Duluth School Politics and the State Fair

If my phone weren’t in need of charging I’d post the pic I took of Senator Al Franken at the MPR booth drawing the 50 states from memory on a blank sheet of paper. Aw Heck, Here is a youtube of a previous drawing sped up to save you viewing time. Pretty impressive and I say that as an old Geography teacher.

Lovely mostly cool day in St. Paul.

When I came back home I was pleased to see seven Loren Martell lawnsigns on Arrowhead Road. I won’t have mine for another week. Loren obviously intends to cross the finish line in the primary. Good for him.

I also came home to an email from a supporter saying a google search suggested that the Duluth Federation of Teachers endorsed my rivals. I did a similar search and could only uncover the endorsements for the 2011 election. Until I hear otherwise I’ll assume they have not yet endorsed anyone.

Saturday, look for me at the Gay Pride celebration

I’m not a big meet and greeter and I dislike schmoozing but I’ve been invited to simply stroll along and say hello, sans literature. I can do that. I’ve got a long history of cordiality towards the gay community. The Log Cabin Republicans endorsed me for the state legislature twelve years ago when I was only brave enough to support civil unions. That was the same year a young gay DFLer infiltrated my campaign and discovered, I presume, that I wasn’t such a bad fellow.

Last Fall I hand painted a lawnsign to adorn my lawn.

The Duluth Schools is so short handed right now that it will be hard pressed to deal with bullying which is a nasty fact of life gay kids know all too well. Its one more reason my determination to get our student-teacher ratios back down to Earth ought to win me a lot of non-traditional support.

If it threatens to rain look for me under an umbrella.

The end of the beginning of my campaign

Everything is in place for me to start campaigning seriously. Its meant a lot of running around but that pretty much comes to and end now.

I’ve got a new lawnsign designed and ready to order. I hate having to put up fallen signs and replacing stolen ones so there is no great hurry. If they show up five or six weeks before the general election that will be plenty of time. 500 will cost just under $1,000 and I’ve drawn the line at financing them myself. If the money doesn’t come in then they weren’t meant to be.

I have put in $800 as of today. I had spent $400 on a cell phone for my phone bank and a first printing of 1,800 fundraising letters. Today I put in another $400 for the postage. I’m treating the majority of this as a loan although it will only be a loan if too little comes in from donations. I’m not very worried about this.

This will require me to file a report with the School District soon because one is due a week or so after any local campaign raises or spends $750. The reports are very simple. Compared to a Congressional campaign spending report it like a math exercise. Even legislative campaign reports are a bit of a hassle.

My fundraising letter consists largely of the op ed piece I sent to the Duluth News Tribune. Its already prompted some very enthusiastic phone calls and a call from Loren Martell who I endorsed. I’d tried to give Loren a heads up by sending him an email. When he’d called he still hadn’t read it himself but was acting on a tip from someone else. That person had also told him they thought my op ed piece suggested I was about to throw in the towel. Au contraire, I plan on smoking the field in November.

I’ve not heard from the DFT about who they endorsed. Apparently not me. Big surprise. The DFT has done a masterful job over the past couple of decades endorsing rubber stampers who have let the School District down badly right up to the Red Plan’s near destruction of the teacher corps. There are 188 fewer DFT members today thanks to the timid foolishness of the union leadership.

I told them I was their teacher’s best hope. I mean to prove it.

JCI’s other pet School Board that runs the St. Louis County Schools….

shows a lot less class than the Duluth School Board and will take the money and run.

Many taxpayers in the St. Louis County School District don’t know whether they should be angrier with their local school board, or their state senator.

That’s been the general reaction to the school board’s decision last week to impose a $300 per pupil unit levy on taxpayers, without a public vote. Senate Majority Leader, Tom Bakk, pushed through the authority for school districts this past legislative session, much to the dismay of many taxpayers in his own district. We suspect the senator has already heard from some of them.

Taking the ice veil off

Our scientific instruments are enabling us to see the world as never before. The Kepler mission has been locating Earth sized planets in stars light years away. Satellites are uncovering buried civilizations from the past and recent work has uncovered a grand canyon under the ice in Greenland an island the size of the Louisiana Purchase or one third the size of the lower 48.


