All posts by harrywelty

Save the Earth – start with rubber mulch

Duluth Parents for Healthy Playgrounds Playgrounds Fundraiser for Duluth Public Schools

Join the PTA for a family-friendly event with food, fun, cash bar, silent auction, and prize drawings! They are raising money to help the Duluth Public Schools remove tire mulch from the playgrounds and resurface them with wood fiber. Every dollar they raise (up to $30,000) will be matched by an existing playgrounds improvement fund started decades ago by the Miller family. Check their Facebook page for a list of the silent auction items that will be up for bid!

TICKETS FOR SALE!!! ?
Where to purchase:
Lester Park Elementary 4/13/17 at 5:30-7:00pm
Lowell Elementary 4/14/17 at 7:30-8:30am, 1:44-2:45, & 4:00-5:00pm
Skyline Bowling at front desk – Available Now!!… See More — with Duluth Public Schools in Duluth, Minnesota.

The fifth “C”

Last night I decided to skip singing in our church’s Maundy-Thursday service to attend Denfeld’s meeting where parents concerned about their children getting the short end of the stick reported back findings after a similar meeting a month earlier.

Much of the meeting was a repeat but I did note some information that I will keep in mind for future reference. In particular one MOAB. Mother of all Bombs (for you current events fans)

One of the speakers of glittering generalities listed their group’s “four C’s,” Communication, Collaboration, Creativity and Commitment. But then the bomb dropped. It was a fifth C that I remember well from my early years – 1996 through 2003 – on the School Board – Compensatory Education.

This is one of the extras in state funding for public schools to address serious needs over and above their “base” needs. Do you have a vast school district with long bus runs? The state gives your district extra money for gas. Of all these extras Compensatory Education funds are perhaps particularly important, especially in this day and age where we wring our hands over the achievement gap between have and have-not students.

In my first two stints on the School Board my western colleague, Mary Glass, complained bitterly about how comp Ed dollars were spent going to schools in the east that did not generate much of the funds. I talked to administrators I trusted and learned that they were abiding by the laws which gave District’s a lot of discretion about where to spend the money. In ISD 709 we use some of this money to keep class sizes down across the entire school district.

In my old days we had much smaller class sizes, better funding. I wasn’t convinced that a tilt toward the East was all that outlandish. But that was then. Red Plan financing has forced us to take $3.3 million each year out of the General fund to pay off building bonds (something Art Johnston was irritated wasn’t mentioned in this otherwise excellent budget story.) And our voters are so jaundiced about the Red Plan that they have refused to pass a fully fleshed out operational levy which could add another three million to our budget. That’s at least $6.3 million dollars which @ $96,000/average teacher salary would allow us hire an additional 66 teachers. HOLY COW!!!! Thank you old school boards for short changing today’s school children.

The achievement gap in Duluth has never been any wider than it is at present. And last night for the first time ever I saw a side-by-side list of which Duluth schools children generate State Compensatory funds and which schools consume them. Talk about adding kerosene to the fire.

For the uninitiated – Compensatory Education funds are simply called “Comp Ed.”

School……………Comp Ed Earned…….Comp Ed received

Denfeld……………$852,007.00……………$684,128.00
East…………………$136,555.00……………$518,212.00

Lincoln Park……..$973,192.00……………$496,264.00
Ordean/East…….$203,578.00……………$436,741.00

Congdon………….$ 95,567.00……………$400,548.00
Homecroft……….$ 79,622.00……………$295,671.00
Lakewood…………$ 70,212.00……………$181,315.00
Lester Park……….$ 65,506.00……………$324,110.00
Lowell………………..$287,330.00……………$440,228.00
Laura MacArthur..$849,445.00……………$503,071.00
Myers-Wilkins…….$971,153.00……………$573,732.00
Piedmont…………….$715,138.00……………$532,207.00
Stowe………………….$446,994.00……………$402,512.00

What ISD 709 is doing is perfectly acceptable under the language of State Statute. Whether it fully comports with the “spirit” of the law is another thing.

