Anxiety over Press Coverage

I’ve been aware for a month that the Trib was finally preparing to write a story about the JCI/Red Plan critics, Robert Aho and Art Johnston, who so far have been ignored by Duluth’s only major daily newspaper. I can no longer complain that we haven’t been given a chance to tell our side of the story. The Education reporter Sarah Horner has interviewed many of us recently but it seems as though for every critic who is willing to speak out JCI can marshall a dozen testimonials.

I woke up at 3AM this morning agonizing about how this story is going to turn out. I crawled out of bed and dashed off this email to Sarah.

Sarah,

One last thing. I think the experience with JCI in Superior, Wisconsin is instructive. Its the way our project should have been run. In the 90’s Superior wanted a big reconfiguration of their schools and Dave Korhonen was hired to do it. He was in charge and he was employed by the School District. JCI, which Dave swears by as a good provider of environmental controls, did not call the shots. That is what should be happening in Duluth. We should have hired a project manager whose loyalties were to the Duluth Schools not to the vender selling services to the Duluth Schools.

All the mischief in Duluth began once it was discovered that there might be a way to authorize a building program in Duluth without a vote and then to compound the problem by letting JCI, a vender, run the show. I’m not sure how many kids were in the Superior Schools in the 90’s but today, according to Wikipedia, it has over 5,000 students or half what the Duluth Schools have. The cost for their great overhaul in the 90’s was $47 million. That’s a lot of money for little Superior but its far less per student than the Red Plan. Here are the round figures for comparison:

Superior 5,000 students / $50,000,000 = $10,000 per child
Duluth 10,000 students / $300,000,000 = $30,000 per child

But that’s just the beginning of the comparison.

Dave Korhonen told me that when Superior built all its new schools Wisconsin had a very different law in place than Minnesota does now. In the case of Superior the State of Wisconsin paid fully 2/3rds of the cost of their school building project. Of that $47 million expense Superior taxpayers only paid $15 million dollars for their new schools – a fraction of what Duluth taxpayers will pay under the Red Plan. That’s $3,000 per child compared to Duluth’s $30,000 per child. When Deb Devaney (an old friend of mine) complains about our failing to keep up with Superior she is completely oblivious to facts like these.

If the critics of JCI are wrong and JCI has done nothing to break the law but only to bend it, that doesn’t change the fact that it is still the fox guarding the hen house. The contrast in building costs between Superior where JCI was simply a vender and Duluth where JCI is the project manager as well as vender is stark.

JCI has a thin track record as a project manager but a thick one as a selling organization. They have sold us a very expensive plan, while insinuating themselves into the Duluth Schools as the manager entitling them to decide what Duluth needs to buy. Judging by this summer’s projects there seems to be a strong preference for JCI products.