Category Archives: Red Plan

Who’s reporting the Red Plan?

Finally, the Duluth News Tribune reported on Rep. Mike Jaros’s bill which could potentially cripple the Red Plan a week after he introduced it.

In so many ways Art Johnston’s comment which was posted previously is true. The alterntive press in Duluth is doing all the work of reporting the flaws of the Red Plan and its creators.

I linked to Robert Aho’s comments about the contracts that Johnson Controls is sending out earlier but here is the link to the Hillsider which originally published the story.

Both Art Johnston and Robert Aho have considerable experience with “contract administration.” In other words they can look at a contract with a contractor and figure out things like who’s responsible for what and how much the project is likely to cost.

Dr. Dixon has said repeatedly, when challenged about JCI’s earnings on the Red Plan, that they will be paid 2% and that’s all. But that is simply wrong. There are dozens of additional charges that will boost their earnings. So how much will they make?

Another experienced architect in Duluth, Kent Worley, who helped design the biggest public works project in Duluth’s recent history when I-35 was pushed through the down town, estimated that they could make as much as $33 million last year. The School District killed the story by claiming JCI wouldn’t make more than $4.5 million. The Trib swallowed this hook, line and sinker and nothing more was heard of JCI’s bloated profits.

But both Art and Robert have taken a look at the contract and concluded that JCI will earn in the neighborhood of $20 million dollars – FOR A START!

Robert has noticed the same sorts of weasle language that Kent Worley noticed last year in JCI’s contract with the District which gives JCI extrordinary power to extort from the architects and contractors it hires. This makes it impossible to predict how much they will actually earn. Maybe Kent’s guess of $33 million isn’t all that far off.

The other alternative press which has covered the Red Plan more than anyone else is the Reader Weekly. Just last week they put in a page written by Supt. Dixon and School Board Chair Nancy Nilsen as well as several pages of Q&A about the Red Plan.

The Trib recently reported that it was laying off more staff so perhaps its too much to expect it to be able to be a full fledged newspaper like it was back in the good old days. That’s too bad. But maybe the prejudices of the paper’s leaders also has some part to play in their coverage.

When I recently contacted, Steve McLister, the publisher of the paper to complain that someone had sent our full page ad copy to the School District before it was published he vehemently doubted that any of his employees would do such a thing. In fact, he said if he found out that they had he’d fire them. Well. Good for him. But he also added,

“Our opinion will be on the side of the school district. It was before my arrival and will be now. In my personal opinion, past school board members and district leadership failed our students and failed our community to get us to the point we are today. I certainly can understand opposing views as to solutions but to take this to a level of personal attacks on individuals making attempts to clean up a mess saddens me. The students of this community have deserved more and do deserve more moving forward.”

Mr. McLister, evidently is giving the benefit of the doubt to the current School Board and presumes that previous school boards failed. He’s bought into a myth. Previous school boards began putting more money into school maintenence after the failure of a 1989 school levy to the tune of $2 million a year or $30 million over 15 years. JCI is now tearing down or remodling our well maintainted buildings in great haste before anyone catches on. Or at least before the News Tribune catches on.

JCI’s unqualified experts

What follows is an email from Art Johnston who discovered that a lot of JCI’s so called experts were not liscenced to work in Minnesota. Dr. Dixon in addressing this question in the most recent Reader Weekly made it sound as though after giving this allegation a lot of thought the District could only think of one such example. Here’s the truth:

“The Reader has very interesting articles by Dixon and Nilsen and an excellent Q&A by the Reader editor. It is a very sad commentary that the Duluth News Tribune has refused to do any investigative reporting on the Red Plan controversy, but the little Reader (and even the Budgeteer) is doing excellent and real reporting on the issue. The Duluth New Tribune should be shamed. I hope that the Reader allows some of us to respond.

I would like to comment on the Reader question to Dixon about the SD using unlicensed architects and engineers. Dixon verifies that Chris Gibbs in not a registered architect. In fact, Dixon brags about that fact. Unbelievable. I’m attaching the SD Educational Adequacy report cover page and the enclosed (p. 11) Chris Gibbs resume. For the SD to use Gibbs is a violation of MN Statue 326.03. It is interesting that Dixon quotes verbatim from Gibbs’ resume. Does he not know anything else about him?

Dixon has now publicly brought forward the names of the unregistered architects that the SD has used. He neglected to mention others. Another is Harold Lerner who is listed in the JCI RFP as being on the JCI design team and an “AIA”. Another is Mark Beyer who is listed on the RFP as being on the JCI design team and a “PE”. These appear to be in violation of MN Statue 326.03. See the attached annotated RFP.

You may also be interested to know that JCI’s front engineer, Jeff Schiltz, is not a licensed Professional Engineer in Minnesota. Nor is Michael David who appeared to be JCI’s principal engineer in complying the Long Range Facilities Plan. Both of these people also signed the RFP of January 24, 2006, and David signed the JCI contract of June 2007. Technically, Schiltz and David’s appearance on the JCI design team may not be a violation of MN Statue 326.03, but they used the initials “ME” which has no professional engineering meaning, but is misleading to the lay public, like the school district.