Beezus and the code talkers

Beverly Cleary was six days shy of turning one year’s old when the United States Congress voted to go to war against Germany and join World War 1. She turned 101 two days ago and I was greatly surprised to learn of her age. Her Books about Beezus and Ramona were read to our children and, had I been a reader myself, I would no doubt have read them in grade school. She published her first children’s book in 1950 as I was finishing up my gestation. I was 41 when I published mine. The less said about that the better.

I made sure to watch all three episodes of PBS’s American Experience on the Great War Monday through Wednesday. It was an excellent series. You can watch it here.

I knew that my Grandfather’s Infantry Regiment would be highlighted and so on the second night I waited eagerly to see if the historian Dr. Jeffrey T. Sammons would be interviewed. I was not at all surprised, but delighted none-the-less, when he made his first of several appearances to talk about the role of African-American soldiers. I texted him my congratulations and he texted back that he had only a limited role in the production.

Dr. Sammons wrote The authoritative book on the Harlem Hellfighters or as he corrected the Harlem Rattlers which is what they called themselves. I’ve mentioned him a couple of times on the blog because he was commissioned to do some research on my Grandfather for a speech he delivered on Leap Day last year. (which launched my current drive to write a book about him.)

On Wednesday night I had my grandson’s over and let them watch the first few minutes of the last installment before they headed off to bed. The next morning I was able to tell my older Grandson, who has a little Choctaw inheritance, something that was new to me. The Americans found their cable telephone lines tapped into by the Germans who could listen in on their planning and thwart their plans of attack. When one American officer overheard two Choctaw troops speaking in their first language he asked them what they were doing. Both of the Choctaws froze expecting to be reprimanded. One recalled going to a school where the teachers washed children’s mouths out with soap for not speaking in English. Instead the officer put them on the telephones to confound the Germans.

I had known about “code talkers” in the Second world war but this was new. Not even the Army forgets a good idea.

Ignorance is Bliss

From Chapter 14 of Destiny of the Republic: A tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President:

“Not only did many American doctors not believe in germs, they took pride in the particular brand of filth that defined their profession. They spoke fondly of the “good old surgical stink” that pervaded their hospitals and operating rooms, and they resisted making too many concessions even to basic hygiene. Many surgeons walked directly from the street to the operating room without bothering to change their clothes. Those who did shrug on a laboratory coat, however, were an even greater danger to their patients. They looped strands of silk sutures through their button holes for easy access during surgery, and they refused to change or even wash their coats. They believed that the thicker the layers of dried blood and pus, black and crumbling as they bent over their patients, the greater the tribute to their years of experience.”

Just as many politicians ridiculed Darwin in the Era of the Scopes Monkey Trial and today’s Republican party has concluded that 97% of environmental scientists are ignorant to believe that Carbon is causing Global Warming, there was a time when germs did not exist – at least not in America.

In Chapter 14 poor President Garfield’s medical care has just been commandeered by a self confident Doctor who has already stuck his unwashed finger and two long unsanitized probes into the President’s back. In the next fifty pages I will be reading more about how Dr. Bliss turns a wound that left untreated the President would have survived into a pus filled killer of the President.

Ignorance is Bliss takes on new meaning in this book. It killed Garfield in 1880 just as it threatens to kill the earth as we know it today.

Another postmortem of the Trump victory

I took an hour to listen to this story about a Wisconsin researcher who got to know the folks in rural Wisconsin and what motivated them. I’d recommend that Democrats listen to it. They will have four years to let its significance sink in before the next presidential election.

Or they might make use of this new Facebook page to begin bridging the gulf that social media seems to have created between the two political parties that in my youth were not much further apart than the opposite sides of a coin.

Another lost opportunity to sell an empty school

Jana Hollingsworth was busy yesterday. She also updated the news on the Rockridge School which the District once hoped to sell for about a million dollars to defray the cost of the Red Plan. Today it looks like instead we will be fixing it for use by the Woodland Hills School at a cost to the district of about $2.5 million.

