Little of this little of that.

Saturday…..Whoo! I got six hours of sleep last night. Can’t believe how rested I feel.

Spent a couple hours emailing our legal advisory committee about the conversations I had with various attorneys over the last week. Spent an hour pulling my grandson on a sled in the snow. Can’t believe how seven months of inactivity have left it so easy for me to get winded. Met with one of the area’s best known attorneys for an hour and a half to pick his brain. Tonight watched “The Sweet Smell of Success” on a channel that shows vintage movies. Its hard to believe such jerks still live on the planet – a few of them right here in Duluth.

Whatever happened to Plan B?

This post is long, long overdue. Blame it on overwork. I woke up at 3AM today (went to bed past midnight) and finally got a chance to post information about our Plan B history on the Let Duluth Vote website. At first we thought keeping a low profile would help us work with the District. Yeah, I know, we’re naive. Now we need to make this information available to attorneys looking over the multiple legal challenges that we’ve outlined in our RFP for legal services.

We’ve posted the original petition language.

We’ve posted the ten page Request for proposals for consultants to put a Plan B document together for the state’s “review and comment” preparatory to putting a referendum on the ballot. (actually I did this earlier but forgot I had)

We show the District’s letter rejecting our RFP saying it doesn’t match the language on the petition.

We show the District is wrong.

To summarize:

After dragging out the petition process for almost a year the District has no interest in expediting a referendum that would prove how unhappy voters are. They’ve said a vote won’t count anyway because they will ignore the result. They’ve said their lawyers told them we did the petition wrong. The Attorney General ruled that the District lawyers were wrong. They’ve said it will cost money they don’t have. They’ve said our understanding of our own petition is wrong. They’ve said its too late because the Red Plan has advanced so far. This foot dragging simply provides us one more issue for a possible court challenge.

I’ve heard from Roger

As promised, Here’s Roger Reinert’s reply to my question.

Hi Harry:

As you know, I’ve been in this new role for just three weeks now. During that time I’ve been focused on learning the role and the $4.8B deficit which I expect will grow to $7B by the end of this month. My attention has also been focused on the committees to which I’ve been appointed. As I’m sure you know, K-12 Finance is not one of them. You may wish to contact your Representative, Tom Huntley, on your concern since he has far more experience in the Legislature than I do.

Roger Reinert

and here’s my reply to Roger.

How reasonable Roger. Yes, by all means, please attend to your larger responsibilities.

Harry

Legal committee mtg

I just got back from Randy’s, a restaurant in old West End, where LDV’s legal advisory committee met for lunch. We each reported back on our conversations with attorneys and I was pleased with the early reports. We still have a lot of names to go through and I haven’t even begun to call my list.

Afterward, I stuck around a little while and talked about the District’s increasingly tenuous political situation. I used some pretty rough language albeit under my breath. As I left the back room an elderly co-worker from my year at Washington Junior asked me how we were doing. I guess I can’t go anywhere no without being recognized. She had seen me on the tube last night. I told her I hoped she hadn’t heard me using my colorful language. “Oh, no,” she said.

Her equally elderly friend, the wife of a former Duluth teacher, joined her and we had a rollicking time talking about how foolish the school board has been. These sweet old ladies said a couple colorful things themselves.

The friend said she had laughed to herself when she had read that if Duluth would went to a four day school week it would be the first time in history. She went to school four days a week in Duluth during the war – WWII!

“Are you saying?” I asked her, “that we’re as bad off today with Dixon as we were when we were fighting Hitler?” They both thought that was pretty funny.

A question for our legislators

I just sent the following question to Duluth’s three primary legislators, Rep. Reinert, Rep. Huntley and Senator Prettner Solon:

I’ve got a question for you.

If a government entity like say, the Duluth School Board, has permission from the Dept. of Ed to spend $293 million on something like say, the construction of the Red Plan, but the project manager say, Johnson Controls Inc., ends up charging twenty or thirty million more for the work. Would the School Board be required to pay for the charges in excess of the amount the MDE gave it permission to spend?

I’ll report back what they tell me.

Judy Judy Judy

I’ve just been reviewing that silly column Judy Seliga-Punyko had published in the Trib. She begins:

“I attended the open house this week at Old Central High School, at which local contractors met with architects to receive information to help them prepare bids for more than $270 million of projects under the district’s long-range facilities plan (“Contractors eager for school projects,” Jan. 22).”

