Category Archives: Duluth Schools

The Rape of Nanking

WDIO’s reporter, Julie Kruse, called me as I was adding another two books to “my reading list.” More on the books momentarily.

Today’s ongoing story in the Trib had caught Julie’s attention and the public’s apprehension about our superintendency has too. I gave her some background info and agreed to go on record so she and a cameraman zipped down for a quick interview. I had joked with her in advance that my inclination was to be more evasive than anything else and I tried to hew to that goal on camera.

I was wearing my wolf slippers when she came to the door and holding a stack of books on China. I explained I bought them the new feet with my grandsons at the Wisconsin Dells’ Great Wolf Water Park. Then I explained that I had gathered my books on China together to prepare for a summer trip to the same. Julie asked about the title “Rape of Nanking” which didn’t exactly sound like a travel guide.

The first of the books I entered on my old webpage was the one about the 1920 election. I powered through it and then today found the goodreads website which included almost 100 reviews from readers. Most enjoyed it as much as I did although a few quibbled about the gossipy things in it. Not me. I found FDR’s attempt to hush up the seamiest actions he took as Secretary of the Navy instructive. And when author, Pietrusza, commented archly that divorce rates had tripled in the decades leading up to 1920 so that by that date 1% of marriages had been sundered I appreciated that insight on the Era which was about to plunge into the Roaring Twenties.

I also added the book by Evan Osnos about China’s Age of Ambition to the list even though I still have about 50 pages to finish. Claudia and I have been tearing through it and it has taken some darker turns in the last couple of chapters. Among my unread Chinese related books was “Ancestors” by Frank Ching. I bought it on sale twenty years ago but it looks like just the book to take me back a thousand years into Chinese History. And last night I reread the prologue to Mr. Speaker so I’ll revisit that book about America’s Gilded Age.

All of these books are fodder to help me understand why we are the way we are today. From the preface of Mr. Speaker:

“The party labels of Reed’s day may seem now as if they were stuck on backwards. At that time, the GOP was the party of active government, the Democratic party, the champion of Laissez-faire. The Republicans’s sage was Alexander Hamilton the Democrats’ Thomas Jefferson. The Republicans condemned the Democrats for their parsimony with public funds, the Democrats arraigned the Republicans for their waste and extravagance. …..and what…constituted extravagance in federal spending? …a building to house the overcrowded collection of the Library of Congress.”

As one tidbit to support this I’ll note a news story from the Gilded Age which I found online last year. It mentioned my Republican Grandfather, Thomas Robb, and his neighbors taking the Santa Fe railroad to court for overcharging them. I know whose side Donald Trump would have taken.

Enrollment Chess

Today’s DNT article on a proposed expansion of the Wrenshall schools opens up all sorts of questions that demonstrate the difficulties for Minnesota’s schools. Rudy Perpich opened up a Pandora’s Box with both his Charter School’s and Open Enrollment innovations. He had been a long-time Hibbing School Board member before he got to St. Paul (he wanted to use his tenure in Hibbing to bump up his state pension when he left office) and he wanted to shake up public schools from their complacency.

School Districts and their politically vulnerable school board members have to weigh all sorts of imponderables before making big decisions involving taxes and referendums. Wrenshall schools are becoming overcrowded and the Board wants to hold a referendum to expand and update facilities. Some locals are against the fix up and taxes.

At present 100 Duluth kids are filling out Wrenshall’s student body. That is a trend that predates the Red Plan but which was also inflated by the Red Plan. The Wrenshall voters ought to ask themselves whether those Duluth students might leave them if they don’t fix up their schools. However, the question being asked in Wrenshall now seems to be whether they will spend all that money and then see the Duluth students leave anyway. Put another way will they be throwing good money after bad?

They have only to look at the Duluth Red Plan experience to see a similar result. The Keith Dixon led Duluth School Board gambled half a billion dollars on their great new schools attracting students back from the Charter Schools. Instead, the Red Plan caused a student diaspora. I think Loren Martell’s recent column suggested that Duluth lost 4,000 students after the Red Plan. Who can blame Wrenshall voters for being skittish?

Wrenshall has also been in the news when the Carlton District petitioned to consolidate with Wrenshall and it turned up its nose to a union with its smaller suffering neighbor. That too was a calculation. I’ll be honest. I’d love to have both schools send more of their students to Duluth especially the students that the Red Plan drove out of our District.

