The Zenith stands corrected

This is a poor headline. I only realized a few hours later that it suggests the Zenith was wrong. Actually the Zenith was correct. A few posts back I mentioned that the Trib reporter Sarah Horner discovered an error in the story about Keith Dixon’s days in Faribault. Well the writer of the Zenith story took exception and asked me to clarify the “mistake.”

I explained that Sarah had indicated that the Zenith story had said that the big building bond in 1995 was Dr. Dixon’s baby and that the Trib reporter had been contacted by former Faribault School Board members who said that it had been their baby, the Board’s baby, and that Dixon was only hired to sweet talk the public into passing it.

Well Jennifer just emailed me back and had this, among other things to say:

I still don’t see an error on our part nor, for that matter, on Sue Nelson’s.

All our story said with regards to this was, “In 1995, the Faribault school district passed a referendum to bond for $38 million…” This was confirmed by multiple sources and I did not attribute that information to Ms. Nelson in the story.

Given that Keith Dixon hired on in Faribault in 1995 and the referendum passed in 1995, some of this had to have been in the works before Dr. Dixon arrived. I didn’t specifically note that in my story, but it’s not only self-evident (referenda don’t pass in a day, after all), but nor is it relevant to my story, which focused on Dr. Dixon’s management of the project and its fallout after the referendum had passed.

I just don’t see where there’s an error here. Ms. Nelson never told me that Dr. Dixon authored the bond and I never reported that he did, according to Ms. Nelson or anyone else.

I asked the Zenith if I could forward the email to the Tribune’s reporter. I don’t recall if the Trib reporter called the Faribault board members or if they called her. If they called her I would surmise that Dr. Dixon got on the phone to his old supporters and asked for them to do damage control.

The Zenith Story, which will soon be put in its entirety on the letduluthvote website, gives a pretty grim picture of Faribault after Dr. Dixon’s deparature. Its the same story I got myself after I made a few calls. I know of several folks who’ve heard the same story after making calls to Faribault, including one of the City Council candidates.

My motivations

A few posts ago I showed the initial email exchange between me and “Melissa.” She has subsequently written back. She was gracious and expressed her belief that other people in Minnesota pay significantly higher taxes for their schools than we do in Duluth. She is right. This is what I wrote back to her and it does a reasonably good job explaining what motivates me.

Thanks for writing back Melissa,

I would never have gotten into this, let alone run for the school board again, if it hadn’t been for the unprecedented idea to do this without a referendum. It was a terrible mistake. Until now your claim that our elected representatives have the right to do this would never have been countenanced. It is only a series of loopholes that has made this possible and, perhaps, even likely.

I have fought for many tax increases for the schools and would again. But this is colossal.

You asked why I didn’t speak up before. Frankly, I had no idea until this spring that a quarter billion plan was in the works. When I read five months ago that it could be done without a referendum I was so shocked I called Tim Grover five minutes after reading it and asked how that was possible. He seemed as amazed as me. Shortly afterwards I was asked to write about the Red Plan. I reluctantly agreed after being shamed into it “because of my long expertise in the area and my responsibility to use it to enlighten people about what was to happen.” I did some research and took a look at the laws which Johnson Controls was relying on to push this through and was confident that they were misapplying many small provisions to accomplish the biggest bond in state history and that they wouldn’t get away with it without a referendum. I no longer have that confidence. At any rate, four months ago I first wrote about this in the Reader stating my objections to doing this without a referendum.

My further research has led me to conclude that the Red Plan is being promoted by dozens of little deceits on JCI’s part to minimize the magnitude and tax impact of what they are doing. I’m absolutely convinced that this will result in a tax revolt that will make my turbulent days on the School Board look like a walk in the park.

The voters of this town were beating me up when I was on the Board for the mistakes in the building of the New Central. Well, I had nothing to do with that. It had happened thirty years before when I was going to high school in another city. People here have long memories and being tricked into having to build, unnecessarily, an entirely new complex of schools will not be forgotten any time soon.

I sat through two school board meetings this summer and it reminded me why I was so willing to retire four years ago. My God, they are boring! I’m only running to save the School District from naive people who think they were elected with a power the state legislature never meant to give them. If they have the power it is an accident.

If I am elected, and I think that is a foregone conclusion, I will only have one mission in mind. To solve our facilities problems and do it quickly and at a reasonable cost.