Yesterday was a busy day on many fronts. I kept tabs on the print shop that is printing up my first fund raising letter and the shop that will mail it out. If all goes well it will hit the post office by Friday. Then I put in an order for a lawnsign with some pros who have made signs for me in the past and for Let Duluth Vote in the past. I sent them my simple graphic with orders to spiff it up. It looks sharp and while I’m not all that eager to start fussing over keeping them up after windstorms and mischief I might have them delivered in a week or so. A few might even go up before the Primary election. Liam has already found me 25 or so locations from his phone calling on my behalf.

The most serious political activity of the day however related to the promise I would have to break to the DFT (Duluth Federation of Teachers). I’d called in to say I would participate in their screening of candidates. I’ve probably screened before them ten times including both school board and legislative campaigns. I’ve filed, although not always run, for the School Board on seven previous occasions.

I was going to attend a strictly family birthday party for my grandson but the need to be at the party and not the screening was turned on its head the night before: The letter I wrote to the DFT explains just how as well as offers my reasons for the DFT to endorse me, something they have never seen fit to to previously. Of necessity I included the OP ED piece that would be appearing in the next day’s Duluth News Tribune for the screeners to consider. No one left a message with my phone after the screening so I presume I’ve once again drawn a blank from the DFT. That’s a shame, if its true, but pretty typical.

I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did writing it:| Continue reading

Candidate’s view: Vote for Martell and for the levy referendums in Duluth

Today, Thursday, the DNT published my opinion piece. I’m quite pleased with it:

On Aug. 19 I read the two most intelligent things about the Duluth schools that I’ve seen in the News Tribune in recent years.

This was from At Large School Board candidate Loren Martell’s commentary on the Opinion page: “We have to rein in spending now. We have to get to some truth about the financial arrangement we’ve gotten into with the Red Plan. We have to make a sober and accurate assessment and start reprioritizing. Any pennies we can spare have to be directed to the classroom. We have to refocus on the core of education curricula, teachers and teacher development. We have to quit blowing millions on everything else under the sun. We have a half-billion-dollar investment hanging out there. It was a reckless investment, but we’d better roll up our sleeves and make it work.”

Then there was the front-page story Continue reading

A quarter million hits

I was looking at my latest blog stats and was taken aback by something I’ve not paid much attention to lately – hits.

I’m sure I mentioned that one of the things that inspired me when I first ran for the state legislature in 1976 was the notion of writing something like a diary of my legislative experience and putting it in the newspaper. I was thinking partly of Eleanor Roosevelt who had a regular column in many daily papers across America.

There were a great many things working against this goal getting elected for one. It took me six elections to take any office. Also there was finding a newspaper willing to risk letting a politician get free publicity that would almost certainly have been self serving. Most tellingly there was my limited experience and skill as a writer.

When I finally got elected to the School Board I was eager to take advantage of something called the Internet which was a new phenomenon beyond the little computer sitting in my room with no connections beyond the diskettes I stuck into it. I remember telling my buddy Frank, a computer whiz at UMD, how I really wanted to start a web page. I dreamed about a website for a couple years before my high school daughter badgered me into letting her use her era’s FACEBOOK, the pokey dial-up connection AOL.com with its dangerous “chat rooms.”

Finally in 1999 I set up my own webpage. For the first time my half dozen followers (no oldsters were on AOL.com) could read me, Harry Welty School Board member, unfiltered. I set up a hit counter and was amazed after a few years when it would register 100 hits in a day. I created the equivelent of a blog and wrote about the details I faced daily as a Board member and in my personal life. Heck Patty, my first serious co-campaign manager read something I posted and recommended that the Reader Weekly publish it. It was my first piece of non-political published piece. It was called “Monkeyworms.” Take heed! Its been nearly eleven years and they are reportedly gathering for the next mass attack.

I set up the blog in 2005 to use in a planned run for Congress the following year. Still, oldsters weren’t using the Internet and my district, not counting the college students, was full of oldsters.

So, today I’m a few thousand hits shy of a quarter million hits and we are just finishing up the 8th month of the year. The campaign season will attract more folks to my blog so that September and October will be the big hits of they year. November will have an election on the second Tuesday and the parade will slow down drastically after that.

