No apology has been tendered.
…even one that is being solicited like this one, is always welcome.
I asked our statistics guru for the District, Dr. Lake, to provide me with a snapshot of the three-year graduation rates of recent ISD 709 classes. We can keep track of them by year three years running and some small percentage of students finish up in their fourth year or fifth year following the year they entered ninth grade. That’s one or two years after they were originally scheduled to graduate.
This chart shows that the 9th graders in the 05-06, 06-07 and 07-08 school years did about the same. But the students who entered ninth grade in 2009 and who were scheduled to graduate three years later in 2012 took a hit. 3% to 4% fewer of them graduated than the ninth graders who preceded them. It looks like the numbers are rebounding for the kids who entered ninth grade in 2009 (the final single blue column on this chart).
As near as I can tell the Milwaukee behemoth got better than $60 million of our $305 million Red Plan. That’s a far cry from the $4.5 million pay we were assured by Supt Dixon that they would be paid and which got Gary Glass called a liar by ex-Senator (and Fargo Forum editorialist) Ralph Doty, when Gary said they might collect as much as $33.4 million.
On June 17, 2007, at a meeting of the Duluth Heights Community Club, Mr. Glass criticized Johnson Controls for what he claimed would be a financial windfall (he called it a “plum”) for the company if it’s later hired to manage remodeling and construction of school buildings. Glass contended that Johnson Controls stood to get up to $33.4 million. The Duluth News Tribune reported on Mr. Glass’s comments the next morning.
But Mr. Glass was wrong. So, the following day, June 19, the News Tribune published a front-page story of clarification. It turns out that Johnson Controls got $250,000 for the study and follow-up activities, and could possibly earn another $4.5 million for managing projects. Undeterred by the fact he was $28.9 million off the mark, candidate Glass continues his reckless attacks on Johnson Controls.
I’ve explained before that on occasion I like to stop new posts just to lest one particular post sit at the top of the blog. In our Board agendas we call these “placeholders.” They are subjects that we will soon revisit at later meetings. The previous post which has reigned at the top for a couple days now has been a placeholder. But its time to forge ahead.
Placebo effect – All I’ve done is to see a doctor but its been a little like visiting a shaman. I feel much better not ignoring my health. It looks like I’ll live.
Zealotry – I’ve only received a single comment from my email in the preceding post and it suggested that I may have a blood feud with Frank Wanner. To which I replied that I had no such thing and that as an example of our relationship shortly after Frank threatened to defeat me when I ran for reelection to the School Board in 1999 and failed to stop my reelection I sought him out afterward and we had several candid and cordial conversations.
Blood feuds are the stuff of Zealots and I’m pleased to report I just finished reading Reza Aslan’s book of the same name. I ended up having some heated conversations with my wife, the theology student, about the author’s certainty in his analysis of Jesus. I think he made a pretty rational case which I’ve always been inclined towards and did an even better job explaining the facts on the ground so that I finally have a coherent understanding of politics and sociology of 1st Century Jerusalem.
Getting rid of the clutter – It still surrounds me in my office but I did finish up the lesser of two jobs attacking it. The lesser one was organizing my multitudinous computer passwords which have been accumulating over the years. The next job is much bigger. I have all those pages of budget information which I pulled together a couple weeks ago. In light of my assertive request for a good budget forecast I have a responsibility to organize them so as to ask the many questions they raised for me.
Priorities – All my priorities (the public ones anyway) can be lumped into a single goal. Fixing the Duluth Schools. I am reconciled to the possibility that I will fail in helping bring this about. On the other hand I have more confidence that if there is a cliff out there for us to plunge over at least I’ll be able to keep my eyes open as I take the fall. Think the movie Gravity at the point when the heroine finds a possible means of escape.
Last night I said I planned on pulling all that budget info on my office floor into some semblance of order. Well, I don’t think I will. I laid awake in bed for at least two hours after composing the last post. I hate stress. Its a manifestation of feeling no control. One way or another I will reclaim control of myself and, paraphrasing the Serenity Prayer, let loose those things beyond my control. So much easier said than done.
