Taxpayer financed school board campaign ads

Gary Glass called me tonight when he stumbled accross a School District ad for Tim Grover and Johnson Controls plans for the new Lester Park School. He had no idea the district was footing the bill for this advertising and putting the ads on Channel Seven’s PACT TV.

The first part of the ad was an homage to Board Chairman Tim Grover’s reasons for running for the School Board. It told about his graduation from Denfeld High and explained how thrilled he was with the Red Plan.

I caught the end of the program about the glories of the new Lester Park School so when I called Gary back I asked him if the program explained that Tim had run for the Board originally because he was angry about the closing of Washington Jr. High. No. That wasn’t mentioned.

I met Tim in 1989 when that year’s school board decided to close Washington Jr. because it was such a dangerous old building. (Much of what they said about Washington turned out to be hooey.) I began a poorly designed petition for an excess levy referendum to pay to keep Washington Jr. open for another year. Tim was one of a handful of parents who came to my meetings to save Washington. We’ve been friends ever since.

Tim has explained that his new found support for the Red Plan is motivated in large part by his desire to save schools in his part of town just as he once attempted to save Washington Junior. So far he’s been no more successful at this than he was in 1989. Of course, now he’s getting free taxpayer financed campaign ads. Tim is a pragmatist.

No one told Gary Glass about this program either.

Just a bunch of data

The Ordean neighbors have been concerned about the report from the City that the School District sent the City an EAW on the Ordean site. This is unusual. An EAW is an Environmental Assessment Worksheet. Its a preliminary three month long long review of a site planned for development. It is rarely if ever done by the entity considering development and usually is ordered by the governmental unit with oversight. In the case of Ordean this oversight is exercised by the City but the School District completed the EAW or may have completed it.

The School District may have wanted a friendly consultant to do the work and who would be reluctant to anger the paymaster with a critical report. A critical EAW report could result in the ordering of a much more in depth study called an EIS or an Environmental Impact Statement. An EIS can take a year to complete. This would not have been a problem for the School District because the Ordean construction was originally planned a few years hence.

However, when Dr. Dixon realized a new school board might not approve the Ordean site he pushed this construction up by a couple years making it critical that no EIS be ordered. By hiring friendly consultants who would not notice Eagles the drainage to the lake or the incredibly small footprint he may have found a way to “prove” that no environmental damage would result from his revved up construction schedule at Ordean.

But what did the District do? The City Planning office told Ordean neighbors that the District sent them an EAW. But when Gary Glass asked Kerry Leider if the District had turned in an EAW Leider told him that the District just gave the City “a bunch of data.”

Is Kerry lying? I like Kerry and he once gave me credit for saving his job from some angry new school board members. But Kerry has a new paymaster now too. Dr. Dixon. Keeping Gary Glass in the dark now seems to be one of the requirements for working in ISD 709’s administration.

What the Trib “hid” online

Local View: No school district could afford Duluth’s red plan
Duluth’s Lars Fladmark couldn’t believe the new license plates issued for his truck: “709 BAD.” He swears he didn’t request the number-letter combination, but the more he learns about his Independent School District 709’s long-range building plan, the more he’s convinced his plates are dead-on accurate.

Last year I received a surprise when I renewed the license plates on my truck. My new plate number was “709 BAD.” Under oath, I swear I did not request those numbers! However, the longer I have listened to the debate over Independent School District 709’s so-called red plan, the more I have come to believe my plates were prophetic — or maybe someone at the license bureau was sending a message.

From 1985 to 1993, I served as CEO of Beckley-Cardy, a national school supply firm based then in Duluth. Our sales force of 110 called on every public and private school in the U.S. Since we sold everything from chalk to school furniture, our sales staff followed carefully the career paths of superintendents. We called them “builders.”

There were superintendents who specialized in moving from district to district, always promoting the construction of new schools. Since new schools were always our best sales opportunity, our sales staff followed these superintendents carefully, particularly since they generally moved to new horizons once new schools were in place.

I understand Duluth Schools Superintendent Keith Dixon has at least one new school behind him, so I would guess he probably won’t be retiring from District 709.

