Jaros Amendment in the Omnibus Tax Bill

Representative Mike Jaros has successfully added his bill HR4127 to the House’s Omnibus Tax bill. This is important because it will be difficult to remove his amendment from the House Floor when the whole “omnibus” tax bill comes before the floor for a vote.

Mike has made some changes to it since it was first drafted. Currently Mike has it set up so that the Red Plan will be vulnerable to a “reverse referendum” just like other building plans are in every other Minnesota School District. In other words, once Mike’s law is passed Duluth voters would be able to petition to place the Red Plan on the ballot. 1500 signatures is all that would be necessary to get it on the ballot. Child’s play.

This may not be the final language adopted when the Senate and House tax bills go to a conference committee because Senator Tom Bakk’s original language simply kills the Red Plan without requiring a reverse referendum. Let Duluth Vote will be satisfied with either way of dealing with the Red Plan.

Mike is optimistic that Governor Pawlenty will not find anything in the bill to merrit a veto.

Contractors think new bldgs will enhance education

It seems that the contractors who stand to make a buck on the Red Plan think bricks and mortar are the answer to a better education. This was emailed into the School Board recently. I’m not really sure the USA Today article will convince Duluth that democracy can be set aside in order to improve our schools.

From: Greg Wegler [mailto:Greg.Wegler@*********]
Sent: Fri 2/8/2008 9:39 AM
To: Keith M. Dixon; Jeff Schiltz
Subject: Great article on school buildings

Dr, Dixon & Mr. Schiltz,

I caught the attached article in USA Today this week. It brings forth a compelling point to the greater benefit of bricks and mortar vs different types of teaching methods to bring up student test scores. I suggest you pass this along to all the school board members. I don’t know how much pull either one of you have with the Duluth News Tribune, but it would be great if they reprinted this article for all of the citizens of Duluth to read. Please don’t hesitate to ask for any help from Kraus-Anderson as you move forward with this wonderful plan for our Duluth School District. Thank you.

Gregory Wegler
Kraus-Anderson Construction Company
Director of Business Development
(218) *** – **** office
(218) *** – **** cell

KA and Kraus-Anderson are registered trademarks

Faribault reader thinks Dixon story a whitewash

Faribault resident and long time critic of Dr. Dixon, Steve Yewell, takes issue with the Trib’s recent “whitewash” of Dixon’s years in a letter to the editor:

A sample:

“If any “oversimplification” has occurred in Duluth, as was suggested in the article, it has not been with the assessments of the Let Duluth Vote group – but with Horner’s story. Maybe Dixon had no hand in creating Faribault’s building plan, but he had everything to do with implementing and overseeing its completion from start to finish. Horner was incorrect: One thing does lead to another. Financial mishandling has a distinct linear path.”

So we may not be able to sell Central to defray costs

The latest on the Red Plan. Central may not be sold.

JCI gets the figures first and massages them to minimize the damage. It would not be a lost $10 million in sales it would be a mere $2 million additional cost to taxpapers:

“But because it would be considerably cheaper to turn Central into a middle school than it would be to build an entirely new middle school, keeping Central instead of selling it would add about $2 million to the total taxpayer cost of the facilities plan, not $10 million, according to project planner Johnson Controls. The additional cost for the owner of a $125,000 home would be less than $1 a month.”

the Red environment

The Duluth City Planning Commission ruled last night that the entire Red Plan didn’t merrit the first step toward a year long Enviormmental assessment. But it also strongly signaled that at least two of the individual sites Lester Park Elementary and the new Ordean Junior High would and possibly more sites as well.

Kent Worley, Duluth’s premier landscape architect has been warning about the flawed Ordean site for well over a year. He recently compared what this new high school will offer Duluth compared to other excellent highschools across the nation.

An LDV insider’s view of the Council/Board mtg.

Brenda whose phone number graces all our ads was asked by several of us who skipped the big meeting to fill us in. She is a perceptive analyst and I trust her judgment.

“We had a decent showing of LDV members. I got there about 5:50 & ended up sitting in the cheap seats back a bit. Most City Councilors were there except Fedora & Gilbert. Don Ness started things out, then had to leave for another engagement but then came back again. Dixon & Company ran the show for a good full hour filling the Councilors in (or selling them the Red Plan) Between Kerry Leider, Dixon, and Bill Hansen, they talked for an hour going over a packet to the Councilors. The history, the community meetings etc. etc. as if the Council had never heard any of this before. Finally at 7:05, Nancy N started out by telling them they could ask questions about taxes & Finances. The District had a very clear & controlled agenda.

