Tonight’s public comment

Tonight’s Special School Board meeting will, notwithstanding promises to the contrary:

Will increase public indebtedness by $106.57 million, to fund the last 38% of the cost of the entire Red Plan. If passed it will INCREASE property taxes in future years MORE THAN DOUBLING what we pay in school taxes now!

This costly decision will scrap existing schools at Lincoln Park, Piedmont and Duluth Central at an additional cost $50 million not counting increased transportation expenses.

To do this the Board will once again suspend policy #3075 requiring competitive bids and Northern Securities will be paid $136,570 to issue the $106 million in bonds.

Capping all this off will be a closed session to discuss the status of the litigation (Welty et al. vs. ISD709). Afterwards the Special School Board meeting will be reconvened for possible action regarding the litigation.

Public Comment will be taken at this Special Meeting of the School Board, Monday, Aug. 31, 2009, 5:30 PM Board Room, Historic Old Central High School.

I’m baaaack!

A mixture of caution, orneriness, mental exhaustion and the knowledge that the upcoming primary election isn’t all that critical (Red Plan critics will have four strong candidates in November no matter what) stilled my fingers for the last week.

Caution because I reluctantly agreed with my other four plaintiffs to negotiate a possible dismissal of the suit even though I have found a law firm with a lovely view of downtown Minneapolis that would likely represent me if I were to go it alone. Negotiations of this sort don’t benefit by public curiosity.

Orneriness because in the dog days of summer even my own allies are feeling a little peckish about me.

Mental exhaustion because every couple of months for the past two years of the Red Plan fight I’ve needed a break.

And finally, as a practical matter, its August and most people aren’t thinking about the primary election.

But all good things must come to an end. I was just forwarded this silly analysis from Mimi Larson the leader of Move Forward Duluth (and probably the other new pro red plan organization that just formed) Obviously, I’m overdue to edit that dead horse post I promised. The rough draft was already over 1600 words long when I left it a week ago. Maybe I’ll pick it up Sunday. In the meantime I’ve got a court brief to write this morning first. I’m taking my notes and my laptop over to Perkins to get started. Its almost four AM. It should be quiet. Then its off to the waterpark with the Tan Man. We’re celebrating his second orbit around the sun.

Dear Friends,

These past few days the DNT has aired their endorsements for school board election. They have been refreshing as criteria for who the DNT has endorsed seems largely based on a candidate’s actual accomplishments and solution focused approaches to the challenges faced by the District. I know for me that is like a breath of fresh air compared to what has become a mudslinging campaign for the past 2 years on the part of opponents to the Long Range Facilities Plan.

This email is not about candidate endorsements. However, it is about taking a good hard look at what the issues, priorities and ultimately the integrity is of those who are running. After all, don’t we want impressive role models and forward-thinking school board members?

And because the DNT endorsements have been on my mind, what has also surfaced recently is a Point of View article by Gary Glass. I was out of town last week when it was run but did find a copy and frankly was disappointed and appalled at the continued misinformation and mudslinging I continue to see in his words. Gary’s strategy as a candidate seems pretty easy to understand — throw as much manure on the wall as you can dream up, and try to get Facilities Plan supporters to clean it all up. For Gary, there will always be another wall to soil.

We need to understand this and keep it in mind as we sort through his words. He obviously is the self-appointed leader of LDV’s small army. Gary has planned the legal strategy from the start, directed the drafting of Plan B, guiding the recent lawsuit against himself and the District, and is now apparently leading their (LRFP opponents) school board election strategy.

I think Gary’s goal is to be elected Board Chair and/or hand-pick the next Superintendent. He is so focused on those goals that he is actually running for one school board seat while already in the middle of a term for a different board seat – an act so self-serving that it is hard to find a parallel in Duluth history.

So, when following the battle plan for the school board being charted by Mr. Glass, it is important to remember a few things:

1. Gary’s legal compass doesn’t work. His first lawsuit (the one where attorney Grant Merritt never got paid after sending his bills to Glass) was dismissed by the judge. His second lawsuit has been declared unlikely to succeed by the presiding judge.

2. Gary’s ethical compass doesn’t work. He provided plaintiffs advice on a lawsuit where he was a defendant. He negotiated and reviewed the contract for the attorney who was suing him. And he tried to get that attorney to personally sue the other six school board members in an effort to intimidate them.