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Yesterday in threadbare detail

Yesterday I finished a couple more chapters in my 1920 book, did my Sing thing and then attended the Clayton Jackson McGhie Dinner at Greysolon Plaza.

I learned in the book that women had the right to vote in four Eastern States until 1807, which I couldn’t recall having heard before. It was part of the background in the 1920 book which had a marvelous twenty-page chapter describing how the Woman’s voting amendment passed a couple months before the November Presidential Election.

At the Sing thing I saw a recently retired school board member. We both did a superlative job of avoiding eye contact with one another.

At CJM I sat next to a current Board member who proceeded to chat me up for the first time in three years of our serving together.

I also exchanged a big hug with my old now school board ally, Mary Cameron. We were once thick as thieves until our differences over the Red Plan clouded our former alliance. We’ve gotten over that and I couldn’t be happier about it.

School Maintenance – another gift of the Red Plan

Today’s DNT readers learned that we are negotiating to get an acceptable offer to sell Nettleton School.

Selling our empty schools was always part of the poorly executed Red Plan financing and we were led to believe they would be much more remunerative than they have proven to be. In fact, all of them have been white elephants except for the Woodland property that now has the extensive Blue Stone development sitting atop the land. Meanwhile the empty buildings impose annual maintenance and heating costs on our strained District finances.

Although I have been censured by our Board previously by blogging about prospective buyers let me add this to the story. Another larger offer was made on Nettleton which we are not pursuing even though we have no current agreement with the buyers mentioned in today’s story. Unlike the buyer mentioned by the Trib the second more generous offer that we are not considering would not involve razing Nettleton. I’m in the minority on this deal.

Loren Martell’s lengthy column in this week’s Reader digs deeply into a subject that I haven’t touched for years – How the District will pay for the long term maintenance of all the new buildings that were built in one massive eruption of construction:

The larger point is: while we spend so much money on Old Central over the next ten years, much of the maintenance in our new or like-new buildings, already deferred five years, is also going to be deferred further down the road. (Some of the earliest “like-new” Red Plan buildings, such as Stowe Elementary, are already nearly ten years old.) During this February’s Business Committee meeting, our school board, ever desperate for funds in the wake of the failed Red Plan, advocated deferring even more maintenance.

We just blew half a billion on a problem blamed on poor maintenance and maintenance is again being shoved onto the back burner.
The repairs and renovations of Old Central ($17,899,595) are scheduled to consume 71% of the money district 709 intends to spend for facilities maintenance in its current ten-year plan. All the other facilities combined are only scheduled for $7,364,508 of repair and maintenance. Subtracting $850,000 just for the new roof on Lakewood Elementary leaves about $6.5 million (or $650,000 a year) to maintain all the other buildings, every one not really made “like-new.”

Obviously the district is already stretched thin to properly maintain and protect the obscenely expensive investment we just made in our school buildings.

I’ve frequently mentioned the other financial shortcomings brought about by the Red Plan. 1. Spending down the Reserve. 2. negotiating higher teacher salaries to avoid labor conflicts during construction. 3. Funneling millions each year from the General Fund’s classroom money to pay for the Red Plan costs that kept ballooning. 4. Laying off teachers to pay for the Red Plan. 5. An exodus of students making use of Open Enrollment. To this list we must add 6. the failure to set aside the cost of ongoing upkeep for our shiny new schools. It was typical of the previous Board to add things like glorious swimming pools to the Red Plan during the orgasm of construction. That’s why they decided not to spend the $18 million set aside for the semi-decrepit, National Historical landmark – Old Central. That would be a problem for future schools boards to deal with. Just add that cost to the Red Plan.

Its ironic that the Red Plan was pushed down our throats with the accusation that our buildings had not been maintained making it necessary to build all new schools to keep up with 21st century needs. Now at the start of the new century we are once again behind the eight ball of inadequate maintenance for these new buildings.

Here’s a historical footnote from my first couple years on the school board 1996-97. Supt. Mark Myles pissed off teacher’sunion President Frank Wanner by plowing money into long term maintenance instead of teacher contracts. Myles compounded this by promising to spend voter approved levies for building up a reserve fund and after he’d accomplished that for new programming but not increases in existing teacher’s salaries. It can be argued that Myles wasn’t very diplomatic but he had the best interest of needy kids very much in mind. you can get a glimpse of his priorities in as his recent letter to the Trib.