Last night I sent the following email to all the members of the School Board just before those sleepless hours in bed.
From: Harry R Welty
Sent: Saturday, March 22, 2014 1:13 AM
To: School Board
Cc: William L Gronseth; William C Hanson
Subject: negotiations and budget
Item 1. I am informing the Board of my intent and determination to sit in through the next negotiations session. Unless there is a state statute empowering a majority of the School Board to prevent me from attending that is what I will do. I hope another School Board member will join me through the negotiation session. My intention is to sit through the session as quiet as a church mouse as I do not have any official capacity to be a spokesman for the Board majority.
Item 2. I want the Finance Department to print out the power point spread sheet that they put on the screen for ten minutes in the first January Budget meeting which showed a projected $9.6 budget deficit in the next few years. We have, as you all know, made some decisions recently that will greatly increase that deficit. With that spread sheet in hand I would then like to have a Budget meeting held to discuss the implications of these projections. What, for instance, do they portend for a hoped for budget surplus?
Its 1:12AM Saturday morning. Now I hope I can get some sleep. Anxiety makes it hard for me to slumber.
Confidentiality Notice: This E-mail message, including any attachments, is for the sole use of the intended recipient(s) and may contain confidential and privileged information. Any unauthorized review, use, disclosure or distribution is prohibited. If you are not the intended recipient, please contact the sender by reply E-mail and destroy all copies of the original message.
I can guarantee that this will promote some anxiety among my fellow board members. Good. Why should I have all the fun?
It has already been suggested that the teacher union lead negotiatior will explode in wrath if and when he sees me and stalk out of the meeting. I could only laugh at this prediction. I have fifty or sixty of his old diatribes in my files from my previous time on the Board when he railed and railed that there were no Board members at the negotiations table.
As for the rest of today while I let the Budget mess moulder…..well, I read another chapter of the book Zealot to Claudia. I’m almost half way through it but Claudia will likely have to finish it up on her own since her book club will meet to discuss it Monday.
Better yet, I’ve got an appointment to take my grandson’s and their family to see the next Muppet Movie at 4PM this afternoon. The Duluth Superior Symphony will follow at 7. I’m trying to keep my life in balance so that I can make it alive to my Physical on Monday.
That doesn’t mean I’ve given up on other school district related phenomena. At the moment I’m printing up the 77 page state report on the teacher’s pension programs that I alluded to here. It will join the 47 page report from our Facilities guy Kerry Leider on our energy savings that is part of my growing reading list.
As for the legislation rolling the Duluth teachers pension into the State’s TRA (Teacher’s Retirement Association) I was assured recently that it looked like it was going through. I’ll believe it when I see it. Until then all my teacher readers, like the near panicked one who read my gloomy post on the subject a few days ago, – remember – you still have about five minutes to contact our legislators in St. Paul to urge them to get the job done. One of them, Sen. Roger Reinert, very kindly sent me a copy of Minnesota’s latest “Blue Book” with a note congratulating me on my recent election. Thanks Roger.
The Union may be trying to bleed an onion in the latest contract talks but while doing so they are ignoring the threatened pensions of better than a thousand retired Duluth teachers. Excellent priorities guys! This is one chainsaw too many for me to bother with anymore. This warning will have to suffice. Ready, Frank? Catch!
Sometimes your buddies can piss you off but then they send you something to help you take heart. My buddy sent me this after my taxonomically challenged post last night. Many thanks.
e e cummings (from a letter, 1935):
to be nobody but yourself â€“
in a world which is doing its best
night and day
to make you everybody else â€“
means to fight the hardest battle
which any human being can fight,
and never stop fighting.
(I’m still taking a sabbatical from reading his emails lest they too exert too much force and pull me into becoming “everybody else”)
$9.6 million. Shit!
Sorry Buddy, I’m not going to be putting that series of emails in lincoln democrat that show your terrible cursing. In fact, like last year during the campaign I’ll probably stop reading your emails altogether. I sent you a last email tonight so garbled it would have embarrassed me had I not been so dog tired. I didn’t go and get that wine I said I was going to get when I pushed the send button. I’d already had a couple glasses. My comment to you about not much liking some earthy words like Shit and f***, in the blog at least, were true. My Dad did always tell me to keep them in check until I wanted people to pay attention lest they stop paying you any attention…….. Well, Take a look at how this post begins. I want my eight loyal readers to pay attention now.
