A SB candidate emails me

Very clever Alanna,

Alanna Oswald was a student of mine at Morgan Park thirty years ago. However, she was a Roger’s back then. She has been paying enough attention to my blog to have seen her name in lincolndemocrat. She didn’t see the email from my Buddy making reference to comments of her’s that I quoted extensively. Maybe I’ll pass them on to her if I ever get myself organized.

She mentions a report she wrote about racial disparities a decade ago. I happen to have it filed away. It’s very good and I hope she can put it on the web. She also notes that Claudia was favorably impressed with the story about her filing. And she fishes for donations too. That’s my kind of candidate but she will have to set up her own paypal account.

Here’s her email:

Dear Harry, It is nice to see a former teacher of mine paying attention to my social media to get elected to the school board. I appreciate any thought you have on my views when it comes to this school board stuff. 

I’m very concerned about my alma mater Denfeld and the enrollment situation when it comes programming and opportunities. I am equally concerned about the student population in regards to culture within the schools, and with graduation rates of the many underrepresented groups that make up the same population. The struggles of families are very real, and we need to ensure that we help families in any way needed to make sure their kids get the best education. We have to be better at that than we have been. 

I’m sharing with you my report from my work with the Race Culture and Achievement Gap Summit that expressed the many barriers to education experienced by families 10 years ago. This document should be filed away by now as the issues should have been taken care of over time. Unfortunately, this document still lists the many challenges faced by many families within our system. This was the inspiration for my work in education. If I find a place to put it online I will to share with the community. 

If you believe that I can positively affect Duluth Public Schools, feel free to volunteer for my campaign or make a financial contribution. As a person who has run many campaigns, I’m sure you know how important donations are to a campaign’s success. In return, I can only promise you that I will listen and hear what you have to say, along with every other board member.  I will always vote for what makes sense for kids, and question what doesn’t. I own my own decisions. If that is something you can admire and work with, I’m happy to have your support. And from what I understand from your blog, your wife already likes what I have to say. Perhaps, you should listen to your wife. 😉

Alanna Oswald

The first of fifty interviews

Our new Ed Crawford (Assistant Superintendent of Education) Amy Starzecki grilled me for half an hour on Tuesday to find out what stakeholders in ISD 709 thought about a slew of subjects. She will try to get an interview with the other six school board members as she gets her feet wet. She thanked me for my time and told me I was the first of fifty such interviews she hopes to conduct. Wow! I’m not used to being first.

Amy is a delight and yet another brilliant hire by Supt. Gronseth. I look forward to working with her.

Test Scores a “mixed bag”

Today’s headline in the Trib’s testing story was right. I try not to get to nervous over test results. Every school tested swings forward and backward year by year. However, there is no doubt that western Duluth School’s students have lower scores than student’s in Duluth’s eastern schools. At this latest testing the Edison schools don’t strike me as having knocked ISD 709’s socks off as they have some years.

I find it particularly maddening that the tests given students when I was on the school board nearly twenty years ago have so changed that there seems no way to compare our children’s achievements today with the achievements of past years. We can only go back a handful of years to see if we are making headway.

Nonetheless, It is obvious that our poorer and minority children have a lot of catching up to do. I say this as someone dedicated to the idea that our poor and minority children are born with intellectual powers roughly equal to those of children born into middle and upper class comfort. No Child Left Behind didn’t change this but there are schools who are much closer to raising these children up. If I could turn my attention to this issue next year, after last year’s embarrassmenst, it would be like crossing into heaven.

About that Greenhouse

Two local TV stations have followed up on my email to the City Council concerning the property in front of Denfeld High School. WDIO and KBJR sent reporters to my house to get the skinny on the story.

Two Councilors, Zach Filipovich and Joel Sipress, have emailed me back saying that they had not heard about this proposal. I appreciated their prompt response. Our CFO< William Hanson, replied to my email that this subject is on our agenda as a "Placeholder" (meaning that information is being gathered together" for a discussion in August. At this point my major concern is that this subject not be presented to the School Board as a fait accompli (a done deal) without some serious discussion of its ramifications.