Keeping one’s perspective while confronting local and national crisis

Tonight I plan to attend a fun event at Denfeld, its annual Speech “Concert.” This will be easier for me because Claudia will be home late tonight after returning from her Seminary classes in the Twin Cities. I figure this will help remind me that I have some responsibilities here in Duluth and can’t spend all my time dismayed by National events. Likewise on Saturday I plan to attend the second annual Bringthesing event up at St. Scholastica. I had a great time singing there last year.

Its not as though I can escape, or want to escape, my concerns as a school board member. Yesterday I had two long conversations regarding the District’s future, upcoming elections, and the issue I raised at the end of the last school Board meeting – how we might face the possibility of searching out new leadership should that be our lot. Its just that I feel at times like a soldier in a trench with an oncoming tank to the front and an airplane strafing the trench coming from the side. Somehow I have to prepare for both simultaneously.

(please excuse this pause – my hungry yellow cat Moloch just jumped on my desk to let me know he’s hungry. I’ll have to give him false hope that I will feed him by rushing downstairs and then shutting the door on him when he follows me out. Otherwise he’ll bop my hand for the next hour until I’m ready to oblige him)

Sorry Moloch.

I’d like to pontificate about this NY Times column by Nicholas Kristoff: “There is a Smell of Treason in the Air”

In one of my conversations an old timer said the times we are living in are just like the 1960’s. Well, my truncated Paranoia series had that idea in mind and raised that thought but compared today’s headlines with the 1920’s. Or maybe we are revising the 1940’s movie Casablanca . Remember when Rick (Humphrey Bogart) said: “…I’m no good at being noble, but it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.”? Well, my hill of beans is the Duluth Schools and it does count.

BTW I found the quote in this site devoted to the best lines of dialogue in the movie. This is one of Hollywood’s greatest movies. I recently read that during the Movie’s flashback scene of the Germans marching into Paris one of the cast members, who was there when it really happened, burst out in uncontrollable sobs at the memory during the shoot. Also, evil Major Strasser in the movie was Conrad Veidt who in real life had escaped Nazi Germany before taking on the role. There were many other refugees from Europe on the set as actors and extras adding gravitas to the movie’s completion.

As for the nefarious treason that columnist Kristof writes about; he take his readers back to 1968 when friends of the Nixon campaign lobbied to delay a peace settlement in Vietnam. Kristof notes that it has been confirmed in the last month that Richard Nixon ordered the attempt. There have been no smoking guns until now. I agree that this was far more heinous than the Watergate Break-in that cost Nixon the Presidency. I feel obligated to pursue the Trump/Putin inquiries with a vengeance and thank God for Trump’s “loser” Senator John McCain for arguing that Congress isn’t fit/suited to conduct such an inquiry. To paraphrase Heraclitus, “the only thing that doesn’t change is change.”

Oh my head is full….ouch, ouch, ouch.

Time for me to go back to 1920 where a crowded field of Republican Presidential candidates (Just as in 2016) is about to give way to a second rater, albeit a “kind” man – Warren G. Harding.

Oh, and there’s this from the Trib today on Denfeld High School. Its an initiative I support but without the additional financing that I want the school to have. I’m still working on that.

And I just remembered one more item that has me thinking. Its one more bit of evidence that helps explain the Trump vote. Its about the reversal of the long time trend toward longer lives. White people seem to be dying of despair. They aren’t dying in socialized Europe. Maybe we can thank the Republican nanny state fighters.

Rolling seven

Sunday the DNT had a story with the pros of a Seventh Hour Day and the many caveats and fears being thrown out to slow down instituting it next September.

Emotionally I side with Alanna Oswald. I am angry with myself for fretting along with foot dragging former Chair Harala about rushing to fully institute it. That’s why last month I offered up a motion to grease the wheels by giving the two western middle schools “more resources” meaning money for next year to demonstrate that our School Board is no longer inclined toward benign neglect.

