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Quick comments about last night’s SB mtg.

Number one: No Duluth News Tribune reporters were present. I’m not sure if that’s a first at a school board meeting. Then again, their lead ed reporter just had a new baby girl. Congrats Jana.

Number two: It was, as has been the case for the past five or six board meetings, business-like and even friendly. So much for past overblown complaints about Art Johnston’s demeanor.

Number three: Only candidate, Alanna Oswald, sat through it all as she has every board meeting this summer with one exception. That was when she interviewed with the DFT endorsement committee. What happened with the DFT? Here’s a clue. I told Alanna I’ve never gotten a DFT endorsement and I’ve won three of my seven campaigns for the School Board. At least it wasn’t a vile and contaminated process like the AFSCME endorsement.

Number four: We had a long but important discussion of our student test results. Continue reading

a refreshingly unplanned letter to the editor

While I was away in Florida a message was left on my cell phone telling me that the caller was about to put a Charles Obije lawnsign in my yard. I called back and left my own message telling them not to do this – at least not yet. I explained that I have been waiting for three or four weeks for another 2nd District candidate to call and set up a get together with me. Dr. Kirby seemed a bit surprised when I called him to request that we meet over coffee. He is being pushed by board members who I have been at odds with and I have commented on that in the blog. But except for that support I’ve held my comments to the things Dr. Kirby has said in the Tribune for instance, his conviction that their are just one or two board members who cause most of the School Board’s problems.

I have actually put calls out to two school board contenters being promoted by my adversaries but both have kept a ten-foot-pole’s distance between themselves and me. As I will be on the Board for at least two more years their reluctance to talk with me now leaves me to worry that their promises to make sure the new board gets along are just so much lip service. If they won’t talk to me now why should they talk to me after they are elected? At this point I’m being on my best behavior for diplomacy’s sake. If they proceed to follow in their advocates footsteps I’ll be even more likely to hold tight to my cudgel for fear of getting censured again – for speaking plainly and honestly.

Charles Obije, on the other hand, was happy to sit down and have a cup of coffee with me. I offered him lots of advice, for instance, I suggested that he plan to be his own man if elected. I wonder if other candidates are getting that advice from their partisans or forming secret alliances and ententes like the Europeans did before getting sucked into World War 1?

I read a couple of letters to the editor yesterday from the usual suspects, long in the tooth political types, extolling the virtue of a school board candidate. Blah, Blah, Blah. Its the kind of stuff that campaign’s manufacture like confetti to create the illusion of a groundswell of support. Today there was a rather different a letter which, unless it was very craftily conceived, was a refreshing departure from canned canards.

If its for real a Lakeside resident saw Charles Obije while he was campaigning and went over and asked him what he was up to. She liked what she heard and planned to vote for him. She seemed to especially like the idea of having a school board that wasn’t at each other’s throats.

Medaling with the Superintendent

Perhaps its because I was a competitive swimmer but I’ve never gotten this picture out of my head of Mark Spitz who won seven gold medals at the Olympics when I was in college. So, after we concluded an hour long discussion of our students testing results at yesteray’s Education Committee, I got a chance to decorate the Superintendent in a similar fashion.

I was able to do this because we got another demonstration of the remarkable East High Robotics team, the Daredevils. They first showed us how they developed their pallet loading robot and let Annie Harala and I do the work of a single student to put the Robot to work. After the show and tell the students called on the Superintendent to accept the many awards they received last year. There were at least five medalions and they put all of them over Mr. Gronseth’s head like an Olympic Champion. Of course, we had to pose for pictures and after shouting that Bill looked like Michael Phelps I insisted on spreading the medals out a la Spitz for the photo shoot.

I just checked the ISD 709 website but couldn’t find the photo posted. It was, as someone else called out, a lot of bling.

