Category Archives: Duluth Schools

The Superintendent’s trifecta

I called the Trib’s education reporter Jana Hollingsworth on Tuesday and told her about the tentative settlement of the teachers contract. When she picked up the phone I asked if I’d reached the “Hollingsworth News Tribune.” Her stories that day (four of them) covered the front page. She laughed.

Sorry, I’ve got more gardening to do. I just put this here to force myself to write this post which should have been posted on Wednesday)

***

Ah, now I’m back. It’s 2:15 AM Saturday. This not my preferred time to blog, but what can you do when the cares of the day invade the night?

So Saturday last, the Superintendent enjoyed the first of three remarkable bits of good news which would continue through Tuesday. On this day the Duluth DFL would emerge from its slumbers much like the United States did after the attack on Pearl Harbor. For the Democrats the alarm was spread not on December 7th, 1941, but on November 8th, 2016, the day of Donald Trump’s election. Almost 300 delegates would be seated to endorse candidates for municipal offices for the first Duluth election following that earthquake.

A SHORT PROLOGUE

I had only attended one other DFL endorsing convention and it was quite a contrast. It was 1999 and I was still a nominal Republican. But my good friend Mary Cameron hoped to earn the DFL endorsement and asked me, her de facto if not official campaign manager, to give her moral support at that year’s endorsing convention. I agreed and sat somewhat awkwardly in a small room at the YWCA.

If there were forty people in the room I’d be surprised. It was all the DFL regulars, AFSCME leaders, the candidates, the new school board members elected in 1997 that dearly wanted to take control of the Board, and me, a lone Republican, sitting beside Mary. She didn’t stand a chance. Neither did she stand a chance in her reelection campaign. She was smeared for deciding to stay on the Board while commuting to Syracuse, NY to earn her Masters Degree. It was a campaign organized by fellow school board members who wanted to improve their 4-5 minority status by removing our only real “minority” member and me. I got re-elected despite being “targeted” by the DFT President and May won vindication after completing her Master’s and ended up ousting the Board member who had ousted her in 1999.

(I was able to confirm my memories of this thanks to the “Wayback Machine” which has been capturing websites and recording them for the past two decades. I found several news stories I captured of that Era. Pouring through it is a great time waster.)

TRIFECTA PART ONE: ENDORSEMENTS

TRIFECTA PART TWO: THE CONTRACT

TRIFECTA PART THREE: THE COMPETITION

Sorry, Anybody who thinks writing is a breeze I’ve been at this for two hours – mostly researching. I’ll post this prologue and work on the Trifecta parts later after I make another go at getting some shut eye. Hope I can sleep through the thunder storm that’s just started.

More old news stories from snowbizz.com

https://web.archive.org/web/20010228073446/http://snowbizz.com:80/EdNews1999/4-99Edu/FIGHT4-8.htm

https://web.archive.org/web/20050223091937/http://www.snowbizz.com:80/EdNews1999/8-99Edu/sboarden.htm

https://web.archive.org/web/20010228074520/http://snowbizz.com:80/EdNews1999/4-99Edu/ReplytoGeorge.htm

Crisis of the moment – a friend sends me an email

From a friend:

Hi Harry!

I’m sorry to have to come to you with a concern, but I hope you can help!

It has come to my attention that the school board intends to vote on Superintendent Gronseth’s budget at your next meeting. Gronseth has proposed cutting the principal at Homecroft Elementary to a .6 position. I do not support this proposal.

It has also come to my attention that Gronseth intends to move Principal Worden from Homecroft Elementary School and I am writing in protest of this decision.

I’m sure you are already aware that Homecroft has endured many changes in leadership in the few short years my child has been attending. If we start with a new principal this fall we will have had 6 principals in the last 12 years. If that’s not bad enough, we will have had 4 in the last 6! This lack of consistency needs to stop. Homecroft deserves a chance to build a long range vision with someone that can lead the charge and be supportive to staff in order to have positive lasting affects on our students.

