Are Red Plan supporters turning tail?

I couldn’t help but notice that David Ross, the CEO of the Chamber of Commerce, wrote nary a word about the Red Plan in his most recent Budgeteer column. His Budgeteer “archives” are full of fullsome praise for the Red Plan but he omitted any mention of the plan in last weekend’s round of boosterism. The closest he got was a general comment about our reputation for having good schools:

“Duluth’s fascinating history and heritage as a hard-working industrial town is now coupled with a growing reputation as a place of innovation and opportunity in the areas of education, health care, aviation, business and technology.”

I can’t help but wonder if even the Red Plan’s most ardent former boosters are having second thoughts or are cowed by the increasingly sullen attitude about the Red Plan from voters who incorrectly feel impotent to change it.

Walmart’s Free enterprise/lunch

I recently heard the author of the book Free Lunch give a speech in which he said that the Sam Walton descendents had earned a large portion of their fortune, if not most of it, from taxpayers rather than consumers. He claimed they did it by extorting huge tax advantages out of the communities that they wanted to build a Walmart store in.

I wouldn’t have commented on it except that I just opened this page unrelated to the book’s author. It is an animation of Walmart openings since the store was started in Arkansas by Sam. I imagined every town giving millions to the Walton family to get their own Walmart and beat out the other poor schmuck communities nearby which were too cheep to pay the extortion.

Dr. Dixon intends to be “vague”

Karen added this note about the school board meeting the other night:

“Harry, you summarized the referendum plans well on your blog. But I thought you might like to use Dixon’s word of the evening more often, VAGUE. He wants to be vague as to what the levy $ will be used for. You were raked over the coals for using the word CONFUSE.”

Yes, I was raked over the coals last year for using that word. However it was the Duluth News Tribune that put that word our of context in a headline that got me all the grief. Dr. Dixon’s use of the word vague shows that sometimes fuzziness works.

LDV’s Legislative Pledge

Tonight we sent out a pledge to 14 candidates for the four legislative seats whose Districts contain part of ISD 709.

Its a simple pledge:

Will you pledge to reintroduce and or vote for the original Jaros legislation which would guarantee that the voters of the Duluth School District would be given a binding referendum on the Red Plan or any other major overhaul of Duluth School facilities before said project was allowed to continue?

Yes_______ No ________

Explain your answer below if you wish to. Please return to Let Duluth Vote in the enclosed envelope.

Read More.

Our Press Release

“Can’t we be mature?”

Karen, one of our indefatigable LDVers, went to the School Board meeting last night and reported Dr.Dixon’s proposed three tiered referendum for the fall operational levy.

It will work something like this:

There will be three tax figures offered to voters. If any of them win over 50% of the vote they will pass but only the largest winning tier will be implemented. If better than 50% of voters vote for tier one, then the District will be able to raise $365 for every student in the district. Since there are about 10,000 students it would total about $3,5 million.The second tier will raise $700 per student or about $7 million. The third tier will raise between $1,100 and $1,400 per student or between $11 and 14 million dollars. Dr. Dixon’s rationale was simple” “Unless we ask, we won’t know”

He is also recommending that the District make no promises on how the money will be spent. Of the four previous occasions that District 709 has offered such operational levy votes the only levy that failed was in 2001 when the District didn’t explain how it planned to use the money.

One Red Plan boosters at the meeting asked what our LDV friend thought about the levy. When our friend replied that she had no opinion the RP supporter snorted: “Can’t you be mature enough to get over the Red Plan and support this for the education of the kids?”

This is just the kind of campaign message that will win over voters.

Meet JCI’s Jeff Schiltz

Who’s who at Johnson Controls? Jeff Schiltz was the first person JCI listed on its proposal to lead the design for the Duluth School District’s LRFP. (Long Range Facilities Plan)

http://www.letduluthvote.com/images/JeffSchiltzMSBA.jpg

Check out LDV’s Meet Jeff Schiltz Page where you will read among other things this interesting story:

“Early this year a pastor in a Morgan Park church organized a neighborhood meeting with Superintendent Dixon and JCI to answer questions about the Red Plan. Morgan Park is about to lose its only school, Morgan Park Junior High.

Someone in the audience asked Jeff where his children went to school. Jeff explained that although he was a Duluth resident he and his wife had originally sent their children to the Hermantown schools. He then explained that they had recently enrolled his children in Duluth’s parochial schools.”

