A Package, A Shower and a Lawnsign

We read about the Weasley wedding which went off without a hitch, unless you consider the late arrival of an army of death eaters at the reception to be a problem, on the way back from Detroit Lakes. We had driven Dad across the state to meet Claudia’s brother who picked him up for the remainder of his trip to Bismarck.

I read over 150 pages of the last JK Rowling book outloud. Our new Hybrid Camray gave us a quiet ride and I didn’t have to strain my voice. Upon our return I found a package waiting from me which had been Fedexed up to me by a longtime Fairbault school watcher. He sent me his collection of clippings about the schools under Superintendent Dixon’s tenure.

On Saturday morning Claudia had me pick up the house and help her prepare for our daughter’s baby shower. We wrapped presents including the illustration my Mother made for my story Harry’s Nap. We had it framed for the baby’s room. Its the Image on the left on this page:

At noon Claudia drove off to the shower and I began spot priming the bare wood on our windows that I’d been uncovering over the past week with Dad. By 5PM I’d finished two sides of the house and was able to put the patio furniture back in place. When Keely and Claudia were back we were all able to sit there in comfort. The hummingbird Claudia and I had been waiting for all summer turned up to sup on our many trumpety flowers. I had just gone to the Haskells’ Summer Wine sale and picked up a fun little bottle of German bubbly. I poured us each a glass. Keely had one sip and stopped. Good girl.

After dinner at Sara’s Table we watched a movie that Keely had brought up, The Last Mimsy.
I grumped afterward that it was a pretty inconsequential bit of cinematography. Claudia and Keely jeered me. I peaked out of the front window before bed and discovered to my irritation that someone had stuck up a lawnsign for Mayor Bergson in my yard. I yanked it out and went to bed. I imagined painting a new sign with a slash through the words “soap opera.” followed by ABBB. Anybody but …..

Dumbledore’s Will

I’ve been reading the Deathly Hallows to Claudia every evening since Amazon.com sent it to us last weekend. Tonight was the first time I could get through two chapters without her falling asleep such has the hectic pace of her life been. She’s had 7:30 AM meetings every day this week and cooked meals five nights in a row.

Tonight we really got into the book. We are on the eve of Charlie Weaver’s wedding. After all the precautions the Order of the Phoenix has taken it didn’t occur to anyone that having a big celebration the day after Harry turns seventeen would invite catastrophe????? And what’s with the lame bequests that Dumbledore left our intrepid trio?

My son read the book in three days which was a testament to his determination to do well in his Chemistry class. He’d have inhaled it in one day otherwise. My daughter only had about a hundred pages left when Dad and I went to visit her. She was afraid someone from work would give the ending away. There were at least two copies of the book in my jury pool this week. For our part Claudia and I will plow through this book like banshees once we’ve handed Dad off to his son tomorrow at Detroit Lakes. I’ll read it all the way home and then tomorrow night we’ll go see the latest Harry Potter movie.

While I’m away in Canada I too should write a saga. It would be the story of how the current Duluth School Board got it in its head that a quarter-billion facilities plan would solve all its problems. There won’t be any magic in this story – no little boy forced to live in a closet by his clueless relatives – but there may be a few plot twists.

There is a veto

I paid close attention last week when our Supertintendent informed four school board candidates that the Governor has no veto over our proposed bonding plan. Apparently, Dr. Dixon is wrong.

Having yet to hear from anyone about my recent letter to the Governor I called Alice Seagren’s office just now. The Education Commissioner was not in but I was transfered to the Department’s Director of Program Finance, Tom Melcher.

According to Tim our Supt. and Johnson Controls met a few weeks back with the Commissioner and some of her staff to outline their ambitious plans and to lay out their rationale for proceeding. This was informal and the Superintendent told us last week that the official presentation to the Education Department will take about two months to prepare. That would put the presentation at the beginning of September.

Tom explained that the State would have 60 days to review the proposal. That could put the decision off until the beginning of November just a week before the general election.

