“Very truly yours,”

Harry R. Welty
2101 E. 4th Street
Duluth, MN 55812-1217

Re: Welty v. ND #709 and JCI
Court File No.: 69DU-CV-09-758

Dear Mr. Welty:

You will recall that some months ago you signed a Stipulation and Agreement which was then presented to the court in order to achieve dismissal of the lawsuit against ISD 709 in which you were a plaintiff. Part of the Agreement states:

“All five plaintiffs agree not to defame or disparage the School District…. or any of their current and former officers, board members, administrators, directors, employees, contractors, consultants, etc. as it relates to the facts and circumstances arising from or related in any manner to the lawsuit” —the agreement continue: “Parties will refrain from any future comment, discussion, or publication, public or private, whatsoever, regarding the lawsuit, the dismissal, the merits of the lawsuit or the viability of the lawsuit. None of the parties shall mention the lawsuit, its resolution, or purported merits in any communications, including but not limited to internet or electronic communications, blogs, books, articles, press release, or other written or verbal statements or publications other than (required by law)”.

We write on behalf of ISD 709 because you have engaged in actions and made statements which violate your contractual obligations as represented to the court by your signature on the Agreement to dismissal.

While there are a number of examples, we note the following in particular Your online commentary has specifically mentioned the lawsuit. There are dozens of direct references, in fact, to the lawsuit. In addition, you make numerous indirect references to the lawsuit, which violate the Agreement as well.

We demand that you immediately cease all mention of the lawsuit, direct or indirect. You need to remove all posted current and past commentary and delete the content about the suit/disputeon your “Let Duluth Vote” site. Finally, some of your writings suggest you will write a book or pamphlet about the LRFP. Note that you are forbidden by the Agreement to address the topic of the lawsuit in any verbal or written forum, including a book, pamphlet, or electronic venue.

The Agreement which you signed also provides that “Should the School District…be required to enforce this Agreement against any of the five plaintiffs, the plaintiff who has violated the Agreement must indemnify the School District for the costs and fees incurred in the enforcement of this Agreement, and any applicable damages resulting from any breach of this Agreement.

Thus, if you continue to violate these portions of the Agreement, the School District will pursue enforcement of the Agreement and its right to recover its expenses in doing so directly from you.

Thank you for your attention to this concern.

Very truly yours,

Susan E. Torgerson

Cc: William Hanson

My reply to Ms. Torgerson: Continue reading

Cravaack won’t endorse

I get emails from Dems since I began caucusing with them a few rounds back but I also get emails from various GOP organizations longing for my past contributions to be resumed. I don’t usually get emails like this one:

Chip has not nor will he endorse any other candidates whether it be for house, senate, statewide or judicial. His own campaign for US Congress is demanding his full attention and focus. We wish all candidates the best of luck as they work hard to win their own elections… except for Mark Dayton.

Anne Neu
Campaign Manager
Cravaack for Congress

This one came from Oberstar’s GOP challenger. Cravaack has gotten more of a tail wind than most GOP candidates who challenged Cong Oberstar in the past with the help of the Tea Party. I’m surprised that he felt it necessary to withhold endorsements of other Republican candidates. I’m not sure his endorsement would do anyone any good but perhaps someone asked him for one and he now feels it important to let everyone know he is selfishly working on his campaign alone. So much for being part of a party.

I wonder how a DFL legislative candidate (me) got on his email list?

Waiting for Superman

On my way out of town yesterday on business I listened to this radio interview. Davis Guggenheim is the producer of an important new documentary “Waiting for Superman.” Its got the teacher’s unions riled up and several annoyed teachers phoned in to whine about his beating teachers up. As he took pains to explain he has nothing but sympathy for the challenges teachers face.

Perhaps my biggest gripe about teachers in union controlled schools is their unwillingness to accept the idea that changing the school system they work in could make schools infinitely better for children.

