Category Archives: Red Plan



It is now May. There are only two ways to make the possibly toxic mulch safe before the next school year:

1. We allow the Duluth community to do it for a very modest amount. or

2. We promise the moon to any contractors willing to meet our specs in one year’s time. They have all passed on $1.2 million. Maybe we can shake someone out for $2 million. or

3. We don’t let the children play on the playgrounds next year.

I lauded Cory Kirsling in the second of these posts. By the way he plans to get Minnesota’s playground safety inspector’s license in the next few weeks.

Before I share Cory’s take on the terrible predicament we are currently in you should know how fussy the Red Plan contractors were in fixing up one Duluth school playground. At Lakewood Elementary (with a relatively new playground) they simply removed the wood mulch and replaced it with rubber. That’s pretty much what I would let parents do to all our playgrounds now. Take out the rubber. Put in wood chips.

Now here’s Cory’s analysis:

This is the problem Harry….

The consultants gave a bid for what they were asked for. They were asked to give a bid based on what was asked of them.
Which was: how much to replace the mulch, removing the equipment to make sure that we had correct depth around the equipment, for fall heights or where the mulch meets the equipment for steps, or the slide bottoms (which just today I showed members of our group is ridiculous, because none of the playgrounds have a certain depth now, and is completely random everywhere)

We didn’t ask them to come up alternatives. Like pads on top of concrete bases, or raising curbing to meet new mulch requirements.
Or even inventive ways to remove the tire mulch like a vac truck, etc.

Also the board requested that a playground licensed installer do the work, because of warranty issues. Did anyone contact the playground manufacturer to see if we could just have a licensed representative on hand to direct the work? Or take in account that several playgrounds have older equipment that has no warranty. The consultants based all pricing on one playground schematic. That would be Lester Park, and off square footage. Which again includes sidewalks and green spaces. The administration or board didn’t ask them to do a site by site survey. So the consultants are basing all pricing off what was given them. Not what they went out and explored themselves.

I did explain all this before the consultants were hired.

Why nobody just asked the original playground installers to come in and give recommendations is beyond me. Skip the consultants and hire a engineer and ask that person to come up with the most cost effective method. Then have Dave Spooner [our Facilities chief] search out bids from companies.

Instead we had the consultants put bids out that nobody saw. Because they were posted on a wall at several locations. Not in the paper, or make a announcement on the news etc.

The district must overspend on so many projects it is mind boggling.

Another lost opportunity to sell an empty school

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

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

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

City Pages has drawn a connection from Prior Lake’s soaking …

… to the pillaging of the Duluth Schools. Here’s a sample:

“Johnson Controls believes the revitalization can be accomplished in both a budget and tax-neutral manner,” read the January 24, 2006 letter signed by company execs Micheal J. David and Brent T. Jones. “… Johnson Controls has the wherewithal to guarantee the financial solution, in writing. By doing so, we enable you to move forward with little or no risk…

“Bottom line, the Duluth Public Schools is facing a once-in-a-generation opportunity and Johnson Controls can make it happen.”

Alanna Oswald was feeling it. The ’91 Denfeld grad and mother with two says the sales pitch was irresistible.

“I was all on board.… We were going to get brand new shiny buildings that more adequately addressed our children’s learning needs, and our taxes would go up a little bit,” says Oswald, who’d go on to become a Duluth school board member in 2015.

The massive overhaul would become known as the Red Plan. Johnson Controls would oversee it all, from planning to engineering. Construction began in 2009 and lasted into 2011.

But before it was all over, the Red Plan’s price tag would balloon to $315 million. Johnson’s fees, which were based on percentages, soared with it.

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.

Foresight, what might have been, and temper tantrums

I slaved off-and-on from 5 AM until midnight yesterday to whittle nonsense riddled old posts from 700 offenders to about 80 left today. It’s mind numbing work made bareable by interesting discoveries. Its been entertaining to review my early writings in Lincolndemocrat. I just read this one showing the letter I would be sending out announcing my candidacy for the School Board in 2007

The post reassured me that I have a powerful, if imperfect, Bullpoop detector.

The School Board told Duluth that the Red Plan would practically pay for itself. Now a decade after I began blogging about the Red Plan most readers will appreciate the fiscal twaddle handed us. Why it wasn’t the building plan that would be expensive! It was the exorbitant and unnecessary costs of holding a referendum on the plan that the School Board wanted to spare taxpayers.

Here’s a couple paragraphs I put in the letter:

Raising $437 million in taxes through deception is a lousy way to run a school district. Read the beginning of my testimony to the State Board of Education last week.