Tom carefully avoided taking sides. He allowed as how the plan was complicated relying of various provisions of state law to justify various methods of raising money. He did not disagree with me when I commented that whatever the justifications the money would all be raised from local property taxes. He did say that in some cases it seemed that the Duluth project was depending more on the letter-of-the-law than the spirit-of-the-law. I gathered that the issue of desegregation funds was one such question. The law is not so clear on whether Cities of the First Class have to abide by some of the deseg laws that apply to all other school districts.

Since Duluth has three “magnet schools” to desegregate our schools and since the Red plan seems to put an end to our magnet schools its hard for me to see how we would be in compliance with the laws which encourage intgregation. I can’t help but wonder if closing our magnets would cost Duluth its desegregation funding from the state.

Some provisions of Minnesota law allow for bonding for deferred maintenence for things like leaky roofs but not for adding new wings to schools. Since this plan envisions new wings and even new buildings it will be interesting to see to what extent the state will allow us to spend money on new construction.

The bottom line for me was Tom’s quick explanation of the consequences of the State’s review and comment. The state can approve the proposal outright. It can offer a unfavorable review which would require additional changes in the Duluth plan. It can offer a negative review of the project which effectively kills it. So, to all intents and purposes the state can veto the project, at least as it currently stands.

One last thing. I asked Tom, who is quite familiar with the quarter-billion-dollar price tag for this plan, if he could recall the record for a bond referendum in the state. He thought it was somewhere over a hundred million dollars. He pointed out that it came with a referendum. Ours, of course, does not.

People are watching us

After a trip to the Cities I spent the evening on the phone talking to Fairbault School Board members. I got the best candid and sensible view about the past there yet which put me a little more at ease. I’m as concerned as ever about our school district overextending itself financially. That happened to Fairbault.

Among the interesting things I learned was news that the Minnesota School Boards Association website is abuzz with news about our unusual no-referendum bond and that the school board members from the Big Nine schools in southern Minnesota are paying close attention to our project. Good. Duluth is not operating in a vacuum.

I was wrong

And not for the first time.

I indicated that Hockey interests in town got a million plus bucks from the Duluth School Board for the Hockey Heritage Center and that it looked like cronyism to me. Well, I finally got around to asking my old buddy, Tim Grover, about that. Apparently the money is to be paid out over a period of time and is meant to buy precious ice time for our hockey teams to practice. Yeah, I know that’s a lot of money for ice time but according to Tim its well worth the expenditure. I trust Tim because he’s a long time fiscal conservative with lots of experience on the Board. This was not as I thought a simple giveaway to Hockey.

Stuff I did on this hot day

The Jury “lounge” was hot as blazes and crammed with about a hundred potential jurors. I had brought my scrap book of news stories from the 1977-80 Upper Great Lakes scandal to plow through. Two jurors had the latest Harry Potter book. Their reading may have been more fun but mine was an obsession.

After being sent to a gloriously air conditioned court room an hour later I had to sit through two and a half hours of jury selection in the “voir dire” process that a video had told us about. The didn’t get around to interviewing me before the magic number of sitting jurors was selected and I was excused for the day.

I had lunch with Dad and then stripped down to the lightest clothes I could get by with to finish scraping my house’s woodwork. It was over ninety degrees with seventy percent humidity. I only worked in the sun for two hours before finishing the job Dad and I started a couple days ago but I must have lost a couple pints of perspiration.

I stood under a cold shower forever and then challenged Dad to a game of cribbage. All three games were nip and tuck till the last hand and I won two-out-of-three. Dad must have had something else on his mind.

Hallelujah! My five o’clock call to the jury line got me a reprieve for tomorrow. No jury. I called my daughter to tell her that Dad and I will be driving down to see her. I’ll let Dad take her out to lunch while I visit my Mother at her alzheimer’s care unit. It’s been a couple weeks since I peaked in. I’ll tell her about my solo and then spend an hour singing Boop Boop Ditum Datum and other familiar tunes with her. I do most of the talking. I tell her about the things from her childhood that she once told me about. She still has those memories. As for me….she always takes my claim to be her son without argument.

