Eduspeak

The Trib has apparently started a new blog devoted to Education. Nice touch using a title that sounds like jargon.

Its second post debunks the “little birdie” story sent around by Howie Hanson explaining that there will be a new casino built to take the place of Central High.

I suppose the recent story about the folks who stuck a house on Skyline Drive prompted Howie to drop the bomb but its been going around for months.

I remember how arduous it was to set up the existing casino in the old Sears Building thirty years ago. It took an act of Congress to make the land under the Sears building reservation land. Its a bit like turning a foreign embassy into foreign soil. I doubt that Congressman Oberstar would champion this as enthusiastically as he would throwing federal money at a tourist train to Duluth.

Could this explain the DNT’s enthusiasm for the Red Plan

I heard that the DNT got about $10,000 from the School District in a recent month for ad revenue. If they got that much monthly over a year that would be a couple reporters worth of income. When I served on the Board we were extremely stingy with advertising. Suddenly the District is a major source of ad revenue when the news paper industry is in free fall.

In the past Tribsters have scoffed at the idea that they would bend their editorial policy over business office decisions. But the Trib is probably badly leveraged and no longer owned by a family proud of its rich newspaper tradition but by bottom line investors.

Would someone ask the inks this question?

The funeral is over, the photo albums put away and after the reading of the will I’ll be traveling back to Duluth. I’ve got a lot of requests for lawnsigns I’ll have to make good on and life will return to abnormal as the election and lawsuit grinds on.

There is a candidate forum tonight – info below. I’d like someone to ask the Red Inks (school board incumbents) one question. If they are defeated in November (the closest thing we’ll get to a referendum on the Red Plan) will they finally conceed that they are acting against the wishes of the public majority and stop approving additional Red Plan contracts in their last two lame duck months on the Board? Or will they continue to display the “courage” of people who have stolen authority no other school board has ever exercised and keep flipping the bird at taxpayers.

09/29/2009 · 06:00 PM – 08:30 PM · (218) 525-0845
Candidate forums at Lakeside Lester Park Community Club, 106 N. 54th Ave East. Sept. 29, 2009 6 p.m. School Board candidates 7:15 p.m. City Council candidates Everyone welcome. Refreshments served.

Admission Information: none

Location:
Lakeside Lester Park Community Club
106 N. 54th Ave. East
Duluth, MN 55804

No repetition

I’m in Owatonna this morning heading to Iowa for a family funeral. I had planned to be passing out my new lawnsigns like crazy for the next couple days. I won’t be able to do that from Iowa. That’s OK. The election is still four weeks off. If any of my readers would like to pick some up just send me an email and I’ll tell you where to pick them up.

I’ll be preoccupied for the next few days and I’ll only check in sporadically to see what’s happening back in Red Planville. I haven’t even looked at the online Trib yet. That should take five minutes.

I will mention that I just put in an order for a big ad buy in the Twin Cities media. I sure would like to raise some more money and sell that book I’ll be writing. If nothing else comes from this disaster at least I can try to innoculate the State so that no other community is defrauded like Duluth has been.

I used to pass out a little business card I made up when I was a school board member with one of my favorite quotes on it from Santyana, “Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Red Plan Koolaid

This is what passes for analysis by Red Plan partisans. Its the latest email sent out by Move Forward Duluth.

The claim that Let Duluth Vote claimed that it wanted to sow chaos two years ago is typical. It was a Duluth News Tribune editor who wrote that headline taking a statement of mine out of contest in doing so. All you have to do to see that Let Duluth Vote is one of the few organizations attempting to explain the history, frauds and truth about the Red Plan has only to visit the LDV website.

Any comments I’ve made about Plan B have expressed my frustration with the straight jacket its original language imposed upon the plan and the fact that as more and more of the Red Plan has proceeded it has made elements of Plan B out dated. That’s not what Mimi Larson is telling her devotees.

Plan B, whatever its limitations due to the two year old wording on its petition when Let Duluth Vote was trying to find compromise, spends over a hundred million less than the Red Plan yet according to Mimi Larson will end up costing taxpayers more than the Red Plan.

If Mimi is off by hundreds of millions concerning our old compromise plan how much nonsense is she spewing concerning savings on the Red Plan? She’s probably off by over a hundred million there too.

