Shhh, Mum’s the word

In case any of my other eight loyal readers were wondering my Buddy sent me this question.

Jeez, Harry. No comment for a week. Were you neutered by the recent election?

Your Buddy,

My explanation:

Jeez Buddy,

Can’t a jabber mouth ever get a chance to shut up for a few days?

Blogging now could be counter productive to my goal of having a more rational school board. The last thing I need to do is antagonize some of my new seat mates. Take your pick between either of these two overused maxims: “Silence is Golden” or “Discretion is the better part of valor.”

I’ll hide behind either of them at the moment……Besides, I have lots of things to catch up on after knocking on thousands of doors for the past month.


The Mourning After

I’m laughing at the title right now. It cheers me to no end finding a good pun.

I told Art after the filings that even if none of our champions won the new School Board couldn’t help but be a big improvement over the current board. That said I did regret Loren Martell’s loss personally. He’s such a good guy with a brave heart. It would have been poetic justice for him to prevail.

He’s doing OK. This morning he returned the call I gave him after the results were posted last night. While he wasn’t chipper he tossed in that old saw about being resilient. It was Loren’s third loss so I joked with him that I lost three school board elections in a row before I won on the fourth time. He assured me he was hanging up his boxing gloves after this fight. Well, he won’t run for the Board anyway.

I am elated that Alanna Oswald won comfortably. I’ve spent several hours looking over the precinct by precinct results. I may have done her some damage in my area of town. I gave her the maximum contribution to pay for lawnsigns and when I could give her no more I excercised my first amendment right to pay for my own flyer extolling her virtues. Actually I reprinted the News Tribune editorial which extolled Alanna’s virtues. However, to be kosher I hand wrote a disclaimer explaining that I paid for the flyer. The gushing of the Trib may have been canceled out by my neighbors recoiling at the thought I had a hand in Alanna’s campaign. Gosh, my nightmare school board Censured me for defending Art Johnston….oops, I mean for revealing the price we sold Central High School for twenty-four hours prematurely.

The new board members and I may have a little fence mending to do before we unite on January but so far I don’t think our transgressions against each other are too severe. The positivity stuff is a bit hard for me to take when there are so many alligators in the swamp. We need to be on the lookout for the drain.

Alanna’s results surprised me. She did well both in her western precincts and carried many of Rosie Loeffler-Kemp’s First District precincts. She did that with just a few lawnsigns.

My Buddy sent me Karl Schuettler’s take on the election results.

Here’s Karl’s big picture summary on the School Board race:

School Board Big Picture: It’s a potential changing of the guard in ISD 709, as three consistent votes in the monolithically pro-administration bloc retire and three fairly new faces in Duluth school debates make their way in. Unlike some of the current and outgoing members, they don’t have long records siding with one side of the dead horse Red Plan debates. With two solid pro-administration votes and two staunch critics among the remaining members, these three now have the power to play kingmaker. Whatever they decide, one hopes they will stay above past squabbles, ask tough questions, and dig into the district’s most pressing debates. Color me cautiously optimistic that some new blood will leave the old debates behind and provide a much-needed jolt of energy for the real issues at stake.

I want to make one thing perfectly clear. A lot of innocents out in voting land think that new board members feel beholden to other Board members so that they will be pawns after their election. I don’t expect that to happen on our Board although I am aware that it happens on occasion. I can’t speak for Dr. Kirby or Nora Sandstad but there is no way Alanna Oswald won’t make up her own mind. I wouldn’t have been interested in supporting her had this not been been the case. We’ve already had several spirited debates where we look at issues through different lenses. And besides, I told everyone at every door I knocked on that I wrote in Alanna’s year book back at Morgan Park – that she was a lot smarter than me. Thank goodness. Our Board could use an IQ boost.

I was up for most of the night driving through the fog tracking down lawnsigns to pack up till the next election. I’m a little bleary eyed. Fortunately, Claudia and I are heading up the North Shore with our grandsons for a couple days of unwinding.

