Let Duluth Vote news

Our meeting last night at the Duluth Heights Community club was almost double the previous attendance last week. We formed a large circle to make it easy to talk as a camera man for KBJR/KDLH showed up and shot video. We had a nice coverage on both channels that night. Claudia teased me for calling the District’s survey “cockamamie.” Yeah, where did that word come from? But it is….

We have doubled our petitioners. People are now approaching us as they see us on TV asking us to sign and grabbing our petitions out of our hands in their eagerness. I took a handfull of petitions over to a fellow at UMD today who is appalled with the District’s great plans.

We passed out 28 of the 100 “Let Duluth Vote” t-shirts that we ordered. They cost us $5 apiece and we have raised enough money to pay for them. We’ve ordered 500 lawnsigns with the same logo. They will be ready for us to pick up in the Twin Cities in four or five days.

On Thursday we plan to walk the Northwest passage, our downtown skywalk, wearing our shirts to get more signatures. I may not be able to make it back due to my daughter’s sudden labor but there will be five people to pose for a press confrence before adding to our petitions with or without me.

On Friday I’m having lunch with someone who called me looking to contribute to our petition drive. That too might have to be put on hold. Pray for us. Pray for my children.

46 days

As of today we have 46 days or less to wait for the Governor (or his Education Department) to hand down a decision on whether to allow the Duluth School District to get away with the no vote Red Plan. The sixty day count down ends on October 14th, I think. My conversations with the State Education Staff suggest to me that while they pushed the District to turn its proposal in early for comment and review they will not be in a hurry to hand down a decision.

Let Duluth Vote is in a hurry. We want a couple thousand signatures on our petition by the next School Board meeting Sept 18th. We’ll announce them to the Board and then send them to the Governor. We think the Governor will be reluctant to let this no-referendum idea get very far. The danger is that the legislature has unwittingly opened up a huge loophole which might allow school districts to bypass voters with various changes its made to state statutes. These changes allow School Districts to raise revenues without always having to go through the hassle of a referendum. Up till now no one has ever considered using them to completely overhaul a school districts schools. This would be a great boon to Johnson Controls which seems to have invested far more in lawyers than architects and engineers to reimagine the Duluth School District.

The contract language that JC will use with the engineers and architects it hires will squeeze them to work on the cheap for Johnson Controls to enhance its profits. It remains to be seen who will want to work for pennies. The District would be better off hiring a professional building manager for a couple years. At least a District employee would have to answer to the School Board not Johnson Controls. Johnson Controls stands to earn millions. A small group of District employees hired for the duration of the project would cost a fraction of that and would owe their ultimate allegience to the taxpayers.

A number of stories are starting to circulate about Johnson Controls unsavory business practices. I don’t know what to make of them. Last night at our meeting one person said that JC had been kicked out of the Two Harbors District. Two Harbors is having serious problems with its new High School. It too seems to have been an over ambitious project. What part JC had in its planning I have no idea. Its something to research.

Anxious hours for a new Grandpa to be

My daughter called yesterday. She is about, it seems, to deliver our first grandchild. This baby is in a hurry and if delivered will be about three weeks premature. If so it will be something of a tradition because Claudia (the grandmother and my sweetie ) was a preemie. There was a question about whether the baby, who is only about four pounds at the moment, was getting enough oxygen.

Its not quite 5AM and we haven’t heard from the new Dad to be but we had planned to drive to the Twin Cities today anyway for Claudia’s work with the Minnesota Safety Council. I had planned to see my mother. We may spend the day instead at Regions Hospital in St. Paul.

“A fair vote” – a student writes

Today’s School Board packet of information which is sent to both School Board members and candidates for the Board contained Johnson Control’s proposal which only reached Board members hands two weeks after it was presented to the State and this letter.