—– Original Message —–
From: Mimi Larson
To: ‘Mimi Larson’
Sent: Friday, September 25, 2009 1:05 PM
Subject: MoveForwardDuluth email: Be Careful of False Promises

Dear Friends,

People have been asking me what I think about the primary election on 9/15/09. I have given it a lot of thought, and my basic thought is that Duluth’s voters have a tough job ahead of them. Let Duluth Vote has done a very good job of creating chaos and confusion (those are their words from several years ago, not mine). In particular, they have worked very hard to convince people that there are other plans out there that will save taxpayers lots of money while still bringing our schools into the 21st Century.

We know now that Plan B is NOT one of those plans. In fact, the consultant who worked on Plan B (and who was complimented by LDV folks as being one of the best) told the school board that the current Facilities Plan is a better value for taxpayers. Plan B actually Costs More and Does Less — which is why Let Duluth Vote’s hand-picked candidates for School Board are running away from the plan. Heck, even Harry Welty has said on his web site that he doesn’t support it. It’s a shame we had to spend $70,000 to find out that Let Duluth Vote couldn’t get the job done and didn’t deliver a better plan as they said they would.
But that won’t stop candidates from making promises. Take Tom Kasper for instance, who is a good man and would probably make a pretty good elected official. But at times this summer, he has suggested that he might change the Facilities Plan to keep Nettleton and Lincoln Park open, keep using Morgan Park as a middle school and have the eastern high school located outside of the City of Duluth.

Those are easy campaign promises … maybe they are even ideas that make some people in the Nettleton, Lincoln Park, Morgan Park and Ordean neighborhoods happy..which will make Tom a little more popular than he is today. But if he is elected in January, someone is going to take a closer look at this plan, and I bet here is what they find out:

1. When it comes to the funds that can be used for building construction, it is at least as expensive to build a brand new eastern high school and make the improvements needed in Nettleton, Lincoln Park and Morgan Park as it is to build a brand new western middle school and upgrade Ordean. In other words, Kasper’s plan for using construction funds won’t save any money, and likely will cost more.

2. It costs $500,000 to operate an elementary school. So every year, we will have to raise another $1 million for our operating budget since Tom’s plan is to keep 2 additional elementary schools open. Meanwhile, since the western middle school and the eastern high school will be miles from where most of the students live, hundreds of thousands of dollars will be spent on transportation that could be used for other operations. Where is this money going to come from — are we going to cut 10 more teachers or increase local property taxes to pay for the Kasper Plan?

From where I sit, the Kasper Plan is going to raise local taxes more than the Facilities Plan does.

As I said, Tom’s a good man. And it’s not my job to tell anyone who to vote for (unless you ask me in person). But it seems to me that the job of reorganizing Duluth Public Schools is important enough that we need to ask the challengers the same tough questions that our incumbents have faced for the last few years. And not settle for vague answers. After all promises are one thing but a well thought out realistic and doable plan is another. Here are some questions to keep in mind when other “plans” are touted: How much money does it cost? How much will local taxes go up? Will we truly be creating neighborhood schools? How many teachers will you need to cut? What is the proposed work for each school? Is it repairs or upgrades?

Our School Board looked at these questions and hundreds of others for 18 months. They searched for ways to keep our schools open, and they always came back to the same conclusion — we need to close some of our schools and improve the remaining ones if Duluth is going to teach today’s children and attract tomorrow’s families. If a candidate wants to go a different direction, they need to tell us what it is going to cost, and what the educational benefits are. Personally I think our School Board made the right choice with the facilities plan.

Tom, Maureen, Marcia and Art … what are YOUR plans, and what are they going to cost?

Mimi

The lawnsigns are here

I swear my little fireplug Moloch is going to kill me yet. Moley Poley is our Manx cat, stubby helicopter tail and all, who parks his chunk of a body in front of my feet like an anvil as I walk around the house especially when I’m navigating stairways. I suspect he knows I can’t see worth beans at night. I’ve managed to survive him this morning but he really wants my attention. He’s just parked himself behind me on the top of my plush swivel chair. If I lean back he will probably lick the little hair left on my cowlick and pluck out the remaining strays.

Now, why the heck did I write that?