Fiscal Sustainability – 2 -District Correspondence

Re: Fiscal Sustainability post. I received this comment in my District email box from a teacher friend:

XXXXXX 7:36 PM (17 hours ago)

Hi Harry, I am a regular reader of your blog, although I often disagree with …

Harry Welty

I replied thusly:

12:35 PM (36 minutes ago)


You are absolutely right. I have been meaning to mention this factor in relation to this increase.

I will note that traditionally the negotiators for the DFL have not been quick to mention this as it makes their case for salary increases more complicated.

Even so, the School Board needs to think strategically about its finances and explain to the public what is at stake. This Board doesn’t do either – think or go to the public. Hence too many kids in classes.


I like to think that my blog post EGO 1 preceding the EGO 2 post is a sufficient rebuttal to the writer who condemned my ego getting in the way of educating our children. Still, its gratifying to know that I apparently have other defenders out there. I was sent this email today concerning Mrs. Trowbridge’s indictment of Art and me.



Johnston, and now Welty, acts as if it’s OK to violate ethical guidelines, to expose confidential information and even to risk the sale of the Central High School property, all because they have cast themselves as “victims” and therefore rules don’t apply to them.

I don’t remember that you have acted as if it’s OK to risk the sale of the Central High School property all because you have cast yourself as a victim and therefore that pertinent rules didn’t apply to you. As I remember, you acknowledged that you inadvertently screwed up by divulging a proposed price for that property.

Gail Trowbridge represents herself as a professional writer (see, but I wonder whether she hasn’t thus screwed up by that jumble of a sentence that I quoted.

Art and me

I just mowed the lawn I’ve got a funeral memorial in a little over and hour and then Claudia and I are taking our grandson’s to the Wisconsin Dells to splash in a water park. The load of verbiage I’m carrying would take weeks to dispense and frankly, even if I was up to it I don’t have the time. Thus I will once again disappoint the 2,000 plus of you who have peeked at my blog over June.

I’ve been telling some folks recently that our Board members have been thinking with all the clarity of soldiers returning to home with PTSD. I got a couple years to recover from mine when I retired from the active fight against the Red Plan in 2010 as Art Johnston took up his lonely crusade for clarity.

At first he had Gary Glass with him but they were no match for a board majority that was still in musk oxen mode having formed a circle to keep the wolves out. For six years now the majority of the Board refused to ask questions almost as aggressively as they have asserted that their brilliant administrators were working miracles in the Duluth Public Schools. Perhaps its the PTSD that blinds them to classes of the high thirties in elementary schools and 40’s in our secondary schools.

A newly elected School Board has renewed the old practice of question asking but one are remains off limits, the Red Plan. This seems silly to me. The main perpetrators of the Red Plan are gone, Dixon, Wasson, Hustad, Grover etc. Furthermore, it is likely impossible to understand our crowded classes and lost music program without understanding the financing of the Red Plan. Finances have been particularly difficult subject to breach. We have one Board member who insisted for years that we were not taking any money from classroom operations to pay off Red Plan debt. And yet four straight years on her watch we transferred $6 million annually from operations to debt service.

Apparently the Finance Office never wanted to correct her fiscal myopia because she has never recanted her financial ignorance. Art and Harry Welty are a threat to a clearer understanding of our district’s iffy finances. For months I’ve moaned about the document shown to me briefly last January that projected a $13.7 million deficit when I run for reelection in 2017. At no point has the Finance Dept. attempted to assure me that this will be averted.

David Bolgrien who ran against Art Johnston last year (perhaps at the urging of one of our assistant principals) met with me over coffee at a point when I despaired of ever getting along with Art. I was at that point officially neutral about who the western fourth District should elect. David disparaged the days of the “Harry, Gary and Art show.” I suspect that is how the entire Move Forward Duluth crowd talked for years. There is a great desire to get over the Red Plan but to my way of thinking that is leading folks to ignore the elephant in the room. Why is Denfeld in ferment? If you can’t examine the history of the Red Plan it will remain a mystery. If you can’t get honest, practical explanations for the current finances of the District it will remain a mystery. However, the real mystery to me is how the majority of the current school board has come to the conclusion that it must remove one of the question askers and on such pathetic grounds.

