When you ignore the public

Let Duluth Vote sent out a small mailing (less than 500 people) on Tuesday asking for donations to help with legal challenges to the School District. I’ve outlined some of the likely issues previously. By Friday we had received over $500 which suggests we will raise significant money if and when we appeal to the entire School District. We should be receiving contributions on this single mailing for the next two weeks. I hope to have another mailing sent out next week to the 3,000 people who signed our second petition (The Plan B petition).

One person who wrote out a $100 check enclosed a copy of the letter he sent the School board last March 11th. He mentioned that he never got a reply. This is what he told the board:

I am sorry that I have been one of many Duluthians who has quietly watched the gradual unfolding of the disastrous “Red Plan”, assuming that the planning committee, with their glaringly obvious excesses and grandiose “empire” building mentality, would be dissuaded from their folly by more rational minds.

Tragically, this is not happening, but we are hearing suggestions of greed and naked avarice as compelling motivations associated with those who would doubtless profit from an extortionate squandering of $257-$437 million, in our aging community wit shrinking school enrollment, barely thriving on seasonal employment, and reeling from a global recession.

The arrogant cynicism and contemptuous insolence of Dixon and his servile claque expresses a categorical contempt for the democratic process, and a passionate aversion to the American tradition of voting, when tax funds are involved.

I and my family are appropriately outraged by the villainously contemptuous and peremptory behavior of the school board members responsible for this civic rupture.

With sincere respect and sorrow,

In this corner…

The Trib hasn’t covered Mary Cameron’s wish to have Gary Glass removed from the School Board but the story was on WDIO. I guess the Trib doesn’t live by the motto: “If it bleeds it leads.”

But I’ll bet today’s opinion page is being read all over. In one corner Nancy Nilsen was busy refuting everything that Gary Glass said.

Among her many comments:

“Instead of borrowing money from a bank to help prepare for this phase, we’re borrowing money from our general fund. This is a common accounting practice known as an inter-fund loan. The full amount plus interest will be repaid when we sell the bonds, just as it would if we had invested the money with some other financial institution.”

I don’t know how you pay yourself interest. Someone else will pay you interest to use your money and that will give you more money. You can then put that interest back into a different fund but just putting it back into a different fund doesn’t increase the money you’ve earned. You’ve just put it into a different pot. In this case you’ve taken money for the classroom to build new classrooms.

That shiny new classroom will be small comfort to the English teacher with 36 kids in her class.

In the other corner was Don Kinsey’s letter to the editor taking Nancy’s School Board majority to task.

“I believe residents within this community were hoodwinked with scare tactics into voting for Question 1 on the operational levy. Students, staff and faculty were exploited by using threats of program cuts in an attempt to gain votes.”

I could follow Mr. Kinsey’s logic.

“Keep plugging away”

Typical, typical.

I just popped into a store this morning to get some new shoe laces. The Salvation Army bell ringer, wrapped up so snugly I couldn’t recognize her, looked at me and said with her voice rising, “Harry Welty! – Keep plugging away!”

I knew just what she meant. Evidently Gary Glass is getting the same message. He is getting an outpouring of phone calls after his colleague Mary Cameron said she wanted him ousted from the School Board. He’ll keep plugging away too.

Oh, and Gary’s colleagues, the ones who never ask any questions but complain that he asks too many forcing them to spend their precious time correcting him, chided him for wasting their and the public’s time by not simply emailing his questions to the administration.

If they could see the list of emailed questions he’s sent in to the administration with nary a response back they would be shocked……or maybe not. For them, it seems, there’s no such thing as a foolish question ….there are only tiresome questions.

Six Gallons

Before I got a chance to read today’s Trib I had to rush off and give another pint of blood. They gave me my six gallon donor pin when I finished. I’m feeling light as a feather.

When I did sit down to my paper I couldn’t find my daily cartoons at first. Someone had purloined them. “Oh well,” I thought, “at least the news on the Red Plan provided some humor.”

After sequestering the Trib’s education reporter with architects for two hours yesterday to insure a good story in today’s Trib about the preliminary plans for the two new High Schools the administration showed the plans to the School Board. This is the same School Board that Mary Cameron said wasn’t a “rubber stamp” board at last Tuesday’s school board meeting.

In the old days when the Board was a Board the administration would never have dared to give information out to the Press first. If it inks like a rubber stamp. If it stamps like a rubber stamp…..its a rubber stamp.

