Category Archives: 2015 School Board

LRFP Leftovers

Approximately 1% of the $315 million Red Plan’s moneys are left over. The School Board has been hearing about this money for some time and the District has wanted to wait until all the outstanding Red Plan bills are paid before dipping into it. Only Art Johnston is quoted in the Trib’s story with any reservations about not turning it back to taxpayers.

I missed this meeting yesterday as I was flying into Duluth. The highlight of the flight was a clear veiw of the planet Mercury as before we landed in Minneapolis at Dusk. For the past decade I’ve sort of been keeping my eye out for the planet but inclement weather has usually intervened. This time thanks to a story I read on my cell from the Trib’s Bob King (Astro Bob) I knew it would be next to Venus. I’m sure I’ve seen it several times over the past sixty years. Its just I didn’t know what the dim light above the horizon was. This time I saw it and knew what it was.

The question I have is if it wouldn’t be prudent to consider applying it towards the building of a new elementary school since the Red Plan left us with too little space for our elementary needs. I think we should consider this before spending the last of the Red Plan’s money.

I called Art to ask him about the meeting when I got back. We’ll have more chances to talk at this week’s Minnesota State School Board Conference. He did mention that he’s been asking who is on the “Citizen’s Committee” for the past four years. I don’t think he was joking.

Censure is infectious

Our Attorney, Kevin Rupp, belongs to a law firm that has become expert in the sanctioning wayward school board members. They were behind what ended up being a failed attempt to remove the Farmington board member in 2010 that got Judy Seliga-Punyko so excited as she contemplated removing Gary Glass.

They’ve been in the news over the weekend for advising the South Washington County School Board which just censured one of its own. Here’s one of several summaries in the news.

Unlike my censure this one involved data relating to an employee. The board member in question passed on information which she came by in the course of being around the schools. However, this info was also given to board members by the attorneys in data private confidence. The majority chose to believe that this widely rumored private data had come from the legal counsel. Unlike Art or me the South Washington County Board member who was censured seems quite stricken and pledges to mend her ways.

As it happens a Fox News station made a public data request that makes the whole issue of private data highly suspect because they were given a 99 page file on the employee whose privacy the Board was intent on preserving. That’s a third longer than Mary Rice’s report on Art Johnston and the alleged misdeeds far exceed anything leveled against Art. The actions of this School Board support my contention that one of the chief functions of data privacy laws is to cover up misdeeds. The primary protection accrues to bad guys and bureaucracies that make use of the privacy to quietly leverage embarrassing information to get rid of bad actors.

Its clear from the report, should it be true, that few school districts would want such a fellow to become a principal. But keeping this damaging information under wraps is almost as good as a positive reference. This Board member who got the information in an entirely predictable manner now faces the prospect of removal if she ever lets any more cats out of the bag. I’m inclined to think this action shameful rather than think of it as being law abiding. Some laws are very flawed and so it seems to me is this use of data privacy.

My offense thus far – the one I was censured for – did not involve any personnel’s private data. My mistake was to report the sale price of our District’s Central property which could have put the sale in jeopardy. Like the South Washington board member I am much abashed – about this justification for my censure. I feel no shame for handing over our attorney’s advice on how to deal with Art Johnston which was also among the reasons the majority of my board voted to censure me. You see we too have a bad actor. I blame this one for an overzealous campaign to harass Art Johnston and boy did it ever bear fruit – nine months of hell to put another notch on Kevin Rupp’s gun belt.

This explains why I feel no shame for handing over the legal advice relating to Art to the press. I believe our attorney is actively protecting a bad penny to help the Board majority remove Art. And now Mr. Rupp may have an entirely more personal reason for removing my only ally from the School Board. I’ve made no secret that I believe the new school board will lean far more closely to my views on the District’s sorry finances and management. I think Mr. Rupp would love to put his finger into the Duluth school board election by helping remove a Board member who has more reason than ever to question our hiring a generously paid character assassin.

