Prediction – The Red Plan is doomed

Oh, some of it will be built. We will put new HVAC on our two newest schools this summer – sixteen year old Stowe and Lakewood elementaries. What a colossal waste of money on perfectly good 16 years old HVAC systems! (JCI has already approved buying JCI equipment for part of the work) Just how much more of the Red Plan will be built is anyone’s guess.

There are three possible methods of litigating the plan to a standstill. One is the enviroment. A second involves the incestuous relationship between the District and Johnson Controls. The third is the abandoment of our integration program contrary to the expectations of state law.

These legal actions may only stall the Red Plan but even if they fail to do that there will be a new school board elected in 2009. Four members of the Board could be replaced and almost certainly will be. Not only will the 60% of Duluth that is outraged by the Red Plan vote to replace them but the 20% that supports the Red Plan blindly will lose faith when the failed operational levy this fall results in draconian cuts to the school program. The new school board will likely not levy the additional $90 million in 2011 that Board Chair Nancy Nilson has been oblivious to.

Since only about half of the money needed for the Red Plan has been levied so far and won’t be levied until 2011 the new school board is almost certain not to approve the rest which will grind the Red Plan to a halt midway through its construction. That will be a great disaster for the entire city. The only way to avoid it at this point is to kill the Red Plan before it gets any further. The City Council (which hasn’t got the School Board’s chutzpa to raise taxes to fix up deplorable infrastructure) could throw some monkey wrenches at the Red Plan. Yes, half the money has already been approved by the School Board but it could, instead, be used for a more sensible compromise plan.

Almanac North

I had a 15 minute debate on Almanac North last night with Mimi Larson who represents a group of pro Red Plan parents. Among the things I pointed out was the dreadful ignorance of the School Board.

Mimi said all the canned things that Dr. Dixon keeps repeating. When I got home my wife, who was a competitor at the National High School Debate tournament told me I had done very well. Friends called up to say I did a good job. That’s what seven months of research makes possible.

I suspect some of my strongest critics watch the show. They may be having second thoughts.

For Sale

The seniors at Central High pulled a Senior Prank that I found quite humorous. They bought and stole “for sale” signs and put them up in the Central parking lot and also evidently in the yard of the Superintendent ‘s house. Very funny.

Suing the City

A group of enviornmentalists plans to take the City to court over the Red Plan’s imminent OK. Wait till tomorrow for the story in the Trib. A reporter for WDIO TV called to ask me about it and I couldn’t report much. I suggested a name for her to follow up for an interview.

Oh, it turns out that I’m one of the petitioners suing the city. Good for me!

Trib talk

Anyone reading my blog should know I’ve been a little put out with the Trib and its coverage of the Red Plan and the Red Plan’s opposition. After a two hour lunch and some frank talk with the Trib’s education reporter I’m feeling considerably more charitable.

I first met Sarah Horner over the phone last Summer when she called to ask me about Let Duluth Vote or why I had filed to run for the School Board. I began joking around, as is my wont with Reporters, but she was all business and I realized that she wanted straight answers from me so I sobered up. Later I happened to be dropping something off in the Trib’s offices and I made a beeline to her desk and complimented her on her tough questions. I told her that I had only one request of her….that she show as much skepticism of the Red Plan proponants as she did its opponants. Since that time I can not complain about my treatment in any of her stories. The Let Duluth vote forces, however, have never seemed to fare as well.

Sarah knew about my threats to the Trib and its circulation because a letter I sent to the publisher found its way onto her desk. Her chief concern was to impress upon me that she has and plans to undertake a serious investigation of some of LDV’s chief complaints. I believe her although I may have to work hard to find sources for her so that she can get some non JCI and School Board affected testimony.

Of primary concern is our fear, LDV’s fear, that the JCI contract gives them dangerous license to manipulate the contract for their benefit at the District’s expense. I think Sarah sees the potential for conflict of interest on JCI’s part. That’s not proof but it demostrates the skepticism I asked her to level at both sides.

Changing the Subject

For the seven members of the School Board who met tonight to buy up some more “property” (they never call them houses) there were seven of us from Let Duluth Vote. Brenda gave a masterful presentation which I’ve asked her to forward to me because I’d like to publish it.

