Dixon as Red Green

Every Saturday the Budgeteer gives Dr. Dixon a bully pulpit to hype the School system. Today’s column is building on the District’s recent press release which hypes its announced LEED silver-level certification which touts its environmentally friendly design. His column has a long list of supposedly “green” improvements to our school buildings. But here’s what one source says of LEED certification.

“Some feel that buildings may be using LEED and other “green” buzzwords to help sell properties without any real significant benefit in terms of resource and energy efficiency.”

Since the Red Plan is supposed to be so eco friendly its worth remembering it is attacking buildings that average a mere 54 years in age. Demolishing these buildings will generate a great deal of waste and the new construction materials will require considerable energy to produce. Under these circumstances it is a stretch to describe this project as Green. Furthermore the likely energy use will be greater due to increased transportation costs and the addition of air conditioning. In fact, energy costs were never studied before the Red Plan began.

The legal advisory committee’s mtg

The Spelling Bee lasted until 4:30. After handshakes with the top spellers I slogged off through the snow and slid down Mesabi Ave past a couple accidents and pulled into Randy’s (the old Bridgeman’s) in the West End. Let Duluth Vote’s legal committee was interviewing another lawyer. We met for two hours. When I got home I wrote an email message to everyone on the Let Duluth email list. It was short and to the point and said simply: “I’m pumped.”

By cosmic coincidence across the room from our interview School Board members Laura Condon and Tim Grover were meeting over dinner. I waved at Laura when I sat down. Of course, they knew who we were and what we were all about just as we knew who they were. Tim and Laura’s school board colleague and our ally Gary Glass was sitting at our table. It was really very funny. Had I not been held in rapt attention by the attorney we interviewed I probably would have kept stealing peaks at them. I didn’t because the legal case outlined was so compelling. I was riveted by its possibilities.

Tim and Laura left before us. As they departed Tim waved to us and wore a silly grin. I couldn’t blame him. It was pretty ridiculous. I’ve never had a closer and more engaging friend in the political world. We used to call each other after school board meetings and josh about the politics swirling around us. Its personally tragic that we haven’t spoken for a year except in the stilted environment of a school board meeting. Every criticism of Tim I put in the blog makes me cringe.

My Let Duluth Vote colleagues take a much harsher view of Tim than I do. Many think him a traitor. Tim would regard himself a pragmatist. He feels the Red Plan is inevitable and he’s just doing what he can to protect the little that is left in his portion of the School District. Not much it turns out.

Tim’s inability to hide his amusement at the close proximity of his implacable foes was charming. When the walls come tumbling down around Dr. Dixon Tim will have the responsibility of helping pull the school district out of the rubble.

A breathtaking letter

A breathtakingly simple and pointed letter is in today’s Trib. Its simple, honest, a logical exposition should silence all the noise from the Red Plan’s cacophonous cheerleaders. It won’t of course. The only way to cure a rabid dog made me cry when I read Old Yeller.

A tidbit:

“But the plans for Ordean cannot be contained in 11 usable acres. There simply is not room for a high school, bound as it is by two arterials, London Road and Superior Street. If the School Board rushes into action without first acquiring necessary permits and then cries crocodile tears that it spent too much money to turn back, it will forge ahead anyway.”

We didn’t make the trains run on time

While I wait for the Trib to update its website (there’s an interesting letter to the editor today) I’d like to comment on the implications of one of the criticisms leveled at previous school boards and by implication me.

Its often claimed by Red Plan supporters that the old Board never made any decisions thus justifying the development of the Red Plan. Supporters of Mussolini’s dictatorship often shrugged off the loss of their democratic rights by saying that he made the formerly chaotic Italian trains run on time. Yes, dictatorship is orderly if you don’t mind the means by which you achieve order.

I wanted to close a high school while I was on the board. I couldn’t do it because others wanted to close elementary schools. We all wanted to save money – perhaps a million dollars a year in maintenance costs – which we would have put instead in the classroom. We stalemated each other. All the while we put an extra two million a year into school maintenance to keep our schools in good condition. That spending began in the early 1990’s and continued for fifteen years totalling an extra $30 million on school fix-ups. During that time our test scores regularly topped the state averages. The test for the Red Plan (if it gets crammed down our throats) will be whether our schools will equal or surpass their previous achievements.

Sometimes there is a wisdom even in stalemate when it represents the will of the people. We could not achieve a consensus for closing schools in the past and we spent a little more on extra space. We did not impose a $430 million tax liability on local voters without their consent. The current school board has done just that using a heretofore unknown interpretation of state statutes thus cloaking themselves with the aura of legality.