Principal Worden has already set the ground work for a hopeful future at Homecroft Elementary. She has worked hard to build communication with parents, not just about happenings at school, but also regarding interactions parents can initiate to bolster our children’s education. It’s clear that Principal Worden is working for our kids and it could be very devastating to lose her leadership. I fear it could have a large, lasting affect on this wonderful community school.

I have expressed my concerns with Superintendent Gronseth and he has replied with a form letter that I’m sure several others have received already. I really don’t appreciate the language he’s used to make it sound like the position will be staffed at all times. .6 = 24 hours/week. If we subtract from that the time spent out of the building for regular principal commitments, we aren’t left with much time at all.

I do not support the budget proposal to cut our principal from full time and I strongly support that we keep the principal we have.

Thank you for giving this careful consideration,

XXXXXXXXXXX

And my TMI reply:

XXXXXXXXXXX

You and the children at Homecroft deserve a full time principal. Because we know each other through xxxxxxx I feel an extra responsibility to reply to your message quickly but I am doing so before having all the information at hand to be satisfied with my reply to you.

Remember my first sentence to you as I prattle on and know that I mean it. Continue reading

Settling the Contract –

I may have missed a story about the Teacher contract negotiations but they are likely over as we, Management, and Teachers, shook hands on Tuesday two days ago. The DFT has to take the proposal to the teachers for a vote and then it will come back to the School Board for the final OK – probably at a special meeting next week. To punctuate the conclusions of the negotiations the Superintendent led all concerned on a tour of Old Central’s Clock tower which I haven’t seen in better than a decade. Here are a couple of my pics of that celebration:

null

I don’t think I am obligated to mention the details of the contract but I did call both the Trib’s education reporter and Loren Martell to tell them it was over. According to Jana Hollingsworth once something is on paper it is public data. That sounds right but I have no idea if “the paper” been made available to her or Loren.

When it comes time to vote on this I will offer what I consider some sobering insights on the District’s financial future. That said, the State legislature offered up education funding increases that amounted to a 2% increase in each of the next two school years and our teachers, for an important and uncertain consideration, accepted less for these two years. That will give ISD 709 a tiny improvement in its fiscal situation for the next two years.

What will happen in the second consecutive approved contract (the third and fourth years) could be a disaster or a success for the District. Time will tell. Loren was aghast that we did not win concessions on our health care. It wasn’t going to happen with this board and could have caused a protracted year of more of bad feelings while we wrangled over an unsettled contract.

I have no idea if I will be on the Board in four years but I am I will want to have a long public study of the District’s finances to prepare the District for talks in the fifth and sixth years.

During one of the school board’s closed door talks it was suggested that the meager insights I put on the blog could get me censured again for not being a team player. That led to a testy 45 second discussion before we agreed to new parameters which were undoubtedly necessary for the quick end-of-year settlement we seem to have achieved. I hope the Union finds them entertaining when they become public.

Dear DFL Delegate

I’ve missed two great days to garden working on my election and School Board business. There have been lots of email and letters-to-the-editor to consider. Oh, there have been the regular reminders of the new Trump Dystopia we have brought down on ourselves. – Ivanka’s Chinese shoe manufacture having investigators imprisoned for recording the maltreatment of workers who were helping Ivanka’s bottom line. – President Trump catering to the Koch Brother’s desire to pollute without restriction by canceling an international climate control agreement. He says he did it for Pittsburgh not Paris. Pittsburgh’s City Council has rejected the help.

More importantly I sat in on a second round of teacher contract negotiations…………..Argggggerrrrregggggg*******!

Pardon my strangled words. At a closed meeting Tuesday I was sternly instructed by Rosie Loeffler-Kemp not to mention that they were happening on the blog. She has a firm grip on my throat. I was glad that Chair David Kirby joined me at the negotiations. Nothing explosive seemed to have happened as a result of our presence.

I’ve got another busy day planned that will put the gardening off – Drat! And tomorrow I will attend the Duluth DFL endorsing convention seeking Democratic support for my reelection campaign.