3. Gary’s financial compass doesn’t work. In a school district that is challenged by significant operating fund deficits – the fund used to pay for teacher salaries and education programs – Gary is supporting a Plan (B) that is $400,000 a year more expensive than the Facilities Plan today and a whopping $4.2 million more costly per year in the future. That’s because more buildings equal higher operating costs. He also is a school board member who voiced opposition to last fall’s levy for programming.

4. Gary’s taxpayer compass doesn’t work. Plan B costs taxpayers more and spends less on education, a bad formula for success. And, by not fixing the operating fund deficits in the future, he leaves taxpayers with a terrible choice – higher taxes through operating levies or cutting teachers and programs.

Don’t we want, don’t we need school board members that have a better compass than this? I know I do.

Mimi

Half a plan

The best thing about Judy Seliga-Punyko’s column in the Budgeteer today was the explanation at the end.

Editor’s note: Judy Seliga Punyko wrote this column in response to Gary Glass’s column in the Aug. 16 Budgeteer. Glass was responding to Mimi Larson, who responded to Harry Welty, who responded to Budgeteer columnist Ralph Doty. Any future responses to this series will be published online only

Judy makes this claim which has been made and disputed for two years now.

“The long-range facilities plan saves $5.3 million per year.”

Judy then repeats the District’s line:

“On the other hand, based on the numbers provided by an independent consultant, Let Duluth Vote’s Plan B costs the average homeowner $9.50 per month and provides very little in the way of improvements to educational adequacy, safety and security and efficiency. The long-range facilities plan costs $9.22 a month, slightly less per taxpayer. And Plan B saves $1.1 million a year — nearly five times less than the LRFP.”

Judy further goes on to criticize the alternative plan for having “grammatical mistakes” and math errors.

A few other things are not in doubt.

The Red Plan will cost $293 million not counting interest.

Its savings are all speculative and not guaranteed.

The plan was conceived in such a way as to be a sweetheart deal for its originator, JCI, and to prevent a public vote.

The District has channeled operational money into the plan which the District explains away by saying the money is not needed for operations and will earn interest while being used to pay for the construction.

The District’s class sizes continue to increase.

Building a new High School on Ordean is cramming too many students into too small a space with inadequate streets to handle the traffic safely when a superior centrally located facility already exists.

Judy does not want the Red Plan to be put to a vote.

Incivility

http://www.duluthnewstribune.com/media/thumb/jpg/2009/08/14/welty.jpg

I just looked up a link to Ralph Doty’s column today. When I got to the Budgeteer’s online site I was amused to see this picture of me. Its one a friend told me a while back makes me look sinister. For that reason I had the Budgeteer take a friendlier picture of me. Perhaps for this story the Budge preferred my more serious minded picture.

For is part Ralph comments toward the end of his column about an intruder accosting him at his Central High reunion to chastise him about his support of Johnson Controls. I heard about it afterward from some flummoxed Let Duluth Vote supporters who fretted that Ralph would use the occasion to further bash his critics. I don’t blame Ralph. I don’t much like it when folks follow me home (here and here) and raise a stink either.

Considering that Ralph was the first to heap abuse by calling for a libel suit on critics of Johnson Controls I have a hard time sympathizing with him. That was two years ago. A civil debate would have been nice but a vote would have been even better. Its not surprising that the debate has grown less civil since no referendum has been permitted.

A question for SB candidates

A quick question occurred to me yesterday.

If the Ordean High School gets built and it becomes immediately obvious that 600 or more parking spaces need to be provided that can only be secured through eminent domain, would candidates be more inclined to break their promise to Ordean homeowners and take their houses in violation of their promise not to use eminent domain or would they take one of Northland Country Club’s golf greens instead?

Beating a dead horse prologue

I woke up early this morning. Not wanting to wake anyone in the house (the Tan Man and his Mommy are with us) I snuck out in the dark with our laptop (I hate its tiny keyboard) and returned the DVD we watched last night, I love you man. (pretty funny) First I headed over to Walgreens to pick up some WD40 to silence the squeaks in the door hinges which theatened to wake my grandson up when I tiptoed out the back door.

I set up shop in Perkins with a pot of coffee and breakfast. As I munched on sausage links, eggs over easy and a carmel apple muffin I typed out a very long post of this title sans “prologue.” It explains a lot of things I’ve been wanting to write about for the past two months but haven’t had time to post because the District’s defense counsel has had me jumping through hoops. I’ve also been under pressure to keep silent but that period is almost past. There is much write.