However, if I’m elected a new larger and more savvy Internet population will certainly stop by Lincolndemocrat every so often to see what I’m ranting about. Next year could be even busier. I’ll have to buy a new welcome mat.

Red Plan Fallout

My responses to the neighbors of Rockridge School who are concernd about the now vacant school’s future use:

Thank you for sending me your questions.

First let me make a general observation. The School District is currently treading water financially. I suspect most decisions will be made between gasps of breath over the next few years. Making iron clad promises under such circumstances is dangerous and accepting that an iron clad promise won’t rust is dangerous as well.


On Mon, Aug 26, 2013 at 4:20 PM, Rockridge Neighbors wrote:

As a representative of FORockridge-Friend of Rockridge, ( www.FORockridge.weebly.com), I would like to ask you a few questions regarding city zoning and the reuse of existing school land.

1.  What are your beliefs regarding neighborhood involvement in the rezoning of existing parcels of land owned by the school district?

It should be a major, if not the major, consideration.

2.  Land use, being hypothetical in nature, requires one to evaluate an area not only on it physical characteristics but also on its fit into the demographics of the surrounding neighborhood.  What are your perspectives on requiring any rezoning to fit into the established character of a neighborhood?

I noticed during the work on the Red Plan that the final arbitor of such decisons, the City Counil, was often quite flexible and accomodating to the School District’s requests for variances. I think you can expect me to hope for similar flexibility in trying to rescue the School District from unintended Red Plan fall out.

Having said that I’d like to note that before I was elected to the School Board in 1995 Rockridge had been leased to a church. It became a school again and now lies vacant. I would hope a very similar non commercial use for the building could be found.

3. Directly related to the Rockridge School site, would you stand with the majority of surrounding neighbors to maintain the Traditional Residential (R-1) designation for this site? 

I think so.

JCI and the Duluth Schools 8-26

I’ve just written a fund raising letter in which I’ve highlighted JCI’s potential culpability to meet the promises it made to Duluth and my interest in winning some compensation from them just as the City of Duluth did when it got $3 million from JCI for over promising savings in its work on the Duluth Steam Plant.

Those wishing me to pursue this question on the School Board might send me an email

JCI and Hermantown 8-24

From the Duluth News Tribune:

A group opposed to the Hermantown school district’s proposed long-range facilities plan alleges that Johnson Controls Inc. both designed the plan and has been hired to carry it out —claims denied by the district. Johnson Controls, a global, Milwaukee-based company that has a building efficiency division, managed the controversial Duluth school district Red Plan. A mailing was sent to Hermantown residents with these claims this month by a group of Hermantown residents calling itself the Hermantown Citizens Acting for Responsible Education committee. The board passed a motion this month indicating that if a bond referendum scheduled for Nov. 5 passes, the board then will form a committee to choose a project manager. The committee would include residents, board members and district staff with knowledge in construction management, finance and education.

the irony here is that JCI got its start in these massive building projects not as project managers but as advisers to School Districts in helping them pass building plan referendums. JCI’s involvement in the Duluth Area is now a liability in getting such referendum passed.

JCI & St. Louis County Schools 8-20

8/20/13 |From the always inquiring Timberjay
Utility savings fall short of expectations
Marshall Helmberger Overall utility savings at new schools in ISD 2142 have fallen short of projections.

REGIONAL – The utility bills are in on the first full year of operation under the St. Louis County School District’s controversial new facilities plan, and it appears the savings promised by consultant and general contractor Johnson Controls Inc. have fallen far short of expectations.

Back in 2009, as JCI sought to convince school board members and the public of the wisdom of its plan, company officials cited a wide range of cost savings, including an estimated $380,000 a year on utility costs. The company claimed that by reducing the number of schools, from seven K-12 facilities to four K-12 schools and a single elementary school, the district would significantly reduce its energy usage, and achieve substantial cost savings.

The school district spent $748,187 in the 2009-10 school year on utilities for the seven schools it operated at that time, according to the district’s own records. Those bills included the cost of heating fuels, electricity, and sewer and water.

Yet in the just-completed 2012-13 school year, the district paid slightly more in the same categories, despite operating fewer schools, and two newer schools.