But the critics just won’t go away. A letter to the editor today pretty well punctures the financial rationale for all these marvelous building plans: Carol music says in part:

“To sell Central for $10 million and spend $48 million or more to replace it is beyond ridiculous. What a waste! All of this is at the expense of the citizens of Duluth. Why sell prime real estate for $10 million and spend $48 million unnecessarily? It doesn’t make sense.”

If we are stuck with the darned thing at least today’s changes at Ordean go a long way to correcting the worst aspects of the plan and follow many of Architect Kent Worley’s recommendations to make the Ordean site bearable.

Civilizing the School Board

Last night’s school board meeting should have been a revelation. It was taken to task for its ill treatment of Gary Glass by several of us. Most of the School Board members got quite defensive if not contrite. One said she wanted to remove Gary from the board. Brenda Anderson sent a sobering description of the meeting in an email to members of Let Duluth Vote. Here it is in its entirety.

Hello All,

Well I wanted to report on the school board meeting yesterday.

As you all may be aware, Gary’s editorial was in the paper yesterday about the District borrowing (using) general fund monies to pay for the LRFP.

There was some media present, and those that showed up extra early were treated to some string music to celebrate making tenure of many teachers. That ceremony lasted until about 6:45 and then the school board meeting began.

Three of us spoke, Gordon, Harry & I, all pointing out the lack of civility from the board & audience last meeting when Gary was attacked. There was a 4th speaker, Jay Cole, that handed out a curious handout to the Board members about acquiring property. I am not sure if it was a ruse, or real, but the Superintendent simply brushed him off with something along the line of “we will put your request in with all the others that want the properties”

The meeting went on going over old business & new, with Gary raising questions and trying to clarify multiple points. Gary’s questions were good & in several cases got others (Laura C & Tim G) to ask other questions. The topics were long, and I personally did not follow some of what was covered. Meanwhile, Mary C, & Judy S off to the left looking bored & frustrated,(cupping hands over face, sideward looks, rolling eyes, etc) and Ann W to the left of Gary looking just plain irritated. Nancy N & Keith D, jumping in multiple times to “correct” Gary.

During the meeting, after the speakers, a few of the school board members took time to publicly thank the community for supporting the levy. Toward the end of the meeting, when it seemed by her body language that she could take no more, Mary C put her light on, and publicly directed to Gary that there was a time & place for questions and this was not it. She said he has ample opportunities to ask deeper questions by email or phone call and essentially they all had “lives” and these meetings were long enough without his questions. (frankly, although I knew she was irritated, I was shocked, as many others in the audience, that she would say so much) she went on to say that gary should be removed – or some wording like that. – it was shocking really.

After the meeting I bee-lined up there to Mary C and respectfully and appropriately said “Mary, Gary was voted in by 60% of the citizens, and personally, I appreciate hearing his questions so I know that things are being watched & followed up on” We went on to have a 10 min conversation about that, and several others in our group walked up & spoke to her as well, while the majority of the board rushed off and were in the backroom closed session waiting to discuss the properties under a closed meeting. Trina confronted her on the fact that she has not replied to most of her emails asking very simple questions – Mary denied that she has ignored any emails. Mary was clearly on the spot.

Mary expressed that many people in the community are mad at her for her decisions and she is tired of it. She said she does not “rubber stamp” anything from Dixon and she is clearly ready to step down. She stated she has no intention of running again. “I am done” – I told her I agreed with her, that she should step down. (respectfully, but because she was clearly burned out) . Mary went on to comment on what I had said about civility from the board. She said when she was chair, people attacked Hustad & there wasn’t anything she could do about it. I said that was incorrect, you can interrupt and warn speakers when it is getting nasty. She accused our group of breaking the civility code attacking members of the board. I said I don’t believe that has happened often if at all. I pointed out that we have been very respectful with our message.

It made for an interesting close to a meeting. Mary’s rampage, Dixon’s uneasiness as Gary’s questions became more & more specific, and Nancy N trying hard to choose her wording. At one point, Nancy N said ” lots of things come out of the general fund, are you going to question us everytime something does?” She said this more to the audience then Gary directly.

I noted that in the Board packet available to the public, it showed that during the month, two people had sent written correspondence to the district against the Red Plan and OL. It made me realize that while many of us have emailed – those don’t seem to hold the same weight.

My suggestion is to write a letter to the district and mail it the old fashion way, then apparently it becomes permanent record, just as it does when speakers address the board. I would imagine that down the road, those written or documented complaints would be the only ones that would “officially” matter. I believe if you write & simply put “school board” on the top – that they copy & give it to all members of the school board & it is put in the official record. Here’s the address.