The School Board’s puppet masters are doing their best to sugar coat the Red Plan. To do this they are beating Plan B like a dead horse. (They forced us to give birth to it even though its heart had stopped beating months earlier) Even so, the masters are having to pour a lot of sugar in their Red Plan cod liver oil so the public will swallow it. Time to elect a new school board and as Loren Martell wrote to the Budgeteer find a sensible way to make the best of the Red Plan’s wreckage.

The sun is shining on two ships anchored off the Ariel Lift Bridge. I’ve turned off Public Radio and will head home shortly. We plan to go to the Farmer’s Market with the Tan Man this morning. We want to grill some singing chicken this evening – “free range” chicken.

I’ll edit the very long post that will follow this later today before uploading it. Then I’ll starting writing some fundraising letters to help elect a new school board. Then I’ll consider my options for continuing my suit with the District in the Appeals Court by my lonesome. More on this later too.

They have a better website

Not more accurate, mind you, just better. I wouldn’t trust anything I read on this website. I’m probably not alone based on the anonymous mail I got today.

It had the new Move Forward Duluth organization’s (its called Choose Duluth Schools) phony comparison with the alternative plan offered by Let Duluth Vote. On the back side was this handwritten message to me:

“I wanted to be sure you saw this! I’m really starting to hate the Duluth Schools! Don’t give up! We love you!”

I wish I could believe Choose Duluth. I suspect the State Auditor will have to come in to make sense of the Duluth School’s finances in the next year or two. But Johnson Controls will have made a tidy profit out of this fiasco.

This new organization like Move Forward Duluth and Let Duluth Vote will not advocate for candidates so we will never know who is footing the bill for it and its website. At least no one who has contributed to Let Duluth Vote has a financial incentive other than to restore the right to vote on school building bonds to the voters.

Banner headlines

The spate of sour news about Duluth student test scores which mostly rated simple unheralded stories in the Trib dealt with all Duluth students across all grade levels. Today’s good news, mentioned in the previous post, was a banner headline today. Was it more boosterism to bolseter a bleagured board (cool alliteration huh?) or was it a rebuke to Board member Glass whose column in today’s Trib commented unfavorably on the Districts deemphasis in operational spending?

How about both?

Putting a rare bit of good news into perspective

Today’s story about the ACT scores in Duluth out performing Minnesota should be understood for what they likely are – a testament to the work of the Schools for the last decade.

Test scores for an entire student body are a bit like big ships. It takes forever for them to make turns. Our ACT test scores have led the state for a long time. The students taking the ACT tests are the oldest students who have been in our schools for ages. They would not leave their friends and the District in the last couple years of school.

As we lose our most ambitious students to other districts and find our operational levy straining we can expect the ACT test results to inexorably retreat. Bricks and mortar will not prop them up.

Auto vs. Train traffic

Somewhere I read that St. Louis County Commissioner Steve O’Neil is praising Congressman Jim Oberstar for the clout he can exercise in Congress by virtue of spending the last half century there, most of that time as a Congressman. Yup, Jim just suggested that the same mileage tax be placed on my prius that the owner of a Humvee would pay. Just what we need for leadership with that finely honed sense of enviornmental awareness.

But I digress. Yesterday I commented on the dueling estimates for passenger traffic on the proposed Northstar line. It would be about 150,000 annual visitors from the Twin Cities to Duluth at the end of the next twenty years. So MNDOT finally called me back today. They pointed me to their webpage with traffic counts in it.

So after looking at the statewide traffic I got these daily figures for different stretches of I-35 from Forest City to Duluth.

Forest Lake – Wyoming = 55000
Wyoming – North Branch = 37000
North Branch – Rush City = 24100
Rush City – Pine City = 23300
Pine City – Hinckley = 20900
Hinckley – Sandstone = 16800
Sandstone – Moose Lake = 14800
Moose Lake – Cloquet = 25500
Cloquet – Duluth = 27600

So, if you take the least traveled stretch of I-35 you get 14800 trips. If you assume that one third of this is local traffic you come up with a rough guess as to the average traffic between the the Twin Cities and Duluth which would be 10,000. So, multiply this by 365 days and you end up with a figure of 3,659,000. Its probably safe to say that in 2006 thre were 25 time more passengers traveling the entire length of I-35 as will travel that distance twenty years from now on the railroad – and that’s assuming that every passenger car only had a single passenger.

Will the editors of the Trib admit their over optimism twenty years from now if their comments prove to be little more than pie in the sky?