Duluth Public School District,

I am ***** *****. I will be a sixth grader at Woodland Jr. High this year. I graduated from Elementary School at Lowell Music Magnet Elementary School, which I have to say, is a great, great school and I enjoyed all of my years there.
I am writing to you for two reasons. One is that I think it’s really sad that Lowell is losing some of their music programs. Those music programs gave a lot of intelligent students the opportunity and freedom to play the instruments of their choice. It gave them something to be proud of. I think Lowell deserves some extra support to keep their programs running. They try very hard doing fundraisers, working with, and around the students when needed.
One other reason I am writing you is something you probably can’t do anything about. But I think Duluth should be able to vote on the Long Range Facilities Plan. I was looking forward to going to Central High School. My older two siblings went there. And of what I heard, it is a very good school, and I think Duluth has the right to vote on it. After all, we are a part of the city and it does effect us.
I talk to my father about this and what he thinks about it, and he thinks it’s a lot of money the city is taxing him. He thinks of it as you figure you need to re-model/re-build schools when he wants to build a new house which he also can’t afford.
I know I may be just an eleven year old going on twelve, not knowing and understanding everything, but that’s one thing that’s very clear and makes sense, a fair vote. These are just some reasonable thoughts.

Sincerely,

***** *****

What the DNT poll means

Assuming (and any assumption based on a self selected sample of voters) that the DNT poll is a good reflection of Duluth’s voters this is how it should be viewed:

47% of Duluthians oppose the Red Plan and would thus obviously want to have a referendum.

41 % of Duluthians support the Red Plan. However, it can not be assumed that all of this smaller number of people would want the plan shoved down the throats of Duluth without a vote. I think its likely that at least half of this group would support a referendum based simply on the idea of fairness.

If I read these numbers right the tables would be turned on Johnson Controls claim that 77% of Duluthians support bypassing the voters. Darned near half the voters want a referendum based on this new poll. And some percentage of those who support the Red plan could be expected to support a referendum. Together this would certainly be enough to push the numbers of referendum supporters to over 50%.

Would you vote for the Red Plan?

Yesterday’s Duluth News Tribune did an online “poll” asking people this question:
Today’s poll
Would you vote for the Duluth school district’s red plan?

Yes – It is the best option for the district
No – It is too costly for taxpayers
Undecided

Drum roll please……..And the results are:

View poll results »
Yes – It is the best option for the district 136 40.96%
No – It is too costly for taxpayers 158 47.59%
Undecided 38 11.45%

I don’t have much more confidence in this online poll than I had for Johnson Controls survey of Duluthians. I do note that’s its a long ways away from JC’s claim that 77% of Duluthians have no interest in a referendum. We will see how many people sign the petition.

The petition

Let Duluth Vote! We, the eligible voters of Independent School District 709 (Duluth), petition Governor Pawlenty and the Dept. of Education to order a referendum for the proposed $293 million bond which is now in the hands of the state for review and comment. These are some of our concerns:

Minnesota law only provides a few modest exceptions for letting school districts bond without voter approval. These exceptions include meeting fire and safety codes and making schools handicap accessible. Duluth’s proposal is for a major overhaul of its school facilities.

The intent of the legislature is clear. State statutes grant only two Minnesota school districts the specific authority to bond without voter approval. They are Minneapolis and St. Paul. As no similar authority has been granted to any other school District, including ISD 709, it is clear that the legislature never meant for the Duluth School District to bypass voters for a proposal of this magnitude.

For a hundred years Duluth voters have had the opportunity to vote on major bond proposals. Until today the largest bond proposed for the Duluth Schools was for $55 million in 1989. Today’s $293 million bond dwarfs that proposal. With interest it could end up costing district taxpayers half-a-billion dollars. This would place a greater financial burden on school district taxpayers than Duluth’s $305 million city retiree health health insurance obligation places on Duluth taxpayers who are in most cases the same taxpayers.

Last year, Governor Pawlenty insisted on a referendum before he would permit Duluth to raise $30 million in sales taxes for the DECC expansion. We plead with the Governor to remain consistent as Duluth voters face what may be the largest school bond in Minnesota History. Let Duluth vote!

