200 Lockers

In the last post I griped about the short life of News Tribune stories on their website. I didn’t write about the coverage of the last school board meeting on Jan 13th. Now I can’t find the Trib’s story on the web.

As per usual only one issue was covered and on this occasion it had to do with our spending the rest of the Red Plan’s money – about five million dollars. We chose to spend it on remaining building projects that were among the lower priorities. Two of us dissented also as per usual.

About $1.9 million of these dollars were to be taken out of the General Fund. Bill Hanson maintained they were not operational funds but considering all the liberties taken with General Fund monies over the course of the Red Plan I have my doubts about this claim.

The folks wishing to keep all this money in capital projects made some strong arguments for these being student friendly expenditures. Nonetheless, with our crowded classes I wasn’t persuaded.

One of the expenses will be for the building of 200 new lockers at East High so kids won’t have to share. Of course, this could be a very short lived benefit. We know that Edison is likely to have a new high school built in two years. Once they build it it will siphon roughly 150 kids out of ISD 709 for four straight years for a total of 600 students. East is likely to have a locker surplus in a few short years. I wish we had more time to consider where we were spending the nearly two million dollars being taken out of the General fund. Its twenty teacher’s worth of spending over one year.

Itt was worth more of a discussion than we had.

A Memory confirmed for me …

…not for our recent Chairman.

Art Johnston and I have a similar problem. We never seem to throw anything away. The clear evidence of Art’s overflowing documentation is his office. Its got boxes of stuff all over the floor. That is a problem for me too but I have been in the habit of taking stuff up to my attic when I start feeling like one of the characters out of that television series about hoarders.

Actually, resistant as I am to tossing things out, I’ve been slowly and steadily cleaning out my attic for ten years or more. I probably got started about the time I fell off the School Board in 2004. It didn’t take me long, however, to begin accumulating at about the same rate I was tossing old stuff out. I’ve kept documents from my many races thinking they might made an interesting book about what drives a “perennial candidate” as the Trib’s editors are wont to call me. In my case its a story about how a “liberal” Republican coped with the two or three decades of purges that culled moderates from the party. That I landed in such infertile GOP soil as Duluth at the same time is another part of my ridiculous life.

Then In 2006 I caught wind of one of Minnesota’s biggest political scandals that had as its epicenter Duluth. I have a closet’s worth of documentation on that. A couple weeks ago I ran across someone who remembered two years worth of blog posts threatening to get that book written. She wondered if I ever managed it. No, I told her, but its too good a story for me to abandon. Its still qeued up waiting to land.

I set it on the shelf however, for another local scandal of sorts – the Red Plan. Once again I found myself threatening to write a tell all…..or at least one side of a tell all since the other side seemed to burn all its documents. Kevin Rupp was probably helpful with the lighter fluid.

Now I’ve got another book about the District’s educational politics in mind. Its one of a succession of books I’ve had in mind to write about the Duluth Public School experience. I think I have to write this same post once a year so I hope my long time readers will forgive me.

I plan on having my attic remodeled into an office some time in the next couple months. I need a space of sufficient size to put my stuff in some sort of orderly confusion if I’m ever going to finish any of my books.

One helpful item I have is my blog. Over the last several days of blog silence I’ve been going to that Wayback site that preserved most of the diary entries I lost a few years back. I’ve been printing them out and putting them in a three-ring binder. Unlike my blog entries diary entries were one-time compilations usually written at the end of a day. I didn’t write them every day and I only kept the School Board diary going for nine months. (It later morphed into a Politician’s Diary which had a short half-hearted life) I quit writing about the School Board because they stirred up a few of my fellow members who didn’t like me putting any spin back on their top serves.

Oh, there was one diary entry that wasn’t captured by the Wayback Machine. I only found a tantalizing reference to it in the page I set up for the year 2000″s May entries. It included the first paragraph of each day’s entry over the month. I titled the May 23rd entry “Missing Cues” for reasons that without the entire text are unclear. But this was the first paragraph:

Dear School Board Diary, The local section of the paper detailed a libel suit which our previous Superintendent Mark Myles is bringing against Al Netland, the President of AFSCME. Al had written a column over a year ago accusing Mark of benefiting financially from his association with the Edison Schools. It wasn’t true. Having had my own run ins with Al over the truth I didn’t have much sympathy for the union boss…

I’ve been looking for this information since last year’s MSBA convention.

At the end of that conference in an all too brief friendly period I got a ride back to Duluth with Chair Miernicki and Bill Westholm. Several future posts may include snippets of the conversations we had in the car. One of them involved this story. Mike was waxing eloquent on District history and speaking with great authority.

It may have been prompted by riffing on what Dr. Dixon might have gotten out of the Red Plan. Mike told us that Mark Myles left the Superintendency to collect an Edison paycheck. I’m not sure if I bothered to correct the Chairman or not. I might not have. But it was proof that Al’s damage had taken hold of at least one credulous teacher. I’m sure it was first spread around by Frank Wanner.

