My enemies to the west

With Sunday falling on the 31st of May today our Church Choir had one last performance before our summer hiatus began. As one of the Big mouths in the bass section I was needed to help belt out our anthem. Despite a smaller than usual crew we must have acquitted ourselves well because we got a nice round of applause from the equally threadbare congregation. They probably save it up all year for our final bow.

What I remember most vividly of the sermon was the story that our pastor began it with and how I figured it applied to me.

A battered and bloodied knight was returning home from his wars on a limping steed. He’d been gone for some time and the King rushed out to greet him appalled by his appearance. “What happened to you,” asked the King.

“Sire I’ve been off looting and pillaging the villages of your enemies to the west,” explained the King’s hero.

“But I have no enemies to the west,” said the shocked king.

Returned the Knight, “I’m afraid, your majesty, that you do now.” Continue reading

My scarecrow

Art tells me I ought to spend more time writing about the School Board than about the personal anecdotes of my life. I don’t think so. The personal anecdotes remind me that I’m more than one of those squabbling little kids in that Lindstrom Cartoon.

The highlight of today was my grandson’s performance as the Scarecrow in his preschool’s presentation of the Wizard of Oz. We sing “If I only had a brain” to each other all the time. I used to sing it to my Mother…….long after her own stopped working. I surreptitiously wiped away tears all through my laughter during the performance.

Oh, I’ve been doing the School Board bit. Today I had a good meeting with Art. I left with a tip for my readers. Take a look at the next John Ramos article in the Reader. It might be next week’s entry. If its what I think it is it will be very illuminating.

When all else fails – write about books

I’ve had five or six posts in mind each of the last several days. Instead of post them I’ve spent time with Claudia working around the house and buying bedding plants. I’ve also spent hours reading to Clauda. I finally finished reading a book this year just a hair before the half way point. Dead Wake is, as I predicted, fantastic. I’ve added it to my old webpages’s reading list the first and only book completed this year.

Larson is a fantastic writer and this book appealed to me because of my interest in my Grandfather who enlisted in World War I at the age of 30 while a high school principal. Years later, after winning the Congressional Medal of Honor, he told the then twelve year old me that the worst mistake he’d ever made “in my life” was voting for a Democrat who promised to keep America out of War but didn’t keep it.

I’ve puzzled over that statement ever since. After reading Dead Wake I think I’ve put my finger on something. He was passing down trite old Republican cant that had resonated with Republicans since the Great War through the Second World War and Korea. They could blame Democrats for getting the US involved because Democrats had been president at the outset of each. Only the Second World War was truly “popular” if that’s the right word. Stud’s Terkel wrote a book that summarized this attitude “The Good War.” I left a book mark in my copy of it at page 176. Only four hundred and one pages left to go.

But my Grandfather was most likely reporting a lifetime’s worth of thinking about that war, his war. Afterwards America was disillusioned with the results of the “war to end all wars.” Most Americans believed that the European Allies we fought with made the Second World War inevitible by treating Germany so badly. That made our participation in the first world war as problematic as the First Gulf War which, it could be argued, led to the Second Gulf War, Afghanistan, 9-11, and a host of jihadists leading up to today’s ISIS.

After reading Dead Wake I’d bet that my all too eager to volunteer Grandfather felt some exhilaration at the prospect of evening the score with German submarines. If so, it took him some time to work up his disgust with Woodrow Wilson. But that would have been a little too much nuance to pass on to a junior high grandson thus he left me with a simplistic view of his thinking. He told my Mother some far more interesting things about his experiences in the years that she visited him in his nursing home.

Claudia and I got through two-thirds of two other books this year before dropping them. Its no sin to do this although I have been conditioned to “clean my plate.” We just started a new book “Wild Swans” about three generations of Chinese Women. I only realized the author also penned an acclaimed history of Mao tse Tung that I have sitting on a shelf waiting for me to get to. The first twenty-four pages were fascinating. Foot binding was described in gruesome detail. Toenails keep growing into the soft rotting flesh of the sole ever afterwards.

I will pause in my reading because Claudia is heading off to spend some more time with her Father. That may afford me the time to whittle away the many stacks of paper that have been accumulating in my new office. I need to see it again unobstructed to assure myself that it was worth all the effort to fix up our attic.