“According to the information coming out of JCI and the Duluth School District the average Duluth household will only pay between $9 and $11 per month in property taxes if the Red Plan is adopted for a maximum of $132 annually. Let’s test this.

If you multiply $11 dollars, by 12 months and then multiply that by 20 years you get $2,240 per household. If you assume that there are 2.5 people per household this would result in $896 in taxes for the average resident of the Duluth school district over the course the Red Plan.

But if you multiply this average individual tax burden by the 94,000 residents of the Duluth School District the resultant taxes over twenty years would yield only $84,224,000 a far cry from the $437 million it will take to finance the Red Plan.

If you simply divide the $437,000,000 figure by the District’s 94,000 residents, you come up with a considerably higher per person tax over twenty years – $4,649. As some wag once said, “figures never lie, liar’s figure.”

My letter explains how I will have to get elected to the Board to put the breaks on the Red Plan. What happened in that campaign was that I was ambushed three days before election day and defamed by a vicious misrepresentation about my early career as a school board member. Had I been elected I could have tipped the balance on the Board and helped put the Red Plan up for a vote and, if it failed, I could have helped craft a more modest building program and insured that it was sold with credible financial analysis rather than snake oil.

That is my prologue for a little discourse on my tantrum about reviewing the Rupp law firm’ legal billing. It worked. The invoices will be made available for me to peruse this afternoon. School Board member Art Johnston chimed in by sending our new CFO his official data request for the same info which was never honored. Back when Art’s request was ignored we had five board members who tried to remove Art so apparently state law could be brushed off. We have a new school board and I’ll be damned if this public data will be withheld any longer. At my election I was given the fiduciary responsibility for overseeing our school district’s finances and administration.

I was ambushed again at this week’s school board meeting. The majority orchestrated an unexpected motion to retain Kevin Rupp’s firm for the Duluth School District. To say I was enraged puts it mildly.

I’ll share a hideous and despicable example of the legal advice of our counselor, Kevin Rupp, recommended to the Board members wishing to remove Art Johnston. (I was serving on the Board at the time and this advice was not provided to me for my input) This was passed on to me by an unimpeachable source.

Rupp’s plan was to take an ambiguous and, as it turned out, inaccurate story about Art making racist statements and add it to a list of other dubious accusations. Hearing that Art would be accused of being a full-throttle racist horrified Mike. He protested that it was a terrible thing to do but Rupp prevailed and Mern went along with the plan.

For the next year every headline in the Duluth News Tribune shouted that Art was an accused racist. It’s no wonder that after a year of such treatment, news or not, Art is no fan of the Trib or of the system that perpetuated such a hideous lie. Hell, Art has served on the board of the NAACP for several years.

Discovering that our Board was willing to ignore my principled objections and distrust of the man made my flesh crawl. I would be willing to burn down Old Central in order to read the bills for the hundred grand-plus we paid Rupp’s firm to turn our school board and district into a laughing stock for a long two years.

Today those bills are waiting “downtown” for me to peruse this afternoon.

I write a pretty good letter

I’m back to 2009 posts in my apostraphe replacement labors. I just read my letter endorsing four candidates for the school board in 2009 that the DNT saw fit not to endorse. Its pretty good.

A little history: In 2009 I didn’t think I could win a seat for the school board having lost to Judy Seliga-Punyko in 2007 for the 2nd. District seat. So, in 2009 I campaigned for other candidates who were skeptical about the Red Plan. In 2009 Art Johnston, who my letter endorses, and I were barely speaking to each other.

Another candidate I endorsed, Marci Stromgren, was so worried that I would hurt her campaign that when she saw me at a press conference she called she walked over and asked me to leave the camera range even though I had helped her to raise a few hundred dollars for campaign contributions.

Marci and I have always had an up and down political relationship. I posted her interview of me on youtube from a year ago which is quite cordial and informative. At this week’s school board meeting she called me out by name for suggesting at a preceding budget meeting that we needed more taxes because of a potentially ruinous fiscal future. Didn’t bother me. I have no problem with straight-talking people.

How things looked to our School Board…

…before anyone toted up the damage they were doing.

I’ve been taking a trip back through time looking at old posts with the nonsense jumble €™ in order to replace them with apostrophes. I’m well over two-thirds of the way through the correcting of 900 compromised posts. I find myself catching names and events and hysterical quotes from the past that are so misguided they bring a grim smile. Here’s one example from a JANUARY 20, 2010 post quoting our former vindictive Chair, Judy Seliga-Punyko:

“We are in the best shape we’ve ever been in because we finally have stability. We have the programs we want, we have the plan, even financially we’re doing great. We have the best bond rating, we’ve had great audits. Honestly, financially we are doing great if only the state would give us the money they’re supposed to.”