Judy has a faulty memory. The document passed out to contractors that night listed the “project budget” not as $270 million but $296,034,405.00. Judy was $26 million off. Why is this discrepancy significant? Because with Judy’s published figures the Red Plan is well under budget. The real figures show the Red Plan is now at least $13 million bigger than we, or the Minnesota Dept. of Education, were told it would be.

The Red Plan that the District sought permission to build from the Minnesota Department of Education was $293 million. They didn’t give the District permission for $60 million of it but only about $233 million. That apparently isn’t stopping the District from letting bids for the entire amount and then some.

How much more?

I her article Judy says that we’ve already spent $10 million on Stowe and Lakewood schools. Add that to $296 million and you get $306 million a $13 million increase over the promised $293 million. Plus, its not clear if those charges include the revenue that JCI will be paid.

Its been suggested that JCI’s take could be close to 20% of the cost of the Red Plan. If they will be paid 20% of the $306 million that’s one thing. If its 20% (or more) on top of that $306 million that’s quite another.

Maybe we should ask the ailing Chrysler what they think of JCI’s business practices for a clue as the the answer to this question.

Let’s hope no one asks Judy to do the math.

Bending over backwards

The latest joke going around town says that the School Board has shown how flexible it can be and that it has bent over backward for the Ordean neighbors. It was first promoted by the Trib in a congratulatory editorial on Jan 15th. Sorry the link is no longer available. It shows up again today in a letter bashing the Ordean neighbors for being NIMBY’s and anti-development.

“The School Board and the city bent over backwards to accommodate the wishes of those in the Ordean neighborhood. They reduced the number of parking spaces in their plans for a new school at Ordean, scrapped an access road, and removed the possibility of eminent domain (“Ordean plan changed to quell neighbors’ ire,” Jan. 13).

Yet, instead of being happy about the compromise and about their voices being heard, there was an immediate wave of new and recycled complaints (“Ordean site changes not enough to appease neighbors,” Jan. 14).”

It was also in a letter-to-the-editor two day’s ago by Robin Downs one of the Red Plan’s most persistent champions:

“And the Duluth school district listened and made adjustments, reconfiguring the plan while also reducing the size of the property to remove any potential need for eminent domain.

This agreement was about making the district’s work better – a welcome change from so much of the negative debate about the facilities plan. The result is going to be an eastern high school that addresses neighbors’ wishes while still providing the important enhancements needed for our kids’ education. Nice job, everyone!”

First – Eminent Domain is not off the table.

Second – East High has more parking available (although its not enough) than the District advertises.

Third – You can redraw plans for a dog house as many times as you like but if you only have enough wood for a daschund you’ll never fit a St. Bernard in it. Making it plain that you will make the St. Bernard fit is not evidence of flexibility but of some other character trait.

Catching up on thank yous

Tim Grover commented the other day that the School Board hardly ever gets letters or email from critics. That’s because they’ve trained people that talking to the Board is futile. The Red Plan’s critics now send email to the City Council. It remains to be seen whether the Council will also turn a deaf ear to the people.

Oh, and we get lots of comments. I wasn’t able to keep them up during my recent vacation but you can see a full month’s worth here.

Today’s thank you note

Its a little prideful of me to post this particular note but it sure takes the sting out of the few ef you notes directed at me. I don’t take them personally. I’m sure some of our allies feel the same way about the authors of the Red Plan. This note was sent to my home and contained three crisp, new, ten dollar bills.

http://www.letduluthvote.com/Thank%20You%20Notes/Snowman.jpg

“It hit me”

A couple days ago my school board member, the peppy Judy Seliga-Punyko, wrote enthusiastically about the construction of the Red Plan. She began:

“I attended the open house this week at Old Central High School, at which local contractors met with architects to receive information to help them prepare bids for more than $270 million of projects under the district’s long-range facilities plan (“Contractors eager for school projects,” Jan. 22).

The room was standing-room-only. More than 300 people brimmed with positive energy and hope as architects went over schematics and described needed work. Repeatedly, I heard people talk about how welcome the work will be during these tough economic times. These local, well-paying jobs will provide a huge economic boost to our region.

It hit me, and not for the first time, that we with the Duluth school district are providing something good for the community and our children, both immediately and for decades to come.”

This sunny description is in marked contrast to this passage from the story covering Monday’s school board meeting:

“Board members seemed discouraged as administrators rattled off the list of cuts. At one point member Judy Seliga Punyko put her head in her hands “

It was only last month that Judy voted to borrow $5 million from the operations budget to spend on her marvelous construction.