Of course, that’s not the only service Mr. Rupp has provided our District. Among his other triumphs is helping negotiate one of the richest teacher’s contracts in Minnesota. Last year Duluth was about 15th out of 300 school districts in terms of teacher’s salary and that was for one of the poorest districts in the state. That’s not the best way to go about hiring more teachers and reduce our horrendous class sizes but it is a good way to assure teacher burn out.

Geez, I’ll have to spend more time on the District email site

Maybe this email is the sort of “threat” ex Chair Miernicki considered worthy of our hiring police to watch over our school board meetings. This one is directed at our new Chair Judy Seliga-Punyko.

A little background:

Mr. Nemmers has a website that exposes the wrongdoings of public officials and operates out of north central Minnesota. He got in touch with me and we had words – email words. Mr. Nemers did not regard me as being an ardent enough defender of Art Johnston. I stopped emailing him but didn’t discourage him from contacting Art’s antagonists on the school board. Mr. Nemers is not giving up.

He is a thorough researcher. I have written so many posts I’ve forgotten most of them but Mr. Nemers found one from 2010 that I’d long forgotten. It is remarkably current. Judy was eager to get rid of Gary Glass back in 2010 just as she is eager to rid herself of Art Johnston today.

Judy Seliga Punyko, Chair ISD 709:

First and foremost you are being put on notice that my Chapter 13 data requests for free electronic are not being fulfilled. Second you are put on notice that this email is my Chapter 13 data request for the audio for the ISD 709 01-05-15 board meeting. Email me the data. Finally, you are put on notice that I am demanding a written apology from you. You will issue the written apology on school board letter head. It will be a heartfelt apology for your passive-aggressive behavior. Your passive-aggressive behavior was hanging up the phone on me on after I identified myself. I fully expect that you will not apologize for your passive-aggressive behavior. So I will start making regular calls to (218) 525-4688. I will string all calls together and post them onto the internet to prove to the world that you are rude, indifferent, a hater of justice, and a malicious waster of time & resources.

Terry Dean, Nemmers

“The resolution drew a strong response from Burke’s attorney, Fred Finch, who said it was the first time he’d ever seen a school board censure someone “on the basis of a report that they didn’t allow the subject to see.” Attorney Jim Martin, who conducted the investigation, turned over his findings to Waldspurger last week. Burke said he and other board members were given a copy of the report’s executive summary on Friday, but said he had not seen the full report — which runs to hundreds of pages — until Waldspurger put a copy in front of him during Monday’s board meeting. Farmington school board votes to censure member Burke. The board also asked the county attorney to decide whether criminal charges should be pursued”. Article by: SARAH LEMAGIE , Star Tribune. Updated: December 14, 2010 – 12:00 AM.

[quoting my blog] “Board member Seliga-Punyko sent the Board members a copy of a story about the Farmington Minnesota School Board where the majority of the Board is attempting to publicly rebuke a Board member who asks too many questions. I suspect Judy longs to do the same to one of the minority Board members that she serves with. “an uncensored copy of [the Superintendent’s] employment contract” ” Friday, December 17th, 2010. http://lincolndemocrat.com/?p=3415

0n threats to the School Board

I’ve been recommending that people who email me at the School Board’s website consider sending me email at my personal email harrywelty@charter.net because I’ve had a hard time stomaching going into my District email. There’s really not that much offensive stuff in it. Its just that for the past eight months its been about as appetizing as entomophagy. (eating insects)

I’ll have to get over that and here’s an email that provides one good reason why:

******Jan 8 (2 days ago)

Thanks for getting back to me Harry. I understand your reluctance to look at email. I only heard back from you and Mike Miernicke.

He told me the police are at board meetings because he’s been receiving threats. Is it really that dangerous to be a board member? That is, other than for you and Art?

I’m sorry you have been publicly admonished. I wish you the best – and I am happy you bring up the topics you do at board meetings.

