A “perennial candidate” comments

Our perennial newspaper printed my column submitted a couple weeks ago with not too many alterations:

Mostly they edited out Gary Westorff’s name repeatedly as the author of the offending letter.

A staff representative for Education Minnesota pointed an accusing finger at an honorable Duluth School Board member, Gary Glass, in the March 25 News Tribune. In a letter to the editor, he said he would never support Glass for School Board, and he advised the voting public to replace Glass.

According to the letter, Glass falsely claimed credit for the school district’s savings of $1.7 million by switching to a new insurer. The credit belonged with the unions for working out the issue with the administration, the writer said.

But that was wrong. I can verify that Glass was lobbying for a change in insurers a couple of years ago, when the district chose to renew its old carrier.

I, too, commend the union for agreeing to help our troubled school district, which just borrowed

$20 million to pay its bills and teacher’s salaries. But I’m not overwhelmed by the savings. I suspect it wasn’t hard for the new carrier to lower premiums, considering the large number of staff shed in the wake of the Red Plan. I would be much more interested to know the letter writer’s attitude toward the loss of so many Duluth teachers.

Placing responsibility for this might be more useful to voters. Then again, it might not be that big a deal for the writer, who also represents teachers in Proctor and Hermantown, districts that are growing at Duluth’s expense.

The letter’s accusation wasn’t the only recent tripe I’ve read about public schools in the News Tribune. On March 11, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker wrote a tear-soaked column bemoaning his inability to keep one of Wisconsin’s “outstanding, first-year-teachers” on the payroll, owing to union contracts. Walker was in such a state of grief over this that he’s seeing to it that thousands more Wisconsin teachers will lose their jobs.

On April 13, former Duluth School Board Chairwoman Ann Wasson wrote a commentary claiming the Red Plan already had saved $4 million in operating costs. It would have been far more accurate for her to say those “savings” came from staff cuts. In fact, the district justified the Red Plan to the state by saying it would allow the district to save $5 million annually through efficiencies like laying off unnecessary janitors, secretaries, principals and teachers.

(About half of the savings was to come from cutting staff while the other half would come from Johnson Controls lowering energy costs. Presumably, JCI will do a better job for the district than it did for the city of Duluth’s steam plant.)

The Red Plan did indeed lead to staff cuts, but they’ve come about because 10 percent of our students have switched to other schools. Ah, but our remaining teachers now have SMART Boards so we can justify putting more kids in their classrooms.

Wasson was right about one thing. Our public schools will be desperate to pass an increased operating levy. Why the public would trust additional money to a district that denied it the right to vote on the Red Plan I have no idea, but I’ll support an increase for our children’s sake. They are the only innocents in this sorry story.

I take some hope from Faribault, Minn. As I understand it, Faribault couldn’t pass an operating levy referendum as long as Keith Dixon was its school superintendent; its passage had to wait until Dixon moved to Duluth.

Dixon’s June retirement is just around the corner, so, by all means, we should keep our fingers crossed. But please, let’s not point them at the wrong people.

Harry Welty is a former Duluth School Board member, a perennial candidate for public office, an oft-quoted critic of the school district and Superintendent Keith Dixon, and an organizer of the grass-roots group Let Duluth Vote.

JCI is probably behind it

I’ve already suggested to the folks up north that Senator Tom Bakk is probably glad that the GOP is in control of the State Senate to take the blame for this:

From an email being sent out to residents trying to maintain their rights up in the townships to our north:

To my friends in the North Woods.

The MN Senate is considering SF270 this Wed at 1pm… your response is needed NOW! the House is considering a companion bill HF 389

Field Townships Interim Ordinance is under attack.. specifically with amendments to MN Statutes 462.335, sub 4.

As you are aware the Township is trying to protect integrity of local “grass roots” government in implementing the concept use of ag, forestry and the rural residential life style in our FM 1&2 zones as presented in the Voyager Comprehensive Land Use Plan, and the variance controls provided in Ordinance 46.

In our area surveys 70% of our residents and landowners want strong local government and community centered development.