I’ll share this email to the Board from Tom Tusken’s evaluation of the Trib’s seventh period day story:

Dear School Board and District Administration:

I feel compelled to write based on my unresolved feelings generated by the article in today’s Duluth News Tribune, “Seventh period: the answer?” While I was able to contribute to the article, I was unsatisfied by what I read as a whole.

Do we have an itemized list of costs associated with adding a seven period day? Why will it cost $2.6 million? Numbers get shared with no supporting documentation. I apologize if I missed the details at a recent school board meeting.

Seven periods may not be the best practice, but if it is not, where is the urgency of the school district to research and implement something different right now? Continue reading

When 87% of Duluth’s 9th graders had the reading skills to function as adults

I can’t find DNT’s “Bygones” section in today’s online paper but it reported that on this day 20 years ago:

“About 81% of Duluth ninth-graders have the math skills they’ll need to function as adults and 87% have the necessary reading skills, according to test results released yesterday. More than 90,000 student state-wide took the Minnesota Basic Standards Test in January.”

I had been on the Board for a little over a year on that date and this was a test that has likely changed several times since then so that it is hard to make a comparison with today’s testing results. Still, those sound like pretty good results for kids with just three more years of high school to finish. I’m not sure we could match those results today. If I’m right that’s a sad commentary on our progress.

I will have several other local news related posts to make later this morning. (I’m catching up from a weekend with family and reading history.) This is meant to whet your appetite so come on back when I’ve posted them.

“Rustling my paperwork”

Here’s Loren Martell’s take on that last school board meeting and, in particular, my reaction to the suprise reconsideration of retaining Kevin Rupp’s law firm:

“Eventually the continuation of the Rupp firm’s role as one of the district’s legal consultants was approved by the usual 4-3 vote, prompting member Welty to rustle his paperwork and shake his head with open disgust.”

I’ve previously described how Attorney Kevin Rupp pressured then School Board Chair Michael Miernicki to let the Board accuse Art Johnston of making racist statements along with the other BS the board threw at the side of the Barn to see what would stick. Mike was extremely reluctant to sign on to this particulaly slimy accusation. Nonetheless Mike went along with it because Rupp thought it would cut any public support out from under Art’s legs. So, is it any wonder I was disgusted that such a reptile would continue representing the School Board?

I was not party to Rupp’s plan to eviscerate Art Johnston but I can only presume that Annie Harala and Rosie Loeffler-Kemp were in the know and made no objections. Indeed, they were part of the 4 – 3 vote to retain the Rupp firm.

Rosie took particular umbrage to my comments about Mr. Rupp scolding me that they were “disparaging.” Perhaps she’s forgotten her unpardonable evaluation of her colleague Art Johnson when she said of him that his behavior was “violent abusive and harassing and threatening…”

Rosie is a great champion for the District’s Civility policy……except in practice.

Friends in Strange Places – How I meant to start

Where did the beginning of the last post go? I just discovered I copied all but the first page of it from my computer when posting. Here is how it was meant to begin:

Here is a metaphor which will offend some people but which is offered to provoke thoughtful reflection:

Metaphor: Much as Democratic Party regulars are confounded by blue collar voters flocking to Trump and the Republican Party last November; ISD 709 teachers are confounded that any school board member might be supportive of the “competing” Edison charter. In the same way Democrats had better tread carefully where blue collar voters are concerned the allies of ISD 709’s teaching corps should carefully consider who they wage war with.

Several recent episodes have brought this to mind beginning with the parents meeting at Denfeld to promote school equity.

I’m tired of talking. I want action. If we are to help Denfeld we must act swiftly. This fiscal year will come to a rapid conclusion in June. As necessary as the Denfeld meeting was it was a reprise of the dozen Think Kids meetings I’ve attended: Have everybody write a dozen ideas on post-it notes – put them in a kettle hoping for a delicious treat – wait a year for nothing to happen.

At our last School Board meeting I was disappointed at being unable to pass a motion giving Denfeld and Lincoln Park MS extra, unspecified, financial help next year. It was unspecified because I trust the faculty at those schools to figure out how to use it well.

So, when this week’s Denfeld meeting got to the post-it note stage I bolted and headed over to a Denfeld teacher that didn’t seem to think I was looking out for Denfeld. That was more important to me than post-it notes – (and no there weren’t real post-it notes). We discussed a real Denfeld fear – That if and when Edison builds a high school it will be the end of Denfeld. I understand this fear completely even though I think it is greatly overblown.