A Congenial School Board – thoughts on election day

I went out and waved lawnsigns yesterday morning. It goes against my grain to do this no matter how much of an exhibitionist I appear to others. When I saw the Stauber family doing this a few elections back I had the sinking feeling that someday this would be expected of me too.

I had other plans for the last day before elections too, leafleting a few missed cul-de-sacs, putting up unused lawnsigns some of which I’d begged for a week in advance of election day. Some were discovered hiding two days before the election. It took me until 2 PM to work up the enthusiasm to get to them. I was already spent from a furious last month of going door to door. A rough guess is that I visited between six and eight thousand doors. Toward the end I stopped knocking and just passed out flyers for my candidates. I don’t think I worked as tirelessly for myself two years ago.

We’d been hearing reports for a few days of lawnsign theft. Alanna had one fellow tell her not to bother to give him a sign because he knew where a bunch of hers had been dumped. All he had to do was just go get one of the discards for himself. I hope we pick up the rest later. Alanna could use them again if she is disposed to run for reelection in four years. So I decided the least I could do was restore and improve upon the lawnsignage I’d put up along lower Woodland and 21st Ave leading down to the I-35 exit.

Right now is a little about 7 AM on the day of the election. I will soon be heading out to make sure these signs survived the vandals last night. And no, if you were wondering. I never heard back from the police about that SUV that was stealing lawnsigns last week even though I gave them its licence plate number.

Last night as dusk was descending I headed over to a missed neighborhood and began putting a flyer I designed for Alanna and one for Charles Obige in screen doors. (For Alanna I simply printed out the marvelous DNT endorsement with my disclaimer that I’d paid for its printing) I could still pick my way through the yard when I got to what would be my last house. There I found a woman furiously raking her yard in the dark and announced myself well ahead of reaching her so as not to scare the bejeebers out of her. We had a very cordial conversation about the state of the School Board. She liked the beginning of the patter I’ve been using for the past couple weeks when I told folks I was suggesting candidates who would be congenial Board members. She liked that word, “congenial.”

This last year has been a nightmare. I felt the way Congressional Democrats must have felt when Newt Gingrich and the GOP took it upon themselves to impeach and remove President Bill Clinton for being a lying cad. At least the fellow I was supporting though his own impeachment was honorable. I think it is this, as much as anything else, which has made me a one man campaigning machine for the past month. I crave respectful congeniality and open and honest discussions when discussing the state of the Duluth Schools. For well over a year I’d been telling Art Johnston that our only hope for a sane and sensible school board would come with today’s election. As today’s date has come closer I’ve doubled and redoubled my efforts to make congeniality come to pass.

Oh, congeniality won’t solve our problems. Duluth’s school board took ten million dollars from the classroom for the next twenty years to build “state of the art” (read vanity project) buildings. Cries for more teachers, more course offerings and more of everything else will not be solved by congeniality. What this Board needs is “grace under pressure” as Hemingway defined courage.

I’m reminded of the poem “If” by Rudyard Kipling which begins:

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;

It was a poem of advice to Kipling’s son who, by the way, was one of a million British boys killed in the First World War.

Congeniality will not assure anything like courage but if paired with the latter our Duluth School Board might find itself becoming part of the solution for ISD 709 instead of being so much of the problem.

Now go out and vote!

Francis Gary Powers should have taken cyanide

When U2 pilot Gary Powers was shot down by the Ruskies I was 9. For long afterwards I was convinced that he should have taken his “cyanide pill.” After all, as I just wrote, “My grandfather was shot in a war and he didn’t cry.” It was Power’s duty to kill himself.

Such are the thoughts of innocent youth.

Claudia and I took in Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies last Thursday not expecting much. It did have something like a 93% approval on Rotten Tomatoes which was promising but other than knowing it was about the prisoner exchange bringing Powers back I didn’t know much more about the movie. It was so good that Claudia even said she didn’t wonder what time it was through the whole production. High praise from Claudia.