This is the letter I sent to about 800 eligible delegates two days ago. I’m guessing only one in ten will actually show up although Trump is probably keeping most of them every bit as on edge as he’s keeping me. Maybe a lot more will show up to convince themselves that can really turn the world back right-side-up:

Dear DFL delegate, Continue reading

And while I’m speaking truth to power…

…These are the 14 Questions from the DFL screening committee and my answers to them:

2017 Screening Committee Questions, City of Duluth DFL

In this questionnaire, we are asking the same questions of all candidates for a given office. When we
conduct the follow-up, in-person screening, questions can, of course, depend on a candidate’s initial
answers on this questionnaire.

SCHOOL BOARD (indicate office you are seeking): At-Large____X____ 2 nd _______ 3 rd________

1.Why are you seeking the DFL endorsement?

I wish to serve my fourth term on the Duluth School Board as a Democrat.

2. Have you been endorsed, or screened for endorsement for any other political parties, groups, or
organizations? If so, who?

I was endorsed by Republicans for the legislature in 1976, 1978 and ran against the endorsed Republican for the legislature in 2002. I parted company with the GOP when I began my blog www.lincolndemocrat.com in 2006.

3. Will you commit to using union materials and services for your campaign when possible? (Will
you support union represented members of staff in the Duluth public schools and work with
them to enhance our public education?)

I like union bugs. And yes, I will continue to work cooperatively with school district staff as I always have for the betterment of our schools.

4. What do you consider the top three priorities for the Duluth Schools right now? Please place in
order of priority and state your plan to work on them. Continue reading

Between a Rockridge and a hard place

That was my groaner at last night’s special meeting of the Duluth School Board. It was so inspired I used it twice and so bad that the second time I said it Nora Sandstad thought I owed the Board an apology.

We had three “facilities” issues on our plate last night A. approval of changes in our ten year building maintenance plan made necessary by putting two new projects on it (the Rockridge makeover and playground mulching) B. OK’ing a contract for the Stowe Playground renovation C. Approving a five year bond to pay for these projects. Somewhere in all of this was a new roof for Lakewood Elementary. Jana Hollingsworth explains it all in the DNT today.

I went along with the Board majority on all of this pleasantly but grudgingly. The Board majority painted us into a corner by its refusal to consider selling our buildings to “competitors.” When other deals fell through we had no back-ups to sell the costly white elephants to. This undermined a primary element of the original Red Plan financing scheme that promised we could help finance the mega-plan by selling off our unneeded facilities for $29 million. That would have helped us retire some of the bonds which we are now being forced to repay annually from our General Fund to the tune of $3.4 million (34 teachers worth).

I couldn’t blame Art and Alanna for symbolic votes against some of our decisions but having been painted into a corner I saw little else we could do but walk away across the freshly painted surface. I have spent the last year objecting to being put in that corner but once there I was stuck an no symbolic vote was going to undo the damage.

The chief drivers of our decision making have softened up a bit. After the last election it was the Superintendent and Chair Harala and Clerk Rosie Loeffler-Kemp who were in the driver’s seat. Fighting our “competitors” off tooth and nail was the order of the day and in the first year they were allied with this year’s Chairman Dr. David Kirby and Nora Sandstad. There is obviously some history between some of these folks. During the 2013 election Annie posted wedding photo’s on Facebook which showed Rosie, Nora and another candidate for the Board that year, Renee Van Nett, together with the wedding party. Renee is now a leader in the DFL so I’ll probably see her at Saturday’s endorsing convention. She will also be a candidate for the City Council this year.

David has proven to be the best and fairest Chairman of the School Board of the four I’ve served with in this term and Nora has grown comfortable charting her own course. But Annie and Rosie have Continue reading

Art Johnston digs into East Central Denfeld enrollment numbers

They are alarming:

Notes:
1. When Denfeld students went to Central HS in 2010, the combined student enrollment dropped 355 students from the previous year. And East gained 172 students.

2. When Central and Denfeld students went back to Denfeld (after Central closed) in 2011, the combined student enrollment dropped another 216. And East gained another 100.

3. In the seven years from 2009 to 2016, Denfeld/Central has dropped 867 students or a 46% drop. And East has increased 177 students or a 14% gain.

4. It is clear from this data that the boundaries between Denfeld and East have not been enforced, and that many students from Denfeld or Central enrolled in East.