I devoted a fruitless day searching out the real story after my ride with Mike but I couldn’t recall the year. Now, with the help of the Wayback Machine, I had the month and year at hand and was able to go through my twenty year news clipping file. I quickly found both the story referenced in my diary and how it was settled in September of the same year.

In May Netland pooh poohed the suit, “This is nothing new,” he said at the story’s conclusion. However, Myles was paid to drop his suit and also got a fulsome apology from David Holwerk the then publisher of the Tribune.

BTW – I used to copy stories from the Trib’s early webpage back during this period and placed them on my webpage so that I could link to them from my web Diary. (The Trib only kept their stories on the web for about seven days) Holwerk, sent me a letter prompted by the Trib’s attorney’s telling me they owned the copyright and telling me to remove them from my website. I ignored the request for a year or so because the web was still in its infancy and I wasn’t convinced that I was doing the Trib any damage even though they clearly owned the copyright. When I finally did remove a couple year’s worth of stories, a sizable task, I managed to lose the diary posts too. Until the Wayback Machine I thought they were all lost forever.

This is proof that there is some truth to the claim by the fellow who alerted me to the Wayback Machine last year when I lamented the loss of all my early diary entries: “The Internet never forgets.” It turns out the Web has a memory almost as good as mine.

Re: the last post

Nope, I was off a bit about the State Constitution. The School Board should have almost as much trouble removing one of their own as the voters but it still requires more than having Attorney Rupp wave his magic wand.

This is what Minnesota’s constitution says it takes for the removal of an “inferior officer” like a school board member. It is far more specific than the vague law the District is hiding behind.

Article 8, Section 5

Sec. 5. Removal of inferior officers.The legislature of this state may provide for the removal of inferior officers for malfeasance or nonfeasance in the performance of their duties.

So is “shoving” malfeasance? I doubt it, especially when the shoving is contested. As for nonfeasance no one can accuse of Art Johnston of doing nothing to collect his school board stipend.

Jana Hollingsworth reported in a story a week or two ago that three school board members have been removed by school boards. I wonder. One of those removed never attended meetings (nonfeasance) and didn’t even show up for the hearing to determine whether he/she should be removed. That won’t happen to Art.

Another one that I’ve heard about was accused of plagiarism of all things. The story I’ve heard is that he asked and received permission of an author to borrow and amend the author’s work for a speech. His accusers labeled this plagiarism. Heck, Vice President Biden got into hot water for plagiarism once in the Senate an no one thought to impeach him. As for the copy happy school board member he was going to leave the area to get an advanced degree so he didn’t bother contesting his removal if that’s what the resulting vacancy was.

If these are the best examples of the success of the state’s vague removal statute they don’t inspire much confidence. It looks to me as though the Constitution trumps the statute.

We may soon see if our Courts are willing let a local school board remove a Board member for speaking hi/her mind. It could be an expensive lesson. Its cost other Minnesota elective bodies over a million in legal fees when they tried to shut up a colleague rather than let him/her make use of the Right of Free Speech.

“Rosie colored glasses”

The same fellow who sent me this email yesterday (which he titled “Rosie colored glasses”) sent this one as a follow up to my reply:

Mr. Welty,

Greetings again sir. I hope this finds you well. You have written, “…Kevin Rupp eager to sow the seeds of discord to boost his legal service fees”. I believe through your work with the SB, you have come by this opinion honestly. Are Mr Rupp or his firm the attorney’s who will defend the SD and the Rouge à cinq in the entirely predictable lawsuit, and if so, isn’t it a large conflict of interest and unethical? Would any taxpayer have standing to bring this to the attention of the Minnesota Office of Professional Responsibility? I worry about these things.

All good wishes,

****** ***

I sent him this reply:

****,

Those are very interesting questions. I am not a lawyer myself but I suspect such a suit would be a challenge. As for a citizen’s standing I would think that is possible. However, I think a more promising tactic is simply to wait until the District’s persecution of Art runs aground like the Costa Concordia under the command of its immature captain.

There is every reason to believe that the District will eventually be humiliated when the courts rule that our treatment of Art Johnston is indefensible.

I have decided that my role in this unfolding fiasco is to describe what I am witnessing as candidly as I can. That should give our School Board and attorney Rupp pause. I’m sure the legal fraternity is finding my posts about Mr. Rupp cringe worthy. Serves him right.

I will add that over eight years of blogging I’ve never once been challenged publicly for any serious inaccuracies. However, I was just censured by my colleagues on the school board for telling the truth. I rather enjoy the irony.

Then after sending it I had one more point to add in an email addendum:

I should add that Mr. Rupp’s firm has innovated a new legal specialty – depriving voters of their legally elected representatives.

When I was fighting for a referendum on the Red Plan back when were being told the phoney baloney cost was only a quarter billion dollars (It is almost twice that cost) we discovered to our dismay that the state legislature had made it virtually impossible to recall a school board member.