I think its worth understanding how a $19 million change order that renegotiates Johnson Controls earning from 14% to 25% can be authorized without a vote of the entire school board. But asking such a question, even after receiving a warning from the State Auditor that such an action is unwarranted, is apparently verboten.

As long as Art Johnston wants to ask the same questions that I have I will be his ally no matter how sullen he gets when he is denied the information he requests. As long as there are 40 kids in our high school classrooms I’ll keep asking why? That’s why I’m quite confident that if the current school board refuses to ask those questions it will be replaced in the 2015 election with a Board that is every bit as curious about the answer as me. I expect that to be the case even if this Board dim wittedly wastes tens of thousands of dollars on lawyers to find some pathetic justifican to remove Art Johnston.

I confidently predict that only death will prevent Art Johnston from serving out a third four-year term on the Duluth School Board.

As always I have a lot more to add. Ah, but I’ve got grandkids to vacation with. Ta ta.

Nugget 2. Martell quotes me

I’m indebted to Loren Martell for writing a review in the Reader Weekly of the most critical school board meeting I’ll have attended in the four years of my service on the Board. Because it wasn’t our monthly meeting we didn’t video tape it for later posting on Youtube.

I’d forgotten the Superintendent’s description of Bill Hanson’s financial forecast as being a “worst case scenario.” Of course it will be even worse with the acceptance of even more pay for our staff than the forecast outlined.

I’m not positive but I think Loren quoted me not from comments made from the meeting but from a little speech I’d planned to give a couple weeks earlier. I didn’t give that speech since I’m trying to bite my tongue and stay positive but I’m glad Loren publicized them: As Loren reported (although the quotation marks aren’t as orderly as I’d like) I wrote:

“If a contract is brought to us that I view as destructive to the District and our children, I will make that case in public with particular ardor. We were given a ten-minute preview of our future in January during our first budget meeting. The year I will be facing the voters again [2017-18] we have a projected $13.7 million deficit… I worked very hard to persuade people we would be in a dire situation if we did not add $1.8 million with that levy [approved by voters last fall] so we could try to keep our classrooms from getting any more crowded than they are, 40 to 50 kids in some of the high school classes. You cannot teach that way. So if this is, indeed, “Treat Our Teachers Decent Week,” accepting a contract which is going to cram more kids into the classrooms is no way to treat them decently.

“I would point out, or at least amend,” Welty went on, “what Member Loeffler-Kemp pointed out: We did talk about [contract] parameters, but we could not fully realize what the next four years was holding in store for us when we set the parameters.” He said the District would “hire 13, 14, or 15 teachers with the [levy] money the voters authorized” but then “have to lay off twice that many” due to an increasing deficit. He finished by deploring the lack of information Board members have to work with: “I’ve been trying to have a discussion about our fiscal future for a month and have only received three very slender pieces of paper from our business office that give us no clue as to how we end up $13 million in debt.”

The superintendent and Board chair did not deny that the doomsday deficit numbers Member Welty referenced were indeed the projected estimates of the district’s finance department, but argued this was a “worst-case” scenario.

Four years for trouble to brew

I got this email a couple days ago. I have confidence in the integrity of the person who sent it and I take it at face value. I’m not inclined to check out the numbers. They seem to make sense to me. My thoughts follow the email:

hi Harry,
    Impressive melting witch. 

I think I saw this [web] address in the Minneapolis Tribune last year.  It is  Number one  select year, check all employees, check outside metro,  check public then click “go”.  Number 2 select district, select school if desired click “search”. Jana’s  article on Duluth teacher’s salaries stated that very few teachers get to the high pay of $69,000.00.  A tally that I ran, not saying it is totally accurate 403 of the Duluth teachers in the year 2012-2013 school year earned 60 thousand to 67,216.00.  That is an average of 65,248.48 for those 403 teachers.  The total for these 403 teachers was 26,295,136.00.  Again a quick check may not be totally accurate. 