You and I can continue to agree to disagree on this and both of us have the best motivations in mind – our children and their future. I think my long history with the public schools, (and I wrote a paper on Minnesota School Finance when I was a college kid 37 years ago. Got an A- on it) is deep enough to see a black hole ahead. I want us to avoid that black hole so I ‘m compelled to try and steer us around it.

My intentions are good. I hope I’m right. I think I am.

Harry

$125,000 – Baloney!

So JCI says the average home price in Duluth is $125,000. Bull. If it were, the average taxes on the Red Plan for homeowners, would be much less and that’s just the impression JCI want’s to leave people with. We’ve been looking into more and more of JCI’s claims and this one is flat out wrong.

This is what piqued my curiosity. In the survey which JCI paid for people were told that the “median” home in Duluth cost $125,000. Median is a statistical term for the point in the middle. In other words half of all homes would cost more than $125,000 and the other half less. However, of the people surveyed by JCI, 46% said their houses cost more than $125,000 and only 15% said their houses cost less than $125,000. (We presume the rest were renters or had some other accommodations) A 46%/15% split doesn’t make $125,000 sound like the middle to us.

We sent a volunteer who is a long time Duluth realtor to the City Assesor’s to find out how much houses have been selling for recently. (She had warned us how this red plan would drive people out of their homes.) She reported this back.

“Hi Harry, I have talked to the city assessor and he looked up for me the average sale price for the last 3 years. He called me back a said that price is $168,800.00. I could not get any one from the county assessor’s office. G”

There you have it. More evidence of JCI’s lowballing the tax impact of the Red Plan.

confusion reigns

Sarah Horner, the Trib’s crack reporter had nothing to do with the silly headline yesterday. Her story about a very complex and uncertain point in the law that we will be exploiting to get the Red Plan voted on was very good. Who ever penned the headline: “Group hopes alternative plan will ‘confuse’ Duluth’s school consolidation issue” while not being exactly wrong really missed the point of our Plan B petition. It is to hamstring a lameduck Board and prevent it from beginning the process of starting the Red Plan until it has been voted on.

Ignore the headline but read the story. Its complicated but well done.

Not a nice guy

I got an angry but respectful email this morning. It was predicated on the silly headline which hyped the “confusion” that we are attempting to sow. The confusion is only to be foisted on the lawmakers not the voters of Duluth. Its quite clear what we are doing. Get a vote on the Red Plan. Here’s the email and my reply:

Mr. Harry Welty,

I just have one question for you…Why do you feel the need to always make controversy? What is your goal in trying to “confuse” the issue, as your latest quote in the paper stated? I’m not trying to be rude, I just would really like to know? How is “confusing” the issue going to help Duluth? How is “confusing” the issue going to help us unite as a community? We have the problems we have now because of past school boards inability to make decisions. YOU were part of those past school boards. YOU made one ridiculous decision after another. YOU did nothing but tear our school district apart and make families want to leave! Now, we actually have a school board that functions and a superintendent that is amazing. They are trying to do something that is going to benefit all of our children and you are trying to “confuse” the issue. They have held countless community meetings to answer questions and concerns. THEY WERE ACTUALLY TRYING TO HELP PEOPLE UNDERSTAND!!! What a novel idea!!!! However, you and your group’s goal is to just try and “confuse” the issue. I have to say, I have never heard a more idiotic comment!!! Why would you not want to HELP people make an informed decision. That is the kind of school board member I will vote for. Someone that wants to fix problems, not create them. Feel free to share this with the rest of your “colleagues” running for office in November. Let it be known, I am not “confused”….NONE OF YOU WILL HAVE MY VOTE NOR WOULD I EVER EVEN CONSIDER SIGNING YOUR PETITION!!

Respectfully,

Melissa

And here’s my reply”

Thank you Melissa,

The newspaper headline editor chose the word “confuse.” If anyone has been trying to confuse the voters it is the existing School Board. What’s worse is they are attempting to steal our rights as citizens to vote on the colossal red plan. It is 6 times more expensive than any plan ever proposed for the Duluth Schools and it will have profoundly awful consequences for Duluth if it goes into affect.

You have said that I am repsonsible for past bad decisions. Please name one.

Our new flyer does a very clear and non confusing job explaining our concerns. At the very least a referendum would allow us to discuss these concerns. By avoiding the voters and an election the School Board and our Superintendent are telling us that we can not be trusted and that they are smarter than we are. I am insulted by and disagree with both propositions.

Perhaps you too wish to take away my traditional right to vote on something which could tax me out of my home. If that is how you intend to make our community a better place it will be a lonely City for you because I will not be the first to leave. Some nice people will have to leave as well.