School Board
215 N 1st Avenue E
Duluth, Mn 55802

Well, I just wanted to fill everyone in on that so I didn’t take up time on the thursday meeting with that discussion.

Reminder that we have a meeting tomorrow evening. – there won’t be one the following thursday as most of us will be eating turkey and being thankful for the many other blessings in our lives.

Come & join us at the meeting – 6:30 Thursday the 20th -tomorrow

Have a good day

brenda

Legislative Intent

For anyone who thinks the legislature ever intended to give the Duluth School District the authority to levy $293 million in bonds without a referendum this story ought to wake you up. Its from the Era of the infamously misused Jaros Bill.

http://www.letduluthvote.com/NewImagedings/EntryP2.jpg

Read the entire story here.

Our School board members – “absolutely wrong”

After calling Gary Glass an “elephant” at October’s school board meeting for suggesting that the district could or would use operation’s money to pay for the Red Plan – something tonight’s resolution would begin – Ann Wasson and Mary Cameron rebutted Gary in an Oct 19th column in the Trib. It begins:

Our fellow School Board member, Gary Glass, authored a column in last Sunday’s News Tribune (“No’ vote for operation levy is not anti-education”) that was filled with misinformation about our school district’s operating levy. For example, he suggested the operating levy could be used to fund the District’s long-range facilities plan. Glass was absolutely wrong about that and about other items.

Somebody is absolutely wrong but it doesn’t seem to be Gary Glass.

When they vote to spend millions in health insurance premium increases without asking so much as a single question and expedite their decision by by suspending their regular rules of operations it helps explain how Board members Wasson and Cameron could write such uninformed columns and submit them to the paper for the entire community to read. They simply do not know what’s going on.

“Eye-popping”

A letter in today’s Duluth News Trib about tonight’s school board meeting:

Board wants to raid general fund to help pay for red plan

Duluthians who voted to renew the school district’s operating levy this month for educational programs will get an eyeful at the next School Board meeting. School Board members who promised just before the election not to use levy money for the red plan are expected to vote on a resolution to “borrow” $5 million from the general fund “to pay preliminary expenditures for … projects in anticipation of the issuance of the [red plan] obligations.”

On Oct. 12, I warned of plans to use operating money for buildings. Like earlier votes, today’s expected vote to use general-fund money for building designs should come as no surprise. For “no” votes on red plan-related resolutions, I have been called an “elephant” by some of my fellow School Board members. Elephants are more typically found in circuses and magic acts than on school boards, but Duluth’s board is just as capable of eye-popping feats.

Why, the School Board just spent tens of thousands of dollars on ads warning that $7.7 million in classroom money could be lost next year. But now the School Board appears ready to lend $5 million of general fund money on building projects, rather then paying for more teachers.

No one should be surprised. Five years ago, our School Board promised to use the 2003 operating levy to keep class sizes down. Today, high school English and middle school Spanish and algebra classes routinely hold 36 to 37 students, despite that promise.

With a total of $95,404,371 in new “obligations” waiting for approval, no one should expect class sizes to shrink any time soon. Paying for the red plan will require sacrifice, and along with it, our children’s opportunity for quality education!

Gary Glass
Duluth School Board member

Budgeteer leads the Trib again

Jana Peterson is once again ahead of her rival Forum Communication’s newspaper, The Duluth News Tribune, by interviewing Gary Glass about Let Duluth Vote’s Plan B.

In fact, Bill Hanson, the District’s Finance Director, will be meeting with several Let Duluth Vote representatives tomorrow afternoon to discuss the hiring of suitable consultants to further develop our Plan B over the next few months into a suitable document for review and comment by the Dept. of Edcuation. This will not be so time consuming because Johnson Controls has already completed a significant analysis of the District’s facilities which we can build upon. We hope to be done well before next year’s construction season.

We are confident that our plan’s reduced scale follows the verbiage of the petition that we circulated. The devil, as they say, will be in the details.

Jana concluded her story with one pronouncement that has already been contradicted by the Minnesota Dept. of Education:

“Adding to the confusion is the fact that the money the district already bonded for can be used only as detailed during the sale of the bonds.”

In our discussions with the MDE last year it was made quite plain that future school boards have the authority to alter existing bonds with the OK of the Department of Education.