I urge you to contact responsible members in the House and Senate to REJECT this amendment…

Senator Tom Bakk owes his election to the unions who want to build new schools whether they are wanted or needed. The GOP will push this through despite their shtick about “local control.” Its a DFL controlled District and if Tom Bakk secretly wants the schools built and JCI lobbies for it the GOP couldn’t care less. Let them have their way. The State won’t be paying for the schools – local taxpayers will.

They won’t answer that question

No doubt they were inspired by the Duluth School Board:

The evening’s most bizarre moment came when Helmberger handed Rutzick a copy of the district’s official board minutes from Feb. 14, 2011, which showed that the original Jan. 31 motion to close the Orr School had been subsequently rescinded by a 4-3 board vote. Those same Feb. 14 minutes also indicated that a motion to delay the closure of the Orr School until 2012 was approved, again 4-3. Helmberger questioned school administrators’ authority to close the Orr School, based on the district’s official minutes.

Caught off guard, school officials huddled later with their attorney for about 20 minutes, then reopened the hearing with two new witnesses. Board members Chet Larson and Bob Larson both testified that the minutes were apparently in error. When asked if they had approved the minutes, attorney Knutson said the board was not going to answer that question.

JCI – the Unions best friend

I don’t know how much JCI spends to scrub its google results to hide unpleasant stories and I haven’t googled them for a long time but this story popped up just now. Duluth’s trade unions best pal, JCI, probably doesn’t much like them.

One paragraph:

Mexico’s dominant labor federations are made up of such unions, and have long accepted the notion that pay increases must be minimized in order to enhance Mexico’s “competitiveness,” leaving workers further and further behind the rate of inflation.

Everything considered

I just read through the endless list of ideas, questions and wish lists that were compiled by various groups within the Duluth School System and larger community. It took a long time and despite a lot of redundancy it practically cries out for a savior. No Superintendent can hope to salve our wounds and save our schools without the help of the community. I hope our new superintendent can win over and deserve our trust. Honesty and humility will be critical. The honeymoon, if there is one, is likely to be short.

It won’t just be the flag falling over

In the previous video the US flag falls over while Congressman Michelle Bachman speaks. If she has her way on the debt ceiling it won’t just be the flag that falls.

“…that’s basically the end of the United States as the world’s reserve currency. We won’t be considered safe enough to serve as the investment of last resort. We would lose the most important advantage our economy has in the global financial system and we’d probably lose it forever. Skyrocketing interest rates would slow our economy and, in real terms, make it even harder to pay back our debt, which would in turn send interest rates going even higher. It’s an economic death spiral we associate with third-world countries, not with the United States.”

And yes, for the record Senator Obama also voted against raising the debt ceiling. Then again, his vote was only symbolic.

Aerial View of the High School We’re selling

A friend emailed this to me from the DNT’s Online site about a court case stemming from people behaving badly. Couldn’t be because the staff is too busy running around putting out Red Plan fires could it?

As she commented this is a beautiful space for a high school. I’ve driven by the replacement site a couple times recently. I think the mascot for the new high school could be a gopher. I suppose UMD enthusiasts might object.

OMG, he’s a teacher!

I like this new fellow Mack’s talk about “transparency.” For goodness sake how long has it been since Dr. Dixon showed his face on one of our TV news programs? But the truly astonishing thing is that he’s not only a teacher but that after he retired from superintending he became a substitute teacher. Holy Cow! In a District fated to have very low teacher morale for the forseeable future that offers a glimmer of hope.

He also speaks two languages fluently and I’ve recently read that bilingual speakers manage to stave off dementia on average about five years longer than us poor old monolinguals.

Only 30 have signed it

I’m not very impressed with this evidence of dissatisfaction with one of our three school superindentent candidates. A friend just forwarded it to me.