Speaking of advocates for Western Duluth

I didn’t link to this News Tribune story yesterday about the confab called together by Rep. Erik Simonson. I did comment on it however mostly to grouse that no one in our District told me about it or invited me to attend.

The meeting came about because of Simonson’s concern for the western schools particularly Denfeld which is threatened with further student enrollment declines when Edison opens its new high school. I’ve heard some folks including former Superintendent Mark Myles who seem to think that Rep. Simonson is opposed to Edison based on his earlier commentary in his: June 5th column in the Budgeteer. That’s not true.

Instead Simonson is simply being proactive in wanting to anticipate the consecuences of this new school. I agree with him and I say that as a founder of Edison, the father of a daughter who works there and a grandfather of two Edison enrollees. What I’m terribly disappointed in is our District’s inattention to the school. It treats the very real presence of Edison as a distraction it can ignore to its own peril.

I’ve had seven years of move Duluth forward and I’m pretty tired of it. Its become another way of saying “ignorance is bliss.” If I hadn’t been caught up in the vendetta against Art Johnston I would have been pushing for embassies to Edison to ask what we could do to forestall the building of a high school. Now its too late.

Meanwhile we are left with a huge need to bolster Denfeld with its enrollment that is nearing half what East High School has and its ability to offer an equitable curriculum shrinking. That concern is reinforced as it is every year with the publishing of its student test results in today’s trib story.

All three of the at large candidates seem to be serious about Denfeld’s challenges. But I’ll need more than one friendly at-large board member to join the school board. That will put Art and me in a minority of three with the possibility of two new board members under the influence of today’s Board majority. I sure hope Denfeld parents wake up and ask all our candidates some serious questions before the general election. I hope East parents do the same. Otherwise we will end up with a reprise of the 1967 Kerner Commission report which warned that “Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white–separate and unequal.” Just substitute the word “Duluth” for Kerner’s “the Nation” to imagine what the city’s division at Lake Avenue will look like.

Wanted: Advocates for Western Duluth

Two weeks apart in July the DNT ran to banner headlines about property sales falling through. The second fall through in mid-month was the Rockridge Elememtary site. I only groused about how I was the last to learn of this development.

I’ve got other things to grouse about now and its taken me a couple hours to build up a head of steam. Let’s call my concern political equity.

Two of our Board members stepping down from the Board are Denfeld grads and loyal alumni and in fact much more. Yet as we have read the anguished letters from Denfeld students, parents and faculty and even one huffing and puffing editorial in support of them by the Trib Denfeld keeps getting squat. (That’s old timer speak for “nada”) What I’ve heard from the folks I expected to be Denfeld advocates is that Denfeld has not been shortchanged in terms of staffing. They utterly discount the declining student enrollment at Denfeld which is now nearing half that of East High School, 900 – 1600. That just beggars belief.

So today I finally read a note about a sliver of property that our District has had its eyes on for a couple years since poor old Westminster Prebyterian got washed away in the flood of 2012. Its not big and we didn’t have big plans for it but the City snapped it up before we could get a word in edgewise…….although City Planning knew we wanted it. They paid what we planned to pay for it, $30,000.

Then they offered it to Community Action Duluth. Despite our property managements best efforts to improve upon the situation without leaning on the City staff it looks like City Planning was prepared to give us (Denfeld) the short end of the stick. Now that’s not the treatment that the Rockridge Neighbors got when the Developer who wanted to buy Rockridge threw in the towel.

These east Duluth neighbors who are close to militant about their property values and keeping the atmosphere of the neighborhood at the status quo set up a website – regularly updated – a couple years ago. They showed up in force at a City Council meeting recently and the Developer who had dropped his proposed number of units down three or four times from well over 100 to around 65 hung it up as the City kept putting more and more restrictions on his plans at the behest of a city councilor and the neighbors.