Don’t read the link at Wikipedia in the first sentence if you plan to see it. There are too many spoilers for those of you who don’t know your Cold War history and would like to get the movie fresh.

I long ago dropped my disapproval of Captain Powers but a week ago I saw shades of my earnest youthful conviction in my Grandson. He had just learned the National Anthem in Kindergarten along with the history of the bombardment of Ft. McHenry. After he sang the song to us flawlessly he told us he hated the British.

Some hard truths from a man of good will

I was still smarting from having lost my first campaign for the school board in 1989 when I sculpted this out of snow. I would lose two more elections for the school board before finally winning a seat at the table.

Back then the building was called the CAB or Central Administration Building. Today its called HOCH or Historical Old Central High. The sculpture suggests that there has been an air of controversy about the Duluth Schools for a very long time. The big fellow on top of Old Central I called Phil. The little fellow joining him in raising an angry fist is my son Robb, then all of five years old. That’s the same age as my grandson who stars in the preceding video. Today Robb is in this third year of a Doctoral program in Chemistry.

Robb was never very happy about the attention I brought him as Duluth’s foremost snow sculptor and iconoclastic school board member. I don’t think his teachers ever punished him for being the son of a School Board member even when I got national attention for my voodoo stunt. But my school board work kept him in the spotlight from 4th grade until his graduation which he pointedly skipped because I was the one designated to hand him his diploma.

I can hardly fathom that my previous record has been surpassed by recent events even if they have failed to draw national attention. The Trib’s photographer, Steve Kuchera, snapped an animated me at the school board meeting when our Board decided to kick Art Johnston off.

Perhaps the singular difference between me and most school board members is that when calamity hits, say an imminent teacher’s strike, or a thousand angry parents rage against school closings, or a top hockey coach is about to be fired I’m not inclined to hide in a janitor’s closet. I blame my Mother who told me repeatedly when I was small not to cry when I skinned my knee because my Grandfather was shot in a war and he didn’t cry.

In two days we will have an election to replace three school board members (old friends of mine) who hid in a janitor’s closet rather than acknowledge a bitter truth. They so preferred the closet that they even ginned up a malicious excuse for removing a colleague they didn’t much like who asked too many questions. The bitter truth is going to haunt us for half a generation to come. It is this: Before the Red Plan we spent twenty million of our locally raised property taxes in our classrooms. After the Red Plan we spend ten million of our locally raised property taxes in our classrooms. That annual ten million loss to our classrooms will end when we’ve paid off the Red Plan. So much for “moving forward.”

In the meantime our students still melt away to other school districts. Our Western Schools have become the province of Free and Reduced lunches. We have overcrowded classrooms and diminished course offerings. No amount of happy talk will alter this. Replacing three people with their heads in the sand with three like-minded candidates is not what I would call a sure-fire recipe for success.

The photo of my son with Phil on Old Central comes from the web page I set up to run for the school board two years ago. I haven’t looked at it until I googled “Harry Welty” last night and clicked the “images” option.

The first paragraph on this page is pretty hyperbolic but also sort of prescient:

“If I get elected to the Duluth School Board to save our schools, after eight years worth of well intentioned idiocy, it could be like winning a deck chair on the Titanic. Our schools are foundering and in one year, two at most, they will probably sink to the bottom of the Atlantic.”

I only promised one thing in that campaign – that I would practice a simple rule of thumb. “Honesty is the best policy.” I hope this blog has generally lived up to that standard.

Our challenge is nothing less than finding some significant portion of the annual lost ten million dollars the Red Plan diverted from
Duluth’s classrooms. There are three school board candidates I hope very much to have at my side as we go treasure hunting.

I will be passing out flyers for them door-to-door this afternoon and tomorrow. Two days ago my cell phone’s pedometer told me I’d taken 32,000 steps passing out flyers. My 64-year old knees are pretty sore but as my Mom told me all those years ago – my Grandfather was shot and he didn’t cry.