About all I can do about this is swallow hard. I agree that we have little choice but to proceed although Alanna Oswald has made a case that using the empty Secondary Technical Center Building (next to the empty Central High) might have made more sense if we’d considered it earlier. The Board never had that discussion.

Exercising 20×20 hindsight on the Red Plan I would simply say that the Board of that era never seemed to consider that any of its rosy plans might ever come to grief. That’s the power and the fallibility of rose-tinted glasses.

Budget talks at 709

I posted this headline last night after our Business Committee. Then I left the post blank to sleep on it.

I’m quoted in today’s DNT news story about our budget planning. Frankly, Jana Hollingsworth, the Trib’s education reporter, has offered up a much better explanation about our budget than I would have.

This is ironic because Jana was home with an illness and missed the Business Committee meeting. I encouraged her to watch the four hour meeting on the Internet later that night. I also sent Jana the budget that was sent to the School Board in advance of the meeting for her to peruse before she wrote her story.

The news is grim. We anticipate deep cuts. There is good news. Our administration’s recommendations for next year’s budget bend over backwards to avoid making cuts to classrooms. Everything else is at great risk.

Reading Jana’s story I discovered something else that was not obvious to me during the meeting. The recommended budget suggests that we spend $150,000 more in Western Duluth to catch up with our spending in our eastern schools. Its not enough and we won’t be able to afford a seven-hour-day out west with all the cuts heading our way. None-the-less, its something.

We have another two months to determine the final budget and we are waiting to see what the state legislature and the Governor agree on. I’m not hopeful.

More books I’m reading

I’m not sure where I read Richard Rubin’s promo/review of the PBS series on the Great War but its conclusion mentioned several of the books he had written of which two were about the Great War. That has been a subject of great fascination for me since childhood but it was another of his books that caught my attention. The review had a convenient link (which I can not immediately find) to his first book chronicling how he took his Ivy League History degree and got a job back in the 1980’s reporting on local sports for a Mississippi backwater newspaper. Confederacy of Silence : A True Tale of the New Old South is a New York Jewish kids memory of learning about the race issue in Mississippi in the modern era.

I sensed a kindred spirit so I checked out this books on the Great War. One particularly intrigued me. Mr.Rubin wrote a book about wandering over those the French battlefields: Back Over There. I could think of nothing to better prepare me for a similar expedition. I did mention the idea to Claudia. She told me to check it out. I ordered the book.

I would much rather spend this summer reading up on history than going door to door campaigning for the School Board. I’ll have to do both so if I must give up something it will just have to be sleep.

And for now the books are split between turn of the century American politics and China. One of the big fat Chinese histories I’ve been reading to Claudia started sounding a bit repetitive so I pulled a book that had been collecting dust to try out. It’s a “charming” tale about they young Mao Tse-Tung. That’s how one reviewer described it. And it is, which is a bit surprising considering Mao’s blood drenched record.

I found the paperback a quarter century ago and the title was irresistible to me: Mao Tse-tung and I were Beggars. Back in the day I paid $1.95 for it. Amazon lists it for $30.00. It was written by a student who went with his younger colleague, Mao, on a sight-seeing tour of China in the teens of the Twentieth Century.

The beginning of the book describes a headstrong boy who nags his resistant father into letting him go to primary school. Mao’s friend, the author of the book, describes how a hulking 15-year old Mao, looking every bit the peasant that he was, barged into the new primary academy for boys half his age and pleaded to be allowed to learn despite heckling he endured from the much smaller students.

The original book was published in 1959 when I was nine years old. That was ten years after Mao and company took over the mainland and the same year that Fidel Castro was posing as not necessarily a commie in his take over of Cuba. Like Donald Trump Fidel had imagined a career playing for the New York Yankees so he didn’t seem like too big a threat. He had his own set of fans who, like Mao’s biographer, did their best to allay American fears.