I’m still juggling five chainsaws. I tried to go to bed a couple hours ago shortly after I pushed the “send” button. Sleep held off and I just got out of bed wide awake the chainsaws motors having once again kicked in, one in particular. I’ve been trying to remember just how big the deficit was that the District’s finance guy projected at our first Budget meeting back in January. I’d been thinking it was 6 million then I second guessed myself thinking it might have been three million. I hope my daughter comes and sings to me when I get completely demented because it looks like I’m getting there a helluva lot faster that I’d hoped. We were projected to be $9.6 million in deficit!
I spent a week sorting through and organizing a ream of finance papers from miscellaneous sources a couple weeks ago. Then before I put them together in some coherent fashion I got wrapped up in figuring out if we’d stopped teaching half our subjects at our glorious trophy school, Laura MacArthur, to achieve the glory. I’m still trying to figure out how that could have happened under MDE’s nose considering that they put a million-plus into the school to pull off our little testing miracle. From the correspondence I’ve just been given is sure looks like the MDE was none to happy to find this out. We are getting a more vigorous alignment than a sadistic chiropractor would give the Elephant Man.
I still didn’t know the answer to that vexing deficit question which I had set aside during my two-week curriculum detour but while lying in bed just a bit ago I kept coming back will our deficit be. It will be even worse because of some closed meetings we’ve had. Shhhh Harry! Shut your mouth or you will get a good scolding.
I knew I’d posted the figure in a blog post a couple months ago. I remembered that because I remembered complaining in the post that the Duluth News Tribune’s story about the Budget meeting did not mention that alarming figure. I’d been quite exercised that our Finance Dept. had never bothered to print out the projections for us to file away. They were on a power point spread sheet only for about ten minutes. The Finance guys couldn’t get the excel columns lined up so I never got a chance to see how they came up with such a remarkable prediction. Annie Harala had to go over to their computer to show them how to do it. They have never mentioned that deficit since then. I can’t even remember if it was the 2016-17 or the 2017-18 school year that they were supposed to occur. That’s why having a paper copy of it would be most helpful.
I did write a private email to one Board member last night explaining that we faced a big deficit but I think I suggested it was a mere six million. I also noted that it would occur when he/she was running for reelection. I wanted something other than an expletive to get their attention.
If the Finance Dept was to project that deficit now it would be an eleven or twelve million deficit.
I never got those budget docs of mine organized. They have been laying in separate piles on various beds and floors throughout my house as I’ve had to move them from room to room over the last couple weeks. I spent the half hour before posting this getting more recent papers off of them and filed away to reveal the fossilized budget papers below. Now I can add the real anticipated deficit to them in trying to figure out the real fiscal circumstances we face. I’ll devote another six or seven hours to the District’s plight tomorrow, Saturday, which will be a bit shorter than the time I’ve been spending on it weekdays for the past couple weeks.
I’ve got a physician checking my heart on Monday. I hope I last that long.
Twenty-six years ago I placed my hand on my father’s chest to feel his last few heartbeats. It was the only encounter with death that I’ve witnessed. Today my Mother is living ten year’s past her mental function. I was going to put up a post a day ago called “Wayfarin Stranger” about her condition but didn’t have the time. I’ll make this brief because I suddenly notice a bunch of phantom auroras across this typing that make typing a little more of a chore. Claudia gets such things all the time and tells me they are associated with painless migraines. Maybe…..Claudia hates it when I say that to her.
I just scheduled a physical for Monday because of the odd sensations I’m picking up in my chest. If my general well being is such I’m told that its nothing that alone should lesson my anxiety and make them ease off. I’ve blogged ad nauseum about my fears for the Duluth School District in recent weeks. I should be crawling in bed with my grandson in the morning like I did today rather than fretting over stressing to death over something I have such tenuous control over. I’d like to make it to his college graduation and that’s a few years off yet.