    Then 133 teachers, some part time earned from 35,000 to 55,000 for the year 2012-2013. The total for them was 6,065,00.00.  The average was 45,601.50.  I remember a large number of teachers retired last spring so this could have eliminated some top salaries.  The 2013-2014 stats won’t be added to this web site until after June when the school year ends.  It also gives salaries for principals , councilors etc.  I found it interesting. 

Other than vote against the contract next week and speak against it there is little I can do short of throwing an unproductive hissy fit. I don’t believe our teachers are overpaid. Neither to I believe that they are underpaid. What I know is that keeping this contract will make it almost impossible to lower class sizes in the time I serve on the School Board. That was my reason for running for the Board so in some ways a hissy fit seems justified.

I will do everything I can to lower class sizes. One possibility would be to renegotiate our bonds. Note that Gary Glass and later Art Johnston suggested this but were told by the Finance Director that it wouldn’t be possible to lower our payments. I don’t know that I believe the Finance Director but if he’s right its one more reason to vote against the contract. I have my eyes on a couple of programs that, should we shut them down, could allow us to direct a half a dozen teachers into the classroom. Some of these programs are pets but as we begin to face laying off the measley 14 or so teachers who will be paid for by last year’s levy it may not prove to be that difficult a decision.

What does this contract mean?

Our classes will remain the most crowded in Minnesota.

We will not resume a zero or seventh hour which will in turn limit our course offerings.

Among the limitations will be the continued sparse music opportunities which are a shadow of what the district once offered and one of the opportunities that kept iffy kids in school.

I could go on and write about some other grievous problems facing our district as a result of laying off teachers. I know this kind of talk flies in the face of what I consider happy talk by our administration. Call me Winston Churchill and call our Administration Neville Chamberlain delivering “Peace in our Time” upon his return from Adolph’s Germany.

I have been whining about my health for the past couple weeks. That’s over with. I’m writing this with a great deal of equanimity. I’ve had a number of folks, including my wife, remind me of what I already knew. I can’t fix the Duluth School District by myself and its clear that I am part of a minority on the Board that doesn’t buy into happy talk. After getting a good health check up and thinking about my modest powers to influence the future I’m no longer feeling panic and waking up after mere hours of sleep. I’ll be much healthier than our schools and I’ll just have to live with that.

I serve with folks who care about our schools, I can’t fault them for that, but we are in for a long slog. WW II lasted four years. So will the teacher’s contract. Our war won’t end when the contract runs out. It will just be heating up.

e e cummings

Sometimes your buddies can piss you off but then they send you something to help you take heart. My buddy sent me this after my taxonomically challenged post last night. Many thanks.

e e cummings (from a letter, 1935):

to be nobody but yourself –
in a world which is doing its best
night and day
to make you everybody else –
means to fight the hardest battle
which any human being can fight,
and never stop fighting.

(I’m still taking a sabbatical from reading his emails lest they too exert too much force and pull me into becoming “everybody else”)

My Blue Screen 3AM

This is what greeted me as I sat down to type this morning. It disappeared right away as Pandora’s screen dissolved into my Gabriel Faure playlist. I spent half an hour trying to recreate it by downloading a blue screen taking a picture with my Samsung camera and then trying to figure out how to download that to Flickr or Google Plus or to an email to put on my computer. Well, Flickr won out and I chalk it up to more brain teasing to keep me up on how to work the online world.

I mentioned the Kevin Spacey series on Netflix in the last post. By the way, did I ever tell you that I once worked with Kev in a movie? I did. I was an extra in Iron Will twenty years ago. I got paid too.

Claudia and I laughed along with the Oscar audience when he came out to present at Sunday’s Academy Awards broadcast and said he’d just dropped in from Washington DC. His amoral character breaks the fourth wall all the time to explain what he’s up to and belittle the people he’s busy slitting the throats of. Maybe that’w what my blog amounts to. My fourth wall.