Its a pity we are still removing millions from our General Fund every year and will continue to do so for the remaining 20-year life of the Red Plan bonds. This is almost unheard of among Minnesota school districts.

How many teachers could we hire for $3.4 million for an average salary and benefits cost of $90,000 per year? Let me check my caluculator……..hmmmmmm….It’s 37.7 teachers. That could go a long, long way to easing life for the Congdon teachers who are up to their necks in students.

At the last school board meeting a lot of Congdon parents urged us to institute a seven-period-day and parenthetically mentioned the overcrowding of their elementay classrooms.

I hope they read yesterday’s DNT story about our perilous financial prospects under the banner headline.

As for our former Chair – I hope she sticks to cosmetics from now on. She has always had a better grasp of the superficial.

and a followup to the last post

At the last Minnesota School Board’s conference several of Duluth’s school board members ran into a number of the ex JCI “consultants” who helped force the Red Plan down Duluth’s throats. Some had all left Johnson Controls in disgust.

Meanwhile, Michael David, who led much of the Red Plan has also gone his merry way as well continuing his own personal consulting juggernaut through Minnesota Schools. After he broke from JCI I discovered that he and his partner had donated $10,000 to help pass a referendum in the School District that Keith Dixon moved onto after leaving Duluth. No doubt with all his Red Plan earnings that was a cheap way to repay Dr. Dixon. And who knows. Dixon would have put in a good word for him if Centennial had decided it needed to build more schools.

This City Pages story lists outrageous percentages being paid to sub contractors. Funny thing is that these outrageous percentages for the Prior Lake Project and others pales compared to the highway robbery percentages paid out to JCI in the Red Plan.

JCI’s satan’s spawn, M David, has struck again – in Prior Lake

From this month’s City Pages: A consultant sinks its talons into Prior Lake schools for very big money:

…….The business of public education has spawned a specialized kind of vendor. They’re called construction services managers. They serve as consultants, assessing facilities operations and planning for future needs.

But these companies don’t just consult. They parlay their expertise into managing the very work they say is needed, providing incentive for them to urge as much building as possible. They oversee refurbishments and new construction from planning to completion, collecting fees with each move.

Some districts separate consulting from construction management. In 2010, Wayzata summoned public bids to assess its facilities. Nine firms applied, with Wold Architects and Engineers securing the $78,000 contract.

Wold would later earn Wayzata’s architectural and engineering work, but the firm had to reapply for that job. Kraus-Anderson would score the construction manager contract.

School board member Melissa Enger has often stood alone in questioning the wisdom of the district’s contract with Nexus Solutions.

By contrast, Prior Lake seemed to do as little as possible to protect its money.

Instead of putting out a public request for consulting proposals, the district used word-of-mouth, admits business director Julie Cink.

ICS Consulting of Blaine had other public school clients, including Shakopee, Fairmont, and Pequot Lakes. It offered to evaluate Prior Lake for a lump sum not to exceed $19,000.

The company also proposed to take on the role of “program manager,” overseeing everything from engineering to construction. It again pitched a lump fee based on the total budget, which would later be estimated to fall somewhere between $3 and $5 million.

There are advantages to having one firm handle both roles. The upside is cohesion from start to finish. But the risk is an incentive to increase costs.

Nexus wasn’t officially a company in the spring of 2012. It wouldn’t register with the Minnesota Secretary of State until June.

Its principals, Michael David and Brent Jones, had parted ways with their longtime employer, Johnson Controls, where they amassed decades of experience in energy use and facilities management. They’d been part of Johnson’s team overseeing Duluth’s ambitious school plan.

By all accounts, the $315 million project on the North Shore was a show. Duluth needed to slim its existing buildings, renovate others, and build anew. The result, according to projections, would be stable financial footing by way of $122 million in savings over 18 years.

Johnson’s promises of savings fell woefully short. They were compounded by budget overruns, increased fees, and money for unbudgeted expenses like temporary heating and additional personnel.

What was originally a $296 million plan ballooned by $19 million.

But Duluth’s pain proved Johnson’s gain. According to the district’s director of business services, Johnson received almost $57 million for its work — with nearly $45 million coming in various fees.