Super Spin

Dr. Dixon tried hard to be cheerful about the recent operations levy referendum. Dr. Dixon told the Budgeteer:

“I’m excited,” said Dixon. “To me, it sends a message. We know this community cares deeply about education. All the precincts and townships passed No. 1 by a significant margin. And I was pleased with the results for No. 2 (53.35 percent voted no, while 46.65 voted yes).”

Of course, he admitted, with only the first question passing, the district is looking at a likely deficit of $3.3 million in the next school year.

Just how disappointed the School Board was at the “likely deficit of $3.3 million” was better expressed by Board Chair Nancy Nilsen in a public post to the Progressive Action Website:

“I can’t tell you how disappointed I was in the results as were many many many of us. I should have e-mailed you or called you this morning to let you know I have many of your signs. As I was out picking up signs for Roger and the Yes Yes Yes levy, . . .”

E D rears its ugly head again

And I’m not talking about Viagra.

Not content with 41 properties the School Board will consider swallowing up eight more properties through eminent domain to satisfy the Red Plan’s greedy appetite.

The eight new properties are highlighted in this list:

1. 128 N. 40th Ave. East
2. 130 N. 40th Ave. East

3. 3901 Greysolon Road
4. 3834 E. Superior St.
5. 3840 E. Superior St.
6. 3860 E. Superior St.
7. 3854 E. Superior St.
8. 010-1370-05190 vacated East 1/2 of 38th Ave E. + lots 10-16
9. 010-1370-05060
10. 010-1370-05080
11. 5231 Oneida St.
12. 5225 Oneida St.
13. 5221 Oneida St.
14. 5230 Glenwood St.
15. 3132 Greysolon Place
16. 1018 N. 18th Ave. East
17. 700 N. Central Ave.
18. 721 N. 54th Ave. West
19. 723 N. 54th Ave. West
20. 725 N. 54th Ave. West.

College voters

I sent both the UMD and Scholastica student newspapers a letter suggesting that they not vote on the recent operations levy. It began:

“When UMD students go to the polls Nov. 4, unless you are from Duluth, please don’t vote on the Duluth School District’s three questions for additional operating money.’

Based on a precinct by precinct election analysis I concluded that their participation which seemed minimal would not have affected the outcome.

Twenty minute Trib

This morning I was once again struck at how quickly I got through the Duluth News Tribune. Twenty minutes – from a quarter to ten to 11:05. And it wasn’t even the Monday Trib.

There were two puff piece education stories that I read because I always read the ed stories. One was about Morgan Park’s program to get kids to be nice to one another. I expected it would mention the Lincoln students that would soon be going to Morgan but they weren’t mentioned.

In the old days as recently as a couple years ago I could expect to be buried in the local paper for at least an hour a day. I’d always have NPR playing in the background but I usually tuned out the radio broadcast in favor of the written word.

Its really sunk closer to the level of the Budgeteer while ironically the Budgeteer seems to have become a much more serious local paper although it appears only once a week.

I wrote a letter to the editor a week ago about how diminished the paper seems by taking corporate Presidential endorsements but didn’t bother sending it in. Fortunately many others have sent their letters in. I’m sure the Editors are enjoying printing them to tweak corporate management.

Please give us feedback – NOT

I recieved this email from a resident of the Ordean neighborhood who just attended last night’s meeting at East High. She sent former Duluth School Principal and now JCI employee Eric Kaiser this email after the meeting which he conducted.

Eric,

As we discussed last night at the EHS to middle school conversion discussion, we would like to have representatives from the actual affected neighborhood on the High School Design Team for the new Ordean High School site.

At the planning meetings I attend, I hear how the school board and architects and JCI are all concerned about the affect the school plans might have on the surrounding neighborhood, because, after all, we are the ones who will have to live with the plans for the next 30 or 70 years. However, to my knowledge, there is not a single person from the affected neighborhood surrounding Ordean on this High School Design Team.

If, truly, you are concerned about the affect on the neighborhoods the red plan will have, then I would expect you will accept a neighborhood representative from the immediate Ordean neighborhood. My husband and I fit the dual roles of being parents of kids who will attend Ordean, and reside in the immediate Ordean neighborhood. One or both of us can serve on the design team. My husband also has an engineering background and experience with working with builders and contractors on private as well as public jobs. There are others in the neighborhood willing to serve also, I am sure.

Our neighborhood wants to have a say in the design of the site that we will have to live with. There were no plans presented at the Ordean site meeting, and we were told there would be another meeting with some preliminary designs presented in 6 weeks of that first Ordean H.S. meeting. Now, we are told, there is not to be another public meeting until January, and that on Nov 19 the preliminary plans will be submitted to the school board for approval.