5. This data is similar in trend to Denfeld vs. East graduation numbers.

“I know nothing.”

A fellow board member just sent me a news flash about a meeting at East High School this afternoon to talk about traffic and parking with area residents. No one told me about it and I have a meeting scheduled downtown to talk about school facilities at the same time. I am running for reelection and I hate the thought that a lot of East neighbors will note my absence when their ongoing East traffic concerns are being discussed by the City at our school.

When folks ask me about various things going on in our schools my go-to response is: “I’m only a school board member. I don’t know anything.” Sgt. Schultz of Hogan’s Heroes had a more economical way to express this.

Misc on Memorial Day

Family and Memorial Day activities pulled me away from the blog again but on Sunday my mind was on overdrive thinking about starting a week-long series on the Fourth District campaign that is shaping up. That’s the far western Duluth District. It was on my mind in my post about condescension.

This is in response to someone I’d rather not name who reportedly predicted that this year’s school board race was going to get ugly. Hell, it couldn’t come close to getting as ugly as the entire first two years I spent back on the school Board. The two remaining board members who brought about two censures and tried to get rid of a fellow board member based on vile and unsupported accusations have been recruiting candidates. Let’s hope the campaign is spirited and centered around the serious subjects of equity and raising the money we need to hire more teachers.

As for me, I’m for burying hatchets. On that note I was invited by my old friend, Mary Cameron, to attend her Friday retirement reception at UMD. She remained on the Board that Keith Dixon took over after my retirement in 2004 and our subsequent disagreement over the Red Plan threatened to break our ten-year long friendship. We have kissed and made up but I’m chagrined to report I just discovered I missed that reception. I have never been good at coordinating my calendars. I had a paper calendar covered with papers that reminded me of the date but did not have it in my cell phone calendar that I have only begun using.

I may have taken a break from politics this weekend but but that’s not true of everyone. As I tended a patch of stonecrop on 21st Avenue I greeted City Councilor Joel Sipress who was walking past my house. We chatted a bit and he told me he was calling on delegates for next week’s DFL convention lining up support for an endorsement for his District seat. I have not done this to any degree myself yet. I certainly won’t be going door to door because I am running across the whole city and the 700 or so delegates are far beyond my ability to call on in a week’s time. I will begin contacting them tomorrow by phone.

Joel is a bit of a model for me. Until recently he was affiliated with the Green Party as I was once affiliated with the GOP. If the Democrats are to rise like a Phoenix they had better prepare to be welcoming – “Big tent” style. Bernie Sanders had that idea when he recently went to Omaha, Nebraska, to campaign for a Democratic Mayoral candidate. He was roundly criticized for this by a faction of women in the party who were angry that the Democratic mayoral candidate was pro-life. That’s no way to win back the White House or Congress or the State legislatures and Governorships that have come under Republican control.

And a sad note:

The Superintendent just texted all the School Board members about an accident involving our students. There is no respite for a school superintendent.

How the proposed Education funding law will affect negotiations.

As the school year grinds to its end a story appeared in the DNT about the Education budget that will have a significant impact on teacher negotiations. The following paragraph sounds optimistic:

Each of the two years, schools will get a 2 percent increase in the per-pupil funding formula that pays for general operations. There is also $50 million for a new preschool program called “School Readiness Plus,” which prioritizes low-income students, as well as $20 million more for early-learning scholarships.

But a few short paragraphs beyond it come calls from the teachers union for Governor Dayton to veto the bill. There is a Republican inspired language allowing Districts more freedom in hiring teachers without the professional degrees and giving District Administrators more power to keep on and/or release teachers without bending to their seniority.

I’ve not read the actual language so its hard for me to gauge just how serious a threat to tenure and seniority this law would be.

Six times is more than enough times to put the hackneyed phrase…

“chopped liver” in the title of one of my posts. So I just put it <--- here instead.

I was not the only absentee school board member at the Teacher’s and Staff retirement party. Annie and Rosie were also missing. It was announced that they had previous engagements and would be unable to attend. Art had been there earlier but also had to leave before the proceedings began. Chair Kirby and the Superintendent mentioned the reason for Annie and Rosie’s absence but did not introduce Alanna, who was present, to the audience.