I just wish the rest of the board would stop acting so self-righteous and apologize for the Red Plan mess and not letting the public vote – even if they weren’t there when it happened. I think that would cool down a lot of people who are still upset about how the Red Plan came to be.

Do you think the public is looking for an apology?

Thanks again for being a board member and doing your best to keep taxpayers informed.

Happy New Year!

******

My Reply:

*****,

If I was threatened I’d put the threat on my blog. If I didn’t have a blog I’d share that information publicly. No one has shared any threats made to other board members with me. I have no idea. [I should have written that I have no idea if the threats are true] The only time I’ve felt threatened are the three times folks have gone to the press to say I was responsible for having done terrible things. No violence has ever been threatened ever.

Thank you for your thoughts. I think an apology would work wonders but that’s not in the character of my fellow board members. Claiming Art Johnston is violent is, however, in their character.

Could I raise $30,000 in three months?

I think so.

What our current school board is in the process of doing is so egregious that I suspect ultra liberals, ultra conservatives and the most passionate libertarians will jump on board to counter them. It was bad enough that seven years ago that they embarked on a $257 million building plan to impose a school building project without voter approval. Heck, that was bad enough that lots of folks in the middle signed on to stop them…….only too late to stop them. Then the School Board talked compromise suggesting that they might build a somewhat smaller Red Plan to calm fears. Then they added to the cost by sixty million more dollars. That necessitated laying off teachers and cramming more kids into classes while cutting back on the curriculum. That’s the now that I would be raising money to address.

Even before this debacle I organized fundraising that generated $40,000 just from Duluth to take the District to Court. When the Court forced Let Duluth Vote to raise a $100,000 bond in case we caused an expensive delay to construction I managed to get that done too. And all this was when the benefit of the doubt still attained for the Red Plan and its supporters could imagine it to be an unparalleled benefit to our community.

Seven years ago when I first raised this kind of money far fewer people were on the Internet regularly. Now my blog is starting its ninth year and when I get typing my readership goes up dramatically. Yesterday I had 1,174 “unique” visitors the most since August of 2013 when the School Board campaign was heating up. I went back to check that month’s stats just now to see if yesterday’s totals were any kind of a daily record. Not quite. That August began with a day in which over 2,000 people visited my blog. I had half a dozen days that month with over a thousand visitors and ended with 7,000 visitors for the month. I believe that was mostly local Duluth readers which would be almost ten percent of the city’s population.

Not all of those folks are my allies, of course. I’ve had my critics over the years and I’ve proven pretty immune to the fear of being the tallest nail pounded down. A bunch of my old critics were at the recent Board meeting eager to see Attorney Mary Rice take apart Art Johnston. When I showed up on the front page of the Trib the next day after waltzing around making an ass of myself they were in high dudgeon. Then when I bone headedly spilled the beans on the sales price for Central they got a twofer followed by a nice critical editorial about me in the Trib. I suspect the Editors of the Trib, who I’ve enjoyed needling for years, got some satisfaction in that. I know I would have.

The challenge for my critics is two fold. 1. Making an ass out of myself twice has snapped me to attention. No longer will I make the mistake of telling Art Johnston that there is no way our school board could possibly be so stupid as to try to remove him. 2. I’ll be on this school board for another three years.

If the Board continues in its inept anti-democratic juggernaut they will hand me a lot more dynamite to post about. Three years gives me a lot of breathing room to figure out what needs to be done next. It will involve a lot of writing setting up fund raising websites etc.

I’ve sat on school boards longer than any other of my fellow school board members and I’m not so easily rattled as they currently are. Since Supt. Dixon the Board has gotten used to calling in the police at the merest hint of public disapproval. They even had Loren Martell handcuffed after he took to the microphone to criticize them. I went to numerous meetings where rancor ruled the day. Three quick examples.

A. I attended a meeting with 300 or more angry teachers clad in red t-shirt demanding a fair contract settlement and suggesting a strike was in the works. No police for that.