I was extremely pleased with Garry Krause, Char Gardner, and Jim Stauber. They all asked great and pointed questions. , and kept asking them. In a few cases there was silence in the room initially before Dixon jumped in to answer most of the Questions. And what he didn’t answer, in most cases Nancy N did.

I was also very grateful & pleased with Laura Congdon who was clearly emotional when talking about the day the four members voted on not to have a public referendum. She said that if they had a referendum back then it might have passed but she doesn’t think it would now. She made it clear that she believes the public should have been given the chance to vote. This was hugely helpful

Char G asked point blank about the Environmental Impact Statement & Nancy N, after some prodding, said they were not going to have to do one because they were small projects. Char also asked if they would consider doing another public survey and again after hedging, Nancy N said simply, NO.

Garry K asked about the upcoming levy. We were told long ago that they were planning on 1 ½ times increase in the per pupil but even when Garry pushed, the only reply we got was “we haven’t determined that yet” Personally I think they are trying to keep this figure under wraps because they realize that the jump in the levy would alarm folks even more.

Jim Stauber told the District that he has received hundreds of emails wanting to know why they don’t get to vote on this issue. Nancy N went on & on about delays costing 50,000 per day etc. and she had researched the issue so she felt right about it so didn’t think it needed to go to the public..

Since the Council only had about 45 min to ask questions the second half of the meeting went quicker than the first part listening to Dixon as the clock ticked away.

In the end, very few of the City Councilors got their questions asked., or answered fully before time ran out. I believe they talked abut having another meeting some time again soon

I think I jotted about 4 pages of notes down but really nothing incredibly new.

Many of us spoke to the News Tribune Reporter and Barb Olsen from the Reader. I suspect something will be in there in the morning paper.

I think everyone should email, call or write Garry K, Char G & Jim S to thank them for having the courage to confront this School Board who are ignoring our citizens. I think we should continue to write, call & email everyone else again & again so they understand how passionate we are about this issue and that we are not going away.”

Council seeing Red

Today’s Trib covered the long delayed and much anticipated meeting between the City Council and the School Board.

The last two paragraphs weren’t flattering to the Board.

“Gardner said she wanted more time to ask questions, and said she, too, was concerned by some of the answers she received, saying she wanted them to be more direct. She said she is concerned that the public’s opposition to the red plan could lead to the rejection of a much-needed school levy to be voted on this fall.

‘We cannot kid ourselves that opponents of this plan are just a small vocal minority anymore,’ she said. ‘I don’t think the board realizes the depth of opposition to this plan and the damage it can do to this community.'”

Lobbying in St. Paul

My email to Let Duluth Vote members:

Gary and I had a good but a long day.
I’ve just read Brenda’s account of last night’s LDV meeting and I should tell you that Gary and I heard nothing about the Bakk Bill being too late. That seems unlikely although it was an issue that was raised in Mike’s House Committee.
Gary and I got to St. Paul at 10:15AM but the hearing, which was originally scheduled at 11AM, didn’t take place until 4:45PM.
Nilson, Dixon, Solberg (the lobbyist) and one parent were there. Mike got us to the
top of the agenda and because this is a local bill and legislators aren’t usually interested in it we expected no more than a half hour’s attention. It took an hour and twenty minutes to finish.
Gary and I went first for about ten minutes. Then Dixon and Nilson and Solberg went second. They got all the follow up questions.
Mike’s bill was late but he’s a long time veteran of the Committee and the very
sharp chair made it clear that there are no deadlines for members to introduce local property tax bills.
One legislator did carp about this not going through the Ed committee first and that is Mary Murphy’s committee and Mary is a co-sponsor of Mike’s bill. Mary Murphy showed up and spoke for a long time. She’s Her testimony was a little ambiguous but she did confirm that this is a big deal in Duluth. She told the committee that wherever she goes into a stori in Duluth she has to plan on an extra hour because people want to know what she thinks about the Red Plan.
Rep Dill gave us a scare when he offered an amendment about taxing cabins for
rural school districts. That would have killed it because it would have had
statewide implications and been controversial but he withdrew it having
registered his complaint. (His district can’t pass referendums and levies and he
wants to tax vacation homes.)
The committee will vote on Mike’s bill at some later date but I don’t know when.
Afterwards I was a bit discouraged but out in the hallway Mike and another Duluth
lobbyist assured us that it would be unlikely that Mike’s bill would be side
lined.
We heard again that Sen. Bakk is determined to pass the bill. As I said, no one
in the Senate would be eager to cross him.
Prettner Solon came and testified before the committee saying the plan was good
for Duluth and would only have a $125 million in tax impact.
I made no friends with the other side. I said that Nilsen and Dixon were selling
snakeoil. That’s OK because Dixon has never rescheduled the meeting he offered to have with me. I’m beginning to think it will never happen.
While we had some down time Gary and I wandered over to the State Auditor’s
office. We stopped in and had an impromptu meeting with two lawyers for about 45 minutes who already knew about the Jaros Bill and who had received questions from Gary.
We had a good conversation about how to secure more of the public information that the District is witholding from Gary.
I’m still cautiously optimistic about Mike’s bill but we have to push every other button we can just in case it doesn’t get passed.