Out west where retired and blue color and free-and-reduced-lunch families are preoccupied with getting by there is no well organized constituency to lobby for their interests. That was apparent to me as I read the bewildered communication from our facilities Management director explaining how the City Planning Dept. was pushing plans out west next to Denfeld.

I just sent the City Councilors and our Board members the following email to tip west Duluth’s political equity a little closer to level.

Harry Welty
10:47 AM (2 hours ago)

to City Council, School Board, Kerry, William, william


Although the Duluth Schools are not your turf I have no doubt you have followed the difficulties the school district has faced trying to provide equity across the district. Furthermore, you must be aware of the terrible imbalances in school enrollment between our eastern and western schools. I am concerned because, at a time when we need to get our act together to help Denfeld High School, the City and Community Action Duluth seem determined to place a wonderful, but problematical, project on Denfeld’s doorstep regardless of the impact.

Our property management team has been waiting for several years to make an offer on a small parcel of land adjacent to Denfeld which would give us a chance to enhance access to the school. To our surprise the City of Duluth offered the same small amount for this acreage and then pointed Community Action Duluth to it when other land options were readily available elsewhere.

Our staff suggested a win/win proposal which would have allowed our students and Community Action’s clientele to work jointly in a greenhouse program. We were told that this would not be possible because there was no way to assure that Community Action’s clientele could be trusted to mix with our students.

I do not believe that it is anyone’s interest to proceed with this project under these constraints.

I understand that Community Action is concerned that a potential donor might withdraw a donation should this site not prove acceptable. I find this hard to believe. Surely the prospective donor is not interested in a particular location for [a] greenhouse [was (typo)] so long as it is situated in an appropriate and accessible space.

This project as conceived could drive more students and families away from Duluth Denfeld at a time when we are attempting to bring some parity between our two high schools.

I may bring a resolution to our school board requesting that the City find alternative locations for this project.


Harry Welty

I sure hope our new school board will have some new board members who give Western Duluth its due.

An interesting meeting I did not attend

At least one of those school board candidate pages on Facebook has some worthwhile analysis of Duluth’s future with a new Edison high schools.

Alanna Oswald took up Rep. Erik Simonson’s call to be part of a community conversation about the District. Evidently, Alanna also has some serious credentials working with the District in the tricky issues of race. This is her Facebook Page and this is what she wrote:

Today I attended a meeting held by Minnesota State Representative Erik Simonson with the leaders of the four major schools within Duluth. I was at the table not because I am running for school board, but because I wanted to advocate for underrepresented families who are often not part of these conversations. Rep. Simonson heard what I had to offer, such as my work as a major coordinator of the Race, Culture, and Achievement Gap Summit, along with my experience helping parents while employed with the Education Equity Office and also teaching in ISD709. Superintendent Gronseth and Board Chair Judy Seliga-Punkyo were ISD709’s representatives at the table. We had a candid discussion about how to make the best possible educational options for Duluth, while not hurting any other educational provider. As I stated at the meeting, no matter how much we plan to be the best for everybody, it is nearly an impossible goal, and you want those kids that don’t fit in one place to have other great options to choose from. Edison’s new charter high school will draw kids away from ISD709. The question is how many, and how much money can the district lose because of this. Edison is planning on being the best choice out there, just as we all want to be the best choice. Over 1/3 of future Denfeld kids already attend Edison, and around 1/4 of East bound high schoolers. The deficit on Denfeld’s enrollment is real, and when you look beyond the city to the lure of Wrenshall, Proctor, and Hermantown (among others), Denfeld is dealing with more enrollment competition that East ever has to think about. Attendance boundaries do nothing to change enrollment, but only force parents to make choices. Do they go with the new requirement? Do they appeal and follow the path they thought their kids would have? Do they look to what else is out there to see if something else suits their needs? Changing boundaries only forces people to make choices, and ISD709 will not always be the winner of those choices. The key is funding all education institutions in order to not create a competitive environment that hurts some and boosts others. The discussion will continue, and I will be at the table trying to shape perhaps a new way of thinking about how education can be managed within cities and our state. And I will be there regardless of the election outcome, but sure would like to be able to advocate more specifically for ISD709 in this plan to ensure success for our public school system’s future.