Tonight I got several emails from Fairbault. It seems that my blog may get passed around in that “Big Nine” city. I’m sure they will be my kind of folks. I’m a Mankato High School alum back before the creation of Mankato East. Maybe others from that Fairbault will contact me.

Jury Duty

I’ve had six free days since I was designated to sit for jury duty. I wasn’t needed. That ended tonight when I called to see if I would have to report tomorrow. I do. Bummer. I had planned to take my Father-in-law to visit my daughter in the Twin Cities where he will get his last glimpse of her as a mother-to-be. She’s going to make me a grandfather for the first time this September. Alas, I’ll have to cool my heals in the jury “lounge” and Dad will have to sit home watching our newly installed cable channels trying to keep cool.

Dad will be with us till Friday when we cart him accross Minnesota and pass him along to Claudia’s brother who will take him to his home in Bismarck. We’ll head back to Duluth and I told Claudia we’d have to watch the latest Harry Potter movie that night. Saturday Claudia helps host a baby shower for our daughter. Sunday we’ll take her back to the Cities and we’ll watch a matinee of Spamalot with Claudia’s friends from the Minnesota Safety Council. After that we’ll have a couple days to organize ourselves for our summer vacation. We got our passports finally so we can travel to Canada and arrouse less suspicion. I’ve grown a van dyke and look a little more middle eastern.

In the meantime I’m still scraping and sanding our house to apply at least some spot priming to our window framesbefore our departure. It was beastly hot today so Dad and I quit by noon. I have to use him before I lose him.

I put in a call to another Faribault School Board member this afternoon. He didn’t add a lot to my knowledge but confirmed and added to a story I had heard earlier. Apparently Supt. Dixon asked the City Council for money to build a “youth center.” The Faribault City Council agreed to help finance it but after a while they got to wondering about how their money was spent.

When they asked the School District about the youth center the District explained that it was a school cafeteria. Evidently the Council was extremely embarassed at having been taken in and decided not to make a fuss.

It works the other way in Duluth. Our City Council asked the school district for money for the Heritage Hockey Center – anything for hockey you know- and the School Board, which was elected to save the East High School Hockey coach, handed over $1.5 million for the project. They didn’t even need to have a bond referendum to raise the money.

Bad Luck

I had to call Tim Grover last Tuesday to find out when the School Board met. Eight years on the Board and I had completely forgotten the meeting time. That’s how much distance I had put between myself and the Board in the last four years. I must admit that I’m very surprised how much I’m enjoying the politics again. (Remember – “politics” is rooted in the Greek languange and according to Wikipedia Aristotle himself said: “that man is, by nature, a political animal. He argued that ethics and politics are closely linked, and that a truly ethical life can only be lived by someone who participates in politics.”)

Of course, after watching the now 12-man Mayor’s race developing its hard to think of local politics as a particularly high-minded endeavor. After my solo at church (I told our choir director that everybody ought to sing a solo by the time they were 56) I saw a couple politicos at Sara’s Table. They commented that they had seen I was in the race but one of them, Will Munger Jr., pointed out that if I’d filed for Mayor there would have been 13 candidates. I told them that there was already enough bad luck to go around without my running for Mayor. Besides, if I’m counting right, this is already my 13th run at public office. Thirteen doubled would have been more bad luck than I could stand.

We got a much needed rainy day Sunday which soaked into the bare wood I’d exposed on my windows after sanding them in preparation for a new coat of paint. I let Claudia and her Father watch all our newly installed cable channels while I made some phone calls to Faribault to get a sense of our Superintendent’s past there. Keith Dixon pulled off a big bond referendum while there but it seems to have had unfortunate repercussions for the District. It could be a harbinger of Duluth’s future (should we have to pay for the Red Plan) and bears more research and analysis.

I think I’ll have some interesting stories to report as the research continues.

