$Obamacare vs. $Bushcare

The GOP Congressmen who are frothing at the mouth over the cost of Obamacare fell all over themselves to vote for Bushcare: a comparison:

However, Medicare Part D, like much of Medicare, is likely to grow much faster than the new health care entitlement that went into law. Therefore, if the new health care entitlement grows at a rate of say 6-7 percent per year, whereas the prescription drug benefit grows at rate of say 9-10 percent per year, it will turn out that around 2040, the Republican entitlement will be costing more than “ObamaCare.”

I’m going to Kansas City

I know something about Missouri’s big city public schools. I took a tour of one a decade ago in St. Louis. It was the only time I had to walk though a metal detector to get into a school.

Two Red Plan stalwarts jumped on the recent news that KC will be closing 29 public schools as proof of the brilliance of the Duluth School Board and the Red Plan. Here’s some of what Robin Down’s had to say:

I read with interest the March 12 article, “Massive school closures planned in Kansas City.” Kansas City is like Duluth, with declining enrollment that has reduced its student population by more than 50 percent and with far too much infrastructure for the new reality.

There are a couple problems with this comparisson. First Dr. Dixon and company have complained for years that we have 25% more capacity than we need and according to them it follows that we must close schools so as not to pay for too much wasted energy to heat the space. They have suggested that doing this will allow us to reduce our staff accordingly. Yet the Red Plan space will only cut half of this “excess” space while building some energy consuming space like the glass covered jewel at the new Denfeld.

Kansas City is a special case because a federal judge required that some billions be spent to fix up the City’s failing schools. It was spent but the schools continued to fail, so much so that the money is all gone. Closing 29 schools is the only way to fill in the remaining sink hole.

The Duluth Schools were never in this situation. Simply closing a high school would have addressed the space problems. That’s not what the School Board opted to do. What they did instead was cut $5 million in staff and decree that this cut will continue every year for the next twenty years to help pay for the new buildings. I would guess that at least half of this staff cut is over an above any potential savings from having fewer schools. You can count on increased class sizes.

If our schools resemble the KC schools it is only because of the ineptness of our School Board. I think their Red Plan has already cost about 10% of the District’s enrollment. Several hundred students who once open enrolled into our schools from outside the district have returned to their old districts and perhaps a thousand of our students have fled. That’s the Kansas City model all right.

Ear to ear with Obama

Commander in Chief in Afghanistan
A couple days ago a very good friend who is Afghanistan sent me several photos that he had taken of President Obama’s appearance before our troops. They were obviously shoulder to shoulder. Today I found the New York Times photo of the President and low and behold my friend is in the picture, although he is largely obscured by the President. But I’d recognize his ears and hairline anywhere. In the photo his left ear is a quarter of an inch above President Obama’s right ear.

I’m not sure how sensitive my friend’s situation is so I won’t mention his name. He’s not in the military but he has sent me some pointed commentaries on our situation there. Like me he seems to be a bit of an agnostic about how well things are going. For those who know me they will be unsurprised to learn that agnosticism is my favored attitude about complex issues. Skepticism is the best defense against other people’s certainties.

My friend told me that the military folks in the audience raved about their Commander and Chief’s speech.

Garlicland notices

I haven’t looked at my “stats” page for a year but in the early morning light I just checked it out to see whose looking at this blog. For some strange reason I get more hits from Russia than any other nation besides the US. Its waaaaay ahead of any other nation. This makes me a bit nervous as I can only imagine a bunch of Russian hackers phishing my blog in a search for victims to scam.

And then I saw that I got three hits from the internal email site from Garland Roofing. Someone must have noticed my post on their continuing success at selling ice cubes to Eskimos.

I’m not sure which of these visitors make me more nervous.