Harry

One more email on Dixon in Faribault

“We had some problems with Dixon on replacing a activities director position after our present AD died of cancer. Dixon wanted it to be a part-time position (but staff knew it was a full time job) and got it but now we have been back to a full-time position for quite a few years. I never felt at ease, confident or trusting of him. He had a great gift of gab, smooth, slick, able to talk the talk with business folks etc. I thought the business director here at the time he came was competent and honest but Dixon got rid of him also. I disagree with Lorenz that Dixon was always on the teacher’s side.”

Another insider’s take on Dixon

My friend emailed me another person’s view of Dixon’s years in Faribault:

Interesting article. Lot of it true on both sides depending on where you were coming from in the community in your dealings with him. First contact I had with him was at a faculty mtg (sr hi) at which our principal was going to update us on building plans he had been working on with us for over a year. He said he was going to introduce the new superintendent, who would talk for 5 min and then we would work on the building plans. An hour an a half later Dixon was still talking! At that meeting Dixon said he was going to retire in five years (2000?)? At an administrative meeting Dixon and the principal got in a disagreement about the bldg plans and Dixon said if you don’t like it quit. Our principal slid his keys across the table and quit at the end of the school year a month or so(?) later. He was a good principal. Only one administrator was left after a year or two (and we had some very good ones) and Dixon tried to fire him but the elem. principal won the lawsuit and he is still here.”

“He lost about 20”

I spent the day lobbying in St. Paul at the House Tax Committee. I’m too bushed to write a coherent description so that will have to wait till tomorrow. However, I did check my email when I returned about news time. A friend from Ely read the Duluth Trib’s story on Dixon’s days in Faribault and sent it to some Faribault friends for their reaction. Here’s his email to me quoting them”

Harry……….I forwarded the Duluth article to a couple folks. Got this back from someone reliable who worked closely with Dixon. J

“The King had no clothes when he was in Faribault, but everyone was afraid to say it. It didn’t matter how many good people left because they couldn’t put up with him, there are still people insisting he was a great man. Jay Treadway in the article said he had a strong team and had good communication channels all the way down. The team couldn’t have been too strong because he lost about 20 of the admin team while he was in Faribault. The communications channel was, if you said anything to anybody in opposition to his way, he screamed at you about it. I can feel my blood pressure rising just reading about Dixon.”

I asked if my friend could ask the writer to put this in a letter-to-the-editor and send it to the Trib.

Exodus

The Red Plan turbulence is driving people out of the District to neighboring schools. I just got a call from Fox News and was asked if I could lead them to anyone trying to exit the Duluth Schools. I don’t know whether they will accept the offer to be interviewed but one of our new LDV members is already sending kids to Hermantown.

Fox called after hearing about the exodus at last night’s school board meeting. One of our members mentioned to another that the Hermantown Star reported that there were 61 Duluth applicants for Hermantown’s schools and it got mentioned last night. There is something of a backlash in Hermantown to this and Hermantown’s schools are considering closing the door to Duluth enrollees.

The Wrenshall and Proctor schools are also enjoying additional applications from the Duluth Schools. No doubt the Edison and Harbor View charter schools will also see more applications.

Budget Chickens

I left the meeting early and missed the beginning of it. The two hours of community input preceeded everything but the Pledge of Allegience. The Trib has three grim stories about the imminent closing of Lincoln Park Middle School, the decision to aquire the first 15 of 39 properties for the Red Plan and a big one about the budget cuts approved

People who would like to make a comment on the stories in the Trib’s talk page page can do so here.