I am equally dismayed that the State legislature has given school boards no restriction for removing a school board member that a board majority deems annoying. All it takes is the unspecific term, “proper cause.”

This is the vague language of 123:09 BOARDS OF INDEPENDENT SCHOOL DISTRICTS.

subd. 9. Removing Board members. The board may remove, for proper cause, any member or officer of the board and fill the vacancy: but such removal must be by a concurrent vote of at least four members, at a meeting of whose time, place, and object the charged member has been duly notified, with the reasons for such proposed removal and after an opportunity to be heard in defense against the removal.

I have been told that this statute violates the Minnesota constitution and I wouldn’t be surprised. It was drawn up in an age when legislatures protected representatives and senators by shielding them from arrest during the duration of a legislative session. I wouldn’t be surprised if they extended similar protections to all elected officials back in those rough and tumble political times before the Civil War.

My blog is a treasure chest

In the previous post I did a search of my blog for mentions of Kevin Rupp. The first two mentions go back to 2009 and Let Duluth Vote’s lawsuit against the District. The second post in which he made an appearance is a hoot.

I asked Rupp’s caged bird, Attorney Mary Rice, if Art Johnston had violated any state statutes. She gave an imitation of Sgt. Schultz, “I know nothing,” and just kept pounding on the half dozen violations of school policy that – IN HER OPINION – Art violated. So what did Attorney Kevin Rupp say about the importance of our District’s policies when Art and I took the District to court for failing to bid out our half billion dollar Red Plan?

I advise you to sit down before reading.

“The notable thing is that [the plaintiffs] have not alleged the school district violated any law,” lawyer Kevin Rupp said. “They have only alleged the school district violated a policy. You can’t sue for violation of a policy.”

If I may be allowed to paraphrase our esteemed counsel I’d say:

The notable thing is that [the School Board] has not alleged that [Art Johnston] violated any law. They have only alleged the [Art] has violated a policy. You can’t [remove a school board member] for taking advantage of the First Amendment even if school policy frowns on free speech.

The first time I was in a school board minority

If you don’t count my first two years on the School Board from 96 to 97 when I was one of two new members my first crack at being in the minority was in the 2000-01 school year. Until this year I thought it was tough back then. Today those years look like a golden age to me.

By that time I was blogging even though that Internet term had barely been invented. I called my work “the school board diary.” Just like now school board members who disagreed with me wished I wouldn’t explain myself and the Board online. I only kept the diary off and on for a couple years. Shortly after I stepped off the school board in 2004 it appeared that all my diary entries had been accidentally deleted. Last year I discovered the Wayback Machine which saves billions of old webpages. It appears I can still access them. Just now I began printing them out to have a paper copy. This is the first of the pages I began with.

We were not a harmonious board in 2000 but at least we were a functioning board. I strongly disagreed with my adversaries. I did not have contempt for them. There was no Kevin Rupp eager to sow seeds of discord to boost his legal service fees.

Teasers

From an email this morning:

Mr Welty,

Good morning sir… I was perusing your blog this morning and catching up on the disaster that is our school board. I’m pretty sure there was text under the entry titled “Rosie’s criminal background check… . If I’m correct, what am I missing? Keep up the good work and fight.

My explanation:

Thanks ***,
I will be writing the post shortly. I suppose you could say that the headline sans text is my idea of a teaser to keep people coming back.
I will keep up the good fight.
Harry

Rosie’s Criminal Background Check…

…of Art Johnston.

“The investigation was brought forward because of Art Johnston’s violent abusive and harassing and threatening behaviors,” School Board Member Rosie Loeffler-Kemp

I wonder if Duluth School Board Clerk Rosie Loeffler-Kemp thought Art Johnston was abusive on the several occasions he urged her to run for the Duluth School Board. It’s funny how people can turn on you.

Rosie wasn’t even a full witness to the alleged “shove” that I’ve always thought was more likely to have resulted from the Superintendent jumping out of his skin and Art’s testosterone induced physicality (tap on the shoulder). But that didn’t stop her from claiming Art was violent. Had Art not been an elected official that would have been grounds for slander.

At no point did Mary Rice, Kevin Rupp’s hire to investigate Art, say she saw anything violent in the many youtubed videos of Art. She did find his comments derogatory toward the Board. I think that it is this, more than anything Rosie witnessed, which explains her sour summation of Art’s contributions to our school board. Rosie has labored for better than a decade to get herself elected and I don’t think she is eager to have anyone take the shine of her new apple – worms and all.

I wonder if Rosie has ever been put in a position to have a criminal background check performed on her. I under went one last year when I volunteered at Duluth’s Lifehouse but its not a requirement for running for the School Board. Maybe it should be. Art has passed two such checks. He passed with flying colors recently when he and his “friend” Jane applied to become foster parents. He also passed the much more stringent national security background checks relating to terrorism. That’s good because even while our school board is busy trying to remove him, rabid foam flecked fangs and all, he’s busy doing a hydro-logical study for the Federal Government on the replacement of a damn along the Mississippi River.