Meanwhile up North

Not mentioned in the Duluth News Tribune – JCI’s unhappy civil war in the St. Louis County School District. From the Timberjay:

The school district, at this point, does not need to be in a hurry. It doesn’t face the financial crisis they advertised during the election. Waiting another year and taking a second look at the viability of maintaining the three schools would be the smart move for the board right now. They should not let Johnson Controls push them into making another rash decision that could flush more taxpayer dollars down the rat hole. The board got themselves in trouble by listening to Johnson Controls in the first place. They finally need to start doing some due diligence on their own. They’ve been led by the nose by JCI for too long already.

Red News News News

We’re enjoying a little burst of Red News as the School Board pushes to rebuild the district overnight while pushing kids and staff around to accommodate contractors.

From yesterday’s Trib: Congdon Children to be moved lock stock and barrel.

Now, it’s likely they’ll be moved to Woodland Middle School for the 2012-13 school year.

Construction planned for the school as part of the Red Plan originally was set for this summer and next, when students are on vacation. But the district probably will change course, moving the students to Woodland for a year so the empty building can be renovated and have an addition tacked on, said Kerry Leider, the district’s facilities director.

From Today: Assistant Superintendent Joe Hill hired by Dr. Dixon to replace two Administrators will leave Duluth after 3 years. Good thing too since Dr. Dixon didn’t consider him a “good fit” for the Duluth Schools. Dr. Dixon probably wanted a more menacing guard dog to keep his sheep in place.

“A site visit to Duluth public schools on Monday affirmed Dr. Hill’s strong leadership abilities and his exceptional visionary approach to education,” a Tuesday announcement on the district’s Web site read. “He will be an excellent match with our school district’s culture and mission.”

Also: Diogenes soft on democracy quote quashed for East High. For my part I think the zoning board’s thinking is flawed. On the other hand I’m delighted that such an important symbolic message that was never discussed by the public (due to Dr. Dixon’s haste and top down decision making) has been stopped. It was a lousy choice just as apropos to the Third Reich as to the United States.

The proposed letters of the inscription, impressed into the concrete, would have stood 18 inches tall, and city staff held that it constituted a 140-square-foot wall sign, far exceeding the 32-square-foot size limitation laid out by Duluth’s sign ordinance.

Also: The planning Commission quashes a more thorough environmental study of the new Western Middle School to hasten its construction. Mike Akervik who couldn’t wait to speed up the Ordean project expresses concern about Western project.

Mike Akervik, chairman of the Planning Commission, cast the sole dissenting vote, citing concerns about air quality, stemming from trains that regularly roll through the area.

Health Reform – taking on all comers

I’m glad Obamacare has passed. Its hideous, of course, but it reminds me of Churchill’s comment about democracy: That its the worst possible form of government except for all the others. Ultimately I support it because, as one analyst noted, health care is a much smaller percent of the national spending in all the European free market economies where it has been imposed as part of their socialistic welfare systems.

Many of its best features have been incorporated into the final bill in an effort to address some of the Republican Party’s most virulent criticism. Many of its worst flaws were incorporated into the final bill in an effort to blunt some of the Republican Party’s most virulent criticism. Otherwise the Republican Party stood on the sidelines while the bill was passed in the House of Representatives last night. It remains to be seen whether their efforts in the Senate will be of any more consequence. Continue reading

Blissful ignorance

Those of us who have challenged the Red Plan have often wondered whether the Superintendent of Schools has masked the feelings of the people of Duluth From his adoring School Board. For ages criticism of the Red Plan in letters to the editor was far better represented in the Trib than letters in support of it. The names of people who criticized it kept surprising me and most were unfamiliar to me. In contrast the names on the letters of Red Plan supporters kept showing up over and over and seemed relatively limited.

For the eight years I served on the School Board our Administration honored the policy book which required them to make every letter sent to Board members part of the public record and gave Board members copies. Many of us in opposition to the Red Plan could not believe it when Dr. Dixon’ Board loyalists told us their letters ran heavily in support of the Red Plan.

I was just told that as an experiment a few months back, skeptical Red Plan opponents kept track of how many of their letters to the School Board were made part of the public record. Over a one month period they knew of twenty critical letters that were sent in to the Board. Only five were actually shared with the School Board.