How bad are things? From the Story:

“For the first time in at least 10 years, the Duluth School Board approved increasing class sizes across the school district Tuesday to help the district climb out of a $6 million deficit. The vote was unanimous.

The move — which will increase the student-teacher ratio by one student next year — saved the district about $1.2 million. Increasing class size is often a last resort for districts facing deficits because large classes can make it difficult for teachers to give students the attention they need.”

According to the Board its all the fault of St. Paul. This School Board has banned the use of mirrors except when they are needed with smoke.

Budget chickens coming home to roost

Tonight the Duluth School Board voted to close Lincoln Junior High.
The list of possible cuts brought out Mark Eskola the former Central High Orchestra teacher who now teaches at East. He implored the Board to go easy on music then thanked them for listening to him. Despite his thank you there will be massive music cuts if the Fall operational levy fails. If it fails it will be because of the Red Plan.

The Superintendent said for the second time in my hearing that the fall referendum had nothing whatsoever to do with the Red Plan. That may technically be true but politically its nonsense. The only way to save the operational levy would be to put the Red Plan up for a vote. Only the passage of Mike Jaros bill can save it. If the levy fails then the School Board will seriously consider two other items on the cutting board. They are considering adding two students to every classroom city-wide. And even if they made every cut on tonight’s list of $8.98 million in cuts they will have to come up with another three million more cuts if the levy fails.

The agenda was held off for two hours again to accomodate all the pro and con speakers on the Red Plan. Fewer of ours showed up than last month because, as I explained to the Board, people have figured out its a waste of time to talk to the Board.

One thing was clear when the meeting came to an end and all the Board members bloviated. Once the levy fails there will only be one school left standing between Laura McArthur at 54th Ave West and Congdon at 30th Ave East. Tim Grover’s third district will only have Grant school. So much for the central corridor of Duluth. No wonder people are turning to Hermantown in droves to enroll their children.

My bad, I forgot about Lowell. But it won’t be a music magnet anymore.

“Ordean will have none”

Kent Worley, one of Duluth’s most accomplished landscape architects keeps fretting over the Ordean Highschool site. He’s been on a cross country tour and made a point of looking at excellent high schools across the nation. Here is his brief comparison of first rate high school grounds and Ordean’s siting.

6 to 8 tennis courts; Ordean will have none.

1-2 baseball fields; Ordean will have one.

1-2 softball fields; Ordean may have one.

1 football/soccer field; Ordean will have one.

1 football/soccer practice field; Ordean will have none.

Running track; Ordean will have none.

700-900 parking spaces for this population school; Ordean will have only half, or 440.

600-800 linear ft. of student drop off walk and curb; Ordean will unsafely use 40th Ave and Superior Street.

20-25 bus parking student drop area; Ordean space will be fortunate to have 1/3 of this.

Buildings are typically set back from collector streets 300 to 600+ feet; Ordean will be 40 [only forty] feet away from a major street, about 2 ½ car lengths away]

General open space for parking/driving pedestrian safety; Ordean will have little to none.

Outdoor nature or outdoor classroom areas; Current JCI plan shows clearing and filling the one high quality natural feature on site.

Runoff pond collection spaces; Ordean will have limited to no space for this.

Building isolation from surrounding traffic noise and vehicular fumes; Ordean will need to keep windows closed for sound and air quality control.

Sites need space for expansion—often buildings & athletics expand 1/3 and more; Ordean will have no space for this.

Schools have normal support needs for deliveries, storage, maintenance equipment and parking and reasonable space between all these features which are necessary for site utility, safety, appearance and flexibility; Ordean will not fit all these needs on the 26 to 34 acres being proposed, less the 4 acres of unbuildable land.

Oh, by the way, the state’s recommended minimum site sizes mean 50 to 55 acres of BUILDABLE land; Ordean has over 4 acres in completely unbuldable steep slope and ravine / stream condition, so the 26 acres is really only 22. Compare that to the recommended 50 to 55 acres of buildable terrain this state knows by experience is required.

179 hits a day

That’s the average number of hits www.letduluthvote.com is getting every day in April so far. April is only a third over so the LDV website will generate a lot more attention by the end of the month than it did last September during the height of our petitioning.