy grabber is God’s judgement on America. Maybe that explains Trumps stunning retreat from his last thank you to the RNC convention for cutting Gays some slack. Then he backed off and threw a bone to the fundamentalists scrapping the Johnson Amendment.

I’ve often joked that “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean someone isn’t out to get you.” Looking at my Facebook feed which keeps growing exponentially as I add new friends I see how the folks on my side of the political divide are rallying. I only get short glimpses of the pro-Trump side as they typically eschew the Fake News I rely on. They probably feel paranoid about my jokes about the impeachment of Trump. That may be cause for alarm. At choir practice last night a friend told me of a retired school superintendent he knows (and that I know too) who is out buying all the ammunition he can.

I really need a good mattress.

How the Cookies resist crumbling

The Education Committee lasted almost three hours yesterday. We had several long presentations but the surprise was what I might have imagined to be a non controversial new policy on Wellness.

The initial Wellness policy presentation was given at our January meeting and Alanna Oswald joined by Art Johnston raised a number of objections about snacks in schools that might be outlawed by new federal regulations. I’ll be honest. I quickly tuned out the discussion eager for a quicker end to the meeting. But this was much bigger potatoes than I realized. Our student reps from the high schools became quite engaged.

Yesterday we learned from Student Rep. Ben Emmel that 200 Denfeld students had signed a petition supporting cookie sales by classes for special ed students which sold their school baked cookies each lunch period. In addition sports teams and many other school related groups were worried that their sales of similar goodies might be curtailed. and then there was the question of elementary students who brought birthday goodies to their classrooms.

After yesterday’s discussion it became obvious that many people had been researching the issue and the Superintendent himself bent over backwards to explain that the Federal Government had a lot of exceptions and flexibility built into its nutrition regulations. In the end I’m not sure the new Wellness Policy will pose a threat to these long lived traditions.

But then again when I was on the School Board the principals effectively killed a proposal to get rid of vending machines that sold pop and candy. Our fellow Board member, UMD Physical Ed teacher Pati Rolf, decried these unnecessary calories. She left before she won her argument but after the fact she prevailed. Nonetheless, calories have a stubborn habit of sneaking back. Just look at my Girl Scout Cookies which, by-the-by, do qualify as a “smart snack” under Federal nutrition regulations. I just ate three of them. “Smores” ummmm, yummy!