Schools can work much better and can probably do so without burning out teachers, although that is the challenge. Unions do seem to stand in the way of reform and generally advocate throwing more money at teachers as the solution to all out problems. I think Duluth teachers have been ill served, even sold out, by their union which deferred to the construction trades who were desperate for work no matter what the Red Plan would do for our schools and to the teachers.

Guggenheim mentions “thin contracts” a great idea in my view. Laments the Unions attempting to kill off the confrontational new Washington DC Superintendent of schools and has lots of excellent observations about how some charters (about one in five he says) and KIPP schools are paving the way to a Renaissance in public education. Its worth a listen.

Is LHB Lake County’s JCI?

I heard an interesting story yesterday from a Lake County businessmen. He told me that LHB in Duluth had underwritten the last three or four attempts to pass a bond to build a new school in Two Harbors. I asked him how he knew this and he said he got it from sources in Lake County’s government. School bonds failed year after year for the project that LHB was set to design and build. Many people in the community felt the relatively recent high school built in the 1960’s should be fixed up instead for a much smaller cost of around $2 million.

After a succession of earlier referendums failed the District engineered an election in the summer months to insure that Snowbirds and cabin owners would be away from the voting booth. This last time the bond passed, narrowly as I recall.

So LHB got its school built and it has been an albatross around the School District’s neck ever since. It has made it impossible to get angry tax payers to vote for operational levies. This has meant that the new school’s swimming pool had to be closed and more recently left the community with a four-day school week.

Poverty, Bonds and Profits

Three items from the news today:

A long time complaint of anti Red Planners has been that it is being foisted on a relatively poor population. If the survey reported by Today’s Trib is accurate then Duluth has seen an increase in people living in poverty from one in five Duluthians in 2006 to one in four in 2010. For those who pay regressive property tax or whose landlords must raise rents to pay them, the Red Plan burden has become more oppressive.

On NPR there was an interview with the Wall Street Journal’s David Wessel about why so few municipalities declare bankruptcy. The lesson Duluth should learn from this is that there is little chance of escaping the Red Plan’s debt burden. If the school district did declare bankruptcy I presume the State would have to pay it off with its “full faith and credit.” Before that happened the School Board could pull out Lake County’s four day school week.

And finally on the brighter side there was a story from the Trib’s bygones section. Forty years ago today it was announced that the DECC had finally turned a profit in 1970 having suffered four year’s of annual losses from its opening in 1966. I recall in the 1970’s that the City’s ski hill, Spirit Mountain, also suffered a number of years of losses before finally turning a profit. Perhaps the municipal Great Lakes Acquarium will also someday turn a profit. (Its current losses have recently been reduced a little) Someday, the Red Plan might actually pay out some dividends if students begin re-enrolling into the Duluth Schools from outside Duluth as they did in the days before the Red Plan. Don’t look for that to happen any time soon.

A fair trade

Former School Board member Joan Peterson isn’t thrilled to have had the expanded East Parking lot impose on her back yard but compliments the District for its concern and helpfulness. She may have lost some beloved trees but with a junior high moving in she will now enjoy closed lunch periods and no high school students will crawl over the neighborhood at all hours of the day. They will now be crawling over the Ordean neighborhood as will the cars they drive to school. The trees will be replaced and the quiet will remain. Not a bad deal.

It gets better

Some of the kids I found most interesting in high school never returned because those qualities that made them interesting also kept them apart.

Some of them were probably gay. I only knew one kid in high school that I suspected was gay. He was in the class ahead of me. Our two classes had nearly 900 students between them. If 5%, about 50, of my fellow students were gay they kept it well hidden from me for good reason. They would have been treated with no mercy. That’s been changing.

Twelve years ago when my daughter was a student at East High she confronted some bullies who were harassing a gay kid.

The logo above belongs to a website organized by LGBT’s to create youtubes explaining to possibly suicidal high school kids to hang in there because life gets better. I’ve paid particular attention to gays from grade school on and their experience today compared to my youth makes it clear that life has gotten better.