Hair Pin Curve

I was asked by a student to take today’s walk from 3rd Street with Lincoln Middle School Students up to their school. It was the fourth such walk this year and a way to encourage physical activity. We started from the Harrison Community Club although they have also started from further West at the Wheeler Field in the past.

It was a beautiful morning. There were perhaps 25 students and possibly 15 teachers and staff and two school board members, me of course, and Art Johnston. I called Art the other day about it while he was busy playing Pachabel’s Cannon in D on his piano. He’d plunked a few notes on our grand in the past but it hasn’t been tuned for a couple years but then Art is pretty rusty too.

It wasn’t a long walk and we took a foot path that eventually became a wide sidewalk but at an incredibly steep angle of about 25%. Train tracks are only built on a 7% grade if memory serves. Art told me that a woman whose house lies at the bottom called him with pictures of poor kids slipping and sliding on the steep grade during snowy and ice weather.

One of the teachers who came along for the walk asked me if I knew what percentage of students walked the trail but I had to tell him I had no idea. I knew it wasn’t many because it has a very wide attendance area now from east of Messaba Avenue to Fon du Lac. Prizes were being offered for today’s walkers who had been on every previous walk. 25 kids wasn’t much of a turnout on this special day so the location of the school seems to be the impediment to walking that was predicted. Nonetheless the school is situated on a spectacular piece of property but one that many poor families have a terrible time getting to. Even families with cars have to be careful driving up the curving road to the school. It has one hair pin turn that is almost impossible for a car and bus to pass each other on. I have no idea how two buses meeting each other there in the morning negotiate the turn.

I told Art that someday the District would spend a couple million dollars to engineer an improvement on the problem. We both roled our eyes.

More School Board (and News Tribune) Shaming

A recent letter to the editor from a friend made me wince a bit. It said that some school board members should stay away from high school graduations this year. It was published after I sent in my notice that I intended, as per my usual, to attend all of them. Did my friend have me in mind?

This friend’s concern seemed echoed by our School Board Chair who sent an email to Board members a couple days ago explaining that due to so many special dignitaries invited to hand out diplomas (a task once reserved mainly for school board members) today’s Board members would be limited to handing out diplomas at a single high school. The Chair, Rosie Loeffler-Kemp and Mike Miernicki would hand them out at East while the rest of us would be assigned Denfeld.

My initial reaction to this was: “Who made this decision and why?”

Well, upon reflection several other thoughts crossed my mind, among them, what rational parent would want any Duluth School Board member handing out diploma’s this year after the sorry spectacle we’ve made of ourselves?

Another letter in Sunday’s News Tribune was a little more specific in its criticism of the School Board. Kurt Kuehn wrote in full:

The pandering by this newspaper to Duluth’s powers and to advertisers is pathetic. The real reason the school district dropped its action against School Board member Art Johnston was because its arguments were exposed as mostly a matter of Johnston’s free-speech rights. There was no nobility in the district’s decision. Continue reading

The Beat Goes On

I don’t want to leave the impression that the School Board’s Civil War has completely upended the work of the schools. In recent weeks there have been a flurry of news stories in the Trib about good things happening in the schools. Today’s story is about the addition of more physical education time for elementary students in our schools – 45 minutes of it every eighth day.
Its part of an eight day rotation of activities that include art and music as well as two previously scheduled 30 minute sessions of physical education.

Over the past twenty years as American parents began fretting about their children being left behind by the rest of the world they piled more academic time on kids at the same time the food industry and modern agriculture poured more corn syrup into the food our children eat. Kids lost that old staple of my childhood, recess. It might seem like today’s modest effort to get our children moving is an its about time moment. But its not the first for the Duluth School District. When I was on the Board in 1997 the School Board authorized a referendum to, among other things, add specialist time to the elementary schools. Some of this specialist time was devoted to physical education to help combat our kid’s physical inertia. A lot of this specialist time eroded away through the Dixon Era and the Red Plan’s pull on spending for class time. Now its being added back.

Every School District has changes in school boards and superintendents on a regular basis and in the past students were unaware of changes at the top. The only thing I remember about the Superintendent in my old high school is that he had a nephew or grandson that knocked up a girl I admired from afar the way Charlie Brown mooned over his “red haired girl.”