I think a great injustice is being perpetrated on the Duluth district. In my entire career, I never saw or heard of any school facilities plan of the magnitude of Duluth’s red plan approved without a voter referendum. Never ever, coast to coast or border to border.

Add a school board and a superintendent seemingly taking pride in hijacking former Rep. Mike Jaros’ bill allowing construction without voter approval in the name of desegregation. The Duluth district used a highly questionable loophole opinion not vested in any specific legislative act or judicial ruling.

That’s riding a bit roughshod over legislative intent, I would say.

Many dollars have been committed to the project without any true legal approval. I’d call that an injustice any time.

Anyone who believes in democracy can’t possibly endorse this process.

What led to the Boston Tea Party and the American Revolution?

We in Duluth did not elect a school board to become a supra taxing authority. Any claims to the contrary only reflect the elitist attitude that the common man can’t be trusted to make the “right” decision.

That is democracy defiled. My license plates tell the truth.

Also, the immense costs of the red plan are ridiculous. During the 1970s and 1980s, my company purchased and remodeled 11 different buildings, rebuilding them into totally up-to-date office buildings still in use today. Eight of them are concentrated on First Street in downtown Duluth. We tuckpointed, installed new windows, reinsulated, put on new roofs, built skywalks to connect them, added elevators and air conditioning and did whatever else was needed. We wound up with a cost-per-square-foot averaging less than $3. We proved it’s less expensive to remodel if buildings are structurally sound.

It’s rather clear, I think, that Central, East and Denfeld high schools are much more than just structurally sound. I’d wager a good bet a reliable contractor could bring them well up to date for less than $30 million.

No, that won’t give the 35 or so clear acres our benighted State Board of Education says is required. Only Northland Country Club could accommodate that – and hey, with no houses to knock down or people to move.

I’d just like to know on what planet our School Board members are living. No metro area in the U.S. can afford what’s being attempted here. Duluth has good physical plants that are properly located.

What’s important in education is the teaching staff and that the physical equipment and its maintenance are kept up to date. Just fix up our existing schools. Please.

Lars Fladmark lives in Duluth.

The Trib’s leanings

Let Duluth Vote supporters are quick to see pro Red Plan editorial preferences in the Trib. I’m an old hand at reading between the lines and I know that traditional journalists take an almost masochistic delight in showing their impartiality. Some of the letters they print excoriate them for their bias. Editors especially love to publish letters accusing them of being liberal or conservative side-by-side to demonstrate that they are neither.

While I sense some Red Plan bias, particularly in downplaying possible criticism of the Red Plan, the Trib has a good excuse. Like most daily papers the Trib has made huge staff cuts leaving fewer experienced reporters to investigate complicated Red Plan complaints. Although I should note that at last night’s LDV meeting both Brenda Anderson and Gary Glass reiterated what they’ve told me repeatedly that the Trib’s education reporter rarely quotes either of them after interviewing them. The Reporter routinely hectors us with questions that seemed to have been posed by Move Forward Duluth. I wonder if Mimi Larsen or Dr. Dixon or the School Board members feel the same way?

I get quoted a lot but that may be because I’m a lot more colorful in my denunciation of the Red Plan making for more entertaining stories. That’s what you’d expect from the man who is responsible for dividing Duluth by insisting on playing by the rules and all that democracy rigmarole.

The Editorial Page appears to have been scrupulously fair about putting both pro and anti Red Plan letters on the Editorial page. Whether they discriminate by skewing the letters one way or another we don’t know. For instance, if three times as many anti Red Plan letters are sent to them (or visa versa) there’s little evidence of this because the letters are roughly 50/50 like they were today with one pro and one con. Well, Well Well!I just checked the online Trib. Today’s “con” letter isn’t in the Online Trib. How careless. How skewed!

One of the most egregious cases of downplaying the anti’s viewpoint was yesterday’s paper with its dueling pro and con Red Plan columns. In the corner of the page was a little teaser about a seemingly cute “eh column” style letter about a licence plate humorously spelled out “709 BAD.” Readers were encouraged to read it online.

The letter turned out to be so persuasive and its author so authoritative that the paper couldn’t in good conscience simply bury it in their online paper but had to draw attention to it in newsprint. However, that attention made it look frivolous.

I’ll put the whole thing in one of my next posts. Shame on the Trib for burying this.