1.3 + 1.7 = ?, 6.5 + 6.5 = ?

School Board member Ann Wasson does her math a little differently than Art Johnston.

If you get a 1% increase in pay next year and a 2% increase the year after that second year will be a 3% increase over the year before the contract was negotiated. Same for the Health Insurance increase. (6.5 + 6.5 = 13)

You would have to look very hard through Duluth (or anywhere in the US for that matter) to find any workers getting an annual 6.5% increase in health care costs. As I said before such an increase will only lead to layoffs. Board member Wasson has probably paid little attention to the drama in the City of Duluth over the cost of health care. If she had she might realize that what she has given away will only lead to travail. That she gave so much away a year before negotiations had to begin was indeed improvident.

Not only is the Red Plan bonding set to come due but the current Board has a one time gift from the Federal Government of $2 million which will not likely be renewed with the prevailing Tea Partying climate.

Double dipper

I gave my critic Paul Goosen’s reply to a post of mine space and spared it any rebuttal. Paul off handedly claimed that my original post was full of inaccuracies. Today’s story about the Edison School Expansion points out one of them. I said Paul was once the head of the entity in charge of building the new school. In fact, he is still in charge of the building.

Many supporters of the Red Plan hoped it would draw students back from other schools to ISD 709. Paul Goosen’s support for the Red Plan, which is driving students into Edison, means Paul wins no matter who gains students. The new Edison will be able to accommodate several hundred more ISD 709 students at the same time new Red Plan school rooms are being built for them. That’s $296 million for ISD 709 construction (all locally generated from property taxes) and $19 million for Edison (all generated from the state through state income and sales taxes).

As a friend of Edison I have no gripes about Charters in general or Edison in particular. One other things stood out for me in this story – the price tag.

Edision is spending $19 million for 1,200 students.

The Duluth District now has far fewer than 10,000 students. Assuming that the enrollment goes back up to ten grand after the completion of the Red Plan let’s go ahead and use that figure and compare spending between the two districts.

10,000 would give Duluth 8.3 times as many students as Edison. If Red Plan spending came in at the same rate as Edison’s project the Red Plan would only cost $157 million rather than $296 million.

If you use a more accurate enrollment figure of 9,000 (and that may be generous) for ISD 709 the difference is all the more glaring. That would be 7.5 times $19 million or $142.5 million. That’s less than half the cost of the Red Plan. We should have Edison not Johnson Controls in charge of the Red Plan.

Good luck getting a new excess levy passed

Its not only the Red Plan that has cost teacher’s jobs. Its the new teacher contract.

On July 20, the board passed a $63 million teacher-labor contract. Teachers were given 3.1 percent pay raises and 13 percent medical benefit increases. They now have 100 percent of their health premiums paid with zero deductible. Most of their dental is paid, too.

This compares to a 0 percent increase for city workers the past three years and high co-pays.

Despite the District’s cry of insolvency the District managed to conclude a new contract without the help of the School Board that was a lot more generous than the City has been in contracts with City employees.

Voters are likely to remember this the next time the District cries poverty and asks for more local property tax increases.

Post sale sale’s pitch

When I was in college the fraternity I belonged to had a few shortages of pledges. (It was back in the Animal House years and frats weren’t very popular) As the Fraternity house was owned by a trust set up by fraternity alums the fraternity needed enough tenants (fraternity brother renters) to pay the bills and mortgage. I recall one occasion when we ran low on renters (brothers) and had to put on a dog and pony show for the alumnae to prove we were going to be in the financial pink. Our eloquent President put together a presentation which glossed over our fiscal weaknesses and played up big plans to bring more fraternity membes and their dues and rents into the fraternity. Much of it was smoke and mirrors but it was a good sell and the alums stopped bugging us. much of the Red Plan reminds me of the dog and pony show from my college days.

A few months back Dr. Dixon sat down with the Trib’s editorial board and trumpeted the great savings of the Red Plan and the imminent realization of $32 million. The touted savings all supposedly came from the tremendous low bids the District got on its Red Plan contracts. The Editorial Board bit the hook like a starving trout.