And yet, in this new age we live in our kids are hyper aware of their surroundings which now seems to include an often unfathomable political system that tugs at their education. A week ago a very bright former “student rep” on our school board, Paul Manning, wrote a plea for good people to run for the School Board. Evidently Paul knows more about my fellow board members than I do because his op ed piece announced that three, count em, three of our Board members up for reelection this year would not be filing for a return engagement.

His successor on the School Board, an also very bright Jude Goosens, spoke up at our last school board meeting in which we voted 5 – 2 to censure Art Johnston. He told us that the students didn’t think the School Board had them and their education in mind. This followed the remarks of his his father, Paul, who had been watching the proceedings of the school board. The Father was even more pointed saying that when he watched our meetings on the TV he did so with a bag of popcorn.

Evidently the school board tail is wagging the dog but our little metronome isn’t keeping good time.

Loren Martell’s wrap up of the Board vs the “Lone Ranger”

Its a good summation. A sample:

The feisty little guy stands up against the big powerful establishment and kicks their butts! Is this a great country, or what?

Going into Federal Court was a brilliant legal strategy on the part of the Lone Ranger’s attorneys. Up until that point, the masked marauder had been essentially riding the rails to his ouster. Everything was stacked up in favor of his accusers. They had pulled in a biased investigator recommended by Kevin Rupp, the district’s chief attorney. Rupp was closely aligned with administration, and district administration has for years been in lockstep with the school board majority.

One of my grievances is that at no time during the last seven months have I been given any information by our Superintendent or Board related to our attorney’s work. I suppose the simple reason for this is that I gave our attorney’s reasoning for proceeding with caution on Art Johnston’s removal to the Duluth News Tribune. That was the night Mary Rice made her presentation to the School Board. To me that’s more a sign of how much the insiders have to hide than a justifiable denial of information to an elected member of the School Board. I suppose it doesn’t help that I have made constant light of Mr. Rupp’s expensive and incompetent handling of our school board’s grade-school-like squabbles.

Did I mention that the Rupp and Ratwik firms maneuvering to take over the Johnston mess reminded me of two seagulls fighting over a french fry? Well, it turned out that the Ratwik firm wasn’t able to improve on Rupp’s work. My hunch is that the whole charade was called off by the Insurance Company after their poor rep had to sit through Judge Davis’s skewering of the District’s position. The insurers probably made it clear that they had already thrown enough money down the Ratwik hole. That’s what Art’s attorneys think too.

Rosie’s Certified Mail

Two weeks ago I composed a letter addressed to the five majority members of the Duluth School Board. It contained two motions I was contemplating introducing at the School Board meeting. The first was a motion to reimburse Art Johnston for his legal bills – bills that they had forced upon him in their hatred. Art has used that term “hate” before but I think the only member that actually hates Art is Chair Seliga-Punyko. Nonetheless, that they proceeded with their keystone cop attack on him says little for the rest of them. Once the legal shenanigans proved too big for their britches they were too embarrassed to back down lest they look foolish. That’s unfortunate because there is nothing more heroic than admitting you were wrong.

The other motion was a several part “censure” of the Superintendent for things I’ve only made veiled references to here in the blog. Up until know I have not been interested in making them public because I think I could work with the Superintendent. If my whereases were to be summed up in a single accusation it would be that the Superintendent shares much of the fault for our last hellish year. Whereas (to use my favorite word of the moment) the Superintendent blames the school board and sees his role as protecting the rest of the District from us.

There was a reason I wanted to hand deliver these rather than send them out in an email. Continue reading

Some School leaders don’t deserve a polished apple

At this year’s Minnesota School Board Association conference I noted with interest that during the annual awards ceremony the entire seven member school board for the St. Louis County Schools was called up for special attention. They had managed a singular accomplishment. All seven had completed the many little seminars available to all Minnesota School Boards by the Association for the year.

I did this myself in my earlier years on the Duluth Board but back then none of my fellow Board members did much of this stuff so I was all by my lonesome during the award.