Please read our attached flyer. I would be happy to discuss it with you.

Sincerely,

Harry Welty
not such a bad guy

No posts because I’ve been busy

Where to begin?

I’ve worked on fundraising, organizing a trip to the Secretary of Education, correcting our lawnsigns to show a $437 million dollar figure, and putting our Let Duluth Vote’s first flyer.

This morning I changed the signs along 21st Ave. East and have gotten a bunch of people to fix the signs up in their neighborhoods.

Here’s the press release I just sent out:

For immediate release
September, 28, 2007
for further information contact:
Harry Welty at ***-**** or
Gary Glass at ***-****

Let Duluth Vote corrects lawnsigns

Motorists will soon notice a change to the now familiar Let Duluth Vote
lawnsigns since the admission by representatives of Johnson Controls at the last
School Board meeting that the true cost of the red plan will be $437 millioin
not the previously announced $293 million. The new figure adds in the interest
over the 20-year life of the project. Members of Let Duluth Vote have begun
changing the signs over to show the new figure today.

The change will also me made to new lawnsigns which the group has ordered due to
the heavy demand. They will be available for distributioin next week. The change
will also be reflected in a flyer which the group has begun leafleting the
school district with.

Up until now Let Duluth Vote has mostly made its case in news reports and in
letters to the editor. The flyer will give the organization the chance to
explain the lawnsigns message. A number of people have commented that they are
uncertain what the $million dollar figure on the Let Duluth Vote signs means.

-30-

See attached flyer

Limits of brick and mortar

I’ll be the first to say we need to fix up and/or replace Lester Park but the children and teachers in this school are the best evidence of the foolishness of the Red Plan. Proponants of the Red Plan have made much of some studies which say modern new schools raise test scores.

This is an insult to parents and teachers of Lester Park, a long neglected school which demonstrates the limits of brick and mortar. Lester Park ranked 13th out of over 500 Minnesota elementary schools in math achievement. Shiney new schools are nice but what goes on inside them is far more important.

Where the Hell was the Chamber on that one?

I just responded to the three questions sent me by the Chamber of Commerce. Here they are and here are my responses:

1. The Duluth School District recently adopted a comprehensive Long Range Facilities Plan. Do you support the implementation of the plan? State your position for or against.

I oppose this plan because it will do incalculable damage to our classrooms by inciting a taxpayer revolt which will cost $ 5 million a year in operational cuts after angry taxpayers start turning down excess levies for operating expenses.

2. Quality, cost-effective schools can be economic drivers by contributing educated workers with basic skills and retaining/attracting residents and businesses. How do you plan to promote these characteristics within our school district?

Shoddy, ill financed schools can cause economic stagnation as they drive ambitious, caring, parents out of a community seeking quality, cost effective schools. We must avoid this happening at all cost. To insure that our schools are attractive we must not trust foolish people with no sense of history or any understanding of Minnesota’s educational finance laws or the voters and taxpayers of Duluth.

3. Education options abound in Duluth. To compete, the public school system must constantly be promoting/implementing innovation and continuous improvement initiatives. What initiatives would you like to see in place, how would you promote these initiatives?

I have been a long time proponent of both closing a high school and passing excess levies. I’ve been the longest serving Board member advocating the former policy and had a key role in the passage of three of the last four excess levies. No one worked harder to pass the fourth levy that failed in 2001 than I did.

What we could do with our resources properly put into place is restore the rich seven-period-day, curriculum that we lost shortly after the 2001 excess levy failed. (Where the Hell was the Chamber on that one?) We could fully fund the middle school programming that we have been unable to pay for for a quarter of a century by, keeping our elementary schools K-6 and making our middle schools 7-9. We will then be able to offer a much fuller academic palette in our high schools including more AP (advanced placement) classes.

Who’s who in the JCI world

I got through the beginnings of cloroxing the basement at about 10:30 PM. When I checked the last days emails I got this one from Gary. A G. T has been helping Bevan and my opponent Judy SP. Gary ran into her while out at a Lakeside festival.

This is a portion of his email:

I ran into Bevan again as he was “manning” the Judy Sleiga-Punyko table in Lester Park from about 2-5 PM. With him was the same woman as at the Union Temple last week when we
were being interviewed by Al Netland, union boss.

She said her name was Gail Toftey, and that she was there on Judy’s behalf. I asked her if her husband was an attorney and she said yes. She then said “you’ve figured it out!”