Ignoramuses are bliss.

Joe Hill – as live as you or me

My last post short changed Joe Hill. Joe has been the nice guy I described. I had heard from others that he was also a fellow that the principals trusted to talk to. In a District suffering as much trauma as Duluth I’m sure this has been a God send. This was not the kind of Assistant Superintendent Dr. Dixon wanted. He wanted an enforcer.

As in Faribault before where Dr. Dixon cut down whole swaths of administrators who did not fall in line Dr. Dixon has chased out some of Duluth’s better administrators. A couple of them who have left to work for JCI have praised Dixon to high heaven but I take their testimonials with a grain of salt.

I am a hopeless believer in trust. Dr. Dixon has damaged the trust of so many in Duluth that it will take the death of the oldest generation before it can be restored. It will not matter if most of his new schools come eventually to be regarded as a success. People don’t like being forced to do the right thing at the point of a gun. And it remains to be seen if spending half a billion on schools at the expense of teachers has been the right thing.

Joe Hill had no idea what he was stepping into when he arrived in Duluth. He was not willing to play the goon and this earned him his walking papers. I can think of few things that more highly recommend Joe for a Superintendency…….for any District that places trust and decency high on its list of desirable attributes.

Birds of a feather

I met with a long time school board member from another Minnesota District this afternoon who has been squawking about his school board’s spendthrift ways. It seems that one of the contractors who got a job through JCI on the Red Plan has also set up shop to help bleed his District too though on a much smaller scale.

Its going to be supplying the materials for a couple million bucks worth of new roofs that were still under warranty, were in good repair, without an inspection, with a fixed bid that prevented contractors with equivalent materials from bidding five to eight years before the roofs were expected to fail and with a reputation of charging 20% or more of what similar roofs generally cost.

As he’s been digging around he got a state auditor to issue an opinion that found a lot of fault with the way the District went about getting the bid for instance by advertising it in as obscure a way as possible so that other contractors wouldn’t catch site of it and complain.

The Board member has contacted other School Districts in Minnesota and slowly accumulated evidence of similar abusive situations with this building supplier. In one case, in Chanhasson, when these fixed (they are called “propietory” bids) were unsealed one contractor underbid the other contractors for a roof by a whopping $400,000.00. This contractor simply didn’t use the propiatory specs that were required of every other contractor using this company’s roofing materials because, as could be easily demonstrated, other much less costly materials were just as good if not better.

When Chanhasson’s buyer, so the story goes, accepted the less expensive bid the contractors raised hell and he was fired for saving his District nearly half a million dollars.

The company is Garland Roofing which won a similar controversial bid to roof Duluth’s Stowe school well before that building’s roof was expected to fail. JCI selected them.

There is nothing new under the sun

I just ran across this fascinating piece about what looks like the precusors of blogs. It begins:

Blogging brings out the hit-and-run element in communication. Bloggers tend to be punchy. They often hit below the belt; and when they land a blow, they dash off to another target. Pow! The idea is to provoke, to score points, to vent opinions, and frequently to gossip.

Anyone thinking about the function and future of blogs ought to give their history some attention. It points out that 18th century newspapers were little more than blogs themselves in that they consisted of paragraphs that were unrelated to each other, untitled, and without any indication of authorship. Each was a tidbit of information, often salacious or vindictive but always informative even if unfair or in error.

They were rampant in France before the Revolution and the observations about them reinforced the short article I read last night in my American Heritage Magazine about Ben Franklin’s successful efforts to prompt a French alliance that helped the colonies win the war of independence.

I dreamed I saw

Dr. Dixon’s right hand man Joe Hill may be leaving. According to the DNT he’s one of the top choices to superintend the fastest growing School District in Minnesota, Sartell.