I’ve been prowling around the Duluth Schools for forty years. I’ve seen Central High parents raise hell a couple of times about their school and then seen Denfeld parents do the same – a couple of times. Western Duluth have been on the defensive for a very long time and keep losing. I fully understand their distrust of eastern Duluth that always seems to get first dibs, whether it’s the wood mulch at Congdon or the football stadium at East.

I also understand that Minnesota has changed its education finance system repeatedly since the “Minnesota Miracle” back in 1971. After opening the floodgates of state spending to public schools the legislature closed them again like the little Dutch boy facing a faltering dike. Then DFL Governor Perpich passed the Open Enrollment law that allowed families to send their children to schools in other districts; then it passed Perpich’s Charter Schools which were set up to compete against Public Schools; And then, worst of all, a Duluth School Board authorized a hideously expensive public works program because it didn’t trust Duluth’s voters to pass it in a referendum. From that point on lies and deceit have been the order of the day. Our children are paying the price especially the kids in our western schools.

TO FINISH THIS YOU MUST GO TO THE PREVIOUS POST FROM WHICH THIS INTRODUCTION WAS ACCIDENTALLY OMITTED.

Friends in strange places

The Duluth School Board is and ought to be paranoid about voters who distrust it. We should be especially concerned about driving more of them to paranoia. That fear was on my mind when I wrote an op-ed piece a year ago lamenting the continuing 709 feud with Duluth’s charter school, locally known as “Edison.”

I grew up with the Roger’s and Hamerstein song “getting to know you.” I sang it often to my Mother after she lost the capacity to talk. I write the following 1000 words with the song’s sentiment firmly in mind.

I gently disagree with one sentence in an otherwise excellent DNT editorial published on Monday. The sentence?

“How we got to this troubling level of inequity isn’t nearly as important as what we’re doing about it and what we’re going to be doing about it – as a community”

The editors give short shrift to history. As we can see in black/white relations history is critical to understanding why race is still a subject of miscommunication 150 years after slavery ended. It won’t take 150 years to get over the Red Plan but if anyone thought we were over it that hope was dashed with the attempt to remove Art Johnston from the School Board for asking about Red Plan funding. The DNT editors need to understand that the “inequity” in our schools today, started with the Red Plan. Today it steals $3.4 million in equity relief from ISD 709 every year. Ironically, the Red Plan was meant to undercut Edison. It failed miserably. Now, more than ever, we need the help of Edison for the ISD 709 schools. Simply put, we need Edison parents to vote to renew our $1.8 million operational levy. What’s more we need them to vote for a bigger operational levy for ISD 709.

Duluth voters could triple our existing $1.8 million levy. That would be about $3.6 million dollars. THAT IS A HUGE COINCIDENCE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Our brilliant Red Plan school board so alienated voters that when they ran out of money they stole (legally) money from our General Fund to pay for more borrowing. Today we are transfering $3.4 million annually for this purpose. We laid off the equivalent of 37.7 teachers to pay for nice new schools. That’s almost the same figure as the additional money we could raise in a referendum – if voters trusted us.

That won’t happen if we keep thumbing our noses at an ever increasing population of Edison supporters (and voters). I explained this in a January 2015 post: (The “Bill” is Bill Morris, a Minnesota pollster)

“I asked Bill about parents who had children open enrolled out of their district or who were attending parochial, charter or private schools. Duluth has a lot off all three categories. The news he offered was not good for ISD 709. He told me these parents became openly hostile to public bonds because they considered the public schools as their children’s school’s competition. The swing is dramatic. While 80% of elementary children’s parents tend to vote for levies it changes to 80% voting against when their children attend other schools.”

That should give the willies to every ISD 709 teacher with five or six extra Red Plan students crammed into their classrooms.

The Edison parents have been remarkably patient with our ungenerous, paranoid, School Board. I think they must be suffering from “Stockholm Syndrome.” They have been so abused for so long they are desperate to prove they don’t have a grudge against ISD 709. That won’t last forever but I think its still exists. And to that point I got a big surprise at Tuesday’s Denfeld meeting when my grandson’s Northstar teacher came into the Denfeld meeting.