4 AM – can’t sleep

Some people like a good breakfast to start the day. I like a good night’s sleep. I think I caught a few winks before midnight but I was up by 2AM and its no good trying to collect the rest of them. Maybe its all the caffeine I’ve had today. I swore off real coffee a year ago but with my father-in-law’s visit and one of my coffee makers broken I’ve only been brewing the real stuff for a couple days now. Add the cup of java I had at our friends house for dinner this evening and I’m wide awake.

Of course, I’ve got lots on my mind at the moment and having it all turn over at the same time makes it hard to sleep too. As I snuck out of my bedroom, trying not to wake Claudia, I saw my son’s door ajar and his light flooding the hallway. He’s a nightowl but he surprised me by heading straight for me. “Where’s the new Harry Potter book?” he asked me.

“I thought you were trying to avoid it?”

“I was,” he replied. He’s been trying to focus all his attention on his Organic Chemistry class. He’s got a test on Tuesday and a diversion into the world of the occult is an unwanted diversion.

I slipped back into my bedroom and picked it up off the dresser and handed it to him. I don’t blame him.

I began reading the books outloud to Claudia a second time starting last December in preparation for Deathly Hallows. Jeanette, from our Sunday School class, delivered the coup de grasse to our front door this afternoon. We had to wait till my father-in-law turned in before digging in. Two chapters down 34 and an epilogue to go.

I read today that 15 % of Americans have read all six books in the series so far. That’s 45 million people. Holy Cow! The flyer in the copy of the latest Potter at the home of our hosts tonight said “3,440 pages read, 784 to go.” How many pages is that times 45 million?

Organic Chemistry vs. Harry Potter….Organic Chemistry vs. Harry Potter……sorry, but that’s no contest.

Its not just the world of the occult that has my mind turning. The world of fantasy called the Duluth Schools has more plot twists than even J.K. Rowling could dream up. I regaled our hosts with some of them last night. I’ll share some of them on the blog as the campaign proceeds.

Of course, my year-and-a-half plunge into the scandal of the Upper Great Lakes Regional Commission continues. My principal source sent me ten pages on a side street leading from it today. I just printed it out to join the seven or eight bank boxes of stuff I already have on the subject. My research is on hold while I play host to our Florida guest who I’ve kept busy helping scrape, prime and paint our windows.

And then that darned tune by Cesar Franck is going through my head. I sing my first ever solo tomorrow at our church service. Much of it hovers near the highest range my voice can reach, up where tenors sing. Its a stately, saccharine tune which constantly threatens to catch me in strangled uncertainty to squeeze out the horrible sounds of a boy with a bad case of puberty.

So that’s too much caffeine, my father-in-law, Harry Potter, a year’s research, and a first ever solo, oh, and a looming race for the Duluth School Board. That’s been on my mind as well.

I suppose that’s why you’ve come to read. The School Board is on your mind as well. Hmmm, Its now 4:30AM. As I’ve been typing this I finished off the chunk of fudge that our hosts gave me after dinner. I’m hoping a sugar crash following a sugar high will overcome the late night coffee. (Oh, I just yawned. That’s a hopeful sign.) I don’t want to sing in front of all my friends strung out on a bad night’s sleep. I’m going back to bed and you’ll just have to come back and see if I return to the subject that really interests you. CU later.

How does the GOP describe the Governor’s tax attitude?

Even though I attended a DFL precinct caucus last year I still get Minnesota’s GOP email newsletter. I think the most recent one is predictive as to how the Governor will treat the Duluth School Board’s no-referendum bond proposal. This is what the newsletter said:

Minnesota Governor Lands National Spotlight

Governor Pawlenty is beginning his term as head of the National Governors Association. In this position, he’ll lead governors nation-wide and bring attention to state issues before the federal government.

Stateline.org profiled Governor Pawleny upon his election:

Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty personifies Minnesotans’ reputation for being exceedingly polite. But beneath the mild manners lies a huge hockey fan hooked on hockeyfights.com, a Web site showcasing the bloodier side of the sport.