What makes a good school board member?

What Makes a Good Board Member?

I ran across this list of qualities of good school board members on the Minnesota School Board Association website. It struck me that Duluth has one good one, Gary Glass. I’ve bolded three qualities which Gary excells when compared to most of his current colleagues on the Board.

Effective school board members share a number of common characteristics, but it’s important to realize they did not become effective the instant they were elected. Many qualities are acquired through experience and are important to consider:

A conviction that public education is important
The ability to make decisions
Loyalty to the democratic process
Time and energy to devote to board business, including board development opportunities
Ability to accept the will of the majority
Respect for district staff
Ability to communicate well with others
Courage

Good News, Moving Forward

Like most people I can over think some things. I might be doing that with today’s banner headline in the Trib over the twinned stories of the City’s reorganization under the new Mayor and Duluth’s recent high bond ratings. (Its not in the online Tribune) I’m struck by the second phrase: “moving forward” which is by chance or otherwise the catch phrase of Red Plan Supporters.

Is the use of this particular phrase a subtle promotion of the Red Plan? If so, is this a phrase that the City Council and Mayor, most of whom despise the Red Plan and/or its conception, will enjoy having applied to them?

Or am I making a mountain out of a mole hill?

Punishing politicians who will not tax

The good news, as the News Tribune puts it, is that Duluth’s finances and tax capacity are in good enough shape to guarantee an excellent bond rating for the City. This is how both Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s evaluated Duluth as it puts its biggest ever bond into effect – a $40 million behemoth to finance the DECC expansion. Keep in mind, of course, that this will mostly be paid for by tourists at our hotels and restaurants. Also keep in mind that it is dwarfed by the $293 million in bonding for the School District’s Red Plan which will be paid entirely by local residents.

What the advisors at Moody’s know is important. Government can raise taxes to pay off their debts and the taxpayers can do little about it. That’s why we will all be on the hook if the Federal Government guarantees Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac for encouraging so many sub prime loans. That’s why we will all be on the hook if the Duluth School Board gets away with the Red Plan.

To that point I found this quote from the rating’s agencies interesting:

“However, if city leaders lacked ‘political will’ to use that money – required by a 7/9 vote of the City Council – it ‘could shift our analytic conclusions regarding overall operating liquidity.'”

In other words, If the voters of Duluth lean on their politicians not to raise taxes the bonding community will punish Duluth. Its nice to have friends.

Eat PB&J’s and Save the World

For well over a year until about six months ago I was helping save the world and didn’t even know it. I was simply trying to limit my calories by eating Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwiches for most weekday lunches. There is now a campaign to encourage everybody to eat PBJ’s.

The payoff?

“Each time you have a plant-based lunch like a PB&J you’ll reduce your carbon footprint by the equivalent of 2.5 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions over an average animal-based lunch like a hamburger, a tuna sandwich, grilled cheese, or chicken nuggets. For dinner you save 2.8 pounds and for breakfast 2.0 pounds of emissions.

Those 2.5 pounds of emissions at lunch are about forty percent of the greenhouse gas emissions you’d save driving around for the day in a hybrid instead of a standard sedan.”

Fees!

Public schools are prevented by law from charging for educating students. That’s why students can’t be required to pay for their text books although they can be fined for damaging or losing then or school library books. SAme with equipment. My old chemistry teacher used to tell all his classes that I had attained the highest equipment breakage fee in the history of his class. I think it was thirteen bucks. (I forget what it was but I burned some durable piece of equipment to smithereens. It was an an accomplishment that he seemed truly in awe of.)

And, of course, schools can charge for extracurriculars. That’s why poor folks don’t let their kids play hockey. The gear and clothes are too expensive to change each year as the player grows from Termite to Alpha……Isn’t that what the age groups are called?

But with the City of Duluth contemplating this in its dire financial need…..Thank you Red Plan…..Who knows what sort of pain the School Board will prepared to inflict on its students next year.

Bad apples

I do think laws were bent and or skated past to adopt the Red Plan but I’ve never said that JCI was acting with criminial intent. Although I’ve used words like mislead, greed and the like I’ve been pretty cautious describing JCI’s activities. That did not stop Ralph Doty from writing a column days before the last election vilifying me for criticising JCI. He said the company should sue me for slander. Doty explained that he called an aquaintance at his old place of employment to inquire about JCI’s success with a project in Ohio. The report was favorable so Doty simple mindedly applied this singular success to all JCI projects world wide including the Red Plan.