“Our schools were supposed to be in good shape for decades, is how it was presented by Johnson Controls and the people supporting the plan,” says Sharla Gardner, a former Duluth city councilwoman.

“If it was possible to do again, I know there’s no way, no way at all, the community would choose the same. The new buildings are nice, I will say that. But at what cost? It hasn’t been worth the dollars or the harm it’s done.”

Duluth’s lessons would be lost 220 miles to the south.

No one seems willing to say how Nexus discovered Prior Lake, or vice versa. What is known is that Nexus pitched itself as the total package. For $95,000, the company would assess Prior Lake’s needs.

The bid came in at $76,000 more than ICS’. It also came with the “understanding” that Nexus would also be contracted “for all professional services required to implement this work.”

In other words, ICS had offered a $19,000 first date. Nexus was proposing a multimillion-dollar marriage, with a lot more strings attached.

Nexus also pitched fees seemingly well above what other districts were paying. Architectural services came in at almost 8 percent. Engineering, close to 9 percent. Construction management, nearly 6 percent.

Compare these with what Wayzata schools paid. In 2014, voters approved a $109 million building and technology funding referendum. According to Finance Director Jim Westrum, Wold Architects and Engineers fixed fees averaged out to be about 6.5 percent. Kraus-Anderson, the construction services manager, earned slightly more than 2 percent. It also agreed to a cap “for site services and fees” that wouldn’t “exceed $2,120,205.”

Edina found cheaper work as well…………

Think twice before pushing “send”

So begins the NY Times piece on panic spreading on Capital Hill as the Russians make public yet another luminaries personal emails:

WASHINGTON — A panicked network anchor went home and deleted his entire personal Gmail account. A Democratic senator began rethinking the virtues of a flip phone. And a former national security official gave silent thanks that he is now living on the West Coast.

The digital queasiness has settled heavily on the nation’s capital and its secretive political combatants this week as yet another victim, former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, fell prey to the embarrassment of seeing his personal musings distributed on the internet and highlighted in news reports.

“There but for the grace of God go all of us,” said Tommy Vietor, a former National Security Council spokesman for President Obama who now works in San Francisco. He said thinking about his own email exchanges in Washington made him cringe, even now.

“Sometimes we’re snarky, sometimes we are rude,” Mr. Vietor said, recalling a few such moments during his time at the White House. “The volume of hacking is a moment we all have to do a little soul searching.”

The Powell hack, which may have been conducted by a group with ties to the Russian government, echoed the awkwardness of previous leaks of emails from Democratic National Committee officials and the C.I.A. director, John O. Brennan. The messages exposed this week revealed that Mr. Powell considered Donald J. Trump a “national disgrace,” Hillary Clinton “greedy” and former Vice President Dick Cheney an “idiot.”

I’ve been struck in the book Founding Rivals with the indirect, veiled and fussy way the great men and women of the late 17th Century wrote about themselves. I suppose being crass would have gotten them into duals. Here’s how James Madison wrote to a friend explaining that his girl friend had dumped him, “a disappointment in some circumstances.”

In the books I read about LBJ by Robert Caro I was fascinated at how he eschewed the use of paper to communicate. He was on the phone all day and all night. Nothing could be traced. How fortunate for historians that once he became President all his phone conversations were recorded.

I long ago made up my mind that I would write all my emails as though they would be made public. When, seven years ago, I was in a seemingly life and death struggle with Johnston Controls my emails were subpoened. It took me a week to go through them but with my techy son’s help I gladly sent them over a thousand emails which were then considered public property ( I guess ) and quoted out of context in the Duluth Budgeteer to make me seem brutish. I derided the criticism I knew that lots of my allies in Let Duluth Vote were in fear about their emails to me being read by JCI’s attorneys. In this they were like all of today’s poobahs in Washington D.C.

Honestly, I am pleased to know that General Colin Powell described Donald Trump as a “disgrace.” I have always valued Powell’s opinion and this hack has only validated that opinion.

BTW I rediscovered this old promise I’d written in the blog seven years ago. I still hold by it:

I’ll reserve my hardest and most caustic comments for big shots, chronic liars and the like. I will accept criticism leveled at me from people whose genuine motivation is their children’s welfare with patience and my rebuttals will be tempered with fairness and objectivity.

St. Louis County Schools “Red Plan”

“district administration refused to provide any clarification, and urged school board members themselves not to respond to the newspaper’s questions.”