What does Duluth think?

One of the many faux arguments thrown around by the Red Plan’s supporters about having a referendum is that it would have been a waste of time and money. A special election might have cost ten or twenty thousand dollars and prevented the District from immediately charging ahead with their construction. Then Board Chair Nancy Nilsen’s claimed hysterically that every day’s delay would cost The District $50,000. Big Whup!

The Board has got its third year of programming cuts going and says it faces a $4.5 million shortfall again this year (that didn’t stop them from borrowing $5 million in classroom money to spend on the Red Plan) so it authorized $250,000 to fight Let Duluth Vote in Court and, oh yes, to help prepare a Plan A, B, C, or D to submit to the State Dept. of Education.

For two years the Red Plan’s supporters have been pleased to call its opponents a “small vocal minority.” That has always been doubtful but it could have been tested with a referendum from the start. Had the Board done so they would have avoided the two-year long slog that has mired the Red Plan and the School Board in acrimony and no one would be taking the District to court today.

For the first time in a year of online “polling” by the Trib story the results show a fairly even level of support for both sides in the Red Plan dispute. Just how many people participated is unknown because current polls no longer show the number of voters. If one side or another got a lot of people to vote or if hardly anybody bothered to vote its impossible to tell. It appears to me that a single determined person may even have the ability to vote over and over easily skewing the results.

So, for what its worth, here is the result as of this morning of the latest Trib poll.

Poll
Is Let Duluth Vote helping or hindering the school district’s future?

Results …Helping 51.4% …Hindering 48.6%

Go here to vote.

No contest!

http://www.duluthnewstribune.com/media/story/jpg/2009/03/29/wvote.jpg

After a week of silence the Trib finally put some Red in the paper. The front page was about the trickle of Central High students out of a school which Dr. Dixon will use as his pretext for breaking his promise to keep the school open until 2012. There was no mention in the story of the thumbscrews which the District administration has applied to the school to discourage students from staying.

And there was the point-counterpoint debate on whether it is Let Duluth Vote or the School Board that is responsible for dividing Duluth. It was no contest.

Mimi Larson who begins every sentence with the mantra “move forward” and who has been moving forward with the Red Plan since she was one of about 16 regular members of the “Citizens Committee” who handed this ill thought out monstrosity to Dr. Dixon’s compliant, unquestioning School Board begins by saying Let Duluth Vote is full of misinformation. She then squanders her 700 words by sticking to just one “misrepresentation:” That our Plan “D” isn’t the same as our Plan “B.” If you want an honest (anti-Red Plan) analysis of this accusation check out this page on the Let Duluth Vote website.

Mimi moving forward:

If as a community we are to move forward with change, then accurate information needs to be part of our debates and discussions. However, when it comes to the Duluth School District’s long-range facilities plan, I see steady streams of misinformation presented by those in opposition, and that serves only to confuse and derail any movement forward.

Don Kinsey, an ally of Let Duluth Vote as well as an LDV critic, who had the prescience to see that the District would never compromise with LDV lays the situation out clearly. Unlike Larsen Kinsey offers a myriad of problems brought about by the School Board’s intransigence:

The board and Dixon have sent a clear message to Duluthians: For refusing to approve the increase in operational funds we asked for during the last election, we’ll cut programs and close schools.

Board members and Dixon are the same people who claimed most residents’ property taxes would be increased only a small amount for the red plan. They promised residents before the last election they wouldn’t take newly approved operational money to support the red plan. But then the School Board transferred $5 million from the general fund as a loan for the red plan. The district has a $4.8 million shortfall.

Hiding our lights under their bushel

Not to diminish the wonderful editorial debate in today’s Trib I’ve got to give the paper a swift kick in the pants for hiding this marvelous anti-Red Plan column in their online paper. Oh, they did put in a little teaser by the main editorials encouraging readers to check the column out on their website but that won’t get it near the readership of their newsprint version.

Here are some short sweet excerpts from Lars Fladmarks’ comments:

Last year I received a surprise when I renewed the license plates on my truck. My new plate number was “709 BAD.” Under oath, I swear I did not request those numbers! However, the longer I have listened to the debate over Independent School District 709’s so-called red plan, the more I have come to believe my plates were prophetic . . .