In total, the district spent $750,696 on heating fuels, school electricity and sewer and water. That includes nearly $44,000 annually for technical oversight of its wastewater treatment facilities and municipal water supplies at its new North Woods and South Ridge schools, expenses it did not incur with its former school buildings.

While the district reduced its number of school buildings, consolidating school facilities has apparently saved the district very little. In the 09-10 school year, the school district spent $144,885 to operate the Albrook and Cotton schools combined. The district paid just under $142,000 for utilities this past school year at the new South Ridge School, which replaced those two former schools.

In the same issue Editor Helmberger also wrote this:

What surprises me is that the Legislature will react so aggressively when the abuses amount to a few tens or hundreds of thousand of dollars, but will ignore massive conflicts of interest that entail hundreds of millions and even billions in tax dollars. They swat at the gnats, and leave the elephants, like Johnson Controls Inc., peacefully munching on our tax dollars.

JCI makes millions by engaging in the most open and obvious conflicts of interest on a daily basis, and state officials routinely give the company their blessing in spite of it.

Summer’s close

I was about to write that my final hoorah of the summer was my oldest grandson’s sixth birthday. No, it will be next Friday’s visit to the State Fair with our long time State Fair companions Frank and Jan. But that will require no preparation.

My daughter has been planning a birthday party for two weeks. It seems to be half birthday party half celebration of the completion of her new deck. She deserves it. Its the last big project on her house’s remarkable two year Odyssey through the world of repair, disaster and repair. I was asked a week ago to draw the evil Shredder from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle franchise. Claudia snapped a pic of me yesterday bent over completing it. We put magnetized rubber underneath the image and Claudia and I made shurikens (throwing stars) out of the same magnetic rubber to throw at the target.

Twelve little whirling dervishes probably spent less time taking pot shots at the dude than I spent putting him together. Dervishes was the word. Claudia and I felt like Gordon after the The Battle of Khartoum. We were wiped out.

Monday is the Tan Man’s last day of freedom and we will be watching over him but after that my days will free to campaign. Door to door work would keep me fit. I might try it.

My Zealotry

It took a second reading of the Trib’s editorial endorsement for me to grasp the Editor’s failure to really understand me.

I was called an anti Red Plan zealot. I’ll confess readily to the zealotry. However, my zealotry was confined to outrage over the theft of my voting rights. The rest of my criticism of the Red Plan congealed over time as the evidence of its many duplicities and impossible promises built up.

I do like the folks at the Trib for whom I have been a mighty critic. I liked them even when I was at my most zealous and critical. I hold no grudges against anyone with the possible exception of Supt. Dixon who has no honor or scruples and who abandoned the Duluth Schools just before they fell over Niagara.

So once again. Harry is and has been a zealot about voting rights.

Not Eudora Again # 5

So far this year I’ve been pleasantly surprised how easy it has been for me to come up with Not Eudora columns. Perhaps its simply an explosion of ideas pent up for the six or so years since I last wrote for the Reader Weekly. Heck, by the time I’d hung up my byline I’d mostly descended into writing myopically about the Red Plan. I don’t mind writing about politics but for special writing like the Reader I’d like to play around a little.

I never reveal yet to be published material until the actual publishing date. I do fudge a little by making the first few lines available. I composed this in my head on Monday while I was painting. I never found the time to start writing it until this morning and in the intervening days I’d gotten concerned that the thread of my thought that had seemed indistructable five days earlier had grown feeble. I did write a 30 word outline on Monday so I wouldn’t forget the gist of what was in my head but over the week I never could conjur up those original thoughts.

I woke up last night and spent an hour and a half composing yet a new column for two weeks from now that peeled like a tangerine skin onto the page. Then having built up some rhythm and steam I turned to the problematic “The Devil’s Friend.” Like magic it reassembled itself. I even went back to bed confident that it could be polished off early the next morning. My confidence was rewarded. I sent it in to the Reader by 10:00 AM four hours before deadline.

Sadly, I did have to sacrifice a visit with my Mother today but I think I can manage that tomorrow depending on when my grandson’s big birthday party commences. If you want to take that peek The Devil’s Friend begins here. The two most startling events are based on reports I believe to be true or largely so.