Well, I guess its because I’m brain dead after days and days of frantic activity. Yesterday’s jaunt to the Twin Cities left me with more work than ever and, of course, I have to stay in Duluth every day from now until the election to make sure I shepherd all these multiplying tasks to fruition. Too bad for me that I’m going to have to leave town tonight until next Wednesday to attend a family funeral.

Now, why the heck did I just write that?

Oh, yeah! Now I remember! (Oh,thank you Moley…..I didn’t really need that hair) Its because I drove home late last night with my Prius packed with posters.

http://www.votelikeitcounts.com/images/PosterPackedPrius15perc.jpg

So, here I am with a thousand lawnsigns to pass but I won’t be here to pass them out.

Today, Friday, Sept 25, 2009, I will put a bunch of them in my patio for folks to pick up. (Don’t forget the wires – each sign needs two of them) But how about tomorrow and Sunday and Monday and Tuesday? Well, I can’t really leave them unsupervised for the next three days. (Goodbye Moloch. Thanks for the grooming) Some ne’re-do-well might sneak in and obliterate them. Not everyone in town agrees with me.

The simple fact is that I could use a little help. Send me an email. I’ll post more info on distribution as I receive it today – If – any help comes my way.

By the way I just read about how the flu is sweeping some neighboring school districts in the Trib. At our last LDV meeting one person worried about how quickly the flu could sweep the Duluth Schools which have been badly overcrowded this year as a result of Dr. Dixon’s rush to beat the School Board elections. We apparently have an unpublicized glut of classes with up to 40 students per class. Even if you don’t consider the bleak possibility of enhanced virus transmission that’s shocking news for its educational implications.

Kids stuck in a class of close to 40 other students will probably remember this as a lost year academically. That’s my take from this news report I heard yesterday on National Public Radio while driving home.

According to the expert interviewed:

“…There’s just a point at which teachers can’t really get to know the individual students, can’t teach the materials. Students split off into splinter groups and withdraw from the classroom interactions, and 43 is well into that range.”

And this doesn’t even take into account the H1N1 virus!

Please. Help with the lawnsigns. Our children’s health, education and our voting rights are all at stake. And don’t believe the District’s hype about lowering property taxes. Dig your property tax statements out and take a closer look. We are all paying through the nose for this miracle. And its only going to get worse. Dr. Dixon’s promise of low taxes has never considered the annual increases in valuations of homes. According to this story in the Trib you can expect your home to increase in taxable value by 3.7% each year for the next decade.

So, not even considering the taxes on your home this year how much will this annual increase affect your home’s taxable value? Stay tuned I’ll do a quick analysis and then abandon the blog for all the other tasks I’m rushing to attend to today.

Miracles

I’m so busy I can barely find time to enter a decent blog post. That makes it very gratifying when I find someone else’s writing that can fill the void.

This column in the Trib today by Gary Glass is right on target. It’s so good I’ve got to post it in its entirety:

School Board member’s view: Red plan funding no miracle

By: Gary Glass, Duluth News Tribune

Last week, the Duluth School Board voted to obligate district taxpayers for an additional $167.7 million in principal plus interest on the last third of the red plan (“Board approves last red plan bond sale,” Sept. 18). The board appears to be racing to sell the bonds and sign the last construction contracts before voters have a chance to elect new School Board members in November. Superintendent Keith Dixon has been assuring everyone no one can stop the red plan.

To make voters feel better, we have been told the red plan is a fiscal miracle that will almost pay for itself through savings. These savings are to come from energy efficiencies and the elimination of unnecessary staff.

The board was positively giddy to hear of the favorable rates available for bonds. It was as though the hand of God had blessed them. Why, our administrators even call the red plan’s finance document “the Bible.” Like its namesake, the document is mighty, authoritative and inerrant. It dictates a lockstep program to implement the red plan without the obligation of a public vote. There can be no compromises. “The Bible” must be followed through its complex legal web to give Johnson Controls its predetermined percentages of the total costs for the biggest school building project in Minnesota history.

The $35 million bonds plus $20 million in interest for 10 “like-new” schools must be repaid with operating funds and property sales. It will require $2.7 million per year to be drawn from the operations budget savings. That’s the equivalent of 30 full-time teachers lost to teaching each and every year for the next 20 years. Ah, but what about the savings? Even the Minnesota Department of Education didn’t buy the district’s hype that energy and staff savings for this $55 million and required $23 million to come from selling off property. If that doesn’t materialize, more teachers will have to be cut.