B. I attended a meeting (several of them) where a long line of angry hockey enthusiasts hurled insults at us for removing a hockey coach. No police for that.

C. In 2001 800 angry folks crammed into the 1000 seat Ordean Jr. High auditorium and beat us up because the Trib had written a story saying we were planning to close five elementary schools. Our Superintendent Almanza worried about the board inflaming the crowd put us in front of them without any microphones. I recall about an hour and a half of insults. I remember one of my fellow church members looking sick and appalled at the abuse hurled at us. No police for that either.

Ah, but I digress from the question that leads this post. As long as I’m not handcuffed I should be able to raise the initial attorney fees to defend Art Johnston. So far the only thing this Board has against him is character assassination. I’ll be happy to raise money to put that fire out.

Emailing back and forth with the DNT

Harry, are you truly raising money on a national level to sue the school district?

Jana

My first reply:

If necessary.

My second reply:

On Thu, Jan 8, 2015 at 1:33 PM, harrywelty < harrywelty@charter.net> wrote:

Jana,

Just reread your question. 

No. I’ll raise it to pay for Art’s defense fund. If he has to take the district to court to regain his seat I will help defend him and the voters who will have had their election overturned by the school board. 

Harry

My clarification takes:

Ah. OK. I misunderstood what you wrote. I thought it was for your own personal possible lawsuit for what you did not name.

From Florida

After four lousy nights and an all-day marathon trip to Florida I’ve actually had two acceptable night’s worth of sleep. Hallelujah!

What I’ve feared for two months might come to pass has arrived. I face three months minimum and quite possibly ten months of fighting with the current school board majority, the loyal subordinates of the Administration and a school attorney who is desperate not to lose his biggest client. Not only that, but the way I propose to fight a war for public opinion will entail the courts and that will require my raising sizable amounts of money. If I am “lucky” and it is over with by April it may not be much more than thirty or forty thousand dollars. If it goes the distance the sky’s the limit. I’ll be fundraising across the nation to civil libertarians, folks who care about public education and anyone else that might have a dog in this fight.

One of the court cases would be Art’s fight, of course. How dare a vague and ill thought state law give a school board such unlimited scope to remove a fellow board member at the expense our First amendment guarantee of free speech. The other court case could be mine. I’ve already spoken to one attorney about my situation. His advice was that I should keep my lips zipped. If I don’t keep my lips zipped that could result in my own lawsuit or, at best, a $15,000 fine.

I’m treading carefully here because any court case involving me involves my family as well and I’ve already been a sometimes notorious burden for my loved ones. I’ve made the front pages before and not always in the most flattering of ways. I’ve always wondered if that didn’t drive my son out of the ISD 709 schools. He’s not the extrovert I am and I know he didn’t enjoy the bright glare from his Dad.

At the School board’s organizational meeting on Monday, the one I decided to delay my flight to Florida to attend, Rosie Loeffler-Kemp leaned over to me and asked brightly if my kids had come home for the holidays. I nodded my assent as I thought about the two-hour conversation I’d had with my son. He came home with his girlfriend on the day I made the front page for having been censured by Rosie and company. They had even quoted me calling my mistake “boneheaded” in their resolution to add insult to injury. I did my best to explain that I felt a solemn obligation to see justice done. Thankfully he’s out of town studying for his doctorate degree and not in a public school classroom with all his teachers talking behind his back about me.

As for my extroverted daughter she once told folks after my first ever election success (running for the school board for the fourth time) that at least she “didn’t have to go to school with a paper bag over her head.”

Thanks a million Dad!

And then there is Claudia. Not only is there the fear that I could cause us to be sued eating into the money that she earned in a lifetime and that I enjoyed during my modest years of being a house Dad, school board member and snow sculptor, there is also the unwelcome notoriety. She has for years answered the inevitable question, “are you related to Harry Welty?” with the reply, “only through marriage.”