This is one big paragraph. I’m not sure Facebook is designed to break up large chunks of text but its evidence that one of the school board candidates has put a lot of thought into where we are heading.

I bolded one sentence that was new information to me to wit: a larger share of Edison’s students would normally head to Denfeld (one third of them) compared to East (one fourth). This demonstrates why Rep. Simonson was well advised to get Duluth’s educational leaders together. I will point out that my absence is the result of our administration and Board Chair not telling me about this get together. I’m glad I decided to peruse some of our candidate’s on-line messaging to find out what was kept out of my reach.

Alanna, if you have any other observations about the District or the top secret meeting I’d be happy to publish them here in Lincolndemocrat. My email is: harrywelty@charter.net.

All of my readers are encouraged to send me questions and messages too.

Its Sandstad not Samstad

I think I had Nora’s name right originally then corrected when I got the idea she was a Samstad and not a Sandstad. I’ve now re-corrected the spelling in the three posts to date that got it wrong and hope to avoid that misspelling again. After all I used to be the pronouncer for Duluth’s spelling bees for ten years running. Bad form….Sorry about that Nora.

You’d better join Facebook if you want to follow your favorite School Board candidate

Alanna Oswald:  

Jim Unden:

Renee VanNett:  https://www.facebook.com/pages/Renee-Van-Nett-for-Duluth-Schools/578447478924331?fref=ts 

Charles Obije

David Kirby

Jane Hoffman

Nora Sandstad

Loren Martell

No Website but a good substitute here.

Art Johnston to the rescue

I’ve been impatiently waiting for today’s John Ramos story in the Reader. He’s been covering the saga of the proposed $35 million library for a couple months. Art Johnston told me the kicker long ago and its a kicker all right.

The proposal was based on the dreadful information that it took $75,000 a month to heat or cool the building each year. That sounded ridiculous to me months ago when the idea first was proposed. After all $75,000 over 20 years is a million and a half bucks. Taxpayers would be well advised to compare paying $75,000 for energy per year to, oh say, $2,500,000 a year for library bond repayments before rushing forward. The bond repayments would be much more than the $35 million. It would be closer to $50 million by the time you added interest payments. That’s where I get the $2,500,000 comparison figure.

Then Art told me what Mr. Ramos spills in today’s column. The puny $75,000 energy costs are nonsense. That’s because Art discovered, after handing the City some public data requests, that this is the cost of flooding the library with nearly 30 million gallons of city drinking water to cool or warm the building every year. After using all this treated water the pipes flush it back into Lake Superior. Its a problem with a simple fix called insulation.

Simple as it is it took an engineer like Art to figure out what was going on. The City paid some consultants $65,000 to analyze the problem and they never figured out the basic problem and instead suggested building a new library…….because that’s what their clients the City wanted to hear. Hell, $65 thousand is about what poor old Art will have to pay for the attorneys that kept him from being kicked off the Duluth School board by the Tribune’s editorial board and the School Board majority. Art has just possibly saved Duluth taxpayers from paying an unnecessary two-and-a-half million in unnecessary bond payments.

Here’s how John concludes his column:

The Reader owes a debt of gratitude to Art Johnston, who took it upon himself to file data requests with the city that unearthed much of the information in this article.

This leaves me with one simple question. How come the Duluth School Administration won’t honor the data requests of a sitting school board member but the City of Duluth will honor the requests of an ordinary citizen?

Hope for Nora Sandstad

After Nora Sandstad’s request to meet me to benefit from my “experience” followed by her hasty departure ten minutes later I twitted the young attorney in my blog. Then Loren Martell magically became a candidate and, as I enthused about his campaign, I twitted Nora again. Her next test will be to see if after my shots she honors our plans to meet for lunch to have a real discussion.