I guess he’s not considered a bomb thrower by the President. That’s just one more reason to impeach Obama!

MSBA Notes 3 – The right to remain stupid

I had a good long drive down to the MSBA convention on Wednesday and plenty of time to catch up after my week out of town. Art’s ongoing legal work was topic one.

Not to give away Art’s defense his attorney’s are focusing like a laser beam on his first amendment rights which came under assault in Mary Rice’s testimony. Rice claimed that half a dozen statements made by Art and directed at the School Board were derogatory toward the Board. Trust me when I tell you that all of them would have made a Congressman laugh out loud.

It was ironic then when I attended Tuesday’s session on Minnesota’s Labor Law PELRA (Public Employees Labor Relations Act) to hear the legal architect for Art’s removal, Kevin Rupp, giving a spirited defense of the Constitution. One of Art’s attorney’s was a long time attorney for the Minneapolis School District. He shared with Art a couple tricks of the trade which he said he never had to employ. Much of an ambitious Education attorney’s shtick is to scare the bejesus out of School Boards to make them feel naked without legal counsel. I picked up on that big time as I listened to Mr. Rupp waxing eloquent about PELRA.

I’ve written about the Minnesota Miracle often. I wrote a paper on it for my State and Local Government class when it was being debated and passed by the 1971 Minnesota legislature. It was the bipartisan law which took over the lion’s share of spending for K-12 education and put it in the hands of the state instead of local school districts. What I didn’t realize until the MSBA convention was that PELRA went into effect the same year. In other words the legislature decided to pay for most of public education removing the burden from school boards and under PELRA handed Teacher’s unions the right to strike for what had become 70 percent state money. How did this work out?

I was a teacher by 1974 and I remember reading in fascination about all the teacher’s strikes that were mushrooming around the state. The two Teacher’s unions that of that time were feuding to expand their membership at the other’s expense. It was amusement to hear the hardened AFT point its finger at the formerly goody-goody MEA and howl that they were striking too often. After all, it was the AFT (American Federation of Teachers) that belonged to the AFL-CIO. The Minnesota Education Association was practically the Chamber of Commerce.

In short order the legislature realized that it had opened up Pandora’s Box and that they were getting the blame for state tax increases while the innocent little school board’s were happy to give away the state’s money rather than have school close for a strike.

It only took nineteen years from 1971 to 1990 for public education spending to get out of hand. Coincidentally the DNT reprinted a great St. Paul Press story about state’s finances yesterday. Public Education and Health costs have pushed all other spending aside:

In 1990, health care and K-12 education ate up 44 percent of Minnesota’s general fund. But this year, that had soared to 66% – $2 out of every $3. “The story adds that in 1990 “adjusting for inflation, the 1990 budget spent just less than $4 billion on K-12 education.” Today it gets $8.1 billion.

The primary change to the PELRA last year was the creation of a Board to hear ULP’s – Unfair Labor Practice complaints. Apparently only three other state’s have failed to set up such a board and it means that suddenly it won’t be that expensive to file a ULP. The worrying part of Mr. Rupp’s presentation was that school district’s may suddenly become inundated with unfair labor suits which, of course, Mr. Rupp would be happy to defend districts from. Cue the ghost noises.

Our other presenter, Mr. Tolson head of the Bureau of Mediation Services did pour some water on the fire by telling us that where management and labor work amicably such suits are unlikely to proliferate. Whew!

I surely wouldn’t want interfere with Mr. Rupp’s sales pitch to new clients but I did find it ironic that he spent so much time warning school board members that employees have First Amendment rights. He told us that PELRA not only extends to our employee’s the right of free expression but that alarmingly it is also protected by the United State’s Constitution. How ironic it is that this is exactly what Mr. Rupp is helping our School Board deprive Art Johnston of.

Art told me that his attorneys have already sent Mr. Rupp their strong warnings against attempting to abridge Art Johnston’s right of free speech. I hope Mr. Rupp sees fit to pass their warning on to the School Board because our Board does not as yet realize the financial implications.

Art would not be the first elected official to be penalized for speaking his mind. Previous Federal cases have not gone well for the public bodies that tried to shut up one of their own. In fact, in federal court where Art’s case is heading, such deprivation of free speech has come back to haunt the censors. Several times court costs have been awarded to the target of the censorship to the tune of a million dollars and more.

Heck, a million dollars is better than ten teachers. That’s a helluva price to pay for peeing on the Constitution. But don’t worry. Kevin Rupp will make money no matter how the case goes. That’s all that counts.

