MAJ 6 – Mean Girls

I’d suggest starting at MAJ 1 (Martyrdom of Art Johnston)

Art and I have joked that the three women on our board remind us of the Tina Fey movie “Mean Girls.” I don’t know if the analogy is apropos because I’ve never seen the movie. I gather it is about popular girls making life miserable for kids who aren’t cool like, for instance, Art Johnston.

If the analogy holds I would have to add that Annie and Rosie seem an unlikely pair to finish off Chair Seliga-Punyko’s sorority.
Annie, seems to be an independent and confident woman who stands on her own abilities. As I’ve written she is a commanding chair of her Education Committee. But this outward appearance may be all whistle. At a Wellness round table during her election campaign Annie explained that she had suffered bullying as a youngster. Perhaps the back story fits the Roger’s and Hammerstein song that begins, “Whenever I feel afraid I hold myself erect and whistle a happy tune so no one will suspect I’m afraid.” It’s a strategy I’ve employed myself.

Annie’s Mother is an ISD 709 teacher who has lived with the Red Plan. Whether she supported it or not I have no idea but I suspect that like most of the staff she would like it to go away so they could get on with their work. If so, it’s possible that Annie has picked up her Mother’s irritation with Art Johnston for continuing to harp on the subject.

I believe Annie was blissfully out of town during most of the Red Plan controversy and perhaps unaware of how deeply many folks resent it. This also would help explain why she might be predisposed to take Judy’s side where Art is concerned.

As for Rosie, she occupies more difficult terrain. She is the wife of an AFSCME business Rep whose Union loudly supported the Red Plan much more so than even the Duluth Federation of Teachers. Although a sizable contingent of teachers were hostile to the Red Plan at its beginning the DFT seems to have gotten the word out to keep quiet and their voices quickly faded.

Rosie is also a past candidate for the School Board and a long time eastern Duluth PTSA president. She was surrounded by East enders who were still smarting from the defeat of another grand school building plan that was defeated in a 1989 referendum.

Her children attended one of the District’s oldest schools, Lester Park, that kept missing being included in major school renovations. Its ancient boiler was widely reputed to be a safety hazard and it had no elevators. While I was on the Board one particularly aggressive Lester Parent bombarded me with emails deriding me for not fixing his school. He kept writing me about a wheelchair bound parent who had to be carried up the stairs at Lester Park to attend her daughter’s parent teacher conferences.

I would have expected Rosie to root for the Red Plan yet she didn’t. The Red Plan was simply too hot a potato for anyone wishing to get elected to the Board. Neither would the ever positive Rosie have been inclined to antagonize her husband’s employer, AFSCME. Her family had already once made the front page of the Duluth News Tribune when her home was picketed a few years earlier by union construction workers who were angry that an AFSCME rep would hire non union workers to build his home. Not wishing to antagonize the vociferous voters who resented having the Red Plan forced down their throats without a referendum Rosie simply stayed quiet through the Red Plan controversy.

When she finally filed to run again in 2013 Lester Park was brand spanking new and the Red Plan was a fait accompli (a done deal). She never had to take a stand on the controversial plan but then again she never failed to gush about the newly built Red Plan schools. I took that as a sign of her pro-building prejudices.

I’ve mentioned in earlier posts that Art had encouraged Rosie to run for the Board. I’ve not mentioned that as the 2013 election neared he began having reservations about Rosie as a candidate. Art knew Rosie through DFL circles but he began to wonder whether she was sufficiently sympathetic when she stopped returning his phone calls. Then he got a good look at how she acted behind the scenes to assure her DFL endorsement. That will be the subject of the next post.

In all likelihood, despite past differences with Judy it appears that Rosie was fated to become a firm ally of Judy’s as a pro-Red Plan board member. Coupled that with Rosie’s instinct to gush about the schools it’s likely that she too resented Art’s non-stop questioning of the Red Plan.

Neither Annie or Rosie were anywhere close to Judy in her resentment of Art but they both were apparently susceptible to Judy’s strong personality and were inclined to defer to the Board’s second longest member. (Second to me. I’ve got two years service on her) Judy had served through virtually all of the Red Plan construction phase. The only thing she can’t be blamed for is the contract with Johnson Controls to oversee the building of the plan. That was already completed by the time she was elected in 2008. Her demeanor, if not her facts or rhetoric, shows an unwavering assurance that the Red Plan was the right thing to do and that the means of pushing it to completion were all above board. The flaws which Art and I point out simply do not exist in Judy’s mind or are the result of other issues beyond the District’s control like the state legislature.

The trio made for a particularly potent force on the school board, just one vote shy of a majority. When Annie saw a “shove” her pals rallied around her like the birds in the tale of Chicken Little and the falling sky. I’ve already described that in the X paragraph of my review of Mary Rice’s report on Art Johnston.

Frankly, this whole sorry pie-throwing exhibition began like the story of Chicken Little.

“So Foxy Loxy led Chicken Little, Henny Penny, Ducky Lucky, Goosey Loosey, and Turkey Lurkey across a field and through the woods. He led them straight to his den, and they never saw the king to tell him that the sky is falling.”

However, the Duluth School Board’s story begins with someone seeing the superintendent being “shoved.” It remains to be seen whether the sky will fall.

I don’t wish to suggest that Judy Seliga-Punyko is the driving force behind the three. Rosie is no slouch in the world of politics. It is to that that I’ll turn next to describe how Rosie grabbed the golden ring to win the DFL endorsement for the School Board in 2013.