What makes this all the more notable is the vast size of the St. Louis County System. It includes all the sparsely settled portions of St. Louis County and the members who are far from St. Paul are also far from each other. I’ll bet some of them drive fifty miles to get to school board meetings. Maybe a lot farther.

And yet, Like Duluth, they marched to Johnson Controls tune to build a massive new facilities plan which has riven the District ever since. The biggest difference was that their voters who just barely passed a referendum got to vote on it whereas (to use my favorite word of the week) didn’t get to.

To sell it the school administrators did all sorts of things like lie about the District’s finances to voters. This has been the epic investigation that led to the tiny little Timberjay Newspaper receiving accolades from the state’s newspaper association. I have a couple folks who send me all the latest on the ongoing controversy which has gotten the St. Louis County Schools repeated hand slaps by various courts. I really don’t have time to read it all but the latest 26 page ruling by an administrative court is interesting. It explains the role Decision Resources had in telling voters how foolish it would be not to build all new schools. This is run by Bill Morris the fellow who did the same for the Red Plan at its inception and who I listened to with interest at the MSBA Conference when he explained that families leaving ISD 709 could no longer be counted on to support our local referendums.

The Law judges outline among other interesting things the many charges a local Duluth consultant charged JCI for work related to selling the building bond to local voters. This firm worked for them in Duluth and judging by what it earned on the relatively small St. Louis County Schools it must have done much better on its billing for the Red Plan. These costs would all be considered “soft costs” that added up to $84 million in the case of the Red Plan…..all of which the Duluth School Board has refused to make public. By the way, I’ve suspected for four years that this firm was paying someone to assassinate my character. The someone almost talked the Duluth Tribune’s editors into printing a story that I threatened his children. If this is the sort of expense we would find in the soft costs no wonder the district is so intent on keeping all of them (84 million taxpayer dollar’s worth) hushed up.

By the way one other notable thing about these award winners. Last year they racked up an astonishing legal bill of about $700,000 on a case they lost and should never have pursued in Court.

Universal Pre Kindergarten

I sent this email to the School Board this morning:

I received the following email (on my personal email service) regarding the likely impact of the addition of Pre-K classes on our schools. I am requesting that we place this item on a future agenda for discussion. I am also appending my reply to Mr. ***** *******.

On Mon, May 18, 2015 at 12:11 PM, ************* wrote

Board Member Welty,

I’m watching with a bit of interest all the posturing in St. Paul regarding universal Pre-K.

Can you tell me if the Duluth Public Schools would even be able to implement such a program, even if the funds for teachers were provided by the state? When my youngest moved on from Lester Park last year, it didn’t seem like they had two (or more, I guess?) spare classrooms to put Pre-K classes. I’d guess at least Congdon would face the same issues.

Thanks for you time,

**** ******
***-****

My Reply:

Tom,

Before the Red Plan we had extra space which would have allowed us to expand or contract. The Red Plan elementary schools, however, seem to have been designed to fit like a glove, for the population at the time of the construction. Continue reading

Being a school board member I’m never told about these meetings

I’m still waiting for this subject to appear as an item on our agenda.

From an email I got today from the fellow who predicted the traffic problems at Ordean East High School.

Would someone please forward this to Ms. Wasson 5.21.15

About 20 parents, students and neighbors gathered at the school Thursday to air their concerns about the congestion with East Principal Laurie Knapp and James Gittemeier, senior planner with the Duluth-Superior Metropolitan Interstate Council.

To which was appended this old page from the Let Duluth Vote website.

I wrote Kent back:

Kent,

Ann only shows up to Board meetings these days when Art Johnston or I are about to be censured.

Evidently Loren Martell is not the only person who thinks private accountants…

…will be disinclined to bite the hand they audit and which feeds them:

“[Minnesota State Auditor] Otto said she fears private firms will undercut her office’s prices and provide less transparent and independent reviews.”

Maybe Ms. Otto could start auditing school districts again before her state Constitutional office meets the same fate as my Grandfather’s old Kansas State Auditor’s job. Kansas abolished the office altogether. With the recently reelected Otto in the office I’m not sure it would be much of a loss.