I pointed out that after tonight’s $111 million additional borrowing there was a little over $200 million of $407 yet to be levied. (I count interest) When I also said that the Board Chair had implied that the fall operational levy would be needed to complete the Red Plan’s financing Chair Nilsen vigorously shook her head “no.”

When Gary Glass began asking questions about the future finances he also piped up about the fall levy. When he too suggested that there was more taxing to come Chair Nilsen broke in and corrected him saying that all of the borrowing was over with and that was the end of the tax increases. The District’s bond counsel corrected her and agreed with Gary that in 2011 another $90 million is scheduled to be raised.

I don’t know if any of the Board members have the foggiest idea what they are doing but after Gary commented that he was never happy to see more public borrowing Nilsen gladly changed the subject from her very public demonstration of cluelessness about the financial impact of the Red Plan. It had been announced by the Bond counsel that they had carved another $8 million off of the interest payments for the borrowing. Nilsen then made fun of Gary for not being thrilled about getting a better interest rate. I took this to mean she was desperate to change the subject from her misunderstanding of the Red Plan’s impact.

And she’s the Board Chair!

Two Harbors Transfer

One of the fellows working on my basement rehab job has a grandson who is going to East High School now having transferred into Duluth because there is so little being offered to Two Harbors students since voters in that District refused to pass operational levies. Two Harbors High has a brand new school pool but it is closed to the public. No money. I wonder if we will have to do the same with the new East Junior High pool once its built – if there’s enough money left to build it. I wonder where the Two Harbors transfer will go if our operational levies fail?

Mild interest in new schools

The District is using its $150,000 advertsising budget (two teachers salaries worth of budget) to whip up support for its big plans. All of 40 people showed up to take a look at the site options for a new Western Middle school and elementary school. Whoopee! Forty!

Maybe Proctor’s plan to send a bus into the Piedmont neighborhood will generate more excitement.

City Council vs. School Board on taxes

Today’s story in the Trib was a clear indication of the contrast between the City Council and the School Board where taxes are concerned. The School Board authorized $407 million in taxes and did so despite loud and vocal opposition for a school building plan of dubious necessity.

The City Council faces not only ancient sewers in need of replacement but Federal Sanctions for not doing the work. The cost while significant is $64 million one seventh of the Red Plan’s Cost. But they are approaching the decision like a little kid picking up a big, nasty spider.

My letter to the Strib

I wrote a letter to the Editor to the Strib a couple weeks ago and it was published. Someone just sent me a link to it:

A sample:

“In every poll or survey taken since the school board took on this tyrannical power at least 65 percent of Duluthians have expressed unhappiness over the theft of their voting rights. The certain consequence of this theft is the imminent defeat of the critical operational levy this fall which is just what happened in Faribault twice after Dixon’s Faribault building plan. We will sacrifice classroom spending for largely unnecessary new buildings in one of the poorest communities in Minnesota.”

A&E’s get a whiff of R Plan – wrinkle noses

Word is circulating that word of the Red Plan’s excesses are beginning to circulate through the State’s Architects and Engineers and they are appalled by JCI’s actions.

I’ve gotten a lot of leads on School Districts that are unhappy with JCI’s work. I’ll have to start following these leads up to see where they take me.

The State Commerce Commission helped draft a law which would have required that energy savings contracts with school districts be reviewed by the State. (I don’t know if it passed) The claims of savings in energy savings contracts with school districts have been found to be greatly exagerated. Now the state wants to intervene before local governments get ripped off by JCI and others in the industry. Now what was it again that a the Governor said about state intervention in local government?

A powerful new ally

I contacted someone through Rep. Mike Jaros’ good offices today who will become a powerful ally of Let Duluth Vote in the coming months. They read the tepid story about the Red Plan in the Minneapolis Tribune, grew alarmed and then got hold of the School District’s Review and Comment.

They found serious errors in the information provided and then discovered that not all the pertinant MDE (Minnesota Dept of Education) staff had been shown the School District’s report. The proper staff would almost certainly have flagged the Report and this could very well have caused it to be turned down.

Since JCI checks my blog I’ll say no more. They have a habit of silenciiiiiiiii gahh, gahh, Ahhhh, achhhhhhhawggggggggg ……

Just kidding! They haven’t sued me for slander yet. Sorry Ralph. Sorry old email critic back to harass me.