I probably haven’t mentioned the other school building disaster in St. Louis County for better than a year. That was the abysmal experience of the rural schools in the interior of the County the St. Louis County Schools which were advised and built under the direction of Johnson Controls. The Timberjay Newspaper summed up the sorry current finances of that district in a story a friend sent me. Their Administration advised their elected School Board not to talk to the press. There is just no way to put any positive spin on their experiences, hence the quote that precedes this paragraph. Sounds familiar:

Restructuring provided minimal savings

As school district officials campaigned to win passage of the controversial school restructuring plan in 2009, they argued that the proposed closure of community schools and construction of new consolidated schools would save the district more than $5.6 million dollars annually and put the district on a firmer financial footing for years to come.

But the majority of the savings touted by school district officials and their consultant Johnson Controls never materialized when the district implemented the plan beginning in the 2011-12 school year. In fact, school district budget data shows that district costs rose in key categories, such as transportation and operations and maintenance, despite JCI’s promises that those costs would decline.

The savings shortfall was, perhaps, most pronounced in operations and maintenance. District officials argued that “right-sizing” from seven older K-12 buildings to four new or renovated K-12 buildings plus a renovated elementary school would achieve $1.24 million in annual savings. But the district’s operations and maintenance costs, which averaged $3.7 million a year in the three years prior to implementation of the restructuring plan, spiked to $4.4 million in the first year with the new configuration. At the time, school officials pointed to one-time costs as the district adjusted to the new facilities, but the district’s operating and maintenance costs jumped again the following year, to $4.75 million. While the district, in part thanks to lower fuel costs, was able to trim its operating costs to $4 million in the 2013-14 school year, costs jumped again the following year. Since the restructuring, the district has spent an average of $4.4 million a year on operating and maintenance, according to data submitted to the state Department of Education. That represents a $700,000 annual increase, or 19 percent, in operational costs— far from the $1.24 million in savings that district officials and JCI representatives had touted. The additional cost of maintaining expensive infrastructure, like community water supplies and wastewater treatment facilities, which were required for the district’s new and renovated facilities, only added to the financial burden.

The district is also spending more on transportation than it did prior to the restructuring. The district spent an average of $1.7 million on transportation in the three years prior to implementation of its school plan. In the first year under the new configuration, transportation costs spiked to $2.1 million and have risen every year since, through the 2014-15 school year, when the district spent $2.35 million transporting students and staff. Transportation costs for the just completed school year are not yet available from the MDE and it’s possible that the significant reduction in fuel prices in the past year helped trim some of the district’s costs. Even so, higher transportation and operating costs associated with the restructuring have added roughly $1.2 million annually to district expenses, and have prevented the district from achieving the financial turnaround officials had sought.

With 20 x 20 hindsight

Supporters of the Red Plan School Board have constantly accused Red Plan critics of misrepresentation of the truth. In fact it has been the other way around since the early days of the Red Plan.

I pulled out some old Trib stories from the past to illustrate this point. This one titled Overheard: Johnson Controls talks about red plan and dated June 5, 2009 begins thusly:

After grilling both Duluth schools Superintendent Keith Dixon and the anti-red plan group Let Duluth Vote, and after publishing roundups of their comments on long-range school plans and related subjects, the News Tribune editorial board this week sat down with Johnson Controls. The school district’s consultants on the red plan were represented by mechanical engineers Jeff Schiltz, who has worked in Duluth for Johnson Controls for 18 years, and Michael J. David, a Johnson Controls employee for 17 years in Minneapolis.

Following are excerpts straight from their mouths — as “overheard” by editorial board members.

— On the contract between Johnson Controls and the Duluth school district, which designates the firm to both design and implement the district’s long-range facilities plan:

“What the school district was looking for … was a partnership.” — Schiltz

“‘You’re in the long haul with us.’ That was the intent.” — Schiltz

“It holds our feet to the fire for accountability.” — Schiltz

“It helps to guarantee that what gets promised and planned is what gets designed and built.” — David

“[Such a contractual arrangement] is very common.” — David

— On Let Duluth Vote’s argument in its lawsuit that the contract violates bid laws: Continue reading

Dixon’s record passing operating levies

I have a friend who keeps me abreast of our old Superintendent Keith Dixon. He shared this information with me the other day:

The new superintendent of Centennial ISD 12

I think this fellow is the second superintendent after the Dixon “interim” period

Dixon is long gone but his record is stark. After pushing through a controversial building levy in Faribault, MN he was unable to pass an operating levy for the classroom which led to his jump to Duluth. Ditto Duluth.

Evidently he helped get another building levy passed as he left the Centennial School District. His successors are still trying to pass a levy for the classroom.