The School Board was needed only to rubber stamp a plan shrouded in mystery. Two years ago, the administration didn’t bother to show the initial red plan to the School Board when it was sent to the state education department for “review and comment.” Ditto for the latest $71 million piece covering the new Piedmont/Lincoln Park elementary and western middle schools. This review-and-comment document was sent to the state six months ago, but the School Board got its first look last week.

I categorically disagreed with School Board Chairman Tim Grover’s explanation in a commentary Sept. 1 “Glass confuses the issues”) that my analysis of the red plan’s finances was inaccurate. To the contrary. Grover took as gospel that promised savings are assured. That assurance is built on faith, faith based on unseen public data the district administration refuses to provide.

Despite being a School Board member – a minority of one – I have been denied access to public data (including the basis for the review-and-comment documents) that could prove whether district promises have merit. Pardon my skepticism, but when a salesman refuses to offer proof of claims I won’t buy.

Unfortunately, the district’s attorneys discovered a glitch in the law to force customers to buy without having any say. My skepticism is fed by withheld information, closed agenda meetings and ill-informed decision-making. I fail to see how turning teachers into brick and mortar will help our children learn.

Maybe Superintendent Dixon is wrong. Maybe bigger, crowded classes are not what new School Board members will support. Maybe more teachers are needed to close the achievement gaps and implement more effective teaching techniques for better student outcomes.

A new School Board majority could adopt an alternative plan like Plan B, which emphasizes teaching first and then building repair. That can only happen if a new school Board majority is elected on Nov. 3.

Gary Glass is an At Large member of the Duluth School Board.

Little Red Hen

I had another of a series of busy days yesterday. My first order of business was to put some final touches on the website for my new cause: Vote Like it Counts.

Today I will be traveling to the Twin Cities where, among other things, I’ll pay a call on the Appellate Court Administrator. On my way home I’ll pick up the new lawnsigns my organization has ordered for distribution through Duluth prior to the election.

http://www.votelikeitcounts.com/images/signimage.jpg

Send me an email and tell me how many you would like. After tomorrow you can pick them up at my house or we will have them delivered to you.

When things settle down I may write a reply to the column in the Trib a couple weeks ago that said claimed I had declared war on Duluth’s children. Oh Really! If the Trib would just send a reporter to cover the Red Plan induced chaos at Woodland Middle School it might be a lot clearer just who it is that has declared war on our children. But that’s a story better kept under wraps. How convenient for the war’s mastermind that print media is shrinking out-of-sight and relevance.

I’ve got another four weeks to play the Little Red Hen. Who would like to eat my bread? That is, besides the Duluth School Board.

Martell to the Rescue

In European history there was a Martel who is credited with saving Europe from an alien invasion. If the contents of this wonderful letter-to-the-editor one of his descendents may be living in Duluth (only with two l’s) .

If the debt the Duluth school district wants to foist upon its residents wasn’t so large (nearly half a billion dollars over 20 years) and the consequences for kids wasn’t so serious (with the losses of Central High School, neighborhood schools, teachers and programs), the saintly terms the News Tribune Opinion page used to describe the incumbent School Board members would be almost laughable.

The Sept. 13 Our View editorial – “Toss ’em out? Not so fast” – was biased and unfair to the opposition.

Incumbents Ann Wasson and Nancy Nilsen, in particular, may have solid citizen credentials, but that doesn’t mean they deserve re-election. Wasson and Nilsen would’ve supported building schools on the moon to get what they wanted. Nilsen wanted the preservation of Denfeld; Wasson wanted a new East High School, where Greyhound tradition could continue to flourish. Both saw the millions the red plan would pump into their pet projects as guarantees east and west would have high schools into perpetuity. Beautiful Central? Who cares?

The editorial implied because some challengers weren’t seeking endorsements from the usual power cliques, or were having a hard time juggling daily responsibilities with campaigning, they were not quite legitimate.

The News Tribune put itself on a very high pedestal of judgment. But its reporting has been less than stellar. Just look at the dearth of information about Plan B:?interviewing 10 people at random and chances are not a single one will have a clue about the alternative to the red plan – if they’ve heard of it at all.