I’ve got a buddy who I regularly piss off by badmouthing Republicans. Ours is an on again off again correspondence. We have had a doozy over the last couple days which, if I find time, I might put into a new post. I’ll have to plaster his emails with asterisks to hide all the
in it. Even so he sent me a link to this story about a physician who was obsessed with death and who recently died. Its well worth reading.
I had dinner with Shep Nuland once, along with several other Yale students. It was right after he had given a talk on his battle with depression, his near complete loss of will. “All my major surgical cases,” he said, “I was scheduling them for twelve, one o’clock in the afternoon, because I couldn’t get out of bed before about eleven. I clearly became increasingly depressed until I thought, my God, I can’t work anymore.” He was admitted to a psychiatric hospital, where every treatment failed: “it got so there was a throbbing, there was a ferocious fear in my head. You’ve seen this painting by Edvard Munch, The Scream. Every moment was a scream.” He nearly had a lobotomy but a resident physician convinced the staff to try electroconvulsive therapy, and after twenty cycles, ‘I’ve never forgotten. I never will forget standing in the kitchen of the unit and thinking, ‘I’ve got the strength now to do this.'”
This put me in mind of the wonderful British series Doc Martin. Its a delicious series about a prickly surgeon who gives up his high powered London practice for a simple GP practice out in the sticks because he has developed a blood phobia. He can not suffer fools (meaning most of his clientele) gladly. I think my buddy and the Doc have a lot in common. You can live stream it on Netflix.
I’m going to go take a quick nap. I can barely see my screen. Got to get my eyesight back. I’ve got a lot of emails to write.
In the ongoing legal war north of Duluth in the St. Louis County Schools:
In his testimony, [Superintendent] Rick acknowledged that the discrepancies between the financial claims that the district made in newsletters and brochures it sent to voters and the actual figures might have made a difference in how residents voted on the referendum.
He further testified that he believed the updated financial projections, which would have revealed the district’s improved finances, were never completed. Left unanswered was who made the decision not to complete the updated projections, and why. Also unanswered is why the school district paid JCI for the financial work, which it did according to invoices reviewed by the Timberjay, if the work was never completed.
Yesterday I think my head was still too full of unprocessed thoughts to blog coherently.
Fortunately, there is now an excellent synopsis of our last School Board meeting from Karl Schuettler. The tone of Karl’s post is even handed but not quite bland. His comment about the “Power Hour” was wry and his observations about individual Board members while mild in delivery had some punch. Here’s a sample that might make you think you will fall to sleep reading it all but a little later in his post he returns to the threat to Duluth’s music program with his acknowledgement that Ms. Blomquist’s prognostications might indeed materialize.
The night began on a musical theme, as the Duluth East Choralaires and Sterling Strings both performed in honor of Music in the Schools Month. (This former Sterling Strings bassist was pleased with the performance of his successor.) Ms. Teri Akervik, the schools’ Music Curriculum Specialist, then put in her plug for music programming in the schools, talking of the â€œroller coasterâ€ of funding cuts over the past decade. A citizen speaker who gives private music lessons, Ms. Jana Blomquist, gave an even more pointed plea. She compared Duluth to her former home in Iowa, where children began on instruments at much younger ages, and claimed there was a large gap between the talents of young musicians in surrounding districts and those in Duluth.
Karl is by nature mild mannered which he will need to shake off as his talents require a little more confidence. A graduate of East High he has returned in recent years from Georgetown U in Washington DC where he picked up a currently hard to market degree in International Relations. I’d suggest he infuse his life with a bit of the passion which he attaches to the sport of hockey. Anyone looking for a careful and exact writer look no further than Karl. He has some serious journalistic chops.
Ironically its hockey that gave Karl his first look at me when I served on the School Board in 2003 and was embroiled in the heated decision to remove the East Hockey coach. Karl was an underclassman who showed up at Board meetings and evidently watched me much like a fly on the wall. He contacted me last summer a decade later, through email about my campaign. I had to defend myself a bit about my long antagonism over the Red Plan. We had lunch and Karl followed that up by blogging a bit about the election enthusing that my cup-half-empty attitude might merged with the Superintendent’s cup-half-full thinking could help patch up Duluth’s school board politics and schools.