When I saw her yesterday while picking my grandson up at Northstar I mentioned my surprise. She told me that, in fact, the largest contingent of parents at the Denfeld meeting were Northstar (Edison) teachers and parents. Their children attend Denfeld and they are as concerned about the inequity in western schools as anyone else in Duluth. Some of them love Denfeld’s diversity and have chosen to send their kids to Denfeld over East. When I heard this you could have knocked me over with a feather.

Now I’ll get even more personal. My daughter, a proud 1999 East High school graduate, teaches at Northstar. She can’t wait for an Edison High School but she is a public school booster. (Northstar is a public school). Like me she is soured by the selection of Betsy DeVos to be our nation’s Secretary of Education.

We need to think long and hard about our foolish assumptions lest we make the mistake of bringing our “self fulfilling prophecies” to life. The simple fact is that even with another 350 students an Edison High School will not so deplete Denfeld that it will cease to exist. That’s especially true if we give Lincoln and Denfeld the resources they need to keep their families happy and help keep them in the running for new students.

Oh, and I’d like to share the Facebook rant that my Edison teaching daughter passed on:

“Sad day for public education in the United States. The U.S. House of Representatives has introduced Bill 610. This bill will effectively start the school voucher system to be used by children ages 5 to 17, and starts the de-funding process of public schools.

“The bill will eliminate the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESSA) of 1965 which is the nation’s educational law and provides equal opportunity in education. It is a comprehensive program that covers programs for struggling learners, AP classes, ESL classes, classes for minorities such as Native Americans, Rural Education, Education for the Homeless, School Safety (Gun-Free schools), Monitoring and Compliance and Federal Accountability Programs. Continue reading

“All animals are equal but…

…some animals are more equal than others.” George Orwell Animal Farm

I read this in high school. Apparently, Orwell’s observation is every bit as appropos to our school board as it was to Stalin’s Russia.

Our first extensive discussion at last week’s marathon Board meeting had to do with Alanna Oswald’s motion to consider a seven-period-day. I misunderstood the intent of her motion and added my own substitute amendment more narrowly restricting additional spending to “western secondary” schools. I wanted that spending to begin in September. My motion failed as did Alanna’s. There were four board members who voted against it.

Later in the meeting (at the 3 hour, 11 minute point on the video) I was surprised and offended by a motion to take the Rupp law firm’s retention off the table. I made my my distaste for the Rupp Firm so vivid that other Board members found my comments “disparaging” and “threatening.” It must have been the gun I was waving. After a twenty minute discussion the same voting bloc forced Rupp down my throat. If you watch me in the video for the next twenty minutes you will see that it was all I could manage to contain my wrath. I rock from side to side. I shuffle my papers on the dias noisily, I sit back with a grim expression. I’m clearly channeling Charles Laughton or Spencer Tracey in some old cinema crime drama. I’m every bit as entertaining as the pros if you ask me. Then, to my delight, Art Johnston made a motion to allow board members other than the Chair to talk to our attorneys. Here’s what school board member, Rosie Loeffler-Kemp said to defend our policy only permiting the Chair to talk to our attorneys as our “point person”:

I was not impressed and, it turns out, for good reason.

Two days ago as I reviewed the Rupp Billing for 2014, I came to understand why Ms. Loefler-Kemp has no problem with our current policy. Its because she hasn’t had to abide by it.

On December 10th, my birthday BTW, 2014 Rosie got to chat with Attorney Rupp or, as the billing says: “telephone conference with school board member Loeffler-Kemp regarding possible censure of school board member.” Just who that member was, was made clear by the $117 charge five days later to: “begin drafting proposed resolution regarding censure of Harry Welty.” The expense also included our attorneys reading of my blog. (Here’s a recap of that travesty)

Rosie’s was a short call at 3 tenths of an hour for a measley legal charge of $46.50. Rosie wasn’t the Chair but that didn’t stop her. It helps to be an animal who has been created more equal.

Busy Monday

This is another one of those “where do I begin” posts. Unlike yesterday which was busy from 9AM till 9:30PM I only have two meetings scheduled today. The first is at 4:30 and regards private student issues then a second will be held at 7PM at Denfeld to discuss Denfeld’s fate with Denfeld parents. At least I’ll have the morning and early afternoon to work on some other projects.