Babysitting priorities

Saw in today’s Trib that the airport service is being downsized. Gosh, but that ties into yesterday’s last post. There is much to comment on but my an illness requires me to be a full time babysitter today for the Tan Man……We’re going to the fish tank. Tanner likes fish. No more posts until nap time.

More Trainspotting

A story from an Iron Range newspaper where they know something about boondoggles.

Midwest high-speed rail plan a boondoggle

Heartland Institute It’s probably appropriate that the governors of eight Midwest states have just signed a deal to try to establish a regional high-speed rail system.

The National Conference of State Legislatures says these states have a combined budget deficit of $28.1 billion this year, demonstrating the governors know a lot about losing money and soaking taxpayers, which is what citizens in these states can expect if their leaders’ high-speed rail fantasies become reality.

Don’t rush things

Maybe the District won’t increase the levy to pay for health care retiree obligations without a vote. There must be an election looming.

This is about the only spending the School Board is not rushing along.

Its good these liabilities have been made known. Up to now the money needed for them have simply been set aside from operations. As the liabilities grow the impact on operations worsens. Severance for teachers is an even bigger drain.

Railroaded

For a company eating its young to honor the bottom line The Tribune’s editorial board seems curiously immune to financial logic, especially if it stands in the way of some development worthy of a little civic boosterism.

Yesterday the Trib had a story about two conflicting estimates by different consultants of train ridership for the proposed Northstar train to Duluth. One of them projected 274,000 train riders to Duluth by 2030. The other projected 100,000. The Trib’s editorial explains all this and then after wagging its fingers at the people who are supposed to act on these numbers betrays its civic prejudices.

“If rail officials expend the same amount of energy seriously considering studies or other feedback that don’t necessarily support their endeavor as they did debunking a new ridership estimate that debunked their own, there’s little doubt Northern Lights Express can be a complete success.”

In other words, “if you build it they will come.” That’s right up there with lets save money and spend $300 million building all new schools.” These are obviously folks who believe their own advertising circulars which encourage shoppers to save money by spending it.

So, no matter how many people will come to Duluth on the train go out there and build new tracks. It will be good for Duluth.

Let’s think about this. The most optimistic estimate says that in twenty years 150,000 people will come to Duluth annually on a train. Presumably, these will be people who would not have driven here but would only show up if train service was provided.

I put a call in to MNDOT this morning to ask them for their estimate of how many people travel on the highway between Duluth and Minneapolis. I’ll bet its a lot more than 150,000. I seem to pass that many cars going north on some summer days when I head to the Cities.

Meantime the Trib is pleased to report building of the new airport which as my wife notes a new train will give locals a good reason to ignore if they can simply take the train to the Minneapolis airport. Meanwhile, on an Iowa transportation study its I-35 could be an 8-lane road between Duluth and the Twin Cities by 2025. Let’s see, New airport, eight new lanes of highway, a new railroad. Think of all the folks who will come up to Duluth to attend all our new schools. Let’s just hope its all one-way traffic north. We can’t afford to lose any more students.

Speedy Justice

On the anniversary of the Hiroshima bomb, August 6th, the School District’s attorney sent four of the five plaintiff’s in the taxpayer’s case a letter telling them how to behave like lawyers. Today, eleven days later, Ms. Torgerson finally sent the fifth plaintiff the letter. She only sent me a photocopy. Still, its nice not to be overlooked.

She also sent me her arguments to the Appeals Court requesting their intervention because she disputed one of the Sixth District’s court’s rulings. (Maybe Mimi Larson’s headline thank you to Judge Hylden was premature)

An attorney who has trod this path often tells me the timetable for this could be 60 days to hold a hearing – ten months to hold the trial (Minnesota courts have a terrible backlog) – 90 days to issue a judgement.

So much for speedy justice.

Deposed

In light of the District’s appeal to a higher court the five plaintiffs were notified today by JCI that they would not be taking our scheduled depositions this week. I’m disappointed. I was looking forward to mine.

Cinema recomendations

I rented two movies over the weekend and can recommend both. The first is Lars and the Real Girl. To call it a comedy would be to short change it. If you find a review online for this little sleeper it will give the story away so if you want a fun little surprise check it out and watch it knowing little more than you can guess by the title.

The second was Man on a Wire about the transcendent wire walking between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center back in the last Days of the Nixon White house. Its a documentary and a how’d they get away with that movie.

They were both great escapes before returning to reality and the Red Plan.