I’m cookin baby, I’m cookin

There’s far to much to tell about the past few days so, just a few highlights.

Let Duluth Vote met last night. I told the press that I’d be happy if 5 or 6 people showed up; we had two dozen. We’ve got 12 petitioners and that’s just for starters. Were having a 1,000 petition printed out and we may get a petitioner for everyone of them. fifteen names per petition -who knows how many signatures we will get.

We’re having our next meeting Tuesday. There might be two or three times as many people at that one. Everybody present last night raised their hands when I asked if they knew anybody else they could bring along.

KBJR and FOX TV had good stories on us. I did four interviews yesterday.

Today’s News Tribune gave us a banner headline on the local news section. Sarah Horner wrote an extremely competant story which spelled out what’s going on.

I’ve spent the morning typing up minutes to our meeting. I’ve sent it out to everybody except for Bob Brooks who showed up and tried to defend the Red Plan. He was one of the Poobahs who sat through all the meetings that gave it birth. Lots of folks grumbled that Bob was trying to hijack the meeting but that didn’t happen.

This is going to be fun.

Feedback on the petition language

Here’s a portion of one email about the petition’s proposed verbiage.

Harry –
Just a thought – another comparison in addition to the current retiree liability –

If I recall correctly, remember – that the “red” plan in addition to the proposed $250 million there were still costs that were identified as a “TBD” factor in the report, such as parking ramps etc, so the $293 million if based on the “inflation” factor as Dixon states will be even higher when those numbers are factored in – also don’t forget to add the “inflation” factor for the parking ramps.

Thanks ************,

Your points are all very pertinant. I’m a little affraid to jam too many arguments into the petition for fear it will slow down the petition process, and dilute what I think are the most persuasive arguments. Yours are all wonderful questions to hash out in the press in the next few weeks and during any time leading up to a real Red Plan Referendum.

Since this petition has no force of law my principal audience is the Governor’s education department. I want them to think about the issues I’ve come up with just in case they decide the Johnson Contols’ lawyers have made a good case. Every name we can put on the petition will serve as another confirmation that ignoring the voters will only make them mad – at the Governor – if he allows this to go through.

Tentative language for a petition

I’ve sent this out to a couple dozen folks who I’m hoping will want to help circulating a petition:

We, the legal voting residents of Independent School District 709 (Duluth), hereby petition Governor Pawlenty and the Dept of Education to order a referendum of the proposed $293 million bond which is now in the hands of the state for comment and review. These are some of our concerns:

Minnesota law only provides a few modest exceptions for letting school bonds without voter approval. These exceptions include meeting fire and safety codes and making schools handicap accessible.

The Spirit of the law is clearly indicated by statute _____ which specifically gives Minneapolis the authority to bond without voter approval. As no such law grants Duluth a right to bond without voter approval it is obvious that the legislature has never intended to exempt ISD 709 from holding referendum elections.

For a hundred years Duluth voters have had the opportunity to vote on major proposed bond referenda. Until today the largest bond proposed for the Duluth Schools was for $55 million in 1989. This $293 MILLION bond dwarfs that proposal. With interest it could end up costing district taxpayers half-a-billion dollars. This would be a much greater financial burden than Duluth’s $305 million city employee retire health insurance obligation which has raised talk of the City filing for bankruptcy.

One year ago, Governor Pawlenty insisted on a referendum before he would permit Duluth to raise taxes for the DECC expansion project. We plead with the Governor to remain consistent as Duluth voters face what may be the largest school bond in Minnesota History. We have a right to vote!

Let Duluth Vote

I sent a press release to the Duluth Tribune a little before the nightly news. It announces the organizational meeting at 7PM tomorrow, Thursday August 23rd, of Let Duluth Vote.. Let Duluth Vote will try to get several thousand signatures on a petition demanding a referendum on the Red Plan.