The District is doing everything it can to gin up public enthusiasm for their Trojan horse. I’ve been told that the huge throng of contractors was brimming over with small fry contractors who could never post the kind of bonds required of such a project. They may have oohed and ahhed on cue for the puppet masters but many, if not most of them, will never get a piece of the action.

And one more little detail from the Monday meeting. Judy is reported to have brightened and bubbled about how nice it would be to have a four day school week. Why the McCray, Minnesoto Schools have one and people love it. Tim Grover was having none of it. He made it clear he wanted any happy talk about a four-day week to come to an end.

Denfeld’s vacation

I’m not the only one who gets a vacation. The City Council Monday night voted 6 – 2 to vacate fourth street in front of Denfeld.

I don’t follow the City Council very closely but because Dr. Dixon scheduled a school board meeting at the same time (a coincidence?) someone had to stick it out in the Council Chambers to raise some questions before the vote. I got to the Chamber at about 5:20 missing the first twenty minutes of a Committee of the Whole discussion on the Red Plan that Councilor Stauber chaired. I arrived during the prattling of a Move Forward Duluth spokesman who explained how great the Red Plan was going to be.

Evidently before this there was a curious change in the messages telegraphed to the councilors by city staff. They seem to be suggesting that everything about the Red Plan wasn’t necessarily so hunky dory. Interesting.

In my two minute spiel I warned the Council that no one could be sure based on the multiple plans for Ordean just what the Denfeld site would look like and that because the School Board hadn’t even bothered to approve any plans for the school vacating the streets was premature. Jim Stauber pointed out that in other similar transactions it was usual that people doing business with the City had to sign agreements to protect the City before it gave something away……..Remember the City’s agreement with St. Mary’s over that parking lot?

Oh, that reminds me of a funny story I heard about Faribault’s City Council and Dr. Dixon.

About the new construction schedule

Today’s Trib told part of story of the District’s accelerated construction schedule.

“Don O’Connor, executive director of the Duluth Builder’s Exchange, said that gesture probably would be appreciated by the local construction industry.

‘When you double the amount of work in an area, it’s quite an impact on the construction industry, so certainly spreading it out is a good way to go,’ he said.”

Last fall Dr. Dixon pushed all the architects to get their work done early to make sure a new school board seated next January wouldn’t pull the plug on his folly. Now, with the prospect of court intervention this year the District is fairly flying. But no architect can turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse. Ordean is impossible and in fact a more careful check of its buildable space shows that rather than 26 acres (still far below the state’s guidelines) there are only 13 buildable acres.

By the way the School District’s graphic leaves the vital start information out which was part of the District’s schedule. You would never know from the Trib’s illustration that fully seven out of eleven schools construction plans have been pushed up to this spring.

http://www.duluthnewstribune.com/media/full/gif/2009/01/28/construction.gif

Playing Catch up

My eight regular readers have noticed that while I was “on vacation” in Florida I did precious little blogging. Its not that I didn’t want to. The laptop I’d planned to take with me had a worm. The hotels I stayed at didn’t have business centers and I refused to look for a computer while my family was awake. One night at Disney World where I was sure I would find a computer I had to travel by bus for fifty minutes to get to a business center in a “nearby” hotel. I didn’t get back to my hotel until 1 AM.

I knew big things were happening because the Press reported on our recent success at fundraising and the School Board panicked and announced the premature closing of schools like Ordean. Actually I announced it on this blog and the Trib’s education reporter confirmed it. No, I’m sorry. The closing is taking place because the State didn’t give the District enough money. Dr. Dixon must think he can sell be sell us another bridge.

I kept up with Duluth by trading emails but that was about all I had time for. I didn’t get to read the Trib daily but had to read all the back issues when I returned. That used to take me a solid day and a half but with today’s Trib it only took a pathetic hour-and-a-half to go through ten papers. Sheesh! It was a bash Let Duluth Vote week. Most of those stories are no longer on line for me to link to but I’ll make a few comments in later posts about some of them.

I’ve been spending so much time working on Let Duluth Vote’s request for legal services as well as the chores that pile up after a short trip that the old blog is desperate for some fresh info. I’ll see what I can do about that.

Legal RFP

Tonight I will be posting our request for legal services which we will begin mailing out to practicing attorneys tomorrow. We have begun contacting some by phone already. We will keep sending out additional requests for service until such time as we engage an attorney. Depending on proposals brought to us we are prepared to hire multiple attorneys to pursue several different cases and as the letter indicates we have already helped pay for the legal services of an attorney, two actually, who have been bird dogging an environmental case challenging the Red Plan.