We saw the original BBC series which came out over twenty years ago. I was surprised when I googled it to see it was a mere four episodes long. The American version is up to 26 now and our protagonist, surely not a hero, has climbed the greasy pole and his audience is looking down on the wrecked people in his wake wondering which might pull him back down.

Brickbats for Halloween

There were two predictable letters complaining that I was an eastern elitist for using the word gangrene to describe the Red Plan’s dire results in western Duluth Schools. You can read them here and here.

More prickly criticism came from two of the Red Plan’s staunchest advocates Board Chairs in turn Tom Hustad and Ann Wasson. I am not surprised that they take my constant criticism of the Red Plan and Johnson Controls and their beloved Superintendent Keith Dixon personally. They were elected to save a hockey coach who treated his bench warmers like a bucket of spit. The results of their tenure on the School Board have led to the gangrene which I’m taking heat for describing.

I’ll post the entire letter here as per usual. I like to put the most egregious criticisms of my work and words in this blog. There is one trivial attack on my “honesty” in the letter. It says I falsely claimed to serve on the School Board until eight years ago. I was wrong! I was defeated by Tom Hustad in the Fall of 2003 and stepped down in January of 2004. If you do the math you will see that I’ve been off the Board for 9 years and 10 months. I made a similar mistake when the Tribune mistakenly said that Ann Wasson had served for 14 years on the School Board. I wrote in my blog that she had only served 8 years. It was ten. She was first elected to serve a half term of two years.

As for the other items mentioned I’ve addressed them all in this blog or elsewhere many times. You can find my explanations by inserting the offending terms in the search function.

I’ll mention a couple of things about both of my critics to blunt their analysis.

Ann Wasson was the Board Chair who failed to sign or read the Review and Comment sent to the State Dept. of Education for a quarter billion dollar Building Project. That was typical of her blind career of being a School Board rubber stamp to duplicitous School Administrations.

Tom Hustad was the Board Chair when the first critics of the Red Plan’s denial of a referendum began speaking out at School Board meetings. An email from a friend recently reminded me how he conducted himself on one occasion during criticism of the Board’s anti-democratic actions:

Yup, I did a little digging and found a great article :)

Hustad is the one that told Brenda to “shut up and sit down” And that pretty much sums up the approach the board has had to anyone who disagrees with them. And they are in charge of nurturing critical thinkers!!

One last anecdote. Last December while I was out in my front yard tending to the candles I placed around my snow angel Mr. and Mrs. Hustad pulled over by the curb and rolled down their window. Tom graciously thanked me for expressing the sentiments of so many other people to the tragedy at Sandy Hook.

Here’s Tom and Ann’s letter to the Duluth News Tribune:

We’re disappointed the newspaper endorsed Harry Welty.

He said he wouldn’t run a “sour-grapes campaign,” but his Oct. 24 “Candidate’s View” column was negative. Honesty isn’t his best policy, despite his lawn signs. As one example, he didn’t serve on the School Board eight years ago, as he claimed.

Welty has cost the district hundreds of thousands of dollars on meaningless lawsuits. He was quoted saying he enjoys creating chaos even when information is wrong. How can we trust him if he manipulates expert information and isn’t truthful?

He blogged about hitting fellow School Board candidate Nancy Nilsen “upside the head with a brick.” Bully? Absolutely. We need to rid our city of bullies, not give them support.

He blogged about being “canned” from teaching three times. Frightening. So he’s not a retired teacher, as he claimed.

He was School Board chairman for four months and stepped down because he couldn’t build consensus, was ineffective and couldn’t take the heat. Clearly, he still doesn’t understand education funding.

He seems to be violent in nature, blogging about “blood on the floor” and using voodoo dolls. Don’t take it lightly. Welty is unreliable.

Nancy Nilsen is honest, intelligent and respectful, and deserves your vote.

Ann Wasson
Wasson represents District 1 on the Duluth School Board and is not seeking re-election.

Tom Hustad
Hustad was a Duluth School Board member from 2004 to 2008 and was chairman of the board from 2005 to 2007.