From 1985 to 1993, I served as CEO of Beckley-Cardy, a national school supply firm based then in Duluth. Our sales force of 110 called on every public and private school in the U.S. Since we sold everything from chalk to school furniture, our sales staff followed carefully the career paths of superintendents. We called them “builders.”

. . . In my entire career, I never saw or heard of any school facilities plan of the magnitude of Duluth’s red plan approved without a voter referendum. Never ever, coast to coast or border to border.

Also, the immense costs of the red plan are ridiculous. During the 1970s and 1980s, my company purchased and remodeled 11 different buildings, rebuilding them into totally up-to-date office buildings still in use today. Eight of them are concentrated on First Street in downtown Duluth. We tuckpointed, installed new windows, reinsulated, put on new roofs, built skywalks to connect them, added elevators and air conditioning and did whatever else was needed. We wound up with a cost-per-square-foot averaging less than $3. We proved it’s less expensive to remodel if buildings are structurally sound.

It’s rather clear, I think, that Central, East and Denfeld high schools are much more than just structurally sound. I’d wager a good bet a reliable contractor could bring them well up to date for less than $30 million.

Shhhhhh! The Trib is working, or is that Zzzzzzzz?

Rob Karwath wants to see the records of Duluth’s licensed dog owners. Well, I’d like to look at the Trib’s personnel files. You see, I think Rob is the guy who wrote a complaint about one of his employees and stuck it in his personnel file when the poor guy returned from work after the birth of a child. That’s because his co-workers congratulated him too loudly so he was guilty of creating a disturbance.

That new father better be on his best behavior until the next round of budget cuts at the Tribune.

The Trib goes to the dogs while Central High burns

http://www.duluthnewstribune.com/media/full/jpg/2009/03/29/fwdanielledoglicense.jpg

Parents at Central are unhappy because the District has done everything it could to chase students out of school early to justify closing Central before 2112 the date that the Board promised to keep the school open. Here’s a Fox 21 Video with Trib editor Rob Karwath explaining how.

Mr. Karwath who’s paper has not objected to any of the District’s censored info made it clear today that the Duluth Tribune really cares about public information where dog ownership is concerned.

Catching up and chuckling

It might be hard for the casual reader of this blog to imagine that I have only just know read all the legal papers that my attorney, Craig Hunter, has filed with the Court. Sad but true. I’ve had several conversations about it and I’m quite familiar with most of its particulars but today, away from the constant distractions of Duluth, I finally read all of it. Whoo boy! A couple times I couldn’t help chuckling. The case, our case, is so obvious. What in Earth did JCI and ISD 709 think they were doing?

For a year I’ve talked with state bureaucrats who told me that a School Board’s polices are essentially window dressing and have no force of law. A hundred years of wisdom poured into a community’s school board and it is of no relevance!! It was a discouraging thing to hear. That’s not what my lawyer tells me.

If the lawyers for the District are wrong as they have been before this will be sweet.

The highlight of the Nathan mtg.

The most remarkable email I received about Dr. Nathan’s presentation involved an active PTSA (Parent Teacher Student Association) parent who spoke to one of the Let Duluth Vote people in attendance. The emailer didn’t know the parent but from the description I knew exactly who it was – one of Dr. Dixon’s most loyal acolytes who is now badly disillusioned by the looming catastrophe wrought by Dr. Dixon.

When the scales fall from their eyes

For months Let Duluth Vote has been portrayed as a group of sour pusses. But our efforts to find a means of compromise have not gone unnoticed just as the unwillingness of the School Board to pay attention to the wishes of the community have been impossible for any fair minded person to miss.

These are excerpts of an email sent to the Ordean neighbors. I do not know this person and I will not reveal his/her name. It speaks volumes about how people in Duluth feel today.

At a meeting late last year at Ordean, ******** said something that sounded pretty harsh. It was something like when addressing the engineers and other planners, “From what you’ve told us and what you’ve done so far, I don’t think there is a person in this room who trusts you.” That’s a paraphrase. I was still getting acquainted with the issues, but I have measured every School District proposal with that suspicion in mind. I have usually believed people of the boomer generation (who are the people we are fighting right now) because I thought they had an ethical base instilled by that generation’s parents. Well, guess what. I no longer believe that of those people on the School Board and the dependent contractors who are playing politics in the hope of future contracts. This whole Ordean School issue has evolved into an end run and blatant deception by Dr. Dixon and his associates. Does it not smack of the same incremental lies that bailout recipients have offered up when asking for our national tax money again and again?