Speaking of threats, I sure hope the Chinese don’t treat me like a United Airlines passenger when I arrive. I’ve read they are burning up the Internet with outrage over this example of what they consider profiling.

singing with positivitity

Loren Martell has once again covered our latest School Board meeting in the Reader. I make a couple of his paragraphs:

Mr. Welty referenced a story in the “bygones” section of the Duluth News Tribune about the State test results from 1997. The paper apparently reported, according to member Welty, that 20 years ago “81% of Duluth’s ninth graders had reached math skills suitable for the adult world, and 87% of our ninth graders had achieved reading skills that were necessary for the adult world…So my challenge to you (addressing Tawnyea Lake, the district’s Director of Assessment, Evaluation and Performance) would be this: if you could find some reference to these test results…and see if there is some way to let us know how our ninth graders are doing by these particular measurements, I would appreciate it…”

I am doing what I can to fight the negativity. I brought my grandsons to meet the family of our new CFO, Doug Hasler, Wednesday night. They’ve been in town scouting for houses and Doug invited the Board members over for an ice cream social at the home they were staying at down on Park Point. (Ahem, Denfeld attendance area)

I sang a couple bars of Gary Indiana with Mrs. Hassler when I learned it was her hometown. They’re all Hoosiers. Then I chided her for not forcing her kids to see the Meredith Wilson musical, Music Man, that features the song.

My grandsons ate their fill of ice cream and happily played fooseball down in the basement while we Board members explained the finer points of collecting agates to Doug’s older kids.

PS. our Grandsons enjoyed the Music Man when they saw it with us and Jacob asked me to sing Till there was You a couple times before bed…….of course, he also liked me to sing him songs about people getting killed – Joe Hill, Tom Dooley, Frankie and Johnny.

Principles before Principals – The rush to war

I’m two days late mentioning the centenary of America’s entry into World War 1. For the next 20 or so months I’ll be reminding myself of my Grandfather’s service in that war. Maybe I’ll even write a book about him which will cover the subject. I just peaked into the news clippings I printed out from Newspaper.com earlier in the year and the first mention of his joining the service that I found was August 11th of 1917 in the Salina Evening Journal. Two weeks later the Topeka Daily Capital published a story that should have made the folks at Great Bend, Kansas burst their buttons with pride. The Capital reports that, “Every man on the teaching staff last year with the exception of the City Superintendent has been accepted in one of the two training camps.” Among the new volunteers was my Grandfather George S. Robb.

That had not been my Grandfather’s prewar plan. There was a short announcement in the Salina Daily Union a month earlier on June 4. “Mr.[George]Robb taught in the Iola High school the past season and will be the principal of the Great Bend high school next year.”

All the books I’ve been reading to Claudia about China must have put her travel bug into high gear. We’re still a hundred days before we fly off to China but she asked me where we ought to go next. I teased her about getting ahead of ourselves but it occurs to me that I’ve always wanted to tromp around the battlefields near Sechault, France. September of 2018 would be the hundredth anniversary of the actions at that village that led to the awarding of his Congressional Medal of Honor. That would be a sweet little trip.

An ounce of prevention

I’m just shy of half way through Destiny of the Republic. Garfield has had one bit of luck before derangement wins the day. His self-appointed tormentor Senator Conkling, a preening bully of a man, has just overplayed his hand right out of the United States Senate. What should be the path to well deserved reform and fame for the President will soon give way to what I found when I moved to North Mankato in 1963. Oblivion.

That fall I began three ignominious years at Garfield Junior High. No one called it that. It was always “North Mankato Junior High” the martyred President having been all but forgotten in the intervening 84 years. Within three months of my enrollment a fourth President would be assassinated.

Destiny has done a wonderful job of describing Garfield’s addled assassin Charles Guiteau. The Congress had made Garfield all the new President all the more vulnerable by cutting the Secret Service’s budget by half shortly before Garfield took office. Their job wasn’t to protect the President anyway back then. They were set up to go after counterfeiters.