Legal it may be (though this interpretation of the law has yet to be tested in court) but it is also undemocratic. Mussolini got the trains to run on time but when he was deposed Il Duce’s bloody body was hung upside down by the partisans who captured and killed him. Adolph Hitler didn’t fare much better. These and other dictatorships have often paid a high price for the order they ruthlessly imposed. In Duluth were lucky. We’ll just have high taxes and a crappy new high school.

And that’s not all I said

My online statement today began this way:

“For the record. Let Duluth Vote has not requested a quarter million dollars from the District. This is just one more example of wasteful extravagance like the purchase of a hotel for twice its recent purchase price which was never part of the Red Plan at a time when the housing market is in the tank and the owners were desperate to unload the property.”

Simple math


A better version of this graphic can be found here with a simple explanation. What this shows is the course of the current recession compared to all the major recessions since the Great Depression of the 1930’s. Our economy hasn’t quit shrinking making this recession the the second worse. If this graph is correct we are ahead of the Depression as of the 75th week in the loss of stock market valuation.

The cure may be the Federal stimulus package and I made a comparison between the cost of the stimulus package and the cost of the Red Plan to local voters at last night’s School Board meeting. I reiterated the comparison at the Trib’s online forum today:

. . . “As for the cost of the Red Plan let’s put it in perspective. The trillion dollar Federal bailout divided by three-hundred million Americans will cost $3,333 per person. The rich will pay more for the bail out than the poor becaue it will be financed through a progressive income tax. The $430 million Red Plan divided by the 90,000 residents of the Duluth School District will cost $4,777 per person. It will be paid for with regressive property taxes that fall most heavily on the backs of the elderly who live on fixed incomes.”

A “Catherine K” took issue with me if not my math saying:

“Hey Harry, Once again you mislead the facts. 300 million Americans don’t pay taxes. Those who do not pay any taxes even get my tax payer money in tax credits back even when they don’t contribute any taxes. The rich will pay 90% of taxes under this new plan. Your math stinks. Maybe I could get someone to make a voodoo doll likeness of you and you can feel the pain you are causing this community. You were on the Board and did nothing to help this problem. You just kept kicking the can down the road. Duluth deserves better than this. By the way I won’t have any kids to in the system to enyoy the new school but I still support it and I am not wealthy.”

Like most Red Plan supporters Catherine K finds math taxing.

Lipstick on a pig

At last night’s School Board meeting the unpopular school board tried to put lay the blame for their piggy on Let Duluth Vote. They voted to spend a quarter of a million to develop a Plan B review and comment. Its a grossly inflated price that includes $50,000 that has already been spent fighting to avoid a referendum. Only Gary Glass voted against it. As he said the Board is attempting “to put lipstick on a pig.”

From today’s Trib story:

“I don’t understand why they are talking about spending all this money on a review and comment document when we don’t even know what plan the public wants yet,” said Brenda Anderson, a spokeswoman for Let Duluth Vote.

Anderson said state law allows the district to hold a special election on the plan before fully developing it for approval by the Department of Education.

Glass echoed those comments before voting against spending money to develop the plan.

The hard work of making a case

Its hard to keep track of all the anti Red Plan letters to the editor these days. Here’s a good one.

I can’t argue with its conclusion:

“When this district decided it didn’t want to hear from voters with a referendum, it skipped the hard work of making a case for every penny of that $300 million. This is something all other school districts do because they must ask for money with a vote, not take it with a loophole.

In Duluth, there has been no respect for community input from the beginning – and none now.”

Kiwanis West

This morning I was invited to the West Duluth Kiwanis Club to talk about the Red Plan from its critic’s point of view. I had a receptive audience.

I sat next to a vigorous former Duluth principal who retired twenty years ago. His attitude toward the Red Plan was typical. These are not happy people.

I passed out my comparison of the Ft. Collins site with Ordean and laid down the two volumes of my printed out blog to show how much I’d put on paper explaining that I could only scratch the surface. Many questions. Many questions and a ten dollar bill handed over at the end by one angry member of the audience.

I was told that JCI had come earlier and been asked if they could guarantee that our kids would get a better education after all the schools were remodeled or rebuilt. JCI couldn’t make that guarantee. No kidding!

Headlining the obvious

This Sunday’s letter to the Trib was headlined “Duluth’s Ordean site is unworkable for high school.” The headline was the Trib’s. The content was the writer’s. It begins:

In response to the News Tribune’s Jan. 15 Our View editorial, “School district flexes its flexibility,” which praised the Duluth School Board for working on different options for the Ordean site, I believe the board is only using a smokescreen to look like it is working with the public.