After the hellacious year our bewildering school board put Art and me though with front page allegations of racism, pilgrimages by Board and Administration to the Duluth News Tribune begging them to trash Art, two dubious censures, the waste of two teacher’s worth of salary on legal fees, the collapse of the court case, the retirement en masse of vindictive Board members, I sure hope Nora has a thick enough skin to be on the Board and endure the slights I might publish on my blog.

Nora will tell voters that she will rise above our school board’s petty feuding but I’m nervous about how she is being courted on her on her Facebook Page. I’ve been told that Nora and candidate Renee Van Nett have pictures and “likes” by the remaining members of the Board’s persecution squad.

Let me take a step back from my suspicions and explain that I may have some good news to report on that score. Nora took up Art Johnston’s invitation to meet him for lunch a couple days ago. Art left with a good impression.

Nora asked Art how the accusations leveled against him came about. Art explained that Rosie Loeffler-Kemp, Judy Seliga-Punyko and Annie Harala had made a motion to investigate him in June of 2014. (After so called “independent investigator” Mary Rice’s report was given to me I panned it as a “stinking fish” and characterized the trio as Chicken Little, Lucky Ducky and Loosey Goosey.

Art and I will never know just how the removal was engineered behind the scenes as Chair Judy Seliga-Punyko and Clerk Loeffler-Kemp could meet privately with top Administrators and the Board’s lawyers without our participation.

There has never been any love lost between Art and Judy. She once tried to have him arrested for trespass at a closed meeting of the school board. On the other hand, Art had twice asked Rosie to run for the School Board. Rosie hadn’t always liked Judy but once elected with Annie they became a regular sorority.

Like me Rosie saw only a part of the alleged “assault” on the Superintendent. Only Annie Harala saw it from beginning to end. I saw no assault. But Rosie enthusiastically curried the Chairwoman’s favor by getting on her high horse the moment the investigation was authorized. Rosie told KBJR News:

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

Here’s the video.

Violent abusive and harassing and threatening behaviors! Excuse me but that’s is a load of crap. I guess its Rosie’s way of thanking Art for twice asking her to run for the school board. It’s a wonder she has survived the last 40 school board gatherings without having Art stick a shiv into her brisket.

When Art showed Nora Rosie’s hysterical accusation the attorney admitted it was pretty terrible. Nora better watch out or Rosie will “unfriend” her too.

Art and Nora asked each other why they had run for the school board. Nora with small children yet to enroll said that she wanted to make sure the schools would be healthy when they arrived. Art talked about his engineering background and what he regarded as an irrational sales pitch to rebuild the schools in the Red Plan. He told Nora how our District’s CFO, William Hanson, told him that “Central is too good a location for a school.” Nora found this comment every bit as remarkable as Art had.

About the District’s current plight, eloquently described by Nora’s challenger Loren Martell, Nora told Art that several of her friends were planning to move to East Duluth because they wanted their children to attend eastern schools. This acknowledgment puts Nora head and shoulders over the three school board members who are quitting the Board.

Art told Nora what he has often said to me, “We don’t get elected because we like each other.” He added “nor do we do it to remove each other from the Board.”

Nora may take her place on the board as an independent minded and better yet fair minded member. She taught middle school kids. That’s a plus. Then she left teaching to get a law degree. On paper she’s a good candidate.

I will be supporting my friend of five years Loren Martell but I hope that doesn’t discourage Nora from having that lunch we promised each other at our last meeting. With luck, when voters go to the polls they will have two excellent candidates to vote for in the Third District.

It was worth the wait.

I enjoyed twitting the Duluth News Tribune about their late coverage of Loren Martell’s entrance into the race. That said I have to say they got it right. It was worth the wait.

Loren Martell got his due. I like Loren very much and no one has carried such a heavy burden with so much punishment for his service as Mr. Martell. His has truly been the embodiment of that old adage: “no good deed goes unpunished.”

Furthermore, Loren showed his true colors. He was generous in thanking the school administration for helping him rectify their mistake that gave him an uneasy 24 hours of wondering whether he’d be allowed to become a candidate or not.