MSBA Notes 2 – The Incredible Shrinking School District

I have the terrible gift of prophecy where the Duluth Schools are concerned. Much that has happened since the uber ambitious Red Plan was announced I anticipated, its phony financial projections, the massive exodus of families, the chaos of an expedited construction as whole school populations were shuffled about for the convenience of contractors. So, it was without surprise that on the day I left for the MSBA convention there was a story confirming that our Edison Charter is well on its way to deciding to build a new high school just a stone’s throw from the Northstar Academy on the Rice Lake Road.

On my first full day at the conference I attended two fascinating sessions on Minnesota schools. I’ll post my “Notes 3” about the session on PELRA law led by our District’s lawyer, Kevin Rupp, following this installment which concerns one more prophecy.

Last Monday I missed our Business Committee as I was returning by plane from Florida. On Wednesday Art filled me in on what I’d missed as we drove down to the MSBA’s Minneapolis Convention.

Art has routinely annoyed our Board by continually pointing out our declining student enrollment at every meeting. The Board majority’s reaction seems to be to blame the declines on him for not being positive. If we would just ignore the lumpy rug in our living room everything would be hunky dory. Ditto for my blog.

Student enrollment figures are complicated by state financing which has a complicated formula for doling out money. Younger kids don’t get the same financing as senior high kids. This financing takes us away from just counting enrolled children and preoccupies with WADMs (pronounced waddum). The acronym stands for “Weighted Average Daily Membership.” Its essentially a figure which is calculated by multiplying each child by the amount of funding he or she generates to the District. WADMs are always larger than actual enrollment. But for our purposes simple enrollment is easier to explain.

In January ISD 709’s enrollment was 8,465.75 students. (Some kid must have left our system three weeks into January) This is probably the lowest student enrollment for Duluth since the baby boom. It may be lower than anything since the Depression or maybe even the turn of the twentieth century. I’d love to research this but the District probably wouldn’t let me go through its dusty old records or, as with Art, would charge me an arm and a leg to dig the data out.

At the Monday meeting our Finance Director, Bill Hanson, was uncharacteristically eager to point this enrollment drop out first before Art had a chance to grouse about it. This may be the best enrollment we can muster for the next decade.

The new Edison high school which 90 percent of Edison families want their children to attend will eventually pull another 600 students (150) per grade out of ISD 709. That will put us below 8,000 students. That’s hardly the enrollment you would expect for one of Minnesota’s “cities of the first class.” It will put a couple dozen other Minnesota School districts ahead of us in enrollment. Six hundred lost students will mean fewer state dollars, fewer teachers and a smaller curriculum. But that’s not all. Continue reading

Sauna stories & Jeno Paulucci

Yesterday upon returning from the MSBA conference I was alone as my wife had driven to the Twin Cities for her Seminary classes. Having put on my game face for the coming year of trauma I decided I needed to get back in shape. I used to swim four or five days a week before the Red Plan Crisis and starting up Let Duluth Vote. Soon, I had too little time to swim laps and gave it up. After Let Duluth Vote lost its attorney on technical grounds I hung up my gloves but didn’t return to the pool. By this time I was managing my Mother’s affairs and still didn’t have time to swim laps. Times have changed again.

I hopped in the pool and surprised my out-of-shape self by swimming a straight 500 yards before breaking the rest of the laps into smaller pieces. I ended up at an even thousand. That’s a little over half a mile. I began cramping up towards the end and had to let my feet hang limp to finish. If I keep this up my heart may survive what is sure to be a very stressful year. As for the cramps, swim training lore says that the potassium in bananas will keep cramps at bay. I bought one on the my return with Art Johnston from the MSBA convention but it obviously wasn’t enough. I’m sure my banana budget will skyrocket this year.

I was still by my lonesome this morning so after polishing up the first of three posts on my MSBA adventures I headed over to the pool again and got another thousand yards in. I finished both swims with a stop in the sauna where interesting conversation often breaks out among friends and strangers.

In both Sauna visits I was quite voluble when the saunians recognized me as a school board member. I was as loquacious in the heat as I am here in my blog. I’m proud of my work on the school board even if I’m ashamed of the Board itself. I enjoy making jokes at the Board’s expense. We deserve it.

I told one fellow I was unrepentant after my censure. I campaigned, after all, on the promise to be honest and I just got censured for telling the truth. I find that more than a little ironic.

After I shut up I heard a delicious story about Jeno Paulucci that is too good not to pass on. Continue reading

MSBA Notes 1 – My Heart of Darkness

At the end of this rumination I will post two emails sent after my long posted warning to MSBA members about engaging the legal services of Kevin Rupp. Twain says every man is a moon with a dark side he does not share with the world. Our School Board’s vicious ineptness is helping me get in touch with that dark side. What it does not have the capacity to understand is, that some nails resist being pounded down. I’m prepared to endure one more year of its damage to our schools – schools I worked hard to leave in wonderful shape when I left the School Board in 2004. My goal will be to restore some maturity and a humble spirit.