Some School leaders don’t deserve a polished apple

At this year’s Minnesota School Board Association conference I noted with interest that during the annual awards ceremony the entire seven member school board for the St. Louis County Schools was called up for special attention. They had managed a singular accomplishment. All seven had completed the many little seminars available to all Minnesota School Boards by the Association for the year.

I did this myself in my earlier years on the Duluth Board but back then none of my fellow Board members did much of this stuff so I was all by my lonesome during the award.

What makes this all the more notable is the vast size of the St. Louis County System. It includes all the sparsely settled portions of St. Louis County and the members who are far from St. Paul are also far from each other. I’ll bet some of them drive fifty miles to get to school board meetings. Maybe a lot farther.

And yet, Like Duluth, they marched to Johnson Controls tune to build a massive new facilities plan which has riven the District ever since. The biggest difference was that their voters who just barely passed a referendum got to vote on it whereas (to use my favorite word of the week) didn’t get to.

To sell it the school administrators did all sorts of things like lie about the District’s finances to voters. This has been the epic investigation that led to the tiny little Timberjay Newspaper receiving accolades from the state’s newspaper association. I have a couple folks who send me all the latest on the ongoing controversy which has gotten the St. Louis County Schools repeated hand slaps by various courts. I really don’t have time to read it all but the latest 26 page ruling by an administrative court is interesting. It explains the role Decision Resources had in telling voters how foolish it would be not to build all new schools. This is run by Bill Morris the fellow who did the same for the Red Plan at its inception and who I listened to with interest at the MSBA Conference when he explained that families leaving ISD 709 could no longer be counted on to support our local referendums.

The Law judges outline among other interesting things the many charges a local Duluth consultant charged JCI for work related to selling the building bond to local voters. This firm worked for them in Duluth and judging by what it earned on the relatively small St. Louis County Schools it must have done much better on its billing for the Red Plan. These costs would all be considered “soft costs” that added up to $84 million in the case of the Red Plan…..all of which the Duluth School Board has refused to make public. By the way, I’ve suspected for four years that this firm was paying someone to assassinate my character. The someone almost talked the Duluth Tribune’s editors into printing a story that I threatened his children. If this is the sort of expense we would find in the soft costs no wonder the district is so intent on keeping all of them (84 million taxpayer dollar’s worth) hushed up.

By the way one other notable thing about these award winners. Last year they racked up an astonishing legal bill of about $700,000 on a case they lost and should never have pursued in Court.

The Red Plan legacy – Traffic Safety

Traffic safety at East High which a number of parents have been writing to the school board about since at least the beginning of the year with little discernible reaction the School Board or the Administration has finally gotten past my posts ( here and here) to the pages of the Tribune this Mother’s Day. As I pointed out it is a legacy of the Red Plan predicted long before construction on the East/Ordean site ever began. The City of Duluth was called on early to intervene and the City Council made a little noise about the traffic issue but the Red Planners largely got their way and yet another Red Plan dilemma, like our teacher layoffs and large class sizes was born. Today, after the fact and the construction to see how this concern can be alleviated without a great deal of expense.

I don’t feel much need to elaborate further here and now. The Trib’s story echoes everything that parents have been telling us:

During the same end-of-day departure frenzy, many students trying to cross the avenue in a pedestrian crossing zone had to wait for traffic that didn’t stop for them.

“The cars kind of forget that pedestrians have the right of way,” said sophomore Lizzy Nikcevich, waiting for her mom to pick up her and some friends after school. “I’ve been crossing the road, and cars have bumped me.”

Its hard for me to explain this as anything other than a legacy of the Red Plan. That kind of explanation has been a great frustration for school board members like Mike Miernicki who keep insisting the Red Plan is over and done with. Rehashing it to Mern is just so much “negativity” and explains his imminent escape from the Board. That’s the next post.

Running down our children

The School Board has gotten a steady stream of pleas from East High School parents begging that we do something to make their parking safe. This danger was predicted years ago by Let Duluth Vote and one of Duluth’s preeminent landscape architects Kent Worley:

There is extremely limited space for parents to stop their cars along 40th Avenue East to unload and load students In fact there is space for only 15 cars at most [didn’t the Traffic Study state space for 101 cars to load would be necessary?] Where will others go with not having enough space to even stop the car? They will go to the dead-end bus drop lane, and that is exactly where you do not want them to go. The reasons are safety, students walking between incoming and leaving buses, and incoming and leaving cars. Cars entering and leaving parking lots should not be mixing with the buses, but because the site is so small, parking and buses and parent cars will have to use the same drive. This is an absolutely wrong way to safely deal with students, cars and buses, they need physical separation. Others typically try a quick stop and drop along Superior Street in the midst of its fast moving thru traffic. The few parking spaces for drop on 40th are not isolated as they should be with their own SEPARATED parent car arrival / stop / waiting / parking activities which normally occur. Thru-traffic vehicles occupy driving lanes which are un-separated from drop/pick up lanes. Students will be walking across 40th Avenue East from its east side crossing to the school as parents attempt to stop along this east curb, again in moving traffic.