Here’s the honest and fair minded truth that the Tribune reported:

This November will mark Martell’s third attempt to be elected to the Duluth School Board. He unsuccessfully ran for an At Large seat in 2013, and in 2011 he lost a 2nd District race to Judy Seliga-Punyko.

Martell said his primary concern as a candidate is the competitiveness of the Duluth school district.

“I think it’s time for an honest assessment of the challenges facing ISD 709,” he said.

The school district needs to find a way to stop students leaving the district for other area educational offerings, especially in light of the news that a new Duluth Edison charter high school is expected to open in 2017, he said.

“We have a major competitor set to open the doors of a new high school within two years here. I’m very concerned about the fact that we have been unable to stem the loss of enrollment from ISD 709 and at this moment, I don’t believe we’re positioned well to handle the competition that’s coming into the marketplace,” he said.

The loss of students is translating into a loss of funding for the district, he said, explaining, “It’s hurting our ability to channel enough money into the real educational needs of the classroom.”

To compete with area schools, the district needs to raise its standards and address inequities between its high schools, he said. If elected, he would also like to consider the long-range facilities plan’s financial effect on the school district. The school board needs to tighten up its finances and consider its expenses in order to prioritize money for the educational needs of students, he said.

Two items I would like to note:

1. It took me four campaigns to get elected to the school board. This is only Loren’s third campaign. and…

2. The story about his filing as I witnessed it is just plain entertaining. I spent three hours until 1PM last night writing it up. I don’t know if I will post it after all that work. It will take just as long or longer to edit it. I don’t know if I have it in me……but I want the public, or at least my readers, to have a real world grasp of what I witness as a school board member. I kind of owe it to them to keep plugging away at the story.

DNT Missing in Action

12:01 PM – First email from my Buddy at:


Why isn’t the Duluth News Tribune reporting that Loren Martell is a candidate?

[Your Buddy]

http://lincolndemocrat.com/?p=14162 and http://lincolndemocrat.com/?p=14144

1:35 PM – Second email from my Buddy at:


Still no such confirmation at http://www.duluthnewstribune.com/news/3801842-duluth-city-races-take-final-shape. Were you doing a Dan Rather, yesterday?

[Your Buddy]

I told him I’d been told that Loren’s name was on the Duluth School District’s website.

8:39 PM – My Buddy confirms this in an email with the following link to an ISD 709 web page:


A Double scoop of the Trib with a generous dollop of magic mushrooms

Holy Cow!!!!!!!!!!

I just got a phone call from Loren Martell while I was in the parking lot outside Pier One Imports. The news he gave me was so unexpected that it had me whooping like a giddy madman at a most remarkable turn of events. Loren didn’t realize that since he’d last run against Judy there was a change in the District lines. He’s now in Bill Westholm’s Third District where he knocked on doors like crazy two year’s ago. He has a real shot at this race which until last night was automatically going to fall to Nora Sandstad who gave me ten minutes of her time to tap my experience. I told Loren I felt like I had just consumed magic mushrooms.

Nora’s in for a horse race because Western Duluth was effectively lied to. They were going to be getting equity with the Red Plan. Instead East high got a football stadium so some fussy east enders wouldn’t have to mix with west enders and West Duluth lost Denfeld’s Spanish 5 classes. Not that its all goldfish and rainbows at East High. Its almost as crowded at East (just a hundred fewer students less) as it was during the hight of the Baby Boom enrollment surge. Worse is to come if pablum minded candidates take over from our current board members to insist yet again that Denfeld kids are getting everything East High kids are getting.

Loren was at last night’s school board meeting as usual. Nora was no where to be seen. Then again until this morning she had no one running against her. Why go to a school board meeting on a hot July evening when you will be crowned Ms. Third District on January without breaking a sweat?

My verdict is out on Nora but I do have my first impressions. She was a middle school teacher and ought to know that when you leave the classroom all hell can break lose if you haven’t got your act together. This is an inauspicious start to her school board career.

