Excelsior squirts back

This is my interpretation of Excelsior’s pushback in Today’s Trib:

The Trib did a lousy job describing why $40 million has been spent on our company with little to show for it.

Excelsior has given all its spending info to its funding sources – the government, but not the public. Translation. Tom Bakk knows how we spent our money. You don’t need to know. (left unsaid: Thank goodness someone – not Tom Bakk – made sure we get to keep our secrets by law)

The IRRRB loaned us $9.5 million. That stopped 4 years ago so no more good money from them after bad.

Starting a new energy company is hard work. We’ve been given the permits to move our energy just not the right to move it on other people’s wires or any demand for our energy.

Our coal will be cleaned up. (left unsaid: whether it will ever be a truly clean source of energy or not we’re not saying – never mind all those alarmist environmentalists)

We’re entrepreneurs (left unsaid – using taxes to fund our work but not private capital except for our little drop in the bucket)

Everyone is having a tough time in this recession (left unsaid – our project is so ill conceived it would have had just as much trouble in good times)

Other alternative energy sources might not work out (left unsaid – even though they are moving along a lot faster than our project)

We’d like to thank the elected officials who gambled on us (left usaid: and voted to give us lots of money when owners of private capital were too skeptical to offer there money)

The poor are not created equal

From Jim Fallows Re: Today’s GOP:

“Not created equal” is exactly right. In fact, payroll-tax cuts are the sort of tax break most likely to “get the economy moving again” during a recession. (Because they put money in the hands of people most likely to spend it and therefore boost other businesses. And on balance they lower the cost of adding new workers.) Income-tax breaks at the top end are least likely to create new demand or jobs. (Because they go to people who have a lower “marginal propensity to spend” and are more likely to park the money in the bank.)

I had thought that Republican absolutism about taxes, while harmful to the country and out of sync with even the party’s own Reaganesque past, at least had the zealot’s virtue of consistency. Now we see that it can be set aside when it applies to poorer people, and when setting it aside would put maximum drag on the economy as a whole. So this means that its real guiding principle is… ??? You tell me.

Letduluthvote.com lives on

I just purchased another four years of rights to the domain name letduluthvote.com. Its a messy, messy site that I haven’t visited or added to for a couple years. On the rare occasions when I’ve revisited it its been a challenge for me to find the things I know I stuck in it. (The School Board was generous in providing me examples of arrogance, perfidy and cluelessness) Its rather like Hogwarts Room of Requirement for me. (My apologies to those of you who aren’t into J.K. Rowling for the Harry Potter reference) Someday I would like to write a book about how rogue school boards work. If I do write it the old website will prove an invaluable treasure trove.

Critics helping Cravaack

Congressman Cravaack’s apparent skittishness in making a public appearance in Duluth is worthy of criticism. The protest organized by the usual suspects for his private appearance at Grandma’s to talk to the NFIB (National Federation of Independent Businessmen) is not. It will only serve to give observers a reason sympathize with him.

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. If Chip’s critics act like Tea Partiers they will give credence to the Tea Party’s methods.

“Lincolndemocrat at its worst”

Re: the WSJ evaluation in the last post I got a tough little rejoinder in my email. For those of you in my vast readership who, like my buddy, read almost everthing I post, Thank you. For those who would vicariously enjoy seeing me get my hinder kicked this is for you:

Oh, Harry. I pay several hundred dollars a year for my subscription to The Wall Street Journal, but I seldom read its editorials. I pay nothing to read lincolndemocrat.com, but I read most of what is written there. However, I consider The Wall Street Journal to be a much more valuable source of information and opinion, than lincolndemocrat.com. Editorials are editorials, and bullshit is bullshit. Bullshit can be found almost anywhere, including at lincolndemocrat.com. And yes, you would be correct to infer that I’m thinking that The Wall Street Journal at its worst, is not nearly as bad as lincolndemocrat at its worst.

Rupert doesn’t pay me to wiretap my sources or to pay them hush money when they threaten to sue me for it. He doesn’t pay for my BS either.

American Spring?

I just watched a few minutes of the television coverage of what seems to be the imminent fall of Colonel Khadafi. Couldn’t happen to a nicer fellow. Poor Fox News has been rooting for him. What will they say about this? Probably that Obama has violated the Constitution to help dump him.

Oh, and while changing channels I stopped to see photographs of all our new Red Plan schools. There will soon be tours. The architects all like primary colors for the elementary schools. There was a lot of blue but not so much red for “stop” or yellow for “caution.”