Its an “online” petition asking that the Robbinsdale School Board not renew Stan Mack’s contract. It has a long list of the miscellaneous grievances which might be brought up to undermine confidence in any Superintendent. No one in Robbinsdale is actually circulating it door to door and the online petition only has 30 signatures. If I were to circulate something similar in Duluth I could easily get thousands asking for the removal of Dr. Dixon. The petition has no force of law behind it. It seems to have little behind it.

Still, perhaps this is why Dr. Mack was not included in the original group of three finalists. Its hard to keep something like this hidden from a Google search.

As I recall Mack is currently the president of the state organization of School Superintendents. That is a little testimonial from fellows who have been in his shoes. It had to be embarrassing for him to be cut from our list of finalists and then be added back when another candidate dropped out. I commend him for not taking his name out of consideration the second time around. (I do hope its not a sign of desperation)

Big city school superintendents have a helluva job. I only have one real demand of our next superintendent and competence comes second. I expect him to tell the truth. That would be a pleasant change. I’ll concede that the allegation of Mack’s cloaking the true cost of health insurance is worrying. He ought to be asked about it.

Ending a drought

I’ve just added a new book to my personal reading list. Its a wonderful book that I found in Alice Springs in bookstore devoted to Aboriginal Australians. The book The Original Australians by Josephine Flood is the best single treatment of the subject ever written. That’s my guess anyway.

Fighting the Red Plan for three years was so all consuming I didn’t read a single book from cover to cover for two years. I’m so over that.


Sunburnt Country…………………………………. Bill Bryson
Thunderbolt Kid ……………………………………….Bill Bryson
Lincoln, The biography of a writer ………………… Fred Kaplan
1776…………………………………………………………David McCullough
The Diary of Anne Frank (Definitive edition)……… Anne Frank
Nature’s Building Blocks A-Z guide to Elements……. John Emsley
In Tasmania …………………………………………… Nicholas Shakespeare
The Fatal Shore……………………………………….. Robert Hughes


Searching for Aboriginal Languages………………. R.M.W. Dixon
A History of New Zealand …………………………. Keith Sinclair
Carnivorous Nights (Trail of Taz Tiger)…………….Mittelbach & Crewdson
New Zealand Wildlife BRADT……………………….. Julian Fitter
Australian Wildlife BRADT …………………………..Stella Martin
The Last of the Nomads……………………………. W J Peasley
The Original Australians……………………………. Josephine Flood

Wall Street’s Best Friend

I couldn’t find the story I read the DNT’s paper version about Michelle Bachmann telling the Tea Party that Obama was “Wall Street’s best friend” in its online paper today but I’ll retype my favorite line:

“The crowd cheered as Bachmann described Obama in biblical terms while crediting him with the Wall Street bailout his predecessor championed.”

Who was Obama’s predecessor, the President who really started the Wall Street bailout?

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Wooly Bully

The parents who wrote this anguished and angry column in today’s DNT have suffered from the dysfunction in the Duluth Schools. The DNT reporter who has written so many stories about the shameful bullying that has erupted in our schools has yet to connect the dots to the Red Plan and the massive upheaval it has wrought.

There is an old saying that its hard to remember that you came to drain the swamp when you’re up to your (name your preferred body part) in alligators. In this metaphor draining the swamp would be teaching children and the alligators would be our self imposed Red Plan staff cuts. In essence the Red Plan is the swamp.

That is not to say that our Administrators who turned their back on this episode of bullying are doing anything new.

Many years ago a member of my church choir bitterly complained to me about how her Central High daughter could not get her oblivious principal to simply order his janitors to paint over a crude sexual innuendo about her that was scrawled onto the wall of the boys room. Apparently the grafittie was so infamous that a great many students were taunting her about what it said about her. (BTW – This was before I was elected to the School Board.)

It cost the District a $10,000 court judgement (a tad more expensive than a little paint) to compensate the student for her neglect and ill treatment and the settlement inspired an ABC “after school special” drama that advertised our district’s shortcomings for a national television audience.

I feel badly for our current crop of teachers and administrators. The Red Plan is their swamp and the alligators are biting them and our children. They went into teaching to drain a swamp. They didn’t anticipate or deserve the Red Plan’s tsunami.