I was a candidate for the State Senate back then and bad news from the District would only have bouyed my campaign although I doubt my race was the driving force behind the sales pitch. Every day requires a new pitch to doubtful Duluth residents.

This recent Trib story from the other day pretty well spelled out the reality of the Red Plan. Rather than saving $32 million the Red Plan is ending up costing almost exactly what the District predicted in the first place which is the same amount it was given authority by the State to spend. No savings. In fact, the plan seems to have cost more than the District projected notwithstanding proclamations about great contracts. That’s because several projects like a new bus barn and repairs to Old Central were scrapped.

I still haven’t given you, my loyal eight readers, the text of the letter from the District’s attorney telling me to zip my lips (or finger tips) but as this post has nothing to do with my lawsuit I seem to be on secure ground pointing out how gullible the Trib’s Editorial Board has been where the Red Plan is concerned.

Starfish analogy

With Sarah Palin annointing Republican candidates around the nation with no more vetting than she got before being propelled into the national dialogue even stalwarts in the conservative movement have much to fear.

I saw this analogy recently about the difference between spiders and starfish which attempts to explain the Tea Party phenomenon. A simpler way to describe the Tea Party would simply be to call it a mob. Many of the Founding Fathers were the insiders of their day and a great many of them were aghast at the French Revolution and its mob actions. As the starfish analogy explains there is no “head” in a starfish nor is there one in a mob, its leadership is found in voices riding the wave until they crest and are replaced by some new megaphone wielding opportunist.

Sometimes the mob can be more sympathetic as it was recently in Iran during the Green Revolution. Sometimes, usually, it can turn ugly.

One fortunate thing about the current Tea Party revolution is that it is taking place in a youtube nation where every crack pot (liberal, conservative, Scientologist) can be exposed coast to coast within minutes. The Obama mania which I still recall with fondness was much the same although with a lot more kumbuyah and a lot less insanity. Anyone want to go to Washington DC?

Oh and here’s another analogy that seems to describe the Tea Parties.

Separation of church and state is fascism

Now that Christine O’Donnell has defeated Congressman Castle his GOP replacement running for Congress is out on the hustings passing on this radioactive historical nugget.

Vic emailed. He was unable to hear exactly what the candidate for Congress said on this video. In case anyone else visiting the blog has the same trouble I’ll clarify that the video shows the candidate telling his audience that Thomas Jefferson never used that exact phrase “Separation of church and state” while writing to the Danbury Baptists. then the Candidate adds: “The exact phrase ‘Separation of Church and State’ came out of Adolph Hitler’s mouth. That’s where it comes from so the next time your little friends talk about the separation of church and state ask them why they’re Nazis.”

This is a Republican candidate.

Seinfeld High

Yesterday’s column by the Denfeld student who now finds himself in Central is hopeful. It doesn’t particularly surprise me. Kids, as lots of folks who make their lives miserable like to point out, are “resilient.” Besides, many kids just a year or two older than this student are heading off to college far away from family and friends. A few years ago at a Denfeld graduation a half dozen veterans of WW II walked across the stage to be given belated honorary diplomas for graduations they missed while they were in combat. The delightful film “Hope and Glory” is about a British kid having the time of his life in the ruins of bomb ravaged London.

I like the author’s humor. Seinfeld High. Its hard to think of a more ironic name for a merger of schools that the students had little control over.

A couple days ago I heard a Central teacher say that she felt very good about the merger so far. It probably didn’t hurt the teacher’s attitude that before merger the teacher had anticipated the worst. The kids have been great just as an earlier Trib story indicated. I never doubted that the high schools would be just fine after a merger when I advocated for two high schools years ago.

It should also be noted that in some ways the Duluth School district has recently shed a lot of the students who might have had a harder time with the merger. Duluth’s dropout rate seems to be climbing steeply.