All this leads me to wonder when we will have our own revolution. An American Spring anyone? Fox would overthrow Obama but I’d overthrow the Tea Party. Even in Duluth. The local Tea Partiers were more interested in getting rid of a black President than a Red Plan.

About that law in an omnibus law…

…that no one knew about which made it impossible to track Excelsior Energy’s use of public money. Well the DNT wrote about a similar provision in the tax law which got passed in the special session without anyone noticing.

Lost in the tumult of the Legislature’s July special session was a huge change in state tax policy that will send property taxes climbing in 2012 across the state, even if local governments freeze their spending.

The Homestead Tax credit has been dramatically reduced. Poor homeowners are really going to take it on the chin. According to the story the result is that while our property tax rates will stay the same we in Duluth can expect an additional 5.7% increase in property taxes as a result.

Now just how this will work is apparently still a bit of a mystery to the County so please forgive me my puzzlement about the tax implications. I presume this does not include any increases that any of our local units of government may impose. According to another story St. Louis County will almost certainly impose a tax that matches the rate of inflation which is, according to the County, 3%.

What I do know is that just like the Red Plan tax increases and any City Increases a county increase and the reduction of the homestead tax credit will be exceedingly regressive falling most heavily on the shoulders of the poorest homeowners.

Who the hell is the damn Tax Chair? Oh yeah! I forgot. Tom Bakk.

The grandkids left…

..a couple hours ago. I’ve had a chance to read more in the DNT. First paper in a long time with so much read meat.

On the boondoggle up north…

Earlier I blamed all of this on Republican big wigs but there is one DFLer completely up to his neck in it. Senator Tom Bakk. As the Chair of the Tax committee in the Senate everyone defers to him especially the IRRRB which pumped in $9.5 million in their little pot-o-gold.

Bakk has earned my ire for making sure the Red Plan would go through without a vote. He’s the figure you can be sure made sure that the St. Louis County Schools would build their own Red Plan and cause a second civil war. Its jobs, jobs, jobs for Tommy. Sadly on his Excelsior shenanigans there are no jobs to speak of just lots of bills. including apparently an unpaid salary of $2,49,000 (as of 2006) for the Micheletti duo who brought excelsior to life with a $60,000 personal investment. Don’t grieve for the Michs…As of that same date they apparently had been paid $535,000. which is a handsome profit on the original investment.

2006 (when I first posted my complaints about their project on this blog) was a long time ago. The Trib says that there are no financial reports since then to spell out where money went or what the President and CEO were paid. For the hell of it I’ll assume that they kept their salary at $600,000 annually since then which would put their total earnings up to the end of this year at $6,025,000. If we also assume that they have for the sake of the project continued to defer their salary at the same rate as from 2001 t0 2006 then they would have only been paid $1,070,000 for the decade. Peanuts. However, they would still be owed $4,955,000 which I gather from the story they expect to be paid. I presume they have a contract.

The difficulty for the Trib and the public is that no one knows what the public money spent on the project has been used for since 2006 and the Micheletti’s aren’t talking. It seems that a law was passed last year just for them excluding them from having to report what they spent public money on. Tom Bakk says he had nothing to do with it. The IRRRB is covering for the Senator saying that they did it (to hell with the Tax Chair) Bakk is covering them by saying its a dang good law even though he had no idea is was passed.

I have my doubts about the legality of this law. It may be superceded by the state statute which requires companies spending public money to make their records of its spending public. Unless someone challenges this law we shall ever remain clueless how the money was spent. I doubt, however, that this law would apply to federal dollars which constitute half the spending.

By the way, the whole project proceeded with the plan of sticking Xcel Energy customers with the cost of the project should it fail. Xcel and its customers selfishly fought being the goat and so the taxpayers will end up losing the money. If there is any justice the dreamers (or schemers) who gave us this boondoggle will not get paid any more.

Oh, and a side note: At the Sam Solon funeral Tom Micheletti, who’s main skill after hockey has always been lobbying, was seen vigorously schmoozing with all the legislators in attendance.

Reflections on Today’s Sunday Trib

As I begin writing this post I have but thirty minutes before I leave to pick up Steven to take him to our church service. I had woken up just before 6AM thinking I had time to read most of the Trib before my grandsons woke up. However, just as I finished my shower I was greeted with the squeals of Jakey-Jake. He woke up before schedule. I managed to read the editorialized story about the wonderful new Denfeld by Chuck Frederick (although the five minutes of reading stretched out over thirty minutes of getting Jakie his morning breakfast. I only had time to read snippets of the other big story about $40 million spent on an illusion – the Excelsior Energy plant that will likely never see use.