I’ll keep my new ally under my hat for now just to keep the dark side off balance.

Be my guest

A critic of mine (he sent me dozens of put downs last year) sent me the following email after a long hiatus.

“Old saying. Give a man a nufe rope and he will hang himself. Why don’t you just move. Before people sue you for liable and slander. Your getting close.”

My emailed reply was the title of this post.

The Survey and the Whale

I found out after last night’s school board meeting who the likely sponsor behind the educational phone survey is. Its probably another school district. I presume they are trying to figure how to keep their attendence up or even expand and in this enviorment of disillusionment over the Red Plan the time is ripe to siphon off our students.

Proctor and Wrenshall are or will soon be sending busses to pick up Duluth kids. Hermantown is a popular destination too but its buildings are reaching capacity and now some Hermantown residents are trying to keep more Duluth students out.
Perhaps even Two Harbors will start looking attractive. When I was on the School Board current board member Judy Seliga-Punyko sent her kids there during a similar “crisis.”

Duluth families who send there children away may escape a nghtmare in Duluth but they will still have to pay for it. They will be paying the freight for the Red Plan but will see none of its benefits – should there be any.

ISD 709 reminds me of the plight of an injured whale swimming too slowly in the ocean to elude hungry sharks.

I’ve always been wrong

At the end of tonight’s meeting Brady Smith of WDIO asked if I could give him the letter. I told him to ask the School Administration for it because it was public information having been sent to all the School Board members through the District. Brady seemed a little hesitant to ask the administration to hand over info he and all citizens are entitled to. I told him to tell me if they wouldn’t give it to him.

On the news clip he ran on tonight’s news he said the District simply said that everything I’ve ever said has been proven wrong. I’d like them to name a single thing I’ve said that was wrong. Oh, perhaps my early belief that they couldn’t approve the Red Plan without a referendum but I was quickly disabused of that.

I think the District is confusing its success at out maneuvering Let Duluth Vote with the help of its lawyers and a flawed law, millions of dollars in JCI resources, and the school bureaucracy with being right. If they are right then the Sadduccees were right because they got Rome to crucify Jesus and Jesus was clearly wrong.

Sixty years later the Romans tore down the Temple and sent the Jews on a second diaspora. Who was proven right then? We won’t have to wait that long in Duluth. We’ll find out in six months when the District puts its operational levy up for a vote.

Bid Rigging?

This is the testimony Harry Welty will gave to the Duluth School Board on Tuesday, May 20, 2008 at 6:30PM.

Who is looking out for Duluth?

I wish to read into the record a short summation of Johnson Controls business as they have been demonstrated in connection with the Red Plan.

Johnson Controls is a Fortune 100 company with over 140,000 employees almost twice as many as Duluth has residents. Its chief business is the manufacture of air quality equipment. It has almost no track record as a project manager. Yet it is rich in consultants, salesmen and lawyers and has used them effectively to sell the Red Plan.

According to retired school board member, Brad Bennett, since the Red Plan was just a gleam in our superintendent’s eye Dr. Dixon has been looking for a way to build it without a vote. Perhaps that explains why JCI only presented Duluth with quarter-billion-dollar building plans. It knew that so long as it had an agreeable majority on the School Board nothing could stop the Red Plan from being built and it could maximize its profits.

Just how much Johnson Controls might earn from this enterprise has been shrouded in secrecy. The school board never saw the contract it signed with JCI. Although it was a public document it might never have been seen by the public had it not been for another past school board member, Eileen Zeitz Hudelson, who hired an attorney to demand that it be surrendered under the authority of the Minnesota Data Practices Act.

Although our local newspaper has seen fit to repeat Dr. Dixon’s claim that JCI will only earn 2% of the Red Plan’s total cost the contract reveals much more to experienced eyes.

As early as last summer Duluth’s most eminent Landscape Architect, Kent Worley, surmised that the language in this contract, which lists many payments to JCI in excess of 2%, could earn the company as much as 10% of total costs. According to one of our newest School Board members, Gary Glass, this figure was supported by our Director of Facilities, Kerry Leider. However, ever since a headline trumpeted $33 million in earnings for JCI Dr. Dixon has repeatedly maintained in
print and in person that the contract specifies a 2% earnings for JCI despite the contract’s language to the contrary. The Duluth News Tribune which is reaping considerable advertising dollars from the District has not seen fit to pursue this story.