Lincoln had been murdered fifteen years before. William McKinley would be murdered twenty years later and Teddy Roosevelt would be saved the same fate when a fat little speech in his breast pocket stopped a bullet not long afterwards. It was a bad run of luck for Republican Presidents.

I mentioned the importance of perspective in the last post. I am annoyed by the vast unexpected sums that are being required to protect our new President and his globe hopping family. There has been a whole raft of news stories on that subject. I have little choice but to support what it takes to keep our President safe. I’m pinning my hopes on impeachment but until then I am relying on Seth Meyers.

Snakepits

I was desperate not to sit at home all day and read and a Park Point walk beckoned. It was a little breezy on the shore when I started so I moved to the inland trail and found this little garter snake. I think this is only the second time since I moved to Duluth 43 years ago that I’ve seen a snake. I found a redbelly snake with my kids up by the Pigeon River when they were little. I think I took a picture, or tried to, of that one as well.

I know gartersnakes are not uncommon because Claudia told me Minnesota Power had troubles at sub stations when garters overwintered in them in huge groups and occasionally slithered into the works and shorted out whole neighborhoods.

Speaking of snake-pits the latest history of Republicans, Destiny of the Republic describes the war between “Stalwarts” and “Halfbreeds.” The halfbreeds were sort of the equivalent of today’s RINO’s and like them their nickname wasn’t one of their choosing. While both sides of the party were ungenerous to the South the Stalwarts were all big business and Spoils system oriented.

The Halfbreeds would ebb and wane they gravitated towards all manner of populist parties in the decades ahead but in 1880 when the Party nominated James Garfield it was the Halfbreeds who had the upper hand. I should have been so lucky.

This is a ripping good book and its author, Candice Millard, also wrote another highly regarded book that I’ve often thought would be interesting to read, “The River of Doubt.” That one is about Teddy Roosevelt’s near suicidal exploration of a tributary of the Amazon after he lost the 1912 three way race that put Democrat Woodrow Wilson in the Oval Office. As my eight loyal readers no doubt recall I’m in the midst of reading books about the politics of my Grandfather’s youth. I have wondered for years whether my Grandfather supported the liberalish Teddy Roosevelt or William H. Taft who the conservatives found more acceptable in that race. I have my suspicions but I’m looking for something definitive – maybe I’ll find it in the many letters I copied and brought back from the Kansas Historical Society but have yet to dig into.

Reading these books is helping me put the 2016 election in perspective. My early years during the Cold War were a time of relative restraint once Tail Gunner Joe McCarthy was humiliated out of politics. There is something in people that drives them to divide themselves up and blow their differences of opinion out of all proportion.

A few days ago I reread the 22nd Amendment to check on the limits of Presidents. I couldn’t recall if it only forbade Presidents from serving a consecutive third term or any third term. I was wondering if Obama could serve a non-consecutive term like Grover Cleveland did after our four years of Trump are over. Sadly, that’s it for Obama. The Republicans who were outraged by FDR’s 4 consecutive terms got the 22nd Amendment passed in March 24, 1947, two years after Franklin Roosevelt’s death.

What I’ve learned from my recent reading is how often presidents in my Grandfather’s Era flirted with a third term. Teddy did, Wilson did and Ulysses S. Grant was willing to serve a third term as well. Lots of Republicans in the Reagan years wished the 22nd Amendment had never passed.

False Memories

I finished yet another book today, Mr. Speaker. Its the second book covering American politics leading up to my very Republican Grandfather’s adulthood.

Thomas Reed is described by some as one of the most important politicians that American’s have never heard of. He was a loyal Republican (hence the tie to my Grandfather) and he is famous for fixing the House of Representatives which had descended into a long Era of gridlock following the Civil War. In many ways the two political parties have changed markedly since then. Reed for his part resigned because he opposed the Spanish American War. That put him at odds with most of America at the time and his own Republicans.