I’m not sure what she meant by that, but the attorney I was thinking of was a Robert E. Toftey (Fryberger, Buchannan, Smith, and Frederick, P. A.) who signed the letter in the Comp. Fac. Plan, pages 103-108, about the various laws governing school board bonding etc.

We need to confirm that Gail and Robert are married to each other.

They are.

A beautiful Saturday for the Landfill

I woke up three hours after climbing into bed. It wasn’t easy getting up but I felt the urge to write a fundraising letter for Let Duluth Vote. I decided my newly submitted column for the Trib would be a good enclosure to go with it. I cranked it out and printed out return addresses for a return envelope to our treasurer.

By the time I was done it was ten and I had to begin organizing my day. I reserved a Uhaul trailer and headed up to print out my letters and enclosures. I got to the trailer rental at 11AM and drove home and loaded up all the debris from the basement. Of course, I had to borrow my son’s car as mine was keyless. I had discovered the keys missing the previous day and had to beg a ride to the soup kitchen to help serve food.

When I returned I kept working on the basement. I bleached the kitchen and the steps leading down to the basement. I then let them dry while I – darned – I’m so fuzzy on the early afternoon. I don’t know what I did but I worked hard at it. Oh, yeah, now I remember. I got an hour of sleep.

When Claudia returned home at 3:00 the kitchen floor was still damp. We went out for lunch and I tried to stay awake to keep the conversation going. We sat down next to…now your not going to believe this…Bob Brooks. It was the third time in three days we’d eaten at the same restaurant he was at. Sara’s table two days ago. The Burrito Union yesterday and Sara’s again today.

When we got back I began assembling the fundraising letters until I just couldn’t keep my eyes pealed. I napped for another hour or two and woke again and resumed the mailing. Claudia helped and I got a hundred letters sent out to past contributors of mine. I only asked for money for Let Duluth Vote.

San Antonio vs Duluth

The specialist I bumped into at Bixbies told me a very interesting story. San Antonio, the ninth biggest city in the US, is offering a big school building bond (that their voters will get to vote on) that would cost San Antonio a whopping $692 million. However, that is only 2 and a third times what JCI wants us to spend in Duluth although we are eighteen time smaller than San Antonio not 2 and-a-third times smaller. San Antonio had 1,450,000 inhabitants in 2000 Duluth had 86,000.

Where Duluth has plateaued at 10,000 students, San Antonio is bursting at the seems with 82,000 students. According to this story:

“The first new schools funded by School Bond 2007 will open in 2009-10, when enrollment is expected to be pushing 95,000 students. Enrollment, now 82,767, is growing by about 4,000 students per year, and last month, Northside surpassed Austin ISD to become the fourth largest district in Texas.”

Duluth is ranked 285th in U.S. city populations well behind San Antonio’s ninth YET WE”RE SPENDING ALMOST HALF AS MUCH ON REBUILDING OUR SCHOOLS! Does something seem out of whack here?

JCI Fortune 100 company

Denny sent me a link to a story about corrupt New Orleans officials who were grafting off of a huge JCI contract with the city. Its the 8th story so you will have to scroll down a bit.

This was pre Katrina NOLA and the huge contract described is a mere $80 million over twenty years, less than a third what the Duluth School Board is entering into with Johnson Controls.

Another fine letter

My friend Frank just passed on the email he sent to the Education Commissioner. Its a fine letter:

I urge you to look into what will be foisted on to the Duluth taxpayers
in the very near future if the proposed agreement/contract between the
Duluth School Board and Johnson Controls is allowed to stand.

The notion that a body of citizens not be allowed to vote on something
that will affect them all for a long time to come is distasteful and not
at all consistent with what the founding fathers had in mind when this
country was founded. It will set an ugly precedent for all school
districts in the state which I believe will come to haunt state
government. Duluth is already struggling with the effects of the city
government retiree health care issue. It’s magnitude is around $300
million dollars. If this plan referred to above is allowed to stand
without voter input, then a long term debt of equal or greater magnitude
will be added to the citizens of Duluth.

It may be true that Duluth needs a plan of this scope to address its
educational infrastructure, but not at the expense of examination in the
light of ballot box.

The gathering storm

When I got home a little before noon it had started to rain lightly. I found a tarp and covered the soiled carpet. The Landfill wasn’t open today anyway and I had nowhere else to put it.

I decided I needed to treat myself so I went to a fast food joint to sit , eat, and watch the rain. The owner joined me and asked where his sign was. I got his address and told him it would be there when he got home.