Well, all the mental ferment from the last year, the last few months and the Censure have helped me plot out a sound plan for the year I never expected and that I wouldn’t have wished on my worst enemy. I think I have a reasonable battle plan. I’m not just resigned to it. Better than that, I think I will be able to sleep reasonably soundly for most of the year despite the carnage our foolish school board is imposing on Duluth. As I’ve said on more than one occasion. God Damn us all. Now that’s a cheery thought to go to bed with every night. Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Oh, and that last bit of “derogation” of mine directed at the School board. That’s the kind of stuff the board majority is trying to remove Art for having said. Screw the Constitution.

Attorney Rupp on the Hot Seat

Today’s brief DNT story on the January organizational meeting of the School Board is spare but accurate.

I didn’t record it but a friend who regularly videos meetings that the District doesn’t bother to told me she was glad she was there to record it herself. I’ll be interested in reading Loren Martell’s story after I return from a short sojourn to visit Claudia and her father in sunny Florida. When she made flight plans I told her I had some hope that the organizational meeting might include room for Art Johnston and me so I wanted to wait in town to participate. Well, I’m often prone to naivete and optimism where the Board is concerned. Things were arranged well before the meeting.

Art and I did have a chance to voice our displeasure with the attorney for the District Kevin Rupp. The allegation I leveled against Rupp for pushing the Board to throw Racism on the barn wall last June to see if it would stick comes from an unimpeachable source. I would be amazed if any Board member denied it. This was only the most disagreeable reason I cited for replacing Rupp.

I only have a few minutes before I head to my car for a long day’s travel so I don’t have time to outline the eight or so complaints I leveled against Rupp last night. But I’ve decided to take my computer with me so I’ll pound out some exegesis while I fly from Minneapolis to Pittsburgh to Florida today. I’ve got a lot of things on my chest. They keep me up at night. I thought I crash last night after four previous nights of three or four hour night’s sleep. No such luck. I probably won’t be able to sleep any better in Florida.

Chair Judy Seliga-Punyko who can barely conceal her disdain for Art Johnston, its a two way street, may not be able to elevate the mood of next year’s Board meetings over the clumsy parliamentary performance of her predecessor Mr. Miernicki. It won’t help that Art Johnston will continue on as a Board member until perhaps April before she can get the revenge she is so clearly eager to exact.

Harry on the Hot Seat

Loren Martell Chronicles my Censure.

I’m glad he mentioned the following because the Trib had one of my severe faces on its front cover during my Censure with the explanation that I was speaking angrily.

Breaches of data practice can bring civil penalties of up to $15,000, and Welty was understandably concerned about what might happen to him in that regard. He questioned whether courts have latitude in levying fines, depending on the type of data breached. When he started asking Rupp about the procedure of pursuing such a matter in the legal system, Chair Miernicki jumped in and lectured that he was “dealing with conjecture, Down the line, if something happens, these questions can be asked.”

“The questions I’m raising are very germane.”

“Right now,” Miernicki cut him off again, “the only thing that’s.”

“Mr. Chair, you are talking over me!”

“No, no, no, no, no, I’m.” the chair objected, talking over him.

The heated exchange went on, while the underlying point remained in limbo. Was the vote for censure as far as the matter would go? The point was never made clear, and who can be sure with this Board? The chair did say, “Down the line, if something happens.”

I was more than a little impatient. This is about the third time Chair Miernicki denied me a chance to ask questions of a legal nature. The first time was after I drove with my wife for eleven straight hours from St. Louis starting at 3AM to get to a suddenly called meeting with the staff of the State Auditor. The Chair announced at that meeting that it would last for only two hours to spare the Auditor’s staff a late long drive back to Minneapolis.

The second instance regarded the Mary Rice report which Chair Miernicki adjourned precipitously while my light was on to make sure I couldn’t ask any questions about the legal implications of our attorney Kevin Rupp. It seemed as though Mr. Rupp’s only concern was that I not ask questions that might skirt the data privacy of one individual who I blame for the last nine months of legal misery.