I was interested in his expertise with Parliamentary procedure which is something that was missing at School Board meetings in my first couple of years back on the School Board. On Deck, Destiny of the Republic by Candice Millard about the assassinated James Garfield, which will probably be followed by Karl Rove’s history of “the first modern presidential campaign” in 1896 that elected William McKinley who also was stopped by an assassin’s bullet.

Oh, and I almost forgot the title of this post – “False memories.” I wrote a couple of years ago that I’d first read about Thomas Reed in John Kennedy’s 1955 classic “Profiles in Courage.” As I finished Grant’s book on Reed today I was very curious to reread what JFK had to say about Reed’s courage. I found the paperback I’d re-read in 1995 (its on my reading list) and discovered in its heavily yellow-markered and separating pages that JFK made no mention of Reed in Profiles. I checked the index – nada. I skimmed a couple chapters of that Era to see if he was mentioned. No way.

Dammit!

On that $7.4 million

Board member Alanna Oswald asked our Administration about the $7.4 million extra for the Duluth Schools that Lt. Gov. Smith told the DNT that the Governor has written into his Education Bill.

The answer in short is that the Governor’s budget is still a moving target yet to be worked out with the Republican majorities in both houses of the legislature. If there is that much in the the Governor’s budget for Duluth (probably over a two year period) it certainly is not meant to cover the Red Plan’s unanticipated costs.

Supt. Gronseth suggested that any increase in the base funding for schools would end up being somewhere between a 1.25% or 1.5% annual increase. That sounds like a lot less than $7.4 million so I don’t think anyone is confident that Lt. Governor Smith’s good news is anything we can count on. If we get what the Lt. Governor suggests that would be fine with me.

Dayton’s money for Duluth’s Schools

From an email from a friend from my Let Duluth Vote days:

From the Lt Gov letter:

“Our budget proposal would provide Duluth public schools an additional $7.4 million in funding to hold down class sizes, maintain facilities, and expand access to early learning. ”

Its a shame the State has to give Duluth money for the first two items, those are basic responsibilities of any district.

How would Duluthians feel say if Rochester gussied up all their schools and then received State tax dollars because they couldn’t keep up their new schools?

If all districts receive the same money then fine but otherwise it is a bailout of some bad, very bad decisions.

Here was my email reply:

Interesting. I can’t disagree with you. I hadn’t seen the letter but it’s what Art [Johnston] has been telling me we should be asking for because the state didn’t perform it’s due diligence overseeing the Red Plan.

Selfishly, for 709’s future, I can’t disagree. But I never saw that being in the cards. Even now I find it hard to believe that a GOP legislature will let that go into effect.

One last thought. $7 million would be nice but it’s a pittance compared to the annual bite the Red Plan’s theft from our general fund encumbers us with.

Chinese Bibliophiles

Again. A weekend with plenty of thinking and very little posting. Actually on Friday I spent a couple hours writing in an attempt to tie my reading on China today with America’s Gilded Age that I’ve also been reading about. One quick take away – plutocrats were a dime a dozen in both times and places. Another take away. American Government was in shambles. Is that true of one party China today? There certainly is a lot of order in Confucian China but there is much that is also unsettled. Anyway, I spent another couple hours tinkering with Friday’s work on Saturday before shelving it. I might post a vastly shrunken post on it later.

As for the rest of Saturday. I devoted it to China.

I long ago discovered that China was the other half of world history. I have a good handle on everything else but the Chinese language makes it hard for Chinese names to take seed in my brain.

I began keeping track of my serious book reading in 1979 when I read by far the largest number of books in a single year -30 of them. I’m not sure I’ve ever read as much as ten books in subsequent years. I occasionally bought books on China but I rarely got around to reading them. I got 53 pages into “A Short History of the Chinese People.” Taking it out again Saturday to see what I had previously yellowed out with a marker I found this:

“…Wang succeeded in cornering almost all the gold in circulation both within the empire and abroad. Even faraway Rome felt the drain, Tiberius (A.D. 14-37) prohibiting the wearing of silk because it was bought with Roman gold.”