Ah but yesterday:

9AM was strictly personal with a financial advisor. Sorry, Data private.

Followed by some Catch up reading time on Denfeld here (the DNT Editorial Board is paying attention) and here (The Denfeld Parent’s take) and Tire mulch here and here (which is my take) BTW – although some of the parents are reportedly unhappy with the Zenith mulch story I found it thorough and accurate even if it leans a little less heavily than I do on mulch replacement.

By the way, on the subject of Tire Mulch I heard something astounding yesterday which I have yet to confirm. In 1952 ISD 709 was left a significant bequest which was intended to be used on play spaces. This money has been around for all this time and could be put to the use of replacing the tire mulch. Its only a little over $100,000 (0ne/sixth of the likely cost) but this is the first I’ve heard of this. That seems to be quite an oversight considering the brouhaha the mulch issue has caused for the past year and a half.

1:20 Reading at Piedmont in three Kindergarten Classes. Read many classics. Pig Pig Grows up, Hazel’s Amazing Mother and Me First among others.

2:30 to the School District’s Business office for two hours pouring through the 2014 legal billing of my favorite law firm Rupp and Company. Very Interesting. We got billed a lot by the firm for offering advice on how to deal with data requests. In July of 2014 it looks that such advice cost us over $8,000.00!!!!! I guess the advice was not to give any data out considering that Art Johnston’s dozen data requests were pretty much ignored. Although, to be fair, I should note that the Business Office once told Art they would provide some data if he paid them $2,500.00.

What a wonderful change our new CFO Doug Hasler is proving to be. He wrote me a letter spelling out how to treat the Rupp billing. As an elected official I can be trusted to look at it as is. Should I wish to publicize any of the information I need only designate the pages and then the Administration will redact private data and leave the rest for a public viewing. That wasn’t hard. It never should have been.

When I got home Claudia was gone to her internship helping out at Central Hillside United Ministry. That left me to attend a 5:30 gathering held in 709’s Board Room about the trampling by Mein Trumpf of immigrants in the new America:

Take back your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed away,
As I snuff out my lamp beside the golden door!”

Foresight, what might have been, and temper tantrums

I slaved off-and-on from 5 AM until midnight yesterday to whittle nonsense riddled old posts from 700 offenders to about 80 left today. It’s mind numbing work made bareable by interesting discoveries. Its been entertaining to review my early writings in Lincolndemocrat. I just read this one showing the letter I would be sending out announcing my candidacy for the School Board in 2007

The post reassured me that I have a powerful, if imperfect, Bullpoop detector.

The School Board told Duluth that the Red Plan would practically pay for itself. Now a decade after I began blogging about the Red Plan most readers will appreciate the fiscal twaddle handed us. Why it wasn’t the building plan that would be expensive! It was the exorbitant and unnecessary costs of holding a referendum on the plan that the School Board wanted to spare taxpayers.

Here’s a couple paragraphs I put in the letter:

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.”

My letter explains how I will have to get elected to the Board to put the breaks on the Red Plan. What happened in that campaign was that I was ambushed three days before election day and defamed by a vicious misrepresentation about my early career as a school board member. Had I been elected I could have tipped the balance on the Board and helped put the Red Plan up for a vote and, if it failed, I could have helped craft a more modest building program and insured that it was sold with credible financial analysis rather than snake oil.

That is my prologue for a little discourse on my tantrum about reviewing the Rupp law firm’ legal billing. It worked. The invoices will be made available for me to peruse this afternoon. School Board member Art Johnston chimed in by sending our new CFO his official data request for the same info which was never honored. Back when Art’s request was ignored we had five board members who tried to remove Art so apparently state law could be brushed off. We have a new school board and I’ll be damned if this public data will be withheld any longer. At my election I was given the fiduciary responsibility for overseeing our school district’s finances and administration.

I was ambushed again at this week’s school board meeting. The majority orchestrated an unexpected motion to retain Kevin Rupp’s firm for the Duluth School District. To say I was enraged puts it mildly.

I’ll share a hideous and despicable example of the legal advice of our counselor, Kevin Rupp, recommended to the Board members wishing to remove Art Johnston. (I was serving on the Board at the time and this advice was not provided to me for my input) This was passed on to me by an unimpeachable source.