The JCI RFP of January 24, 2006 has sixteen listed members of the design team. Of those eight that are listed as engineers or architects, two of falsely listed as professional engineers or registered architects, and only two are licensed Professional Engineers or Architects. There is also a question on whether JCI has violated MN Statue 326.14 which says:

A corporation, partnership or other firm may engage in work of an architectural or engineering character, in land surveying, in landscape architecture, or in geoscience, or use the title of certified interior designer in this state, provided the person or persons connected with such corporation, partnership or other firm in responsible charge of such work is or are licensed or certified as herein required for the practice of architecture, engineering, land surveying, landscape architecture, and geoscience, and use of the title of certified interior designer.”

Mike Jaros to the rescue

I presume the Duluth Trib will get around to reporting this news but Mike Jaros the author of one of the laws which apparently gives the District the right to ignore voters on this massive scale has introduced legislation to put the animals back in the barn.

I stick up for him after a few incredulous people wonder how such a “tax and spend” liberal could do such a thing on the Duluth Citizen’s Blog

Here’s how I start my defense of Mike:

Sat Mar 29 15:53:33 2008 – [Mike Jaros is looking out for us ] By: Harry W
Mike Jaros is doing exactly what I would expect a liberal DFLer to do – and good for him. He understands that property taxes are the most regressive taxes in the state falling most heavily on those unable to pay them. He was elected just after the Minnesota Miracle in the 1970’s which placed a heavier burden for school finance on the state’s shoulders releiving poor and elderly property owners.

The illusion of choice

Virgil Swing, a former editor for the Duluth News Tribune and new columnist for the Duluth Budgeteer, has a very worthwhile column in this weekend’s Budgeteer:

Money quote:

“Some Red Plan supporters say critics are only a loud minority and the “silent majority” favors it.

There’s a foolproof way to test that theory. It’s called an election. The board should schedule one quickly. Then, when voters shoot down the $293 million plan, officials can look at more sensible solutions. There are already some floating around.”

Read the whole thing

An Unwise Plan

I’m back. Until the Red Plan is modified I’ll start posting again – mostly about the Red Plan.
To start with this is what Robert Aho, a Duluth architect whose speciality is contract administration has to say about Johnson Controls stranglehold on the building of the Red Plan.

“I believe there is a huge conflict of interest in this arrangement, which creates a disservice to the school district and our city. There is also little value in having the architects represent the contractor. It is similar to asking the fox to guard the chicken coop. Or asking your butcher to recommend a vegetarian diet. It’s just not smart.”

Read it all

I’m going to campaign

Until our meeting with the State Department of Education I didn’t think I would bother campaigning for my own seat. Now that it is apparent that I have to win to force the Red Plan up for a referendum I’ve decided to campaign, not just for Let Duluth Vote, but for myself. I’ve got a fund raising letter going out Monday. It will be almost the same as the flyer I will begin passing out door to door.

This is it:

Oct. 16, 2007

Dear fellow seeker of the truth,

Raising $437 million in taxes through deception is a lousy way to run a school district. Read the beginning of my testimony to the State Board of Education last week.

“According to the information coming out of JCI and the Duluth School District the average Duluth household will only pay between $9 and $11 per month in property taxes if the Red Plan is adopted for a maximum of $132 annually. Let’s test this.

If you multiply $11 dollars, by 12 months and then multiply that by 20 years you get $2,240 per household. If you assume that there are 2.5 people per household this would result in $896 in taxes for the average resident of the Duluth school district over the course the Red Plan.

But if you multiply this average individual tax burden by the 94,000 residents of the Duluth School District the resultant taxes over twenty years would yield only $84,224,000 a far cry from the $437 million it will take to finance the Red Plan.

If you simply divide the $437,000,000 figure by the District’s 94,000 residents you come up with a considerably higher per person tax over twenty years – $4,649. As some wag once said, “figures never lie, liar’s figure.”

Johnson Controls Inc. has had a long history of working with school districts on issues relating to air quality and construction. It advertises itself to school districts as an expert in helping pass bond referenda. It must be very annoying for JCI to put in lots of work with a District only to see a referendum voted down. In fact, half of the Minnesota school referendums failed in 2005. It must have been tempting for JCI to search for a way around this unprofitable work and since JCI’s attorneys have so much experience with school finance law its not all that surprising that they would discover a way to avoid referenda all together.”

Duluth needs to work on its schools. Once a new school board is elected serious proposals which will not inspire a tax revolt and the collapse of our educational programs can be made. I must be elected to the School Board for this to happen. If you doubt this prediction of calamity read the enclosed flyer from Let Duluth Vote. If it doesn’t curl your hair you must be bald.

I’ve decided to raise money for my campaign. If you would like to contribute there is a return envelope for that purpose. Contributions over $300 can not be accepted.

I’ve also enclosed an envelope for Let Duluth Vote. This group could use your help too.

It’s your City. It’s your schools. It’s your vote. They ought to be worth something to save.

Harry Welty

I think it will pay for itself.