“Vengeance is mine…saith the Lord”

I’ve been meaning to write this post since about an hour after posting the last one but then Claudia and I decided to go to lunch and take in a movie. Ex Machina had a pretty high Rotten Tomatoes score. When we got home I read from Dead Wake out loud to Claudia on our sun porch. I even told Art Johnston that as much as we had to talk about yesterday morning I really needed a little R & R from the Board.

“Vengeance” was the wrong word to use in my tightrope metaphor. I’m not really so Old Testament. Except that, just now, I discovered that this famous saying comes from the New Testament. I didn’t read enough to provide any exegesis on the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans, Romans 12:19 KJV, but when he precedes it by saying “It has been written” he must be quoting the Old Testament for the sake of authority. I have an expert asleep downstairs but I really don’t need to wake her. The point is that I chose a word for that metaphor which really does not apply. It was such an obvious contrast to the word “magnanimity” (which, by the way, I misspelled) that I pulled it down from my mental thesaurus and popped it in without enough thought.

I don’t like to make serious contextual changes in posts after 24 hours or so lest my readers start thinking I change old blog posts willy-nilly to hide my original intent. I will change an obvious typo when it glares out at me. If I go back and find that I wrote “don’t chare a white” I’d have no problem dropping the h in what was obviously meat to be “care” or drop the e in that was meant to be “whit” or for that matter add an n to this sentence’s word “meat.” The last was obviously meat to be “meant.”

But even the word I should have used, “justice,” does offer up some of the same sort of ferocious resolve that I meant to convey. Our Board has treated a member unjustly. It has attempted to assassinate his character and force on him a huge legal bill to defend himself. Now that’s what I call vengeance. Our meeting to withdraw ourselves from a court hearing to remove him from the Board was much worse than a Rosanne Roesannadanna “Nevermind.” Had it been a simple rescinding I wouldn’t be harping on about it. Instead, the Board majority wrapped their execrable denunciation around their naked butts as if to say: the last eleven month’s were Art Johnston’s fault – don’t blame us..

I’m not interested in vengeance. I’m interested in letting the truth be told. That’s justice not revenge although it may feel the same to folks trying to cover their naked butts.

The most contemptible whereas

My Buddy sent me this email the other day after reading the sore loser School Board’s indictment of Art Johnston after the Federal Court treated the Rice Report as though it was not worth the toilet paper it was written on:

Harry:

From http://lincolndemocrat.com/?p=13583:
. . . the brutally nasty series of Whereases promulgated by the Whereasses on the School Board.

Where did the Board find the constipated lawyer to put all of those Whereases in the resolution?

[your Buddy]

I’m balancing on the edge of a tightrope right now that has on one side “magnanimity” and on the other “vengeance.” Since I’m not all that much of a Christian I have no more concern than my School Board colleagues with any fussy show of the former. Consequently, I sent my Buddy the following reply referring to the only attorney on our current School Board:

To: [My Buddy] 05/20/2015 9:04 AM

Bill Westholm?

Maybe it was there [sic] Public Relations Person.

Sent from my Verizon Wireless 4G LTE smart[ass] phone

We were asked to vote up or down, with no discussion, on a witless collection of balderdash whereases. We were denied our say even after the Chairperson’s incompetent rush to adjourn the meeting; restart it (possibly illegally); and then vote on the Censure Resolution’s whole pile of manure.

Of all the whereases the one I found the most galling was the one extolling the Board majority’s efforts to find a compromise short of “laughingstock.” It was a claim that an attorney courting a malpractice suit or a visit to the Lawyers Professional Responsibility Board would have written:

Motion 4: I move that we strike the sixth Whereas in the resolution which reads: WHEREAS, representatives of the School Board and District Administration made multiple good-faith, but ultimately unsuccessful attempts to resolve Member Johnston’s claims against the District;

Of course I was unable to read my rationale either:

Rationale: This assertion is a bald faced lie. At no time has the majority attempted to show any good faith attempt to find a resolution short of a court room hearing for the eleven months after it approved the investigation of Member Johnston. Attempts by Member Harry Welty to initiate some other result were rebuffed by then chair Michael Miernicki as early as December of 2014.

Subsequent appeals for a different resolution have likewise fallen on deaf ears and an effort by Duluth’s Speak Your Peace organization attempting to bring the different parties together were dismissed by the Superintendent who explained that such an attempt to find common ground would be “disingenuous” because the two sides were so far apart.