There’s more here on the old Let Duluth Vote website.

Kent’s predictions have come true.

This is a parent’s plea to us this morning:


I have a daughter who attends Duluth East and I shot this video yesterday. I have put it on You Tube and I think it will show you a little bit of the insanity that occurs while trying to leave the parking lot after school. There is no direction and cars turning onto 40th try to avoid pedestrians, etc. There are also cars parked backwards on Luverne as well. When will we take charge and do something about this dangerous situation? Will a child need to be injured (or killed) before we stand up and make this safe?

Having someone to direct traffic onto 40th and hold kids back from crossing so that traffic can clear, seems to be a simple solution.

We need to do something before it is too late.

Thank you for your time!

Here’s his video…….it gives me the willies.

I did reply to the parent:

Mr. *************.

Thank you for sharing this video. This is the best proof yet of our desperate need to find a solution to this dangerous situation. I’ve put it on my blog with some commentary.

I’m too angry at the moment to offer you any comfort. I think the danger of this situation is ironically one of the few things that keeps our children safe. Local drivers have gotten used to driving with care during periods like this. Unfortunately, not everyone driving through on E. Superior will always be familiar with or anticipate this can of worms.

God help us because the School Board is preoccupied with other more pressing matters than the lives of our children.

I’ll share my thoughts with the rest of the Board. Maybe it will wake them up.

Harry Welty

What I told the Senate Subcommittee on Elections today

The previous post was meant to be a quick one about my trip to the state capital today so that I could turn in having made some comment on the day. But what I wrote has left me so angry I doubt I’ll fall easily to sleep. I’ll probably stew for hours about all sorts of bloggable issues. The top of the list is Art’s lawsuit which is now in full swing. You’ll read about it in the paper tomorrow along with the obligatory passage about how attorney Mary Rice uncovered Art Johnston’s career as a serial killer…..or was it something else? At least I can now say a lot about Art’s lawsuit because its finally public and I am no longer subject to a second censure for speaking out of turn about it.

So much. There is so much to write. Ah, but I’ll just leave you with my 733 word testimony to the committee this afternoon. Then I’ll try to go to bed and not think about it. Art told me that the semicircle of legislators listened to me in rapt attention. I did get a gentle rebuke from Chair Katie Sieben afterwards when she pointed out that my fellow board members were bit present to defend themselves. That’s funny because that’s how Art Johnston has felt since June of last year when he was accused of all manner of vileness. Now he’s going to get his day in court.

Here are the 733 I shared in St. Paul today:

Senator Bonoff and colleagues,

I hope you don’t object to my calling you colleagues. Forty years ago I came to St. Paul to get advice from then House Minority leader, Arne Carlson, in what became a futile two election quest to unseat Representative Mike Jaros. Had my fortunes been different then, I might be walking these halls among you. Continue reading

March comes in like a lamb and a little demography

As February came to a close I was set to begin blogging up a storm with some squalls like I had in February. It was not to be. It began on a Sunday and I’ve been keeping to family on weekends. Then on Monday I was hit with what felt like a stomach bug. Couldn’t eat, thought cookie tossing made sense but couldn’t bring myself to do it and just sat binge watching the very satisfying end of the salacious “Orange is the New Black.” Salacious is a loaded word. There is a lot of lesbos in it but its done so casually that it ends up being in your face. The sex scenes would have gotten the adolescent me all heated up. Today they just sort of made me sit up in wide eyed astonishment and then in their frequency inured me. It had much the same affect as reading Andrew Sullivan’s blog daily for ten years. Women’s breasts were to Orange what casual even wincing explanations about the details of gay life were to Sullivan. A salutary effect in both cases was moving past titillation to a more grown up attitude about facts of life. I’m still in many ways a Puritan in mind. It reminds me of a line in a George C Scott Movie I watched 35 years ago, Hardcore. A puritanical father learns his daughter has been lured into a sordid life and goes on a quest to rescue her after she is too humiliated to let herself be found. A young prostitute he encounters in his search tells him that Sex is similar for both of them. Because of the miracle that is the Internet it only took me ten minutes to find it: Continue reading

Beyond Patience

That title is meant to be a joke.