Man without a country

I’ve never said anything kind about Karl Rove before and I don’t intend to start now. He used to call the folks who support the Christine O’Donnels of the GOP “crazies” to let the press know that he was only using them to get his Republicans elected. Now that he has dissed them to their faces he has been stripped naked and Now they don’t like him any more than I did.

Its a little late for him to start telling the truth. Karl’s Machiavellian petard reminds Andrew Sullivan of this bit of cinema history:

We have met the enemy

and to continue paraphrasing Pogo: shot ourselves in the foot. Ted Kopple’s explains it far more eloquently.

I blame the Tea Party mentality that was lying dormant all through the Rove/Cheney years for the foot shooting. The funny thing is that while the Tea Partier’s are decrying federal spending it seems they are really more in sync with the moral fundamentalism of bin Ladin than the awful “Libruls” in America who are dismantling the work of America’s apostolic Founding Fathers. Blame it on Jefferson and his gosh darned “pursuit of happiness” nonsense.

Struggling minorities

Today’s Trib story about the District’s attempts to do right by minorities is important. Just before the Trib canned its previous Education Reporter she wrote a story that questioned whether the District’s plans to divert a million “Deseg” dollars away from the magnet schools was a good idea. Some of my crowd thought that it was what got her fired although my sources at the Trib denied that this could be possible.

A story (I didn’t bother linking to) a month ago had Board Member Judy Seliga-Punyko enthusing about the new eight lane pool being added to the soon-to-be East Junior High. She was a swimmer, is a swimming coach and has children who swim. Old LDV’ers sent the story to me commenting how Judy got hers. Ann Wasson is getting a new expanded Congdon Elementary and the new equity producing stadium at the new East High School. Tim Grover got a new Piedmont and a new junior high that will insure that Piedmont children are not bussed to Morgan Park something he has long opposed (although he was a lot less vociferous about opposing the bussing of MP children the same distance East).

That has left Mary Cameron with little to show for the Red Plan’s work except reports that her community and even her family are unhappy with her. She may finally have something to show for her faith in Dr. Dixon.

Bringing minorities in public schools to their academic potential has been fraught with challenges. The story about the Washington DC Schools today echoes Duluth. Mayor Fenty was defeated largely because he refused to reign in the reforms of the hard charging DC School Chancellor Michelle Rhee. The Teacher’s Unions and a great many dead wood administrators (appointed by ans earlier cocaine sniffing Mayor) lost their jobs under Rhee. Half filled schools were closed. Merit pay is being disbursed. Rhee is making a difference and her loss will be, would be (in my humble opinion) tragic.

Duluth’s failure to bring up the test scores of minority students, particularly native and black students, has been a sore point for a long time. Mary has had every right to question whether the magnet schools were worth the million dollars of spending they got. Some of the spending seemed little more than bones for the minority community. The Red Plan’s response is counterintuitive at best. Soon Duluth’s two most segregated inner city schools will be merged without their previous magnetic pull This will concentrate minority students even more.

The test will be whether the new program which emphasizes hiring assistants, eleven of them, to coach minority students in need can do what the magnet schools never accomplished. I can’t fault Mary for being willing to try something new. I also know that these new hires accomplish something that she has lobbied for for twenty years. Most of the eleven new hires belong to minorities themselves and they will provide role models for kids who only have seen white teachers. Doing this before was damn near impossible as the District’s enrollment shrank leaving senior teachers in the way of new hires. Besides, Duluth was a mostly white town not the sort of place an ambitious minority teacher would be eager to set roots down into. All the dislocation of the Red Plan and the canceling of the Deseg program has given Dr. Dixon the resources to reverse this sorry history and reward Board member Cameron.

I have little confidence in the Superintendent or his motives. He once told a community meeting that if a child hadn’t overcome his/her racism by the time they got to high school its too late to change their minds. That’s not a very enlightened attitude. Still, whatever you make of his methods he has given Mary what she has long desired. His slender majority has little reason for complaint.