Jana Hollingsworth of the DNT will never have the luxury of Karl’s blog space, the Internet being close to infinite, so if you are a Duluth School nerd read Karl’s wrap up.
You will also soon be able to read Loren Martell’s thoughts about our meeting. Loren ran twice for the school board with my enthusiastic support. If you are new to Duluth you can put his name in my blog’s search engine and get an eyeful of my comments about him. Loren was handcuffed at a School Board meeting two years ago for standing mute in front of the microphone where the public is invited to express its thoughts before a school board meeting. The Chairman had cut off the mike. Last night Loren signed up to speak again but after hearing the lulling music from our East high school music students he said he didn’t want to rain on our parade with some of his cup half empty convictions. (my paraphrase)
Loren can be accused of having an axe to grind so his commentary following our meetings in the Reader Weekly might be read with some trepidation. I think they are a welcome addition to school board commentary although I almost took his head off after the last one for taking liberties with some punctuation that compromised an otherwise smart description of the meeting. I look forward to reading his next analysis. As Karl Shuettler suggests at the outset of his blog post our meeting was so pregnant that it could not be summarized “pithily.” Good luck Loren, Karl set a high bar.
I’ve always hated reading news stories about current events that I’ve been following for months that had to go back to the very familiar beginning each time some new tidbit has been added. I’m perfectly familiar with the old part of the new news. Its like singing one of those songs like There was an old lady that swallowed a fly or On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me. All I can think is cut it out. We’ve sung that verse already.
Well, I’m going to do that to my long time readers because I have to write for new readers who don’t know my habits as a blogger.
I write about what’s on my mind at any given time. Sometimes its all the local school politics I’m immersed and fixated on. At other times I beat up the neolithic Republican Party. You can see the major categories of subjects of interest to me on the right hand side of this blog. One of them is “Harry’s Diary” in which I give glimpses of my personal life as it collides with my public life.
Last night’s school board meeting kept digging ISD 709 deeper into the muck in my estimation. On the other hand I showed my fangs briefly which felt cleansing. Otherwise the Board acted like a functional board and we could discuss dicey issues with thoughtfulness and respect. In this respect today’s Duluth School Board is the best Board we have had in a decade or more. (when I last served on it)
At the moment I’ve got about ten things I’d like to do and I’m lousy at multi tasking. Writing in the Blog about my Mom, about the Board, about a couple taboo subjects that could get me in dutch with other Board members and make it less likely that they will cooperate with me in the future. Reading a 50 plus page report on Energy Savings from our Red Plan Schools. Organizing a lot of documents I’ve collected that explain different parts of our school finances, and sitting down and reading the next 25 pages in Bully Pulpit which will get me to half way mark in that 750 page tome.
Those are the things that stike me as needing immediate work anyway. I know there are more.
I spent a good ten hours on School district stuff yesterday. That’s becoming a pretty reliable amount of time for me to spend on the District in recent weeks. I’ve got a couple hours into District work today. I’m going to catch a quick nap and clear my mind and see which of the tasks I wake up feeling most inclined to turn my attention to.
I left this post as sort of a placeholder that I intended to finish up the next day. The next day came and went and the next day.
I’m reluctant to comment on it now because, like the graduation/dropout rate its a sore subject that requires some thought and a little communication for me to sort out. Its not the first post on the subject that I’ve failed to complete or in some other way interrupted. A week or more ago I woke up in the middle of the night and composed five “chainsaws” or posts about School District related issues that were eating at me. This all has to do with Chainsaw number three. That chainsaw is still sawing away at me. It involves one of our schools that has been given a lot of great publicity for having turned around. We may have cut some corners getting from A to Z and some members of the alphabet are none too pleased.
I’ll just say that this issue is still gnawing away at me and that I honestly don’t know quite how to deal with it. After I’ve reached some sort of resolution in my own mind I’ll feel more free to pontificate.