Its nice to see that the Trib has finally caught up with my blog although about five years late or perhaps 40 million dollars too late!

I’m at a bit of a loss complimenting the DNT for noticing this gross waste of public money while it still fawns over the School District’s Boondoggle Red Plan. The other story lauds the nifty features to be found in the new Denfeld…

Phooey. Little children got busy again and I’ll have to finish this later.

OK. Its almost four hours later. I heard a few phrases of my daughter’s solo in Church before my Jakey shouted, “Mama, Mama” a little too vigorously for me to let him stay in the church service. I’m waiting for him to start a nap and I’ll try to get a few more words in edgewise.

I was busy looking for Frederick’s article on the DNT’s website when I had to call it quits earlier. I’ve found it now. “It’s absolutely gorgeous” is the banner headline above it. Its vintage Frederick. He’s a very good writer and this suits his forte, human interest.

He begins with a young woman who is from Central High and regards going to Denfeld in her senior year with significant reservations. She and two other students, both Denfeld students, get the tour and by the end their eyes are opened and all of them, including the dubious Central student are sold. The banner headline says it all.

I mentioned a few days ago in Thugs 3 that I was pleased Chuck Frederick let his better angles rule rather than write a big story about my wishing harm to innocent children. Today I could almost overlook the back patting nature of this news story because of the this paragraph.

Plenty of bitterness remains. In the community because the high school consolidation was part of a bigger, $311 million, long-range facilities plan that was allowed to proceed without a public vote to accompany the spending of so much public money. And among students, whose traditions and habits were sometimes trampled or overlooked as the kids were shuffled from school to school the past two years to accommodate construction.

I’m glad that Chuck has acknowledged the community’s wrath in terms that fully justify it.

There is no question that the community needs to embrace these new schools much as a raped mother ought to come to love the child she has been forced to bear. The children in the schools are as innocent as the rape victim’s unplanned progeny. This sounds harsh and I mean it to. I’ve already acknowledged in a letter to the editor last year that some of these schools will be excellent new schools. Whether they are justified by the expenditure in trust and taxes has yet to be seen.

For the three students they should look forward to their new school. From many accounts, even those in the DNT, it was a tough year for all students at Central and many of the Denfeld students felt particularly unwelcome at Central while the construction was under way. In my experience kids are resilient and far less territorial, when push comes to shove, than their parents about stuff like school legacies. That the Atrium and commons are beautiful is good to hear. I suspect that the new year will be such a relief that all involved will find it a great improvement over last year.

I’m still awaiting the opening of East High which was appended to a rather utilitarian junior high. Its parking will likely be a nightmare and it’s nothing to look at as your drive down Superior Street mostly hidden from view. It would be ironic if the new western high school is loved by the western part of the city which most resented its imposition while the eastern end of town that was most enthusiastic about their new high school ends up being disappointed. Perhaps that would be poetic justice.

I’ve published almost every criticism of the new schools that has come across my desk. I’ve only criticized two of the buildings themselves. (that I can recall) One has been East high, for a host of reasons, and Piedmont Elementary for the cramped space it occupies. I’ll hold my judgement of the buildings themselves for the time being. I will say that for all the heated objections to the new western middle school I rather enjoyed seeing its shell the other day as I drove along the constricted and constructed I-35. Its certainly going to be eye catching.

The Trib and I share one trait. We have both been holding our breaths to see what unfolds. For me its been the possibility that the community will soon fall in love with their schools and forget all about the method in which they were imposed. Should that happen I expect to be vilified as a wet blanket. For the Trib’s editors they have been holding their breaths in hopes that their reluctance to lift the rock to see what was hidden under it will be forgiven. If the schools turn out to have been compromised the DNT’s reputation will suffer for giving the Red Plan a lukewarm endorsement.

In some ways the Trib can be excused. The Red Plan came about when it was undergoing a vicious down sizing and in the full-throated thrill of Dr. Dixon’s groupies for an overhaul of our schools. They hedged their bets that the Chamber of Commerce crowd would be vindicated. I hedged my bets that no matter what the result of the Red Plan most people would never find fault with my cry of “let the people vote!”

To give Chuck his due the Trib owes it to the Duluth public to put the best face on the Red Plan. We will need to fall in love with our schools again even if that means enduring the Trib’s crowing “We were right to support it.” That’s not litterally what the Trib’s Denfeld story says…..but yes, it really is. Let’s hope the Trib’s editors are right. The Duluth public paid a very high price for Red Plan schools.

