Will the operations levy be used to pay for the Red Plan?

Yes, almost certainly.

Dr. Dixon has already explained that the General Fund money can be used to pay for building.

We asked the Minnesota Dept of Education for confirmation of something I’ve suspected. That operational levy money could be used to pay for the Red Plan. According to their read of the law:

“. . . the district could use the proceeds of the referendum for any purpose for which general fund dollars can be used, including school operations or capital expenditures, which are part of the general fund. This would include making payments on school district leases that would otherwise be paid from proceeds of lease levies in the general fund.

The district could also use the proceeds of a referendum indirectly to pay principal and interest on bonded debt by transferring operating capital revenue to the debt service fund by board resolution, and then using referendum dollars to cover operating capital expenses within the general fund. The referendum dollars would not be transferred to the operating capital account, but could be used to pay for operating capital expenses without actually transferring them to the operating capital account. . . yes, the district can use operating referendum levies for leases that are part of the general fund budget.”

“Watching the incredible boondoggle”

Fred Tarnowski’s Point of View column doesn’t mince any words today in the Trib. A smart fellow who was principal at both Ordean and Central, two locations which will be utterly transformed by the Red Plan, he has a far better head for this District than anyone currently in charge of the District.

His column goes on to propose a much larger fix for the area’s governments but the the first paragraph reflects local sentiments perfectly:

“Watching the incredible boondoggle created when the Duluth School Board adopted the red plan — in concert with Johnson Controls, and without apparent consideration for the public good — it occurred to me and others that a system to plan and build a unique infrastructure for the Duluth area needs to be developed.”

The natives are restless

The folks responding to today’s story about “Vote Yes for Kids” are on the warpath.

Says one:

“Are they out of their blooming minds?? Who can afford to vote Yes with this economy? My taxes have skyrocketed. In case they weren’t aware – we are in a serious recession! They already got a chunk of my money with this awful Red Plan. I will vote No, No, No, and sign any petition to have this District’s clowns recalled.”

In the story itself I am once again quoted: I’m the default critic of the School Board who always seems to be contacted. Mercifully for them the school board members are rarely quoted in the press. Defending the indefensible falls largely to Mimi Larson who is the spokesman for Move Forward Duluth and this new group.

I’m pleased that the story made it plain what the options for voters are regarding the operating levy.

“The ballot will present the question in three tiers asking residents to either renew the levy at its current amount, raise it to $700 per pupil or triple it to $1,200 per pupil. Residents also can vote no on all three questions, which would result in a reduction in taxes and school funding.”

If the best argument folks like Mimi Larson can come up with is, “Don’t punish the children.” they are going to have very tough sledding indeed. Just who punished the children is very much open to debate. For my money it was the folks who surrendered the School Board’s decision making and sacrificed our voting rights to Johnson Controls’ profit margin.

MOVE Where?

Move Forward Duluth’s leaders have criticized Let Duluth Vote for not working to pass the operations levy this November. The funny thing is that after spending thousands on newspaper ads recently they have yet to do what they want Let Duluth Vote to do – give reasons for voting for it.

Let Duluth Vote has never taken a stand on the Red Plan. We simply want to defend our right to vote and have consistently pointed out the risks the School Board is taking by snubbing voters. We provide information. We have pointed out that the levy questions are not multiple choice. A voter could vote yes for all three tiers or could vote no for all three.

What’s Move Forward Duluth doing? They’ve gotten a lot more money than we have lately.

$100 million for a failed experiment

This article makes the case that “middle schools” have largely been a failed experiment. Certainly the Duluth Schools which adopted middle schools have never had the money they required. This has meant that our middle schools were mostly in name only. But still, our middle school teachers have lobbied so vigorously to keep our sixth graders in our junior highs that our Administration found it easier to push the $293 million Red Plan than change our grade configuration back to K-6, 7-9, 10-12.

Former Board member Tony Stauber has suggested that keeping middle schools in the Red Plan has been costly. I agree. Basically I think this Board decided to spend a hundred million dollars to keep sixth graders in our underfunded middle schools. We’ll see how the middle school course offerings fare if the levy fails. At least we will get nice shiny new schools.I

When school employees work for JCI

Someone has paid for ads in the News Tribune recently for “neighborhood” meetings to discuss ideas for the new Red Plan Schools. There will be a meeting at Ordean on Wednesday October 8th from 6:30 – 8:00pm and one at Denfeld the next evening. The meeting will be run by new JCI employees Eric Kaiser and Greg Repensky. Until recently Eric and Greg were principals in the District. They both still have school district email addresses which are in the ad: Eric.Kaiser@duluth.k12.mn.us and Greg.Repenskyduluth.k12.mn.us.

The School District is already in tough financial shape and has had to lay off some other administrators. Fortunately, the School Board has given so much money to Johnson Controls that our Project Manager can now hire school staff so we don’t have to lay them off.

Eric’s position was also recently paid for through a grant for which he had little connection. I don’t know what the Grant givers would have thought of that but when times get tough our Administration knows how to be creative.