Concerned residents worked hard and even put considerable amounts of their own money on the line to give voters, who were denied a vote on the red plan, a voice in the process. The News Tribune should have given them better coverage.

Loren Martell

Duluth

I give the DNT a lot of grief, just as Mr. Martell has over its coverage of the controversy. That’s not to suggest that they haven’t covered it. I’ve got a lot of clippings in folders that show its been written about it. What I can’t criticize them for is their willingness to let readers beat them up over their coverage and editorial positions. Good luck finding such criticism in the Proctor Journal or some other weekly owned and operated by the same family. (Of course such papers hardly exist any more. Forum Communications and its ilk have bought most of them up.)

What a busy day

My allies have no idea how much I pour into this cause. I’m fried. Look for my ad in the Reader Weekly this weekend. And that was just one tiny little sliver of my day. Its not done yet. Look out world.

Aw shucks

Last evening I found myself watching an old movie I’d wanted to see for a long time, A Face in the Crowd.

It was Andy Griffith’s first movie and to my surprise it was also directed by Elia Kazan, the guy who spent the rest of his life living down having ratted out Hollywood pinks to the House UnAmerican Activities Committee during the 1950’s. Like many who have had to atone for their weaknesses (Teddy Kennedy comes to mind) Kazan did some of his best work afterward making a couple outstanding movies including the transcendent On the Waterfront. (Take that Al Netland!)

It was a long movie for its era but I watched it straight through. It was about a small time smooth talker from the sticks with a gift for gab who knows how to take advantage of a good opportunity when one falls into his lap. Think Citizen Cane or All the King’s Men. That opportunity is television as it was in the 1950’s. Even now it has me reflecting on the uses to which politicians or sleaze balls can put television. Fox News and the country charmer’s “Cracker Barrel” have some remarkable parallels.

Andy Griffith’s character’s used an “aw shucks” sort of self effacement to win over converts. I just wish I could expose a fraud as easily as Patricia Neal did in the movie’s last act when she turned on the sound as the credits of the Cracker Barrel were rolling and Andy ridiculed the loyal audience that he had duped.

Keeping us tied up in court for years

That is what Dr. Dixon has been telling folks he’ll do with LDV and the taxpayers to discourage his silent dissenters and embolden his resurgent supporters. Big corporations have done that for years to wear out critics. So it was with some trepidation that I opened a yellow envelope from the Clerk of the State Appellate Court Friday night when I noticed it sticking out of the mail box as my wife and I were heading off to dine out. I must say my wife was a bit put out that I was delaying us by opening it up. It was one more intrusion of the LDV fight into a weekend or evenings which I’ve tried to keep as family time.

Consequently, I didn’t read the darned thing very carefully. It told me that a transcript of Sixth District hearings had not been provided to the Appellate Court. There was tough talk about sanctions or dismissing the case. The letter was sent to all five plaintiffs who are still looking for a new attorney. Of course, this is the sort of administrative detail a bunch of novices would miss. I hastily tossed the letter aside and made up my mind that it was a detail I could deal with on Monday.

Just because we have no attorney hasn’t stopped the legal work. The day before I’d been sent a fat package by the Appellant’s attorneys which laid out their case to the Appeals court appealing Judge Hylden’s jurisdiction. I’d been too busy working on a more polished book cover for my tell-all book about the conning of Duluth.

The Tan Man was over both Friday and Saturday night and the little Dickens didn’t give us the best night’s sleep. Last night Claudia and I both crashed before the evening news which guaranteed I’d wake up early this morning. I woke during a dream about attorneys drowning me with a huge legal brief. It was dark outside being the eve of the fall equinox. I got out of bed fed the cats and retrieved the letter and the Appeals brief that I had been sent as my own “pro se” attorney.

To my relief the letter was not about my failure to provide a transcript. It was sent to me per legal courtesy by the Court Clerk so I would know that the School District’s attorneys had failed to provide the Appeals Court with the required transcripts. Anyone can make a mistake and I’m just delighted that this time it wasn’t mine.

Then I began wading through the brief. Its an inch thick but only 25 pages of it contain legal arguments. The rest is mostly previously submitted affidavits and such. I only got through five pages of it which mostly amounted to a faulty and prejudiced history of events leading up to the initial court hearings. It was full of it. Just full of it. Among its misrepresentations I found:

Let Duluth Vote was described as an organization dedicated to stopping the long range plan not an organization dedicated to winning back the voters right to vote on it.