After a promising three month start to my newly regained seat on the Board I hit two walls. First, Continue reading

Rupp si daisy

I had planned to go back to my notes to reconstruct my nine objections to retaining Kevin Rupp’s firm. I outlined them at our school board’s organizational meeting last week. That would have taken a couple hours to reconstruct and I am positively thrilled to discover, upon my return from the MSBA convention (Minnesota School Boards Association), that Loren Martell has done the job for me. He’s done it better than I would have because he has the meeting taped. His Reader Weekly Column today quotes me extensively. I must say, I’m pretty damn cogent – as cogent as our attorney is ….. well, read Loren’s column for yourself.

Here’s a fragment to whet your gag reflex:

During the Rice Report meeting, Mr. Welty sent a nervous rustle through the room by making an open reference to dark scandals buried in the district’s past. To avoid sailing too far into tabloid waters, I’ll leave part of the following quote intentionally blank. Again referring to the same person (whom he blames for the months-long Johnston conflict), Welty said:
“When I was on the school board before, this person lied to cover up (——-) abuse.”

By the way, I found out yesterday afternoon that the Trib was calling MSBA staff to ask about Mr. Rupp. I presumed it was in response to my two thousand word post that morning about Mr. Rupp’s indefensible failure to prevent our Board policy on negotiations from being urinated on last March. I might have been wrong. It might have been prompted by Mr. Martell’s column.

Attorney Rupp is truly at his best when he shields the guilty and slanders the innocent. And let us not forget, well paid – by Duluth tax payers.

A warning to Minnesota School Board members before engaging the legal services of Attorney Kevin Rupp

Background:

I am Harry Welty. I served on the Duluth School Board from 1995 through 2003. I attended every MSBA conference in those eight years. This is my second conference since getting reelected to our Board in 2013. I’ve never had my eyes opened so wide at our conference as I did at last night’s two hour beginner’s negotiation session.

Our district is infamous for its fractiousness. That was true when I was on the board the first time and we brought in one of Minnesota’s first charter schools despite significant union opposition. After I retired from the Board in Jan 2004 things got hot again when our District imposed a quarter billion building bond without voter approval. I publicly opposed this decision and led a campaign to encourage our Board to give the decision to the voters. They did not yield and then, again without allowing public participation, raised the projects cost by an additional sixty million. Counting interest the plan is nearly half a billion dollars to. To pay for it we laid off a great many teachers and crammed kids into classes and lost better than ten percent of our students to open enrollment. Now that I’ve regained a position on the Board getting financial details about the past is like pulling hen’s teeth. No one will tell us where, for instance, $84 million of “soft costs” for the project just completed went to. As board members yourselves, MSBA members can understand my concern for this breach of fiduciary responsibility.

The real tragedy is that our School Board with the advice of Mr. Rupp has been fatally preoccupied with the attempt to remove a fellow school board member on the flimsiest of trumped up charges for the past nine months. It is rare to remove board members let alone for simply exercising their first amendment rights.

Nonetheless, this has been Mr. Rupp’s baby since June of last year. For me this detour from education has been an astonishing turn of events. It will continue all through this year until the next fall’s election. If he is removed this board member will almost certainly be re-elected by his unhappy voters who’s schools have not fared well under the new plan with a massive student exodus.

I should confess at the outset that my board recently censured me for divulging the fire sale price of a property once valued at nearly $30 million. It was sold for a pittance. I was in the wrong and voted to censure myself as well. Now, on to what I learned at the Conference Wednesday night about how Kevin Rupp has represented us over and beyond his role in prolonging a divisive and expensive legal civil war that has made the running of our schools a secondary issue we have little time for.

At our recent January organizational meeting we considered the routine resolutions re-instituting our banking and our four law firms. A motion was and made and defeated to dispense with the services of Mr. Rupp’s firm.

I listed nine concerns about Rupp’s service the most egregious being his recommendation (hidden from public view and from me) that the Board accuse my colleague of having spewed racist comments. This was laughable as the targeted board member, Art Johnston, is the only Board member who serves on Duluth’s NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) chapter. Also Art’s campaign manager was recently elected President of our NAACP chapter. For eight months Art has had to live with this (dare I say it?) black cloud invented by Mr. Rupp hanging over his head. It was pure character assassination.

Last night I was aghast to learn that another of my complaints against Mr. Rupp was for more grievous than I initially thought it was. He allowed our District to violate state law by keeping me out of a meeting during our contract negotiations that should have been open not only to me but to the public.

I’ve never revealed the full story on my blog until now for the sake of getting along but comity is long gone from the Duluth School Board and its time to face facts coldly. Last March I was left livid when our Superintendent, Mr. Gronseth, followed Mr. Rupp’s advice to exclude me from negotiations. This was despite Board conversations guaranteeing me access to the meetings and despite our board policy that made me a member of our negotiation’s team.