The two-term governor showed his more competitive side by delivering solid body checks to Democratic proposals to raise taxes in his state. His ferocity at blocking tax hikes is one reason some Republicans see this 46-year-old as a rising political star despite the wafer-thin margin of his re-election last fall.

The dual sides of Pawlenty will be on display on a national stage when he takes over as this year’s chairman of the National Governors Association this weekend and prepares to host the Republican National Convention in the Twin Cities next summer.

Time will tell

In my reply to Diane K. I could have added this. After the School Board meeting Supt. Dixon stopped by and chatted up four school board candidates who were all clustered together. He grinned as he told me that he drove by my house and saw my hand painted lawnsign, “let Duluth vote” every day. He had also, no doubt, had read my letter to the Governor which I had copied for Board member Tom Hustad. Apparently the letter is now circulating through the Central Administration Building. Another administrator told me that he/she had read it but wouldn’t tell me who had shown it to them. The letter certainly hadn’t made it back from either the Governor or the Education Commissioner. It probably didn’t arrive from the DNT’s editor, Robin Washington, which leads me to suspect that someone had left Tom Hustad’s copy on a desk unsupervised for a few minutes where someone found it photocopied it and sent it on its merry way.

Dr. Dixon assured me confidently that the Governor had no “veto power” over the District’s plan because all the state could do was “comment and review” our proposal. I, didn’t bother to argue the point because I don’t know and can’t predict what will happen. As I’ve explained before, I can’t imagine that if the referendum free Red Plan is found to be against the law that it will be permitted to go into effect even if the law doesn’t give the Governor actual veto power over it.

I simply replied with my own smile: “time will tell.” The Superintendent smiled and acknowledged, “time will tell.” Time will tell is a lot less certain than the Superintendent’s confident assertion that nothing can stop it.

My letter to the Governor

July 10, 2007

Governor Pawlenty
Office of the Governor
130 State Capitol
75 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
St. Paul, MN 55155

Dear Governor Pawlenty,

Johnson Controls has advised the Duluth School Board that five long standing Minnesota Statutes relieve the District from having to offer a bond referendum to the voters. The statutes are: 465.71; 123B.40; 123B.62; 123B65; 123B71; and 465.71. Up to now these laws have only been used to authorize modest building projects to make schools handicap accessible and/or compliant with fire and safety codes.

Told that they have the power to authorize a bond without a referendum the Duluth School Board, on a 4 to 3 vote, narrowly approved a $257 million bond which bypasses the voters. You’re Administration, more specifically your Education/Finance Departments, is the only thing that can stop this unprecedented bonding plan from proceeding.

Johnson Controls has an obvious conflict of interest in recommending a voter free bond. They stand to earn at least $4.5 million supervising the building program if your Administration approves the plan.

Until Johnson Controls got into the game our school board had been debating whether we should deal with declining enrollments by closing elementary schools or closing secondary schools. I know because I served on the School Board from 1996 until 2004. If anyone had asked me whether closing a high school would cost Duluth over a quarter-billion dollars I would have laughed but that’s just what could happen.

In addition to its remarkable interpretation of Minnesota’s statutes Johnson Controls conducted a survey of Duluth voters and reported that a majority of them were willing to dispense with a referendum. Of course, as you well know, a poll is no substitute for an election to determine the wishes of the people. However, this poll result is being used by the Board to justify bypassing the voters. Let me tell you about some of the peculiarities of this survey.

For one thing the survey did not point out that the bonding plan will cost $257 million dollars, probably a state record. Additionally, the questions on the survey were prefaced with biased verbiage with pushed participants to answer its questions in predictable ways. More troubling is the testimony of two people who reported that surveyors first asked them their ages and who, upon admitting to be over the age of 55, were told that there would be no need to question them further. I too am over 55 as are perhaps half the voters of Duluth. Apparently our opinions, those of us no longer likely to have children in the Duluth Schools, were unwanted. After winnowing out the older voters the surveyors for Johnson Controls explained misleadingly: that it was now common practice in Minnesota not to hold referendum elections. Under these circumstances it’s not surprising that an astounding 77% of survey respondents said that it would be OK to dispense with a referendum. This grossly manipulated result flies in the face of yet another finding from the poll. The surveyors found that a majority of the people whose opinions were permitted to be recorded did not want to see an increase in their property taxes. And how much would local taxes increase if the School Board gets its way? $257 million dollars divided by the 86,000 residents of Duluth will mean $3,000 in new taxes for every man woman and child in Duluth not counting 20 year’s worth of interest on the bonds.