Gary Glass was the ringleader of the five plaintiffs.

The School District was innocently unaware of any attempt on our part to organize a legal challenge to their vote theft.

It was a colossal crock.

Now, Now, Harry. Ease up. You haven’t read the last twenty pages where the legal stuff kicks in and writs of certiorari are thrown around like Max Sennett pies. It could get very murky again. OK OK. I’m fine now.

As I read it I couldn’t help thinking that the Appeals Court may not buy the District’s arguments. A more accurate telling of the LDV side of things might be enough to scuttle the defense all by itself. After-all, our initial concern was the loss of the right to vote. That was the legal theory we hoped to develop. I’ll bet the Appeals Court would find that somewhat mitigating all by itself even though it is absolutely irrelevant to the issue of whether the sweetheart contract was unlawful.

I also began thinking that it might be our turn to appeal one of Judge Hylden’s orders – the removal of our attorney Craig Hunter. After all, Craig was only removed for appearance’s sake. The Judge who removed him said he saw no evidence that Hunter had done anything wrong or gotten communications that he shouldn’t have been privy to. That was no surprise to me. I found several folks after Craig was removed who commented that Mr. Hunter was “Mr. Ethics.”

All the email I provided to the Defense I provided because Hunter advised me to release it even though he didn’t think the District had any right to it. He simply said my holding it back would likely result in a new round of objections about our failure to cooperate. He should have been more concerned as it turned out. It has been flailed about (a few tiny samples of it) to suggest an alternative, Bizarro World history of the lead up to our legal challenge.

http://creativegreenius.files.wordpress.com/2008/08/350px-tales_of_the_bizarro_world_1.jpg

Conveniently left unpublicized are hundreds of emails detailing likely misdeeds by the School Board, JCI and the School Administration. Indeed, I’ve suspected that the attorneys for the District have been eager to suppress all those emails. When a reporter recently went to the District Court to plumb the files she was surprised to discover that my CD of the email wasn’t in the files.

I didn’t find it all that surprising. It was much more useful to leak half a dozen snippets of my email rather than a exculpating boatload of it. In fact, I told Gary Glass prior to releasing it to the School District that if I had my druthers I’d put the whole lot of it on the Internet for anyone to read. Gary, who knew his email was what they District really prized, wasn’t all that thrilled with my suggestion so I didn’t do it. But that was then.

I promised weeks ago to begin releasing some of the more interesting email but I just haven’t had time. Maybe I should start looking for that time.

Recently I’ve gotten a bit more communicative on the ole blog here and perhaps coincidentally the negotiations from the other side on a dismissal seem to have found new life. Hmmmmmmm.

If you build it they will come …

… even if you don’t play ball.

I haven’t looked at the blog stats for almost a month since I swallowed my tongue – or maybe that would be my fingers. I didn’t think anyone would keep looking at the blog while it was neglected and frankly I got so used to lots of visitors I really didn’t want to see the stats shrink. Well the critical stat has held up amazingly well. In September so far I’m averaging 202 visits a day despite three solid weeks of nada.

I’ve got lots to blog about and I’m father behind than ever so there will be a fair amount to look forward to but my faithful friends may have to wait till after the weekend. After a busy day my wife and I got the brilliant idea of taking our little Tan Man to the movie based on the book Claudia bought for him a few weeks ago, “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.” It was a movie my book jacket would have felt at home watching.

It was our little guy’s first movie in a theater. He sat through it wide eyed. There will be more movies in his future. I think we will go on a picnic in a state park tomorrow. Two weeks ago it was Gooseberry Falls so we will strike out in a different direction tomorrow. I’m sure glad summer finally decided to make an appearance.

Ain’t it the truth?

A long time member of Let Duluth Vote recently dug into his pockets and paid for these lawnsigns. This one is on West Second street next to the San Marco Apartments. Its just a couple blocks west of the Central Administration Building where the sign purchaser has repeatedly plead with the School Board to permit a vote on the Red Plan. They could not hear him for two years so now he’s checking to see if their vision is any better.

http://www.votelikeitcounts.com/images/Votethemoff.jpg