We were told our input was important. Is it really? If so, we expect some of us from the immediate neighborhood will be included on the Ordean site high school design team. Before it is too late.

Thank you,

Linda

How much does it cost to pass an op levy?

The Duluth School Board spent perhaps $75,000 on consultants and advertising to “inform” the public about the levy. I haven’t checked to see how much Vote Yes spent but it was considerable. More than Osseo who’s pro vote yes folks only spent $3,000. Of course Osseo’s levy failed.

Then again, unlike Osseo, no one organized a vote no group in Duluth. How the Duluth levy would have fared had there been serious opposition its hard to know.

“Spending on the Oseeo campaign, which Epley estimated at $3,000, is less than last year’s because Vote Yes volunteers are eschewing calls and costly mass mailings for old-fashioned, and cheaper, door-knocking.

But anti-levy activists are warning that pro-levy optimism might be unfounded.

“I would say that, based on what I’m hearing from constituents, they feel conditions are even worse than they were last year,” said Ron Stoffel, treasurer of 281 CARE, a group working to defeat the proposed Robbinsdale tax increase. “We have a large amount of fixed-income seniors. They’re saying they can’t afford any more tax increases.”

Yes, No, No

That was part of the banner headline at the top of the News Trib this morning perched above the main story about the historic election of Barack Obama to the Presidency. The Trib’s editorial support of the School Board has been clear for a long time and the minimal support shown for the operational levy was taken as good news ,perhaps even as vindication, by Superintendent Dixon.

The Trib’s story suggests skepticism about the depth of community anger toward the Red Plan and the School Board. After quoting me on the aftermath of the referendum it explains that: “During the campaign, members of his group had predicted a defeat for all three funding requests because of perceived anger over the schoolboard’s decision not to allow the community to vote on the red plan.”

“Percieved.” Hmmmmm. I perceive that Sarah Horner and I live in very different cities.

Several things seem very clear by the referendum results, among them:

The District’s scare tactics worked. Voters by a two-to-one margin reauthorized the 2003 levy. No one wanted school closed in January.

The scare tactics only went so far. Voters handily voted down the second level which would, according to the District, have avoided cuts all together. The public could live with that.

The resentment manifested itself particularly when the highest spending tier was crushed with a similarly high two-to-one margin.

I take from this that voters were angry but not so angry that they were willing to punish school children or cut off their own noses out of spite. Good for them. Duluth voters made a rational decision.

Even though many Let Duluth Vote supporters had warned that all three levy tiers could fail we would have taken no comfort in such a result. But to get the renewal past the District had to sacrifice a teacher to advertise the dire cuts they anticipated. I don’t know how much money the Vote Yes folks raised but the taxpayers footed the School District’s informational campaign to the tune of about $75,000 the cost of a teacher.

That would more than pay for the Let Duluth Vote suit to stop the Red Plan. Its lucky for the Vote Yes folks that Let Duluth Vote took no stand on the levy and probably discouraged the formation of a Vote No group. In fact, I had been quoted earlier in the Trib as saying that the failure of the levy would cause great harm. For once I agreed with the School Board.

Last minute questions

Yesterday I turned in my application for a driver’s license renewal. The woman taking my picture asked me for my advice on the referendum questions. Today, I got two phone calls before 9AM from strangers asking for more information on the referendum.

MPR and the Trib have already told me they’d like me to comment on the results, whatever they may be, tonight. I’ll just be sitting home watching the election returns waiting for their calls.

Voter 23

Claudia and I went to vote and got to Pilgrim Congregational at twenty minutes before the polls opened at 7AM. The heavy fog from yesterday had completely cleared and the temperature only required a light jacket.

We chatted with friends until the voting began. There were twice as many election officials as usual and I put my ballot in the counting machine by 7:07. The machine registered me as voter 23 for our precinct. We had time to go home and read the paper and finish our coffee before Claudia had to go off to work.

I had given my daughter a call last night to remind her to vote. She planned to do so early this morning too and take her year-old son with her to the polls – probably for his advice.

From the Christian Science Monitor

I recently heard the Monitor is about to become a weekly. My Dad used to subscribe to it. Too bad.

I’ve tried not to spend too much time on the Presidential campaign and my strong presidential preference because I didn’t want to alienate folks who wanted to keep up with the latest on Let Duluth Vote and the Red Plan. But I can’t resist linking to this column in the Monitor.