Hooray! I’ve got my computer back. Think of it as my Thor’s Hammer. I can almost fly with it.

This post is supposed to be about last week’s school board meeting. I prepared notes to type up but I think I will be content at this point to see what Loren Martell reports about our meeting. He always listens to a recording of it before or as he writes it. I rely on memory and whatever illegible notes I took on my official board book during the meeting. I took lots of them last week.

I read with some trepidation the “Patience” post. I hadn’t proof read it and I worried that I might have been too dyspeptic since I was in a gloomy mood when writing it. No worries. Its surprising cogent and I only spotted one missing comma and one wrong preposition (if for of) and a “too” where there should have been a to.

Erik Satie is playing on Pandora in the background. I have even more post ideas that I’d like to address but they are accumulating so rapidly I find myself in the position of Sisyphus at the bottom of his eternally unclimbable mountain.

Speaking of beyond patience that seems to be Loren Martell’s condition. I read yesterday’s column “Where have all the Children Gone?“in the Reader and as always I recommend it. I will hasten to apologize for sounding like the always eternally optimistic Member Loeffler-Kemp but its worth remembering that things are not quite as grim for many of our children as Loren’s column makes it sound. Sure, classes are crowded and our course offerings have been trimmed but for bright and well-adjusted kids living with emotionally healthy families will get by. Resiliency is the word academics and social workers throw around to account for this. That doesn’t mean things aren’t tough. The letters we received from the Denfeld teachers spells this out. Now that I have my comupter back I’ll put some of them on the blog.

As for the finances of the District Loren is right to acknowledge that our steep financial fall has softened. Yes, promises that the Red Plan would pay for itself were always a joke. Yes, School Board ate up the old reserve to keep our slashing of teachers to a draconian minimum. Yes, we have stopped transferring six million of year out of operations to pay off debt service (by raising taxes in excess of 10% in two successive years). But, the fact of the matter is, for the moment the descent has stalled. Loren is right to fret about our continuing enrollment decline. Art Johnston put the cost of losing another 200 students at $2 million. That’s if they generate $10,000 from the state. At one recent meeting we were told they only generate $6,800 in state funding per student.

Even if the Edison Schools draw another 700 students out of the ISD 709 schools our best students will still get a good education in our schools. But what a loss in opportunities the Red Plan will have cost them. And let’s hope the teachers at East don’t feel compelled to join their Denfeld colleagues in agonizing that the kids in their classes have fallen behind those of the pre-Red Plan days.

I can’t fault Loren’s fears. I too am frustrated. I’m particularly aggrieved when I remember that before the Johnston imbroglio I had planned to read in every elementary school over and over this month. February has been “I love to read” month every year since I first got elected to the School Board.In my earlier service on the Board I made reading pilgrimages to the elementary schools all year.I still have my gorilla slippers and favorite books waiting in my attic for return engagements. Its just that I’m too busy putting together a defense of Art Johnston because of this stupid pogrom.

I’m not quite beyond patience but I’m close to it.

Two gratifying emails

I felt a lot better cranking out those posts yesterday. They are still just a fraction of what I am eager to write about but they prompted two emails which were most gratifying. The second one came this morning:

On Wed, Feb 11, 2015 at 12:21 PM, *** ****** wrote:

Thanks Harry,

Am a big fan of your blog and would be in the dark with out it. Without you and Art there would be no democratic process or discourse. Hang in there, ***

To which I replied:

And Thank you. Writing in my blog often feels like writing into a great void. I know I’ve got readers but they don’t often comment.


The first came last night and was a follow up on some earlier email correspondence. Here’s my reply:


I’m putting my replies in your text .


Mr Welty,

Admittedly, I’m a little late to the party when it comes to all things school district business. If I remember correctly, somehow the district/JCI convinced a judge that the paperwork, contracts, promises etc were JCI’s private property and not subject to FOI requests? No one appealed this?

That was JCI’s claim and a very weak one it was. That, however, was not the substance of the lawsuit. We claimed that they violated the law (court case law) by getting a no bid contract. Our attorney was removed from the case because there was an appearance (that the Judge himself noted was not demonstrated in fact) that he had a conflict having talked to a school board member while he was representing the suing party.

My anger with this situation is fresh since I am late to the party…It is also my understanding that Glass, Johnson, Martell and you have all filed FOI requests that are being ignored? (Illegally?) Continue reading