I thought I’d make sure Alanna got a mention.

Replying to yesterday’s…

post on the first negotiation session.

Here’s the email I got and by the way I doubt that XXXXX would mind my using his/her name. I’m just being overly delicate:

From: XXXXX
To: “Harry Welty”
Cc:
Sent: 24-May-2017 19:02:05 +0000
Subject: “Confidential” public meetings?

Hi Harry,

Nothing said in a public meeting is “confidential.” You can repeat it, report it, spread it around the world as you please. I really wish somebody would come up to me at some meeting and warn me not to report on something. That would be great.

By the way–you should get a digital recorder. They’re not that expensive. Mine cost $80 two years ago and it works great. You can store 44 hours of recording on it, which you can easily transfer to your computer hard drive. That way if people get on your case about things you can find a nice juicy quote from them on the recorder and put it out for all to see. Just a thought.

XXXXX

And my reply to XXXXX:

Thanks XXXXX,

My blog has several audiences:

1. the public, 2. the teachers, 3. my fellow board members and 4. my conscience…

… as well as several conflicting personal goals:

1. Getting the finances to overcome the chains the Red Plan put on the District, 2. Having amicable contract talks, 3. restoring public trust, 4. transparency and last and least, 5. getting reelected to keep working on all of the above for the next four years.

My sense is that this was a public meeting that does not require a public announcement perhaps only because of precedence. I doubt that our negotiation’s meetings have been announced in the past. I only found about the meeting myself the night before so I didn’t have time to research its statutory requirements. I only knew that by showing up I could cause consternation and might end up being abused for exercising my right and responsibility as an elected member of the Duluth School Board. I know that sounds crazy but I’ve witnessed two years of crazy while back on the school board. All the warnings I got when I did show up only reinforced my sense that many folks were prepared to tar and feather me for what turned out to be a pretty benign meeting.

The only meeting to date that I have bothered to record was the kangaroo court the previous Board called to rake Art Johnston over the coals with the shyster lawyer the District paid $40 grand to sully Art’s reputation. I had a friend video record that one. Its too painful to watch in part because I ended up looking like a fool among the kangaroos, many of which have since escaped the zoo.

Since that time Art, Alanna and I have succeeded in persuading the School Board to put committee meetings on you-tube which was long overdue. My paper and computer files are already too gigantic for me to add a lot more digital info so I don’t plan to start recording more…..but I do take notes as a way to help me recall what took place.

After a night wrestling with the fear that simply telling the public that the negotiations had begun my instinct for transparency overcame the fear so I blogged about it. We will see what happens and, by the way, I do keep some confidences to myself to avoid betraying frightened sources just as a good journalist would. That’s a small price to pay to get access to the truth. Deep Throat remained anonymous for 45 years.

And your first sentence is absolutely correct: “Nothing said in a public meeting is ‘confidential.’ You can repeat it, report it, spread it around the world as you please.”

Ditto my blog.

Harry

—————————————–

40 years ago today

From the DNT “Bygones” for May 25, 1977

A grim picture of budget year 1977-78 was presented to the Duluth School Board yesterday. School administrators told the committee of the whole the district will have about $350,000 less to work with next school year than was originally anticipated.

And ever shall it be.

1977 was my third year in Duluth and I’ve been reading the desperate headlines about the School Board’s finances every other year or more from that time to the present. Its no different this year. The challenge is always to make-do to the best of the District’s ability and remember that we have one top priority – our children.

I have argued since the advent of the Red Plan that the tilting of our the finances so radically to buildings has made the people end our our schools more perilous. I stick by that statement and no amount of happy talk will improve the situation. However, hard work, creativity and a big dollop of honesty to reinforce public trust can improve things given time.

…………………………WeltyforSchoolBoard.com

Why #1 is #1

I will post the DFL screening committee’s 14 questions to me and my replies later. I’ll start with the most important one which asks me to list my three top priorities. My two two top priorities are almost inseparable – like asking which came first – the chicken or the egg. Still, when I was asked to explain what my top priority was at the actual screening I stuck with number 1 – More money! It killed me not to address my second priority equity between east and west.