I spent a couple hours on Saturday beginning Chinese for Dummies and finally understand the tonal system of Mandarin that I had mistakenly thought was strictly pitch based as in Do-Ray-Me. Time will tell how far I much I will pick up in the 107 days before I travel east. I finished reading the Osnos book to Claudia and began a book by Frank Ching I’d bought twenty years ago but through which I’d never gotten further than the prologue. I bought it for $4.98 on a remainder pile because it looked interesting. Indeed it is. Unlike the last two books on China in the 2000’s, Ching got in on China at the opening of China immediately after Mao as a correspondent for the Wall Street Journal.

His book is not about China as it is today, although that comes through, but about his research into his Chinese Ancestors who have published histories (that escaped the book burnings of the Cultural Revolution) going back to the time of the Norman Conquest of England just shy of 1000 years ago. He begins with the grave he discovered of one of his earliest ancestors Qin (Chin) Guan. As I read it I couldn’t help but wonder if he was tied in with another Chinese personage I’d once bought a book about Su Tungpo. I’d never read far into “The Gay Genius” when I bought it for ten bucks thirty years ago from Atlantic World Books on 209 E. Superior Street in Duluth. It has a glowing recommendation of Pearl S. Buck on its book jacket which probably enticed me to purchase it. Frank Ching using the pinyin system writes the poet’s name as Su Dongbo. Su was Mr. Ching’s Great Grandfather’s times 33 muse and mentor. I’ll have to traverse over 800 pages to cover both books but I’ve pushed on with Frank Ching’s largely because it will cover one family line through the last 900 years of Chinese History. Its my latest read-a-loud to Claudia.

If China is to surpass the American economy in my lifetime I owe it to my curious self to find out more about this behemoth. Its been on my radar for fifty years since I got into an argument with my Gymnastic’s coach after practice waiting for a bus home. He interfered in a debate I was having with my Sioux-Norwegian Gymnastic teammate who subsequently married a Korean woman (Or was she Chinese?) and went into the Foreign Service from which he recently retired.

Claudia and I are making a little room in a downstairs bookshelf for all these books. Her reading list includes three Amy Tan novels and Life and Death in Shanghai while mine includes The Rape of Nanking and the Sons of the Yellow Emperor about the Chinese “diaspora.” Somewhere I also have a book on the Ming Era fleet that traveled to Africa a few decades ahead of the Portuguese. And of course, there is Wild Swans which I read to Claudia a couple years ago.

City Pages has drawn a connection from Prior Lake’s soaking …

… to the pillaging of the Duluth Schools. Here’s a sample:

“Johnson Controls believes the revitalization can be accomplished in both a budget and tax-neutral manner,” read the January 24, 2006 letter signed by company execs Micheal J. David and Brent T. Jones. “… Johnson Controls has the wherewithal to guarantee the financial solution, in writing. By doing so, we enable you to move forward with little or no risk…

“Bottom line, the Duluth Public Schools is facing a once-in-a-generation opportunity and Johnson Controls can make it happen.”

Alanna Oswald was feeling it. The ’91 Denfeld grad and mother with two says the sales pitch was irresistible.

“I was all on board.… We were going to get brand new shiny buildings that more adequately addressed our children’s learning needs, and our taxes would go up a little bit,” says Oswald, who’d go on to become a Duluth school board member in 2015.

The massive overhaul would become known as the Red Plan. Johnson Controls would oversee it all, from planning to engineering. Construction began in 2009 and lasted into 2011.

But before it was all over, the Red Plan’s price tag would balloon to $315 million. Johnson’s fees, which were based on percentages, soared with it.

“I am somebody who tries to take my mask off.”