I hinted when I first heard about his application that he was like a rat jumping ship. That’s not fair. Joe is an OK guy who simply is doing what his school board and his boss have directed him to do. In fact, I can’t think of any experience that would better prepare a Superintendent to lead a fast growing district. I gather that he gets along well with the principals and other administrators under him. He is certainly a personable fellow. I did chat with him briefly shortly after he was hired and even joked with him a bit by singing that great old union turned pop song Joe Hill.

In honor of Joe’s surviving a tough job I’d offer a few changes in its lyrics: Continue reading

Charter Schools

Among my “allies” in the anti Red Plan world is a fellow who has been madder than hell at me for a decade. He blames me for bringing in the Edison schools and killing his own children’s school Birchwood Elementary in the middle of Duluth Heights. He used to lambaste me in the paper having done so as I recall last year.

He wrote a letter to the editor this week which I mostly agree with. He concludes by warning that however we deal with this Red Plan we shouldn’t let Central High School be sold to the Edison schools.

This is all a preface to what’s become a long post about what to make of charter schools. Continue reading


Speaking of the cult, I just took a look at the damning post linked to in David Frum’s blog.

After the first seven or eight paragraphs of muck I skipped down to the people who replied to the post. It contained a mixture of dittoheads snearing that liberals were worse and people who were offended at Hannity.

I remember when “conservatives” heaped loads of ridicule on liberals for making excuses for all sorts of bad behavior like the crimes committed by the poor and underprivileged. But when one of their own scams orphans its strictly see-no-evil time.

The last bastion…

Beck is hawking gold and now this on Sean Hannity.

Sometimes I worry that the GOP’s punditocracy is a Scientology-like cult. But then stories like this make it clear that a lot of these guys are just PT Barnum wannabes who aren’t giving us suckers (even children of fallen soldiers) an even break.

Driven to suicide?

I count Eric Ringsred as a friend. We haven’t talked since about two years ago when he called me out of the blue and asked me, since I like to sing, if I’d be interested in getting a bunch of kids from church together to go Christmas caroling. Eric wears his heart on his sleeve. He also puzzles and confounds conformists. Letting a strip club into his Norshore theater is just one example of this.

Yesterday his tennant Jim Gradisher committed suicide. Eric, who feels a little responsible for his friend’s death has lashed out at others he feels are responsible. He called Brandon Stahl, a DNT reporter I rather favor, and blasted him then sent an accusatory letter to many City leaders which Stahl includes in full on his blog. Thankfully Stahl does not take issue with Eric. He simply lets Ringsred’s letter speak for itself.

Its not popular sticking up for folks in the skin trade. Another of my political acquaintances, Jerry Arnold trained the Federal Government on Duluth’s previous absentee porn lord Ferris Alexander. I’ve got my own complicated thoughts about the skin trade especially now that so many people are offering theirs up for free on youtube videos.

Last year I was embarrassed to jump to a very wrong conclusion about Mr. Gradisher when the Trib reported a dead body had been found at his home. At the time he was in the news every other day and I was sure he had committed suicide and uploaded a post suggesting that the Trib’s stories had driven him to it. I was wrong. I was premature.

Critiquing a news story

I was impressed with this letter to the editor today. It points out how hard it can be to follow the consequences of poorly explained decisions made by the Duluth School Board. I put most of the blame on the Administration which has never felt that telling a straight story in any way benefited them or their friends in control of the School Board. Some of it I blame on misplaced trust by folks who can not conceive of School Administrators as being anything other than committed to children. And finally it may reflect that a new reporter is having to learn a great deal about a complex story starting from scratch.

The letter does a good job explaining how the reading public is shortchanged no matter what the reason. It begins:

I know the News Tribune newsroom is running on a skeleton staff, and I know the subject matter is at times complex, but I have to draw attention to inconsistencies and contradictory reporting in the March 12 story, “School district plans to cut 30 jobs.”

The story reported that 30 non-teaching positions face elimination. What are “non-teaching positions?” Clearly, there’s a definition, referenced in the story and within School Board parlance. It begs to be explained and, in fact, is central to the story. It’s actually in the headline.