JCI on the ropes

Two people sent me links to this story in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. JCI has bigger problems than its legal squabble with five angry taxpayers in Duluth, Minnesota.

The gist of the story:

MILWAUKEE – Johnson Controls Inc. said Friday it will cut jobs and close 10 manufacturing plants as part of a restructuring effort that it said will cost between $200 million and $215 million.

The company, whose products include automotive parts, batteries and building systems, did not say how many employees will be affected or which plants it will close. A company spokeswoman was not immediately available for comment early Friday.

The announcement marks the second recent restructuring effort at Johnson Controls, which has been hit hard by the downturn in global vehicle production. In September, the company announced a $495 million program of plant closures and job cuts, which it said is now two-thirds complete.

45 minutes

Let Duluth Vote purposefully downplayed its part in inviting Dr. Joe Nathan to Duluth this week. I talked with Dr. Nathan a number of times in the late 90’s and was looking forward to hearing him Thursday evening. Instead a family matter drew me out of town so I’ve only gotten some vague reports about his appearance.

Perhaps the most interesting thing was his comment to the people gathered at the Secondary Technical Center that Dr. Dixon had called him up prior to his presentation to talk to him for 45 minutes presumably to win him over.

Dr. Nathan scrupulously took no sides on the Red Plan when he spoke. However, one of the items in the report he presented caught the attention of a person in his audience who sent it to the members of the Duluth School Board. It is arresting information concerning the atmosphere in big urban schools vs. smaller urban schools.

Teacher Reports of Daily, Weekly or Monthly Incidents by (Traditional Urban) School Size

Type of Incident………..200-749 Students……..1200 or more Students

Robbery/Theft……………21%……………………..50%

Vandalism…………………18%……………………..44%

Possession of weapons…..2%……………………..12%

Verbal Abuse of Teachers.30%…………………….57%

Use of Illegal drugs ……….5%……………………..45%

Use of Alcohol………………4%…………………….39%

Widespread disorder
in classrooms………………..15% …………..29%

Vindication

For my eight loyal readers I apologize for the absence of posts. There are a lot of things going on but I’ve been in the Cities for a couple days and I have to wait my turn at the hotel computer. Actually, I was rather impressed to discover that my readership has bumped up a bit lately. Just yesterday I had 157 different visitors and on average they peeked at a little over ten blog posts each. Considering that half of Duluth’s voting population probably doesn’t have computers that’s not bad.

I have a lot of catching up to do but not this weekend. Its a little before bedtime and I’ll just make a couple quick posts.

I’ve been catching up on emails and one person was kind enough to send me this letter to the editor to the Budgeteer which was sent in in the wake of the Welty – Doty Debate. To say it steeled me for the next two months would be an understatement.

Steamed about the Red Plan columns

I just read the March 22 Budgeteer columns about the Red Plan by Ralph Doty and Harry Welty. It was interesting reading, but it’s always sad when a controversy turns vicious.

Over the past months, I have conducted my own little survey. When I go to a meeting or church or lunch or visiting, I always just casually say, “What do you think of the Red Plan?” Then I sit back and listen. Wow. Talk about opening up a can of worms. You should hear everyone entering in with their comments. It gets rather heated at times. And I have never heard one single person say they are for the Red Plan. They are steamed about not being allowed to vote and they say not allowing open bidding is against the law and find the whole process undemocratic.

I’ve always supported Doty in the past. He’s a strong supporter of unions “as was his father” and that’s fine. I support that, too, but I want fairness included in the process, and, quite frankly, it’s quite evident (to me) that Superintendent Keith Dixon did a poor job in Faribault.

It seems to me the school board has simply dug in its heels and refused to listen to their constituents. And the way they have turned on Gary Glass is inexcusable.

Let’s hope all of the facts come out in the media. Please be open and fair and please don’t use your paper as a “bully pulpit.”

K S
Duluth