At last week’s Education meeting, which was a short two hours long because we had to end at 6pm because townships were holding elections,we got an important presentation about graduation rates. It caught my eye because it showed numbers for graduation rates the year I left the school board in 2004 that were far lower than I recalled. That’s important to me because I’ve been a little high and mighty in saying that the graduation rates seem to have fallen in our mad rush to finish the Red Plan.
It was explained to us that the MDE (Minnesota Dept. of Education) had changed the statistical system going back. I guess that meant that the rates might not have been presented as so dismal to me back in 2003. I’m not sure I buy that as an excuse for my past ignorance especially because I got elected after making a big deal about the obverse of a graduation rate – the dropout rate.
According to the figures presented in June of 2004, six months after I’d stepped off the Board we had a 75.09 graduation rate and in 2013 Duluth had a 78.55 graduation rate. While some of the obverse statistics would not have been dropouts if the students died were sent to prison or a half other categories of things generally between 21 and 25% of our ninth graders failed to graduate from the Duluth public schools.
I certainly asked a couple of questions about this in our abbreviated meeting and when I got pretty nitpicky our stats person offered to give me the Education Department’s 17 page explanation of how to read the stats. That’s what I spent the morning doing yesterday. Then yesterday afternoon I went up to my attic and rummaged through the old files from my school board days that I had filed under “data” and looked to see if those numbers were echoed in the statistics from my Era on the Board. Long before my three hour’s of going through them I realized the current numbers seemed good as gold.
So, if its not clear where I’m heading this is it. The Red Plan does not, counter to my claims, seem to have hurt our graduation rates in Duluth. I’m not finished digging, however. I have the sense that we have large numbers of rootless kids not attached to our schools and my sense is that its worse than when I served. If I am right, and there is no proof of this yet, I’ll be very interested in figuring out how this came to pass.
There is one more crow eating stat I should acknowledge. The numbers of our minority children graduating are pathetic to be charitable. I note this because I have pointed to an early criticism by a former Board colleague of mine who argued that Dixon had a terrible record educating minority children in his Faribault district. Well, I guess we shouldn’t have gotten so high and mighty about that seeing how dismal our own record was.
I’m glad I spent the time going through my old files. I found some interesting things in them. I guess that’s why I couldn’t bear to throw them out when I retired from the Board a decade ago. Its the archivist in me.
I think the respectful emails that Deputy Police Chief Tusken and I sent each other are good examples of how a conversation, even when typed out, should proceed. Ultimately I think we both agreed to disagree although the subject of Closed Campuses may very well be revisited.
In our last exchange I did note that I was sorry that Officer Tusken and other police who had worked on closed campuses and come to expect them for nearly a year had to read about the School Board’s change of heart in the newspaper. That’s not how partners should find about things. Its not how school board members should find out about things. Hint, hint.
I’ll chalk it off to oversight, at least in this instance, but too many instances of oversight might push me over the edge toward crankiness. I have been asked by Administration to submit questions in advance of meetings so that they can study and prepare good replies. Making sure not to take people by surprise is a two-way street.
From: Mike Tusken
Sent: Saturday, March 15, 2014 7:09 AM
To: Harry R Welty
Cc: William L Gronseth
Subject: Re: Closed Campuses
Mr. Welty, thank you for your response. We do not agree. Your philosophy and ideology is based on your experiences but is void of analysis of current trends and best practices.
You draw from your experiences and parenting as a kid, not those of a student who lacks the proper oversight, mentoring and direction. Fortunate for you, your experience was good.
As a leader and policy maker, please ask why is Duluth different? Are we more perceptive to what kids really need? Because we have open lunch, are our kids more well rounded later in life? Do we think tragedy in many forms won’t or can’t happen here? Have we done our due diligence to research and analyze how other districts work to keep kids safe?Do our policies give our kids the best chance for success and safety? Are we satisfied relenting knowing kids will make bad decisions as part of growing up, therefore, some tragedy is inevitable? Could changing open campuses to closed change student behavior and engagement and narrow achievement gaps?
I am scoffed at by other area school administrators when I bring up the notion of considering opening a closed campus. The response is the same, “We have a tough enough time managing behaviors within our buildings!’ Followed by, ‘How and why does Duluth do it?’