Perhaps this blog is the DNT’s editorial caveat that I have not always used my knowledge for good in their otherwise ringing endorsement of my candidacy. So be it. My fingers tell all……or a lot……with much more to tell should I get elected to the School Board in the General Election.

Nice picture they took of me By the way. Thanks Clint. It only took about six clicks and five minutes.

The photo session happened yesterday. It was one of several things I was busy with that kept me from the blog. First and foremost was an uninterrupted walk with my wife and grandsons on a beautiful morning through our City’s Rose Garden and Leif Erickson Park. Thank you Liam for not sending me any texts that morning at my request. Sometimes one needs a mental health break. Liam and I had plenty of opportunity to conduct politics later at lunch. There was so much to discuss including my tardy work updating my campaign website and a disquisition about the meeting in West Duluth about how to react after the Trayvon Martin shooting. And when will I send out a fund raising letter and when will I have a campaign flyer and when will I order lawnsigns etc. etc. etc.

Its not surprising that the subject of racial justice is on Liam’s mind. He already texted me today in horror asking about the news story revealing that Duluth is desegregating only now! I’ve ignored the text because I’ll have hours upon hours to explain our school district’s history of deseg and the Red Plan’s concentration of minorities at a later date. Now I have two things to do along with this blog update (which seems a luxury time barely affords me). I must pay a call to my Mother for a belated visit and I must find time this morning to write my next column for the Reader Weekly. Both tasks will require some concentration and because our daughter has started back to work but school has not yet begun for her children grandparenting will be required as well. I’ll leave most of that up to Claudia.

BTW. Much to my surprise the Trib’s one mention of school board candidates attending the Trayvon discussion was my name under a photo caption showing me amidst a small gathering. There were six or so candidates there and some of them even had their faces in view in the photo with my back to the photographer. When I set up my photo shoot with Bob and Clint at the Trib I told them a head shot might not be necessary because they already had one of my best side.

The levy referendum

The Tribune’s Jana Hollingsworth worked overtime last night to carefully explain how the District’s finances work vis a vis the proposed operational levies that will go before voters this November.

We had emailed a few weeks earlier and I told her I should get together with her to better understand how the finances work. I think she may have felt a little worried that my obvious confusion was somehow tied to her coverage. Not so. My cluelessness is my own fault. I’ve spent too much time being a grandparent and working on long deferred home maintenance to delve as deeply as I needed to.

I wondered if she was worried that I blamed her when she walked up and tried to walk me through the finance issues during last night’s meeting. I gave up after she explained that there were two $300 figures not just one. That confused me enough I knew I would need a break over coffee to make sense of it rather than a hasty clarification while the Board members were pontificating.

I spent an hour typing up my own understanding of the finances last night until my mind went blank. I needed some more sleep but sadly my brain was too wired to give me much of that either. I’ll resume writing my explanation of the finances shortly and, as I wrote before, pass it on to others like Jana to see if I’ve got it right.

Another person who stopped by to talk to me at the meeting was Tom Albright. He’s a stand-up supporter of the referendum and the son of former City Councilwoman Cynthia Albright. He gave me his pro-levy organization’s website URL and I plan to check it out soon. Its www.standupforkidsduluth.com.

NOTE: that url didn’t work for me when I just tried to access it. I left a message with Tom just now to get the right URL. I also googled “stand up for kids duluth” and found a Facebook page for this but it has a different URL

I told him that I have voted for every levy and never opposed one and that I’ll be supporting this one. I did tell him that because of the School Board’s actions I could not in good conscience recommend voting for some recent operational referendums and kept my thoughts private. I look forward to meeting with him soon. I’m sure I’ll have some suggestions for him.

Crikey! Its already 11AM. I just got a call from my brother in St. Louis and had a very pleasant conversation. He had my son over for dinner recently and could report on my son’s good fortune. But that takes a nibble out of my time.

I still have to draw a Ninja turtle target for my grandson’s party- and finish that levy explanation – and maybe paint some windows – and then attend a NAACP meeting tonight although that conflicts with my Wednesday night grandparenting duties. No wonder I have had a heck of a time sitting down to figure out the levy stuff.