The third instance was at my Censure. I thought the Board had a second removal in mind and I attempted with no success to ask Mr. Rupp about the implications for me. Chair Miernicki once again denied me a chance to make inquiries with the backing of his 5-2 majority.

Mr. Rupp is apparently solely the attorney for the Board majority to the exclusion of the board minority cost be damned.

You don’t see a vagus nerve response in upper class people

Maybe that explains why well-to-do Duluth doesn’t seem to mind that the fancy new schools of the Red Plan have shortchanged some children.

A lot of them would rather shut Art Johnston up with character assassination than listen to his complaints about this. If only they knew it shortchanged all Duluth Children by ten million a year. That might make them open their eyes a little wider.

No more pantomime for me

I can’t think of a better or more appropriate way to start my blog in 2015 than with the first newspaper cartoon ever attempted of me in my long political career. Richard Thomas is not only an excellent reporter but a pretty good hand at cartooning. That’s the only newspaper job that ever appealed to me. You can see the four panel cartoon Richard drew with me in it here. He now works for the Budgeteer. He’s an excellent addition to the staff.

Richard had already lampooned the Board in December. I expect we will keep him busy this year.

The only work I allowed myself to do during my failed peace keeping efforts had to do with settling my Mother’s estate. Otherwise I spent time with my family but suffered through a great many poor night’s sleep with the School Board’s follies preying on my mind.

I came home on the night I waltzed around the School Board room and told Claudia it was the most distressing day of my public career. In fact in no other front page story through the last twenty years was I ever left feeling stupid as I did on this day. I don’t make New Years resolutions. Instead I try to live by the relatively few resolves I carry with me day to day. For the coming year, however, I am resolved not to make an ass of myself again. Too much is at stake.

I’ll be starting a new webpage to defend Art Johnston and more importantly the sanctity of our vote. It was bad enough for the School Board to deny us what should have been a routine vote on the Red Plan. It is quite another to heap manure on the voters who elected Art knowing full well who their representative was and how much bad press he got from the editors of the News Tribune and the folks who don’t like being reminded how they misled us about the true cost of the Red Plan.

I have a lot to do this year after just three days. Tonight I made up a list of twenty things that need my immediate attention. This is only the second political task on the list I’ve gotten to. The other that I completed was a letter to one of the folks who abused Art and me at the last School Board meeting. I deserved the abuse but it was a cordial letter on my part. I wrote it to explain the other side that every controversy has and make myself feel a little less of an ass.

Last year I bit my tongue (on my blog) so much I’m surprised I can still talk. This year I will be far more forthcoming. December saw me with over 3,500 visitors the most of any month this year but a small fraction of the previous year’s top months. 2013 was an election year, as this one will be, with no end of things I wanted to write about. In August of 2013 I had over 7,000 “unique” visitors. It would be fun to top that.
I’ll have my work cut out for me spelling out the travesty at play in Art Johnston’s character assassination. I’ll set up a website to help him raise the tens of thousands of dollars he will need to defend himself and the votes of the citizens who reelected him. He’ll probably need that much in the next three or four months just get him to the hearing that our school board majority was told would take place in January. Not bloody likely. Art tells me that he’s up to five lawyers who are all aiming for the Supreme Court.

Just one more thing before I end this post with so much more to add. On New Years Eve Claudia and I spent a quite night home alone. We searched in vain for something new to watch that caught our interest. I reluctantly suggested the controversial and colossally juvenile movie “The Interview.” That’s the one that North Korea reportedly hacked from the Sony Corp’s computers leading Sony to ditch until a public outcry changed their minds.

I’m almost embarrassed to admit it was pretty funny. Claudia would be embarrassed to admit it too. Perhaps it helped that we had both heard it panned so we didn’t expect too much. All I’ve got to say is that the Korean dictator deserved the movie that Sony dished out.

BTW – If any movie producer out there would like a script for a school board parody I’d be happy to make time to write it.