Perhaps some analysis on the impact open lunch has on truancy will provide you reason to support closing campuses. Anecdotally, the school resource officers see a nexus between truancy and lunch periods.
Perhaps changing the paradigm of safety restricting student freedoms to a focus on education and narrowing achievement gaps will provide reason to align district policies with the significant majority of school districts having closed campuses.
Certainly I think we can both agree, they can’t all be wrong.
You are perfectly correct about the value of anecdotal vs. statistical information. I did have a fortunate up bringing.
Although I have disagreed with your call for a closed hour I’m still open to it. If other administrators have scoffed at your analysis that is not helpful or useful. Perhaps you will agree with me that any policing action that is undertaken halfheartedly and without the necessary resources is likely to fail. Perhaps that is my greatest fear.
Right now 25% of our kids do not graduate from school. I am beginning to look into this and I’ll bet your anecdotal evidence suggest to you that young people wandering around out of school no matter when is a huge problem. Closed lunch or not that is something we can both work to correct for the good of the children and the community.
As for the closed lunch hour give me the resources and I’ll give it serious consideration. Once, if ever it is, in place we can begin to sort though the statistical evidence.
…is an excuse”:
A well deserved self administrated back pat from the Timberjay Newspaper:
Here comes the sun?
Legislators deserve credit for efforts to restore openness to government contractors
Every year, advocates of government openness celebrate Sunshine Week, set this year for March 16-22. It’s a time when many of us in the media tout the myriad benefits to the public that result from keeping government records open and available to the public.
While it’s easy, and often legitimate, to criticize the media for its at times overwhelming attention to the titillating and the sensational “often at the expense of real news” there are still those reporters willing and eager to do the hard work of the public watchdog. Yet without access to government records, it is almost impossible for even the most intrepid of reporters to perform their critical role in our democracy.
As regular readers of the Timberjay well know, gaining access to public information isn’t always as easy as one might expect given laws that require access in most cases. We’ve seen time after time instances where public officials were slow to respond to information requests, or simply violated the law by refusing to provide records that are clearly public. And as our longstanding legal case against Johnson Controls, Inc., demonstrates, when public officials fail to do their duty in drafting appropriate and legally-compliant consulting and construction contracts, it can let contractors off the hook and leave the public in the dark about key details of multi-million-dollar government projects.
In overturning a unanimous decision by the Court of Appeals, the Supreme Court in Helmberger v. Johnson Controls, Inc., carved out a potential loophole that could exempt billions of dollars worth of public contracts annually from scrutiny.
Fortunately, Minnesota legislators on both sides of the aisle are now working to plug that loophole. Legislation, dubbed the Timberjay bill, that advanced unanimously in both House and Senate committees last week would essentially erase the Supreme Court’s recent decision in our case, and protect the public’s right to know.
The new legislation would still require governments doing business with private companies to include a notice in their contracts that any documents or other information they develop as part of that contract is subject to an open records request. But if, as in the case of the St. Louis County School District and JCI, that provision was never included in the contract, the law would apply nonetheless.
That was clearly the intent of legislators back in 1999, when they amended the state’s public records law to include government contractors. The state Department of Administration and lower courts had agreed with that view from the beginning.
The Supreme Court is the only judicial body that has taken the somewhat strange position that if a governmental unit neglects to inform a contractor of their legal requirements, their legal requirements don’t apply. At least as far as the Supreme Court is concerned, ignorance of the law is an excuse.
Fortunately, it appears few in the Legislature share that view, and with any luck, Minnesota will soon have a new law on the books that ensures that the sun will continue to shine on public construction projects. That’s worth our attention and appreciation during Sunshine Week.
I’ll give myself a day to ruminate on what to put here.
Yesterday’s News Concerning.
â€œIt was brought to our attention that there may be concerns about their alignment with standards and curriculum,â€ Briner said. â€œWe worked closely with Duluth to take a look at where they are. â€¦ Aligning curriculum is a challenging exercise, especially with districts with limited resources.â€
Today’s news verging on Alarming.
“The former Duluth school district substitute teacher said Friday that last year, the school chose not to teach science and social studies.”