I spent virtually all of Monday and Tuesday frantically calling everyone I knew to file for the 3rd District seat so that at least there would be a contest for the sake of Denfeld families who have been so betrayed by our School Board. I got nada, zip, squat! But there, under my nose, was a genuine candidate all along that I was blissfully ignorant of. Not anymore.

I love being able to scoop the Duluth News Tribune

There is one more candidate for the Duluth School Board…….I’m pretty sure. Loren Martell. Furthermore I’ve asked him if I can be the Chairman of his campaign and he sort of guardedly said yes. I have no idea if he can win in what is effectively half of my old 2nd Distict seat.

There are now three serious candidates for the office that Judy Seliga-Punyko will be vacating and a fourth candidate who really wanted to run for Mayor but who switched to a new campaign when she realized she was biting off more than she could chew.

My wife said she will be voting for Charles Obige (oh-bee-jay). Rosie and Judy are hoping that Dr. Kirby will follow their lead and continue the crusade to keep Art Johnston at bay. Loren will forego his column in the Reader if he, as I pleaded with him this morning to do, files for office the day after the filing was supposed to close. (That’s the story the Trib will explain) He may yet change his mind. I hope he doesn’t. His intention is not to campaign. My intention is to go door to door for him.

I’m not so concerned whether Loren wins or not. I just want to make sure that whoever wins the 2nd District seat isn’t a dimwit determined to drag the school district through more mud by fighting Art Johnston at the expense of our children.

I’m an optimist and a damned near hopeless optimist at that. Despite the worst nonsense that keeps rearing its ugly head I stubbornly cling to it. I told Loren today what my Mom always told me. “You catch more flies with honey than vinegar.” Loren called me a Pollyanna. I told him to remember the end of that story with poor old Pollyanna doomed to life as a cripple but having brought a whole dysfunctional town to a happy wholesome harmony. That’s what I’m shooting for…..without the broken back part.

The Trib’s substitute reporter at the School Board did quote me accurately as saying the current board is changing its ethics policy to point a gun at my head. But I’m still an optimist. I will not sacrifice my personal brand of “honesty” for a life hiding under the rug with dust. I also believe honesty, dare I say truth, can coexist, must coexist, with prosperity, success and cohesion. Duluth has so much going for it. It doesn’t deserve to have gangrene spreading through its schools.

A maxim from Minnesota’s own F. Scott Fitzgerald comes to mind:

“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”

Heck, I’ve got a dozen competing thoughts in my mind about a hundred different subjects at all times. (Damn, That sounds more like schizophrenia than a “first-rate intelligence”)

I think Loren can be elected. I know he will lose. Well, by Golly! There’s are two more of those op-positional ideas fighting for supremacy in my poor aching head.

Finally! A candidate who says all the right things.

Claudia came up to my office just now and gushed over the story of Alanna Oswald announcing her candidacy for the school board. I heartily agree.

She [Ms. Oswald] said Monday that she wants to improve Duluth’s schools to prevent the district’s enrollment from declining.

“I hope to make the district the place to come to for an education, not to continually be cutting back because we keep losing kids. We need to offer the same, if not more, than the surrounding districts,” Oswald said.

But Oswald said she isn’t sure if the current school board is set up for the change she envisions. Additionally, she said, the recent discord among board members is behavior that mirrors the problems students from underrepresented backgrounds in the district face.

“The school board models the institutionalized systems that create majorities and minorities, and bullying, and thinking some people are better than others,” she said.

She said including underrepresented voices in the decision-making process is important to her.

Fiscal Sustainability 3 – Steps and Lanes

When I took my first teacher education course at the then Mankato State College in 1973 I was given a quick lesson in how teachers were paid. This began long before teachers got the right to strike in Minnesota and is probably true all across the United States. We were shown an example of a “steps and lanes” schedule. One moment please…..I’ll google and see if I can find one to show you:

This is the first link to pop up from the State of Illinois explaining how they work.