I told him about our efforts and he pointed out that my good friend Mary Cameron had voted against me. I shrugged and said that while Mary was my friend she had drunk the Koolaid. I also added that in all the years I’ve known her neither of us have ever lobbied the other on issues. We both took stands and let our words and deeds speak for themselves and maintained our friendship even when we disagreed.

It turns out that the owner’s good friend is a close associate of the Governor’s. He said he was thinking about putting in a call to him and I agreed that it would be a good thing to do. I told him that, just like in the attack on Pearl Harbor, a great bear (in the words of a Japanese Admiral) was starting to wake up. I added that Pawlenty would become a hero if he was able to steer the Ed Department into ordering a referendum. Of course, its not as easy as that. The letter of the law, no matter how stupid, will have to be obeyed. Even so, I explained, it sure wouldn’t hurt to have the Governor speak out against the highhandedness of the School Board.

His sign is now up.

a delightful Bixbie’s Break

As the clouds grew more overcast I fretted about hauling all the ruined carpeting to the landfill before a big storm soaked it even more. I would’ve started bagging it up but I got a call from Gary Glass who wanted to have coffee with me yesterday. Of course, I put him off since I was still trying to dry out the basement but there were things we needed to discuss.

He picked me up and asked for another dozen lawnsigns. I sat down tired and exhausted but came out two hours later bubbling. Here’s what happened.

An old acquaintence of mine, an ed “specialist,” was there and asked for a lawnsign. I later introduced him to Gary as a “specialist.” By coincidence, after last Tuesday’s school board meeting three or four JCI suits came up to beat on Gary for misusing information they had given him. He had said the Red Plan would cost teachers jobs. They insisted it wasn’t so and told him the “specialists” on the cut list weren’t teachers. My specialist friend was interested to hear that. He was a teacher. He signed our petition.

A group of seven ladies sat nearby. One came over and asked if they could sign the petition. Gary obliged and we got seven more signatures.

The former principal of East High walked past. He pointed his finger and me and smiled, telling that I was making trouble again or words to that effect. We talked to him for a minute and he said that since we spent $800,000 putting a new roof on East in 1998 he had no idea what JCI was talking about when they claimed a roof leak had so damaged one of the staircases at East that no one was permitted to walk up it. He seemed to be enjoying our fight.

A woman at a table behind us told us that she couldn’t help overhearing us. She told us she was a teacher in UMD’s education department and that the entire education faculty was aghast that the Red Plan would divide Duluth into a segregated school system. We encouraged her to have someone send in a letter-to-the-editor and she said she’d see what she could do. She signed our petition and took a sign.

The wife of a former School Administrator walked past and congratulated us on our work. She marveled at the Chamber of Commerce’s President, David Ross, stuck up for the Red Plan since it made so little sense to her and her husband. She told me how great the letter-to-the-editor in yesterday’s Tribune was, coming as it did from a former school board member. I had been up to my ankles in city sewage yesterday so that had slipped by me. It was a great letter. (I’d link to it but I can’t find it on the Trib website) She signed the petition.

The revolution has begun.

Duluth Activists email

Got this email in our growing email list. I’ve put the the critical strategic sentence in bold typeface:

D & A

I don’t think Dr. Dixon and Johnson Controls really care about what the research says about programming issues. Remember that although their contract called for them to consider programming, Johnson Controls is an engineering firm, not an educational firm. They did not have a single elementary educator on the committee (I believe this was quite deliberate as it was a carefully selected committee). There was only one secondary member appointed, Frank Wanner, and I am told he did not attend the meetings.

The red plan is about conformity and uniformity–cookie cutter schools–which will then be imposed on our very diverse community.

Of course Dr. Dixon did not listen to your concerns,Deb, or make any modifications in the plan in light of research. He is pitching a perfect shut out. But I don’t think he counted on Duluth activists. If you care about Duluth’s children and schools I urge everyone to contact Alice Seagren and Governor Pawlenty as soon as possible. Our best hope of getting a progressive school plan is to have the state disapprove the steam-roller process and the clock is ticking on when they’ll weigh in. Probably by the
first of October…

Commissioner Alice Seagren
Minnesota Department of Education
1500 Highway 36, Roseville, Minnesota 55113 Telephone: 651-582-8200
E-Mail: mde.commissioner@state.mn.us

Governor Pawlenty
Office of the Governor
130 State Capitol
75 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
St. Paul, MN 55155
Telephone: (651) 296-3391 Toll Free: (800) 657-3717 Facsimile: (651)
296-2089
E-mail: Tim.Pawlenty@state.mn.us