Today’s story about the Superintendent canceling his job search began with a post yesterday on his Facebook page. The Trib’s education reporter called me to ask me what I made of it. I promised her I’d take a look and call her back with my thoughts. She only quoted part of my response (my full comments are posted at the end) This is Superintendent Gronseth’s complete Facebook post:

Okay, well, so life in the public eye isn’t always easy. Sometimes I work really hard to make it seem like it is and many people who have shared their support for me have told me as much. So, just for the record, it can be difficult. Also, just for the record, I applied for positions while my contract was being discussed over the course of months–I got nervous and started looking. Yes. I applied for several and ended up a finalist in three of the nation-wide searches. Yes, I came in 2nd three times. I have withdrawn my name from other searches still in progress. Recently, at an event in Duluth, a woman who I know just a little, asked me why I kept interviewing in other places. After our chat, she said, well why don’t you just say that? And so here it is…But first I will say that my family has been a part of Duluth’s history for a long time since the 1890’s at least– as cobblers, grocers, bakers, real estate brokers, etc. I love the lake and the forest, and the change of seasons–and this will always be home and I truly do love it here. The people I get to work with from day to day are amazing. We are lucky to have so many knowledgeable, talented people in our schools. So the question remains, why would I want to leave it then? While others have suggested their own reasons, like more money, or larger districts, it really isn’t about that. It has been about joy, about positivity, about looking at challenges without dragging others down. Don’t get me wrong– I know it isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. We have some big issues to tackle and looking at the data is a big part of it. My focus however, is on the solutions and the process to get there. When we continually focus on the negative, that is what sticks, when we continually look at solutions, things get done. We need to get some things turned around– we need to dig in, and make some pretty significant changes in our schools and our community. We need to have people who are focused on problem solving, on lifting up what is going right so we can do more of it, and less negativity, finger pointing, and shaming. For my part, I am going to start speaking more plainly. I am not going to work quite as hard to make it look easy. Things might get a little messier, but I am hopeful that the right people will step up and join me as champions for our kids, our schools, and our community.

There are those that will tear this apart as well, and believe me to be disingenuous, but here it is– those who know me, know that I take my work seriously and that I care deeply about education.

After I called the Tribune back I spoke off the record for a few minutes while I composed my thoughts. This is what I said after going back “on record:”

I am somebody who tries to take my mask off. I believe in personal transparency and to the extent the superintendent is attempting to be very open about why he has been applying for other jobs, I appreciate his candor. But I do have some reservations about the implications of his message. I believe you can talk about awkward and difficult problems openly and candidly and those conversations don’t have to be regarded as “negativity.” He seems to believe discussions of difficult subjects shouldn’t take place at all, and not discussing them makes them go away. I believe he is wrong in thinking that. I am also troubled that his message seems to be an appeal to get new School Board members who will agree with him on the positivity angle. And if he is successful, the School Board will paper over problems, and that will only lead to a compounding of problems. I like the superintendent and I think he has the best interest of children at heart, and I am prepared to work with him if he continues on as leader of the school district. But I think he needs to examine my point of view with more openness to assure his success and the future success of the district.

And I will add something else. My first two years on the Duluth School Board were spent defending an honorable man accused of malicious and unsupported accusations that seemed intended to 1. humiliate him into quitting the board or 2. give the School Board majority political cover to overturn a recent election and remove him from office or 3. so blacken his reputation that he could not possibly win reelection in 2017.

The first two possibilities did not come to pass but the third has yet to be tested. My colleague, Art Johnston, will be running for reelection this year and we have yet to see if two year’s of taking a blow torch to Art causes him to lose reelection.

As to Supt. Gronseth’s post – I wish there had been more concern shown about “negativity” from 2014 to 2016 when someone else’s ox was being gored. Had some humanity been exercised at that time perhaps there would be a lot less less negativity today. The Superintendent is correct, “…life in the public eye isn’t always easy.”

PS. Anyone who would like to contribute to Art Johnston’s reelection can send me a check for the: “Johnston Volunteer Committee” and I’ll make sure he gets it. My address is:
Harry Welty
2101 E 4th St.
Duluth, MN 55812.

or send me an email telling me you’d like to help at: harrywelty@ charter.net. Sorry, but you will have to copy this and paste it into your browser.

Art will be in touch.