Somehow I associate teacher’s unions with one of my favorite junior high teachers, Mr. Just. When I became a social studies teacher like him I copied the thing I remembered most about his class. I mimeographed off a half sheet newspaper each day with the top news headlines and a little explanation. I’m pretty sure he was North Mankato Junior High’s business rep for the union back in 1965. If so he had no right to strike under state law. The steps and lanes allowed senior teachers quicker pay increases based on their seniority and the additional classes they took beyond their initial Bachelor’s Degree.

Minnesota teachers got their right to strike in the 1971 the year of the Minnesota Miracle when the state took over much of the burden of paying teachers relieve property tax payers. This was also the year that PELRA was enacted giving Mr. Just and his comrades the right to strike. This law paved the way for tremendous growth in teacher pay until DFL legislators put the brakes on the system in the 1990’s to save themselves from being crushed by anti tax Republicans. Even so, Steps and lanes remain in most districts like Duluth and hide the actual salary increases which are negotiated because they push teacher’s pay beyond the much publicized cost of living increases. So a Duluth teacher may have gotten a 2% pay bump according to the news but in actuality the teachers averaged more like the 4.8% increase I discovered.

School Boards occasionally talk about eliminating steps and lanes through their negotiations but I doubt many have ever seriously tried to eliminate them. By the way, if the Duluth teachers had gone out on strike in 1998 when I fell on my sword by stepping down from the Chairmanship they would have been among the last teacher’s to strike in the US. Strikes seem to have died with the retirement of baby boomer teachers.

Can the district afford a 5 per cent increase? Sure but it comes at a cost. Our payroll is $67 million dollars a year and one teacher could get it all if they could single-handedly teach our 8,000 children all by their lonesome. There would, however, be a very significant pay cut if we hired a second teacher.

Type in “Minnesota Miracle” or “PELRA” into the search engine to see what I’ve written about it before. I wrote about both in this post from the last MSBA Convention.

Fiscal Sustainability – 2 -District Correspondence

Re: Fiscal Sustainability post. I received this comment in my District email box from a teacher friend:

XXXXXX 7:36 PM (17 hours ago)

Hi Harry, I am a regular reader of your blog, although I often disagree with …

Harry Welty

I replied thusly:

12:35 PM (36 minutes ago)


You are absolutely right. I have been meaning to mention this factor in relation to this increase.

I will note that traditionally the negotiators for the DFL have not been quick to mention this as it makes their case for salary increases more complicated.

Even so, the School Board needs to think strategically about its finances and explain to the public what is at stake. This Board doesn’t do either – think or go to the public. Hence too many kids in classes.

Fiscal Sustainability?

The most jarring bit of information I got at last week’s school board’s committee meetings came unexpectedly. We were discussing the District’s Unemployment Compensation Insurance needs. Generally the critical question would be how much are our premiums now and how much would they be if we got another insurer to provide them to us. The cost news wasn’t bad. What alarmed me was the accompanying documentary evidence to show we were currently getting very good cost coverage.

Insurance Companies will need to know the liabilities that an employer will face. The simplest figure to begin calculations would be the total salary that the District owes its employees – the ones whose unemployment compensentation is being covered by insurance.

I can’t recall how much the new contracts we signed last year bumped up this year’s salary and I’m too lazy to look for it now as I put in one quick Sunday Post. If I had to guess I’d say 2%. So it was with great surprise that I saw that our payroll jumped 4.8% from last year to this year. That would be two and a half times the 2% figure I’m guessing at in my laziness. I asked for confirmation that this was just salary increases and the answer I was given was “yes.”

I’m sure there are mitigating factors. Last year, for instance, our legislature gave us a one time bump in state aids which allowed us to add staff. More staff means more salary paid even if the pay increases only average 2%.

I’ve never asked our business office for this information but it showed up in this roundabout way. This increase not only greatly exceeds the advertised contract increase it blows the inflation rate to smithereens. Our salary is skyrocketing at five times last year’s inflation rate. This year because of the drop in gasoline prices there is almost no inflation at all. Here are a couple of graphs on an inflation calculator that provided the inflation figures.

For any parent or teacher desperate to bring student numbers down in our classrooms, this seems ominous.