If enough people sign our petition demanding a referendum it will give the lie to the Johnson Controls survey that supposedly proved that 77% of 300 voters surveyed supported skipping a referendum. Of Course, Johnson Controls did not bother to tell the people being surveyed that the Red Plan would cost them $293 million in property taxes. Before this the largest bond ever considered by Duluth was a $55 million dollar bond in 1989. That one did go before the voters and was defeated.

If 77 percent of voters really don’t want a referrendum it should be pretty difficult to get them to sign a petition begging for one. I’m betting this will be a very easy petition to collect signatures with. Anyone interested in helping should show up at 7PM. The Duluth Heights Community Club is tucked away on Mullbery Street off of Arlington Avenue just before the intersection with Central Entrance. Bring your clipboards if you have them. If you can’t come for the organizational meeting call me. My phone number is in the directory.

A call to arms – should be self explanatory

An email I sent out this morning.

Brenda,

Its Wednesday, lets get together today even if its only for 15 minutes, just to get acquainted. Gary Glass’s call for a referendum nestled next to the story about Dr. Dixon’s contract renewal is a start. Sarah, the innocent reporter who has sipped the Superintendent’s very charmingly dispensed purple koolaid, is looking at everything Gary says with far too much skepticism. We need to have her train that skepticism on the Red Plan. The “perceived” increase in the cost due to anticipated inflation doesn’t mean that the now $293 million bond proposal isn’t $36 million more expensive than the public was previous told it would be. (This inflationary increase – by itself – would probably be the second largest school bond Duluth ever tried to float)

We need to alarm people. We cannot stop this through a petition but we have to consider circulating one to counter Johnson Controls phoney survey. We need at least 5,000 signatures. That’s what we need to talk about. I want to call a meeting of the people on your list and get a petition started. There is a fifty day period, maybe less, to get our views to the Governor, the school board, and the press. Duluth voters must be given the chance to decided this bond’s fate. We need to issue an invitation to a meeting to begin the petition pronto.

Feel free to send this out to your email list to prepare them for the meeting. The group meeting should be this week after work if we can manage it. It only needs to be an hour long to organize the petition although I’m sure some people will want to spend additional time talking politics, school priorities and strategy. We don’t need to have everyone who will eventually petition come. If we got ten people together we can build from that. I’ll be thinking about how we can get 5,000 signatures in about 10 days time. with 25 people helping that will be a snap. maybe we can get 10,000 if we get even more helpers.

We’re talking about the School District raising a half-a-billion in new taxes for the bond and interest on this project. That’s damn near double the $305 million City health care crisis which has some city councilors talking about having Duluth file for bankruptcy. And what for? – a half ass proposal that moves junior high students to a High School and moves the high school students to the junior high. Half-a-billion dollars!!!

Last night Tom Hustad came up to me and explained that he had been told that whenever a School District has an opportunity to bond it ought to bond – sure – and bankrupt the community for an ill conceived project. Brilliant! I smiled and told Tom that we’d have to agree to disagree.

Duluth has a long history of holding referendums. The biggest up to now was in 1989 for $55 million dollars. It went down to flaming defeat. So did a $35 million dollar bond that followed it shortly thereafter. Now we face a bond six time bigger and the voters won’t be given a say.

Johnsons Controls has spent all its money on lawyers to comb through Minnesota’s statutes to find loopholes which will allow them to implement a bond without an election. They obviously didn’t spend it on architects or else they would have come up with a plan that would have had adequate parking for the new High School but, no, that would have meant clipping the company’s profits because of land acquisition they preferred not to waste money on. So, they are going to increase the enrollment of the new high school by half-again its current size and provide parking space for a third of cars that are sure to need parking spaces.

A half-billion dollars! Its bad enough that Duluth taxpayers are paying double taxation to take over the Federal Government’s Medicare costs for retired City employees. We don’t need the School District to follow the City into a financial pit.

Give me a call when you get this. ***-****.

Harry