This would have been a new experience for me. Although I had served on the Duluth School Board from 1995-2003 and voted on four teacher master agreements I had never actually sat across the bargaining table. Last night I learned that in some larger districts attorneys and administrators will try to keep board members at a remove from the negotiations. But I got elected pointing out that Duluth was in massive fiscal trouble. I had made it clear I wanted to exercise my right under our own policy to be a part of the negotiations. Our Chairman, Mike Miernicki, and our Superintendent knew I would attend a March negotiation meeting. It was not a surprise when I showed up.

But I was surprised when I found a large gathering of about twenty teachers and half a dozen of we management negotiators. It had been suggested that these were very secretive meetings. Instead it was very open and the door to the room was left wide open. I got there early and sat at the table across from many old teacher acquaintances. But when our administrators and Attorney Rupp entered our Director of Human Resources, Tim Sworsky, asked me to move back from the table and ushered fellow Board member Rosie Loeffler-Kemp into my seat without explanation. I thought perhaps that he was having me be gentlemanly.

After half an hour of friendly rhetorical speeches by the teachers we took their latest offer and broke up into separate “caucuses” to dicker among ourselves away from the folks across the table. I followed behind the rest of the management “team” to the Superintendent’s office to palaver in secret with my team. Just as I got to the door of the Superintendent’s Cabinet Room, HR Director Sworsky turned around and told me that I wasn’t part of the group. Why Rosie Loeffler-Kemp, who had been ushered into my seat at her first negations session, was permitted into this caucus and not me despite our board policy I had no time to contemplate. Reeling, I sat down in a coach in the main office while the door was closed behind the grown-ups. That’s how I felt and that’s not a good feeling for the most senior member of the school board to feel. I had eight full years service compared to seven by our second most senior member.

It didn’t take me long to start fuming. At 11:15 AM I texted the Superintendent: “ I don’t do livid. I’m close to making an exception. You are violating school board policy and you have a very unhappy SB member in your foyer.”

I expected the Superintendent to check with the attorney and admit me very quickly. I sat for about five minutes waiting for common sense to break out while my eyes were glued to the door. At the end of a short hallway the Superintendent skulked out and furtively looked over his shoulder back into his main office where I sat stewing on his couch. He saw me staring at him while he ducked into what I presume was his private washroom. I wondered if he’d read my text. When he reappeared a minute later to return to the caucus I called out to him, “Superintendent, I sent you a text message.” He ducked back into the Cabinet Room. I was very angry.

I felt no good would come from remaining in the Superintendent’s Office in such a foul mood so I left the building to cool off. I drove to a parking ramp near Duluth’s sky-walk and began walking back and forth to walk off some of my humiliation. It didn’t work. Then I got a text message.

At 11:25 AM Supt Gronseth: “Just came our [out] to talk to you-please speak with Chair Miernicki.”

At 11:26 AM Board Member Welty writes: “I left him an angry [phone] message when I was shut out of the meeting. But I will call him again.”

At: 11:29 AM Board Member Welty: “Left him an even more furious message.”

Half an hour later at 12:02 AM Supt. Gronseth wrote: “We are back in session.”

I drove back at entered the larger open meeting but after it broke up a short while later with counter offers I departed, resigned to skipping any further negotiation sessions but still furious.

I kept this story under wraps to ensure that the Board didn’t get sucked into an ugly row although I did share it with the education reporter at the local paper who never covers the interpersonal relations of Board members. After I cooled off the Superintendent told me it had been Chair Miernicki’s responsibility for keeping me out of the “caucus.” The superintendent told me that he just couldn’t persuade Chair Miernicki to be reasonable. This seemed unlikely because the Chair had assured me I could participate but I took his explanation on good faith. Board members did exchange some heated email for some days afterward but no one ever could explain why the assurances made to me had been abandoned. This episode was the first of what would become a long list of grievances I would hold towards attorney Rupp.

That brings me up to last night at the MSBA conference. I attended a two-hour session on negotiations for beginners led by some very experienced MSBA staff negotiators. I heard basics that our board and negotiators seemed never to have considered during our negotiations that led to our approval of two two-year contracts. I took a lot of notes especially when I learned that our attorney , Mr. Rupp, failed to defend my rights during our negotiations.

Remembering my experience with Kevin Rupp I asked the MSBA’s Bill Kraut: “How many school districts have no Board members on negotiating teams? Mr. Kraut turned the question back to the 140 or so school board members in attendance. No one in the room raised their hand except me.

Then Mr. Kraut went on to say something that astonished me, The public not only can attend the open meetings but can’t be prevented from attending the caucus meetings of the School District when they break from the general sessions. Any Minnesotan could demand admittance because they are public meetings except, apparently, one school board member in Duluth. I raised my hand for a follow up question.

“If a school board member is denied access to the caucus is that kosher?”

Mr. Kraut took a few moments to consider this question. He seemed taken aback. Then he authoritatively said “NO.”