Rupp’s plan was to take an ambiguous and, as it turned out, inaccurate story about Art making racist statements and add it to a list of other dubious accusations. Hearing that Art would be accused of being a full-throttle racist horrified Mike. He protested that it was a terrible thing to do but Rupp prevailed and Mern went along with the plan.

For the next year every headline in the Duluth News Tribune shouted that Art was an accused racist. It’s no wonder that after a year of such treatment, news or not, Art is no fan of the Trib or of the system that perpetuated such a hideous lie. Hell, Art has served on the board of the NAACP for several years.

Discovering that our Board was willing to ignore my principled objections and distrust of the man made my flesh crawl. I would be willing to burn down Old Central in order to read the bills for the hundred grand-plus we paid Rupp’s firm to turn our school board and district into a laughing stock for a long two years.

Today those bills are waiting “downtown” for me to peruse this afternoon.

I write a pretty good letter

I’m back to 2009 posts in my apostraphe replacement labors. I just read my letter endorsing four candidates for the school board in 2009 that the DNT saw fit not to endorse. Its pretty good.

A little history: In 2009 I didn’t think I could win a seat for the school board having lost to Judy Seliga-Punyko in 2007 for the 2nd. District seat. So, in 2009 I campaigned for other candidates who were skeptical about the Red Plan. In 2009 Art Johnston, who my letter endorses, and I were barely speaking to each other.

Another candidate I endorsed, Marci Stromgren, was so worried that I would hurt her campaign that when she saw me at a press conference she called she walked over and asked me to leave the camera range even though I had helped her to raise a few hundred dollars for campaign contributions.

Marci and I have always had an up and down political relationship. I posted her interview of me on youtube from a year ago which is quite cordial and informative. At this week’s school board meeting she called me out by name for suggesting at a preceding budget meeting that we needed more taxes because of a potentially ruinous fiscal future. Didn’t bother me. I have no problem with straight-talking people.

How things looked to our School Board…

…before anyone toted up the damage they were doing.

I’ve been taking a trip back through time looking at old posts with the nonsense jumble €™ in order to replace them with apostrophes. I’m well over two-thirds of the way through the correcting of 900 compromised posts. I find myself catching names and events and hysterical quotes from the past that are so misguided they bring a grim smile. Here’s one example from a JANUARY 20, 2010 post quoting our former vindictive Chair, Judy Seliga-Punyko:

“We are in the best shape we’ve ever been in because we finally have stability. We have the programs we want, we have the plan, even financially we’re doing great. We have the best bond rating, we’ve had great audits. Honestly, financially we are doing great if only the state would give us the money they’re supposed to.”

Its a pity we are still removing millions from our General Fund every year and will continue to do so for the remaining 20-year life of the Red Plan bonds. This is almost unheard of among Minnesota school districts.

How many teachers could we hire for $3.4 million for an average salary and benefits cost of $90,000 per year? Let me check my caluculator……..hmmmmmm….It’s 37.7 teachers. That could go a long, long way to easing life for the Congdon teachers who are up to their necks in students.

At the last school board meeting a lot of Congdon parents urged us to institute a seven-period-day and parenthetically mentioned the overcrowding of their elementay classrooms.

I hope they read yesterday’s DNT story about our perilous financial prospects under the banner headline.

As for our former Chair – I hope she sticks to cosmetics from now on. She has always had a better grasp of the superficial.

Today – the bad and the ugly

An email I sent to the School Board and Superintendent and the DNT’s reporter today:

Superintendent and fellow board members,

This is my formal request to be allowed to view the billing information from the Rupp firm for the years 2014-17. If it is not readily honored I’ll submit this informal request in the form of an official data request. I hope that is unnecessary.

I believe that the last two years worth of such hourly billing are readily available and I will be happy to begin with these while the older records are ferreted out.

Please reply with a time and suitable place for me to review these records.

Thank you.

Today – the good

I was scheduled to read in several classes at Homecroft school this morning. I went to bed firm in the knowledge that I had to get there at 10 AM only to print out the schedule I’d been sent a day or two earlier at 9:15 AM. I was already fifteen minutes late for a 9:00 session. I never got to that classroom but made it to the others and added a new classroom to make amends for the one I’d missed. What a lovely time I had.

Someone snapped a picture of me:

I’m holding “Five Minutes Peace.”