I trust that your governing philosophy hasn’t changed in the last two years since you challenged Duluth’s voters to pass a referendum for a sales tax to finance the Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center expansion. Many of us in Duluth are now counting on you to uphold the historic role of bonding referenda in Minnesota’s school districts.

If your Administration allows Johnson Controls’s interpretation of the law to stand it will become a precedent for the several hundred other school districts across the state. It will be a terrible precedent for voters and it will place the State of Minnesota in financial jeopardy as one after another grandiose school building plans are authorized by school boards which may be long gone before the fiscal dangers of their undemocratic building plans become apparent.

Finally, it’s worth noting that the first plan that Johnson Controls handed the School Board, which would reportedly have addressed the principal needs of the district, had a much more modest $40 million dollar price tag than the quarter-billion-dollar plan that now confronts us. Duluth’s voters need to vote on this.

Sincerely,

Harry R. Welty
2101 E 4th St.
Duluth, MN 55812

cc MN Education Commissioner, Alice Seagren
Duluth School Board member, Tom Hustad
Editor, Duluth News Tribune, Robin Washington

A blog campaign?

This blog was locked in a closet nine months ago. I’ve opened the door on it a couple times since then an thrown the occasional rag in the closet but I’ve not really tried to keep it up. As with other things I’ve put on the net my intention is to be chatty and talk about how the nuts and bolts of a campaign work. I personally like all the candidates running and will remain neutral towards all of them except my own. I plan to vote for myself.

An eager begining

I was delighted by the coverge in the Duluth News Trib today. I had to look through the paper three times to find it. The article started at the bottem of an inside page and looked as though it was a continuation of the Trib’s story on City Council candidates.

The day before the Trib’s latest Education reporter called me up for a quick interview. I hadn’t had time for a press release.
I made a point of telling her that in my earlier years as a School Board member I always took pains to talk to reporters to explain what I thought and why I thought the way I did. That way, I told her, I could be sure if some oddball statement came out of my mouth I at least could be certain the reporters would know how to put it in context.

Then I gave her an example of a story she had written a couple weeks earlier. Her story said that Tim Grover had been “eager” to get started working on the Red Plan. Since Tim was the only board member to vote against the plan he was particularly irritated with this. He sent an email disavowing this to the list of folks who are trying to figure out how to scotch the Red Plan.

The reporter quickly interjected that she hadn’t written that. She said the word eager had been added by one of the papers’s editors. I just laughed good naturedly. Perhaps my anecdote caused her to be extra careful with my opinions because even when I wasn’t being quoted they were letter perfect.

Yesterday I filed for the School Board

Yes I did file but I won’t have much time to campaing till the end of August. A couple days ago I called up the only other person who has filed for the 2nd District seat Judy Seliga to warn her that I was thinking about filing. I’ve tried to talk her into running for the School Board twice. Judy was one of only a handful of people who gave me a contribution for my race for Congress. We had a very cordial conversation but, of course, Judy is a little flumoxed to find me challenging for the same seat.

Judy has no qualms about the Red Plan or the absence of a referendum. I do and that is my principle motivation. Wheter this is a flawed plan (and I think it is deeply flawed) I believe the voters have a right to vote on it. I did tell Judy that I would give her one very big advantage. I would take an unpopular stand and stick with it. I believe we should only have two high schools and I believe it is East High School that is the lesser property to Central High School. Since East is only eight blocks away and in the heart of the Second District my opinion is sure to be a major liability.