School Board husband speaks out

Bill Punyko, Judy Seliga-Punyko’s husband, wrote a heart felt letter to the Editor today. Bill who is a school administrator in Wisconsin once filed for a vacancy on the Duluth School Board but his contempt for the Board members interviewing him was paper thin and he wasn’t selected. Now his wife, who defeated me last year, is on the Board.

I respect Bill’s plea to punish Board members and not children and to be fair, his wife Judy is actually the only elected Board member who campaigned to support the Red Plan so I can’t fault her.

Still, Bill’s suggestion that voters replace Board members instead of hurt kids (by voting down the operations levy) rings pretty hollow. There is no way to replace Board members until November of next year by which time so much of the Red Plan will have been started that it will effectively be unstoppable.

“Regardless of anyone’s opinion about the long-range plan, it’s obvious Duluth needs to continue to support the operating levy. If people are angry about the long-range plan, punishing children is wrong. If people aren’t happy about the direction of the school district, then School Board members can be replaced through election.”

This Board has done its best to infuriate voters. They will have only themselves to blame for the consequences.

Whipping them with our noodles

My latest column in the Reader Weekly. It begins:

People on Dr. Dixon’s citizen’s committee which gave us the Red Plan were pledged to keep their silence once a decision was made should they disagree with it. During the process their questions were deferred until the end of the analysis. After the analysis was complete they were told it was too late to ask questions.

email from Nigeria, uh, America

Dear sir,

I need to ask you to support an urgent secret business relationship with a
transfer of funds of great magnitude.
I am Ministry of the Treasury of the Republic of America. My country has had
crisis that has caused the need for large transfer of funds of 800 billion
dollars US. If you would assist me in this transfer, it would be most
profitable to you.

Interested? Greedy? Read it all.

Dixon double talk

As he’s filling up all the allotted time at meetings by filibustering Dr.Dixon slips in some double talk as he did at the last School Board meeting. He said then unequivocally that none of this fall’s operating levy will go to build the Red Plan.

But after the meeting as he talked to a worried Tim Grover who is counting on having a new Central middle school and Piedmont elementary built with an additional $90 million in bonding slated for 2011 or 2009 (But that’s another story – Board Chair Nancy Nilsen denies that any more bonds are planned) Dr. Dixon assured Tim that “I can build anything with the general fund.”

In other words Dixon is saying he can build new schools like Piedmont with operational money. The operational levy will bring more operational money into the District’s hands and Dr. Dixon has no compunction about using it as one big building slush fund. Even if the November levy fails Dr. Dixon’s top priority – the Red Plan – can continue with existing operational levies just so long as he has a cooperative school board.

Pulling out the stops

The word is out that Dr. Dixon has instructed the architects of the Red Plan to rush their work to finish it three months earlier so as to break ground on as many buildings as possible by May. The obvious reason is to short circuit any attempt by Let Duluth Vote to stop, alter or delay the Red Plan. Dr. Dixon doesn’t want to compromise.

It has been suggested by some local experts that the local architects will be squeezed so much for their share of the profits that they will take short cuts. Now they are being forced into a rush job as well. Haste makes waste.

A fact!!!!

Finally, the Move Forward Site has a fact on its fact checker. Funny, but it rebuts one of my posts.

And at the last School Board meeting member Wasson complained that to plan our Plan B the District would have to dip into the general fund. Nancy Nilsen reiterated that any referendum would be advisory and then there’s this.

I wonder if more of the Move Forward Traffic than I direct to them?

Twisting arms in the CAB

The word is out that Dr. Dixon is twisting the arms of his cabinet to get contributions to pay for the Move Forward ads that support his decision to go for broke on the Red Plan while not doing anything to rally votes for the operations levy. If I was one of Dr. Dixon’s administrators I’d know what to do. Already he’s sacked a couple of the more independent minded administrators some under the cover of budget cuts. If (when really) the bond fails there will be a lot of blood in the Administration building. Only the toady’s will survive.

According to a couple anonymous sources in Faribault, here and here, that’s just what happened there when Dixon was in charge.

Move Forward Majority

Today’s $2,000 ad in the Trib by Move Forward Duluth once again doesn’t bother telling voters why they should vote for the fall operations levy. This group is apparently only here to justify the Red Plan. Where are their priorities? Dixon’s and the Board’s reputation first. Classroom spending well, maybe not even second as there is no metion of it yet in their first two ads with a mere six weeks left to advertise for it.

Their ad gets of to a false start by saying that a “majority” of Duluth favors the Red Plan……

Oh really? Where’s their proof? Is it that stale discredited survey of 300 people a year and a half ago? It certainly isn’t a majority of letters to the Editor and it sure isn’t demonstrated from a referendum vote.

And they accuse Red Plan critics of “misinformation.”

When the US Treasury begins acting like the Duluth School Board – Be very afraid!

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were nothing.

“But here is the truly offensive section of an overreaching piece of legislation:

Decisions by the Secretary pursuant to the authority of this Act are non-reviewable and committed to agency discretion, and may not be reviewed by any court of law or any administrative agency.