Oh, and about the other $40 million boondoggle up on the Range. I’d like the Cravaack defending Trib to acknowledge that the boondoggle could never have happened without the support of Republican Governor Tim Pawlenty and Republican Senator Nick Coleman.


Topeka, Kansas, was not the South but it was close enough to have a sizeable black population. I was a child there in the Era depicted by the current movie “The Help.” I’ve not seen it but my wife, Claudia, just finished reading the book on which it is based and says its set in a concentration camp but its feel-good enough to paper over the grim reality that was the Civil Right’s Era.

I’ve thought about writing about my own small connection with Lilly, our family’s “help” from my youth and this brief reminiscence from Connecticut , another Northern state, has prompted me to add my two cents. I doubt that I’ll read The Help but I can think of another book with a movie that does honor to the reality, Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. It too is a bit of a fantasy. There weren’t many Atticus Finches South or North. Continue reading

Speaking of a college education

Of all the sections in this infographic the one I find the most troubling is the one that says that only 1 in three students show a measurable improvement in cognitive skills after three years of college:

From C's to A's
Created by:

ACT now

College bound students in Duluth are doing OK.

Poor kids – not so much:

Despite the Duluth school district’s failure to meet state standards in district-wide testing, its college-bound students continue to outperform the state average on a college-readiness exam.

I’d be interested in reviewing ACT test results in the era before Dixon. I think the results would be about the same. We’ve traditionally led the state for a decade and more just as the state has led the nation. The story’s point that some states get good results by only having 10 or 20% participation vs. better than two thirds participation by Minnesota’s students is well taken.

I don’t think many of the test takers this year left our District before taking the ACT test. They were already in high school when the worst of the Red Plan consequences hit and loathe to leave their friends in the last years of high school. In future years our test taking population could change perceptibly as some of the more ambitious Duluth students take their ACT tests in Proctor and Hermantown. Time will tell.

The tears are welling up in my eyes

New Centennial school chief: ‘Let’s get back to key processes’

‘We’re not just keeping the doors open’ By Nicholas Backus
Staff Writer Published: Tuesday, August 9, 2011 1:18 PM CDT

CIRCLE PINES — New Centennial District Superintendent Keith Dixon honored his parents by earning a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering.

Then he went off and signed a contract to be a middle school teacher.

“I told my mom and she smiled,” Dixon said. “She said ‘I always knew you would be a teacher,’ even though I knew she wanted me to be an engineer.”

At the age of 13, Dixon lost his father in a tragic power line accident. When he got to college, Dixon took all education courses for electives because he wanted to impact students in the same way a particular social studies teacher affected him as a high school freshman.

“After I lost my dad, this teacher took a special interest in me,” he said. “He coached me, counseled me and turned me into a leader. He became a father figure for me. What emerged is what I know about teachers and how they can show us what we can grow up to be.”

Originally of Grand Junction, Colo., Dixon has spent the last 17 years in Minnesota in various superintendent capacities. He served Faribault school district for a number of years before moving to Duluth in 2005. The 64-year-old retired in January but saw a one-year interim position at Centennial as a nice opportunity to support his wife Sarah, who is president and CEO of St. Paul-based Minnesota Alliance With Youth. So far, Dixon has no intent on negotiating a permanent job with the district.

His rise in the educational ranks began as a math teacher, after which he earned a master’s degree in guidance and counseling. He worked as a high-school counselor in Fort Collins, Colo., before getting a doctorate in education administration and taking principal positions. His first superintendent job was as an area superintendent in Fort Collins.

Dixon’s Duluth district came under some scrutiny in 2007, when a faction of district voters wanted to block $293 million in new building construction plans, dubbed “The Red Plan.” Under state statute, the district was not required to do the project with input from a public referendum.

A group calling itself ‘Let Duluth VoteÂ’ disagreed, and tried to slow the process by introducing petitions in attempts to delay the Red Plan until a new school board was voted in. Despite the group’s protests, the Red Plan went forward and four new schools were built.

At Centennial, Dixon said he wants to get back to “key processes” and communicating with staff and the community. Dixon noted Centennial has a reputation as a “quality and well-run” district.

“The community is investing in me and I want to return that,” he said. “I want it to be a meaningful year. We’re not just trying to keep the doors open.”

Dixon will make $159,800, which is less than former superintendent Paul Stremick.

When asked about what drives him in the superintendent role, Dixon said it’s all about helping others realize their passions on a larger scale.

“I’m not just helping students, but helping adults grow and develop (in hopes that) they will turn around and impact students,” he said. “I’m still a teacher, just at a different level.

Dr. Dixon also had a black roommate in college.