Rather than earning $33 million Dr. Dixon assures us that JCI will only earn about $6 million dollars. Of equal importance to JCI is the contract’s unusual surrender by the District of its oversight of sub contractors and the specifications for equipment to be purchased. Since as much as $35 million in JCI equipment may be purchased this is not inconsiderable.

Perhaps it is not important how much money JCI gets for its work as long as the Duluth School District gets wonderful schools. But this sentiment might not be shared by the taxpayers footing the bill. And it seems quite likely that the bill, our taxes, will continue to grow. Board Chair Nancy Nilsen has said that the Board has always understood that the full implementation of the Red Plan depends upon the successful passage of a fall operational levy which, unlike the Red Plan, must be offered to the voters. If she is right that the Red Plan can not be completed without more money and if it doesn’t come in the operational levy the Board has the authority to raise additional taxes to pay for the Red Plan.

Since so much depends on the outcome of the fall referendum the question of JCI’s compensation hangs in the air. It could be six million as the Dr. Dixon maintains. It could be the $33 million that Kent Worley estimated. But, it might turn out to be much more than this. An analysis by an expert in contract administration, Robert Aho, concludes that JCI stands to earn as much as $92 million for the Red Plan. That’s better than one third of its projected total cost.

Mr. Aho took his early misgivings about the relationship between JCI and its sub-contractors to the School Board and when that fell on deaf ears to the Duluth News Tribune. Neither organization bothered to investigate or report on Mr. Aho’s concerns. Instead they reprised the same inaction they had demonstrated months earlier when a professional engineer, Art Johnston, called into question JCI’s methodology and demonstrated that JCI had developed the Red Plan with unlicensed architects in violation of state law.

And the inaction continues.

A few weeks ago, the School Board was sent a letter from a contractor who outlined a possible case of bid rigging by Johnson Controls which awarded itself a major bid for services.

Although he sent the School Board members his complaint, like others before it fell on deaf ears. Nothing happened except that JCI immediately contacted two witnesses who may now have difficulty remembering just what it was they witnessed. Such events are not all that surprising when a School Board surrenders its oversight.

I do have a copy of that letter and it will soon be forwarded to the State Attorney General who will be asked to conduct an investigation of possible bid rigging by Johnson Controls.

Sadly, we can not trust this Administration to turn this evidence over to the authorities. Two months ago we turned in a petition from 3,300 citizens demanding a smaller building proposal. Ten days later the District’s lawyers sent back their recommendation that the State Attorney General be consulted. That was six weeks ago and the District has only just now forwarded our petition to the Attorney General. The School District seems intent on running out the clock on criticism.

Considering the School District’s disdain for voters and considering Johnson Controls greed it is not surprising that JCI hired a former Republican Revenue Commissioner to lobby the Governor and ask him to defend the School Board from the voters.

I have an interesting post script to share with the School Board.

Someone has commissioned another survey of Duluth’s attitude toward public education. However, only parents who have children between the ages of 4 and 14 are being allowed to participate. I know this because a City Councilor told me that he was asked to participate until he told the pollster that his youngest child was 15.

Who is watching out for the citizens of Duluth? Not the School Board. Not the Legislature. Not the Governor. Not the Department of Education. Not the Duluth News Tribune. If none of their elected representatives will look out for the voters they will simply have to do it themselves at the ballot box this fall.

3.9% property tax cap – NOT

Last night Brady Smith did a little story on WDIO TV about the future of the Red Plan now that the Governor and legislature has left it in the hands Duluth’s voters – NOT! (It’s the School Board’s decision you sillies)

Perhaps the best thing Brady emphasized is the great achievment of this legislature and Governor – a 3.9 percent cap on city and county property tax increases. He emphasized that School Districts were immune from this limitation. Duluth voters will almost certainly turn down a proposed operational levy this fall. However, that will not prevent the School Board from raising the property tax anyway to pay for the Red Plan because the State has already given them that authority.