This puts the Treasury’s actions beyond the rule of law. This is a financial coup d’etat, with the only limitation the $700 billion balance sheet figure. The measure already gives the Treasury the authority not simply to buy dud mortgage paper but other assets as it deems fit. There is no accountability beyond a report (contents undefined) to Congress three months into the program and semiannually thereafter. The Treasury could via incompetence or venality grossly overpay for assets and advisory services, and fail to exclude consultants with conflicts of interest, and there would be no recourse. Given the truly appalling track record of this Administration in its outsourcing, this is not an idle worry.

But far worse is the precedent it sets. This Administration has worked hard to escape any constraints on its actions, not to pursue noble causes, but to curtail civil liberties: Guantanamo, rendition, torture, warrantless wiretaps. It has used the threat of unseen terrorists and a seemingly perpetual war on radical Muslim to justify gutting the Constitution. The Supreme Court, which has been supine on many fronts, has finally started to push back, but would it challenge a bill that sweeps aside judicial review? …”

Actually, Reassuringly, the School Board’s actions are subject to court review. We American’s are living in disturbing times. Richard Nixon never imagined wrapping himself with such powers.

Red Infamy

Yesterday an anonymous person sent me a clipping from the Cloquet Pine Journal. The Cloquet Board, like the Duluth Board, will levy money without offering a referendum. Unlike Duluth’s Board there is no question about whether they have the right to do this but its apparent that everyone in the vicinity of Duluth will for years to come use the “Red Plan” as a byword for school board arrogance.

This comment from the story quoted an angry Cloquet taxpayer as he addressed the Cloquet School Board:

“I think maybe it’s time you start tackling the tough decisions of trying to bring them in line with the private sector,” said Anderson. “This legislation has enabled you to take the easy way out – just like the city of Duluth with its Red Plan…. I have to provide for my own retirement – no one is going to bond for it. A lot of public employees can retire earlier with full benefits and then maybe even get another job.”

Supporting Obama with trepidation

My fiercest debating adversary is Vic. He keeps sending me information to deter me from voting for Obama. I posted one fairly persuasive piece a bit ago. He’s sent me another item that’s worth considering.

It ends with the comment, “The bottom line is that I support John McCain. With trepidation.”

In the same vein I could say I still support Obama with trepidation. I think that unlike McCain, Obama actually understands some of the columnists tricky economic worries. I’ll agree that the folks who will elect Barack will expect him to enforce uncompetitive policies that could hamstring America’s and the world’s economy. On the other hand, I fervently hope, his campaign backed as it has been by a non-Democrat Party groundswell will give him much freer reign from party and particularly Union orthodoxies than other Presidents like George W Bush. Bush hewed to far too many wrongheaded ideological principals – both those of Dick Cheney and James Dobson. I voted for W in 2000 without any trepidation never realizing how incompetently he would preside over the Country. Maybe now that I’m on the verge of becoming an old man I should start viewing every candidate for the Presidency with trepidation. You know, “The greates thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

Of course, blissfully ignorant complacency ain’t so great either. We let the financial community think they could have their bad debt forgiven by the government. Oops! Under a President Obama we daren’t let American citizens in general think the same thing. Apropos of this was a very interesting parenthetical assertion in the column worth considering:

(It is one of the great myths of 21st century that the Bush tax cuts made the tax code less progressive; the opposite is true. If you are in the bottom 38% of taxpayers, you now pay zero income tax—and therefore have an incentive to support any spending bill that comes down the pike.)

Glass Steagall au contraire

Vic, sent me this post from the always lucid Megan McCardle who rebuts my claim that Phil Gramm got us into the bailout mess. She may be right and I may be suffering from one of my New Deal propagandized high school teachers. On the other hand, the many replies to her post add up to a lively debate. I think she oversimplifies. Even if I am wrong about Glass-Steagall I believe that the GOP has made deregulation so sacred that we can trace most of the current financial melt down to it.

Using the District’s email to politic

The DFT President Frank Wanner has reportedly sent an email to all teachers telling them to vote for the maximum levy. I believe that this a clear use of District facilities to play politics. Of course, in the day of the “yellow rag” as the administrators fondly called the teacher union’s newsletter Frank could have done the same thing and that was distributed to teachers on the school district’s time and premises.

Like many others Frank is beginning to panic at the prospect of the levy failing and causing a catastrophe. Frank sat on the original LRFP group that gave us the Red Plan. He signed off on the Red Plan but he also reportedly attended very few meetings. It’s a little late for him to start paying attention.

What a change of heart where operational levies are concerned. In 1997 when we pushed a levy to buy new books for libraries, new computers, a down payment for Public School Stadium repairs and elementary specialists Frank refused to endorse it at all. He wanted the money in the paychecks of teachers instead.

JCI waste

A second hand report from one of the workers on this Summer’s JCI project. He/she thought it was a very wasteful project. I was asked not to pin point who it was who said this or from which craft but my guess this is being told to lots of the friends of workers who are noticing the same thing.

We were told that the Stowe and Lakewood projects came in under bid…Hooray! But if the price was grossly inflated to begin with big deal. Some of the projects weren’t bid at all and some were awarded to JCI subsidiaries despite the conflict of interest that was built into JCI’s contract with the District.

I can’t help but wonder if this pattern will be repeated throughout the rest of JCI’s Red Plan.