I spent about six weeks during the Christmas Season (while awaiting the School Board’s imminent censure of me) stilling my blog criticisms in the hope someone would take the bait for a kinder gentler resolution to this judicial travesty. I made a dove of peace out of the almost negligible snowfall this winter and watched it degrade to a dirty heap rather like my futile gesture of peacekeeping. If you weren’t reading Lincoln Democrat in December 2014 take a look now and weep with me.

Do I sound a little bitter? Oh perish the thought.

Perhaps the only hopeful sign I saw last night of any future rapprochement was when my seatmate Mike Miernicki, who puffed and grunted and winced through the meeting to the point I had a hard time hearing the conversation jumped at something Art said without asking the Chair to speak. Our youngest member, Annie Harala, who had taken over for the Parliamentary Procedure phobic Seliga-Punyko (who left after the damage was done) actually cautioned her ally Mike to hush up.

That is a pretty slender reed to build my hope on but it’s a start.

Motion 8 – I heard you loud and clear…

Mr. Holter

“Duluth School Board member Harry Welty … [suggests] the school district reimburse fellow board member Art Johnston for legal expenses he incurred suing the district and School Board members…”

The School Board wasted enough on this witch hunt so I planned to propose the following resolution last night:

Motion 8. I move that we add point 7 to the Resolution stating that: All school board members will be directed to return one year’s worth of their School Board pay to the District to repay the community for the deplorable example they have set and to repay in part for the legal expenses they have forced the District to expend in a futile and vindictive effort to remove member Art Johnston from elective office.

Last night’s Board action may encourage Judge Davis…

to award Art Johnston the summary judgement his attorneys requested because of the Board’s obvious lack of good faith in negotiating some amicable peace instead of relying on the Rice Report to continue to insist that he is a dangerous, violent man.

I posted the resolution on the blog the day before yesterday without reading it. When I finally looked at it in the morning it was even worse than I imagined. So, after Motion one asking the board to simply retract their motion to proceed with removing Art failed I attempted to offer the following amendments. I only got to through Motion 3 before Mike Miernicki moved to vote on the Board majority’s cesspool of a main motion.

Motion Two: I move that we strike the second Whereas in the resolution which reads: WHEREAS, the detailed and comprehensive investigation report completed by independent investigator Mary Rice, substantiated a number of allegations against Member Johnston, including allegations that he improperly used his position as a School Board member to attempt to influence the outcome of a staff meeting on May 12, 2014, and that he physically assaulted the Superintendent and a fellow School Board member in front of students, parents, and members of the community following a June 4, 2014, graduation ceremony.

Rationale: It was an expensive report which showed little even handedness either in the testimony it included or in its subjective interpretation of the testimony. In no sense can this report be regarded as either fully detailed fully comprehensive or fully vetted in a court of law. Attorney, Mary Rice, herself explained that she was not able to confirm that Member Johnston had violated any Minnesota State Statutes.

As to the allegation of Member Johnston’s improper use of his position while some School Board’s do have such policies the Duluth school district does not. Furthermore, this complaint ignores another of the School Board’s policies which encourages Board members to make use of their right of speech.

Furthermore, the most hideous allegation of a physical assault is so grave that it should only be determined in a court of law which this Board refuses to do. Having allegedly taken place in front of hundreds of people in the community it is deeply suspect that only one School Board member antagonistic towards Member Johnston was there to substantiate the assault from its beginning to its end.

***

Motion Three: I move that we strike the fifth Whereas in the resolution which reads: WHEREAS, on March 4, 2015, Member Johnston initiated a federal lawsuit against the School District and five School Board members, seeking, among other things, money damages for claims related to the proposed removal;

Rationale: Continue reading

I met one of my blog readers last night

It was a very rewarding discovery with a lot of unexpected connections – to the Soup Kitchen, my Mother, and our early years in Duluth. But that quote I just found is nagging at me: “writers are always selling someone out.”

Well, I better be careful of my readership. I can’t afford to alienate any of them by putting their identities in my blog’s cross hairs. I will say that this newly discovered reader (number nine) told me that my wife is an angel. How true.