To Err on the side of self flagelation is….

Loren Martel.

Loren has been outdoing himself lately. His columns have been churned out almost weekly and he is in the Duluth Reader yet again this week aiming a blow torch very narrowly at his favored whipping boy “The DFL-endorsed Board majority.” He has a little left over for our Superintendent’s wandering eye as well. More on this in the next post but I’d like to linger on the meat of his retraction in the first paragraph. Loren admits a mistake, not his first, but offered one of his most important corrections.

He recently explained that since the days of Dixon our taxpayers had suffered a 60% increase in their local school taxes. It turns out Loren was way off the mark. He corrected himself: “Our tax levy from the district has risen by a whopping 246% since the start of the Red Plan.” Yup. Yup. Yup.

I’ll add some additional details, one of which I learned today in a conversation with an MDE finance expert from that Era who watched with astonishment as the Duluth Schools proceeded with their exploding hot potato. I learned that a few years ago the District had the opportunity to raise money for capital costs to help pay off the Red Plan but chose instead to take the money out of the General Fund and thus from classrooms. The reason is understandable. Having already failed miserably in their promise not to raise taxes as a result of the Red Plan, the powers-that-be decided it was better to raid classroom money rather than further anger voters. For many years we took six million annually from the classroom for bond payoffs. Now its a little over three million stolen annually- and that’s not an unfair description.

I asked if any other school districts in the state had ever done such a thing. “Yes,” I was told. Minneapolis and St. Paul did it briefly. I asked if they took anything close to 5% out of their General Funds for bond payoff purposes. “No,” was the answer. And of course we both knew that Duluth will be doing this for ages. “Some of these bonds won’t be paid off for 35 years,” I was told. (Or was it 50 years?) This major outlay from the General Fund was made necessary by change orders, cost overruns, lying, grossly inflated charges even more excessive than those recently exposed at Prior Lake. What makes it worse is that the Red Plan Board members regularly denied that they were taking General Fund money to pay off the bonds on the Red Plan. No wonder they wanted to remove Art Johnston when he kept asking for the public data that confirmed how bone headed the Red Planners had been.

Loren quotes one of the applicants for the Superintendent job who the Board passed on in 2012. Stan Mack was a thirty year administrator who frankly told the board that the Red Plan’s financing was “unprecedented in Minnesota…a most serious problem…major leakage from the General Fund, caused by school board action.” Mack did not get the job but three of the Board members were unable to get their preferred candidate Mr. Gronseth hired. But time heals all wounds. Six months later the new Superintendent was sent packing after a well orchestrated campaign to make him look like a ninny. Positivity at last.

PS. That Martell article is in the news stands but not yet online. I think the Reader stalls a few days to keep its advertisers in the print version happy.