I feel like a prize fool. Our attorney, Kevin Rupp, originally from a big Twin Cities law firm that I voted hire years ago, didn’t pass on this elementary bit of state law that was explained to us in a beginner’s class on negotiations. Kevin Rupp kept his mouth shut during my angry texting or worse, he let our district deny an elected board member with a fiduciary responsibility to be admitted to a caucus that every Minnesotan had the legal right to attend. It wasn’t just our District policy he refused to enforce. It was the state’s Open Meeting law.

When I get back to Duluth I’ll find my seven other objections to Mr. Rupp’s service and post them also. For the time being I’ll just mention one of those complaints from that list. With Mr. Rupp’s negotiating assistance the relatively poor Duluth School District managed by 2013 to place Duluth 15th on the list of Minnesota’s highest paid teachers. Not surprisingly, Duluth also has some of the most overcrowded classrooms in the State.

If we weren’t busy following Mr. Rupp’s legal advice to remove a school board member for asking too many questions we might have time to deal with such critical issues.

Harry Welty and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Month

Hat tip to author Judith Viorst and her book which I read to my children many years ago.

Thank Goodness December, 2014 is behind me. I’ve never had a tougher public month in my life and the day of my Censure was an absolute low point. The month sounds like one of Garrison Keillor’s “worst case scenarios” only without the Bebopareebop Rhubarb Pie. Well that’s not quite right. During one of my penitent nights after a board meeting Loren Martell looked up at me sympathetically and I told him I used to be a “pie in the sky” fellow but was now just a “pie in the eye” guy. So, I’ve been getting some pie.

Here’s a brief review. The mistakes began in the last days of November. I inadvertently mentioned the putative sale price of the Central property publicly thinking that only the buyers identities were being withheld. Oops. On November 29th there was a front page Duluth News Tribune story highlighting the price and pointing the finger at me for disclosing it “inadvertantly.”

On December 1st Attorney Mary Rice showed up to explain her damning report on Art Johnston and I was geared up to put her down. I was doing well until half way through the meeting I began waltzing around like an ass determined to demonstrate how a touch could end up looking like a shove. The meeting recessed with me looking like well, an ass, for five minutes while I thought to myself. “I’ve made a huge mistake.”

December 2nd, I was on the front page again with arms upraised in the act of “pantomiming” as Richard Thomas put it. But that wasn’t my only appearance in the paper. Much to the gratification of many of my once silent, long time critics, the DNT’s editorial board tongue lashed me for giving them what their reporter had been seeking for some time – the Central property sale price. Ironic yes, but accurate. I could have killed the deal. This was also the day that I was called and told that my Mom wasn’t doing so well by coincidence.

December 5th my Mom died. It was a blessing but it was a strange and wonderful day. Following this I had a hundred detail related to settling accounts as my Mother’s legal co-conservator.

The rest of the month is something of a blur but I did attempt a three week armistice to see if I couldn’t work some peace mission with the School Board majority. No dice.

Then On December 21st My fellow Board members censured me for disclosing the price of Central on the blog and for giving the Trib our school board attorney’s notes on crucifying Art Johnston. The next day my son came home to a third front page story about me on the Trib and my censure which my fellow board members kindly delayed to Christmas so I could get over grieving for my Mom.

I’m looking forward to more of 2015. I intend to test the theory that whatever doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger.

On Decemer

Address corrections

I picked up my new business cards and checked to be sure no one else had spotted and corrected my mistake. They were pretty apologetic and agreed with me that its always the simple words that you mess up. I asked if they had a permanant black marker to see if I could work out a quick fix. They gave me their’s. I told them it was a doofus bonus. The next time I order cards they’ll discount them but only after I have them remove the word adress all together. Its unnecessary even with the second “d.”

For now I’ll just have to black out the word altogether. I am really not so fussy about typos. Its content not superficiality that interests me.

Its an hour yet before my departure for the MSBA (state school board) conference and I’ve already fixed 100 cards. That should keep me through the convention.

If only orderliness was this easy

I love this ad:

As I type this I’ve got a couple guys in my attic putting in new windows in preparation for turning a forbidding part of my house into a comfortable office where I can store the many documents Claudia threatens to throw out if I predecease her. Those who are long time readers know that at times my current cramped office is like the cup that overfloweth. I wish I could find a previous post with the dramatic photo of it looking like a hoarder’s paradise but my searches have all drawn blanks. Anyway, Sometime this year I’ll get it built and be able to have a space that is big enough, and habitable year round to store mountains of files for future use.

I wish organization was as easy as Ikea makes it seem.

Sticking together

I decided that my official school board business cards was not complete so I had a second side printed onto the card I was provided when I joined the board. This is that reverse side:

When I explained my project to the printers I was told that the ink on occasion makes the new cards stick together. I told her I couldn’t have that because I was on the Duluth School Board and we never stick together.

Dang it. Its always the simple words that get you. I’ll have to address this later.