On being up to my neck in alligators…

…and trying to remember that I came to drain the swamp.

I worked overtime before leaving for China to get all my projects tidied away so that when I got back I could have a running start on my school board campaign. On my return home I walked up to my office, after mowing an overgrown lawn, and found a pristine environment. I would so like to keep it that way but my head keeps finding new tasks which accrete little piles of debris which act like magnets for more debris.

Yesterday I could have worked on that debris but a call from Art Johnston Sunday night made me change my plans. Art had gotten tied up and would be unable to attend a pre-school-year conference of the Minnesota School Board Association he’d signed up for. Our District had paid a couple hundred bucks for him to sign up and he hoped I could make use of it. Its emphasis was to be “equity” and so I had been strongly inclined to go but weeks ago I was afraid my August would be so busy/chaotic I didn’t dare do so. But yesterday was empty on my calendar so I hopped in the car at 6 AM and trusted I could sweet talk myself into being Art when I arrived at 8:30 for registration. (A text to the superintendent requesting a little help even ended up with me getting my own name tag with my own name on it)

I’m very glad I went. A wise and funny speaker, Willow Sweeney, gave my day a boost and got me thinking. It got me thinking about a confession I wanted to write as a belated apology to my son. But I still have to finish editing a 500 word piece the DNT requested I send them regarding my campaign. I still have two more posts on China I’d like to write just to finish my modest report to the blog. And I’m monitoring the printing of my campaign fundraising letter which I will be delivering door to door in coming days. It will be contained in an envelope addressed to my house with a letter from my Chair Mike Jaros and one sample of my “trading cards.” There is no way I’ll get to all 30,000 houses in the District so if you want to make a contribution (and receive a full deck of trading cards) you better go to my campaign website to order before you die of old age.

By the way, I took some of those cards to the MSBA conference thinking they could serve as my new “business card.” I ended up only passing out a few. A half dozen went to African American board members and administrators. Their numbers are soaring over their numbers twenty years ago when I went with Mary Cameron to similar conferences. I’d judge they constituted a magnificent .016% of yesterday’s attendees. That is a ten fold improvement over what was closer to a .0016% twenty years ago. As one black superintendent told me when I gave him my card “people of color” would need to count on people like me (colorless I guess) for support on the equity front because there just weren’t all that many of them in positions of power in good old Minnesota.

By the way, the latest scores for the MCA’s came out (its THE test for the education gap between have and have not students) and Duluth’s numbers were at best mama hu hu. They had been announced earlier in the day and Alanna showed them to me in her conference papers in a very appropriate red ink. Our richest elementary school was heads above our poorest schools. Was that all the result of drawing from a richer population of parents or was it possible that the $300,000 they get each year from the Compensatory Ed money based on our “free and reduced lunch” population gave them an extra hard to justify jolt?

That’s what this election should be all about.

As for my room; I’ve got spending to record in my ledger and a campaign finance report to fill out and letters to stuff once I pick up them up from the print shop and lawnsigns to put together and some meetings to attend and another 8 News Tribs to go through from my vacation and and, and, and…..

That Civil Engineer who gave me grief in Memorial Park on Saturday about spending a million dollars to get rid of the rubber tire mulch asked me show him a bunch of my snow sculpture cards. “How do you find time to do these? He asked incredulously. I explained I had gotten pretty fast and that I did have 30 years to make them. “But what do you do that gives you time to build these?” he persisted. I surrendered and confessed that I married well, and a look of comprehension passed over his face. Not approval mind you. Just comprehension.

Trying to justify myself has always been the grain of sand in my oyster shell. Perhaps three sentences from the campaign literature side of my trading cards help justify my indolence. They explain something no one else in town has noticed about the property taxes we pour into our public schools. It reads:

Twenty years ago, 1997, local taxes were $23 million – $9M for debt service, $14M for classrooms. Today taxes are $31 million – $28.7M for Red Plan debt service, $2.5M for classrooms. That’s $11.5 million less for classrooms despite an $8M property tax increase!

At yesterday’s MSBA conference I only handed out my trading cards to one non minority attendee – Tom Melcher. Tom is the Department of Education’s top finance man. He has gotten to know me and my complaints about Duluth’s Red Plan so well that he said, “Hi Harry,” when I approached him. After his lucid presentation about the legislature’s changes to this year’s state education financing I gave him a card. (Maybe it was the one with Godzilla and Barney) I told Tom I would be getting in touch with him for his thoughts on its revelations. I’m looking for something, anything, to remedy the crimes of stupidity that took so much money away from Duluth’s children. Only $2.5 million from local taxes available for the classroom! That’s shameful and if our modest operational levy isn’t renewed none of our property taxes will go to pay for actual education. It will all have been dedicated to paying for beautiful new buildings. Well, the Beijing’s Olympic’s had very nice buildings too.

Look at them now. Or look at Brazil’s abandoned Olympic venues.

I wonder if their builders just tell everyone to move on?