If a singular example is now the standard of judgement then any evidence of scandal should cast doubt on all JCI projects. Using Doty’s line of reasoning I now offer proof that every JCI project is corrupt with the singular example of their work in pre Katrina New Orleans.

Here’s how the Times Picayune editorialized about New Orleans’ JCI scandal.

“Indeed, the breadth of the graft and greed alleged in the indictment is breathtaking, even by the standards of a city inured to public corruption.”

So, is JCI a barrel of rotten apples or does it simply have a few bad apples?

Energy Savings?

The Trib’s reporter on JCI made it clear to me that the School Board’s contract with JCI was not a “performance contract.” Apparently Sarah was well aware of the criticism leveled at such contracts. They guarantee the purchaser energy savings after the installation of energy saving and monitoring equipment.

Even though the Red Plan is not an energy savings plan it has been sold to the public as an energy saving plan. Many of the first millions of dollars spent this summer are being spent on energy equipment at Stowe and Lakewood. Consequently the effect of the Red Plan is very similar to an energy performance contract. Thus what the GAO (the Goverment Accounting Office) has to say about such contracts is worth pondering. This comes from a Wikepedia entry on ESCOs.

“In June of 2005, the GAO released a report, “Energy Savings: Performance Contracts Offer Benefits, But Vigilance Is Needed To Protect Government Interests.” The Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Technology, Acquisition, and Logistics agreed with the GAO findings. “While these complicated contracts are structured to ensure that savings will exceed costs,” the DOD noted, “we recognize that our measurement and verification procedures must be improved to confirm estimates with actual data.” Unverified savings, often stipulated rather than proven, do not put more oil in the ground, take CO2 out of the air or reduce operating budgets

The GAO ESPC study brings into question whether or not there is sufficient data to prove that the gains delivered by ESCOs are sustainable over time. The study further questions the practice of having ESCOs monitoring and validating the performance of their own projects.

In fact, most buildings and facilities exhibit the same basic limitations with respect to energy conservation and optimum maintenance. US Federal studies show that major and minor building systems routinely fail to meet performance expectations, and these faults often go unnoticed over time. The functions of a building, the number of tenants, and the configuration of the space change over time in unanticipated manners that adversely affect the systems that control building performance.

Surprisingly, almost all buildings, building complexes, and systems inside buildings still operate in a disconnected, stand-alone manner. Proprietary systems result in buildings that needlesly waste energy. Recent studies have found that as many as 30% of LEED platinium buildings perform no beter than conventional buildings. It is ultimately difficult or impossible for customers to construct a single integrated picture that correlates energy usage and maintenance costs to control system performance, space usage, conservation measures, and the behavior of those using the facility space.”

So, can Duluth believe all of the JCI hype?

Don’t tell Gary Glass anything

Apparently no one in the District is authorized to tell Board member Gary Glass about who is getting contracts for Red Plan construction.

The JCI representative was sitting next to Kerry Leider’s assistant, Dave Spooner during a School Board meeting to answer questions directed at them by the School Board. Glass asked them if there were any JCI subcontractors being awarded contracts for this summer’s Stowe or Lakewood projects. Dave Spooner responded for the panel, and answered “No.” The JCI representative sitting next to Spooner said nothing to contradict Spooner.

Later Gary went to the City and asked about building permits granted for the Stowe Project. He learned that JCI had awarded itself $2,666,000 of the Stowe building permits. The Trib’s reporter was told this before the Trib’s two-part story on JCI. It was not mentioned in her story.

When size finally matters

Kent Worley sent me an email today after reading the School Board’s discussion of the proposed Western Middle School and Piedmont Elementary. Kent has vociferously and vainly been pointing out for over a year that the new Ordean High School site will have barely half the 55 acres recommended for a high school. While this complaint has been dismissed by the District as of no great consequence the Trib’s article reported:

“Duluth Superintendent Keith Dixon said the school district would need to acquire the 55 acres north of Wheeler Field off Grand Avenue for the western middle school.”

Says Kent:

“Now, all of a sudden, site size is key criteria in selecting school sites. It’s wonderful to see the district responding to these very important considerations finally. Now, with this finally recognized factor, it is time to re-think what the plan for the Ordean site will do … and reconsider alternatives.”

To which I say, Don’t hold your breath Kent.