There is a straightforward reason. Without more money directed at the classroom it will be a challenge to address the issue of equity. Yesterday’s excellent story on absenteeism and today’s follow-up story by Jana Hollingworth reinforced this conviction. They are about the high incidence of kids skipping school in Duluth. The fewer staff we have to greet and teach these students and the more remote our schools seem from their needs the less able we will be to help them succeed. On the other hand – we have many students for whom equity is far less important because of the kinder, gentler circumstances of their lives. More money can help us help the kids in greater need. That why my #1 priority is #1.

DFL question 4. What do you consider the top three priorities for the Duluth Schools right now? Please place in
order of priority and state your plan to work on them.

MY ANSWERS:

1.Hiring more teachers to reduce class size.
HOW: Keep our expenses low. Win back the trust of voters and use that trust to pass an increased operational levy referendum. Renegotiate the Red Plan Bonds which are taking an unconscionable $3.4 million out of our classrooms annually.

2. Make sure that our schools with large “free and reduced lunch” populations are treated fairly and equitably.
HOW:
Begin by making sure Compensatory Ed funds follow the children for whom they are meant into their schools. Make sure that the course offerings at all secondary schools are equally attractive and lure open enrolled students back into our schools.

3. Treat our staff and public responsibly, with respect and expect the best from everyone connected to our schools.
HOW:
By setting such an example myself.

My email exchange on “equity”

From: “T F”
To: “Harry Welty”
Cc:
Sent: 17-May-2017 14:14:55 +0000
Subject: Equity

Harry,

I read with interest your post about the Denfeld Equity Question, and the 4 recommendations put forth by the Equity Group.

First off, I’ll be the first to admit I have no great ideas to solve the very real problem.

I have concerns about the first recommendation, regarding the mandatory offering of 2 sections of any advanced class at Denfeld and replacing 1 “in-person” class at East with a telepresence class, with the teacher in Denfeld. I assume this means the Honors, CITS and AP classes.

To be up front, I have a [child] in many of those classes at East, but she only has one year left, so any changes will likely not impact her much. Even so, I don’t see how the logistics of this plan would work. It may be helpful if enrollment numbers/projections are available. Does the district provide the Board with enrollment numbers such as “how many denfeld students signed up for these advance classes?”

As near as I can tell based upon my [child]’s estimate of class sizes, there are currently 2 sections of AP World History at East, each with about 40 students. If we assume there are 40 Denfeld kids who wish to register for that class (here’s where the hard numbers of registered students would come in handy), Denfeld would have 2 sections of 20 kids, both with an in-person instructor. East would still have 2 sections, but one would be a class of 40 led by a Denfeld teacher who already has 20 kids of her own to teach, essentially making it a 60 student class of AP World History. That doesn’t seem workable. It also removes the opportunity to get extra help during WIN (of which I’m not a real big fan anyway) for the students in these advanced classes. Someone from administration might know more about what an optimal class size is for telepresence, but 40 seems like a lot. Even the “advanced classes kids” probably need close supervision than that.

The Equity Group also implies that removing an in-person teacher for the advanced classes at east “does no harm”, but I don’t think that’s the case with the science/math classes. Unless someone has an idea for how to teach CITS chemistry (with lab) by telepresence, East will need just as many teachers on-site for the advanced science (and probably) math classes.

More likely, if 709 does direct the Comp Ed money back to Denfeld, that may allow Denfeld to offer second sections of the advanced classes, but any notion of savings at East as a result probably wouldn’t come to fruition. If the East students are left with 40 students in a telepresence AP class, you would probably just as likely see more East kids trekking up to UMD for the classes (an option available only to those with transportation).

If the Comp Ed distribution is changed (which it probably should be) and less money is available to East, they may very well have to cut some of the advanced classes at East, and they may choose to do so. I just don’t see the telepresence scenario as a “no harm to East” solution.

Again, I have no magical solution, but unless there’s data that shows that such telepresence classes can be handled effectively, this solution might do more to lower East’s accomplishments than raise up Denfeld’s.

Just my two cents.

Sorry this went so long, but thanks again for your time and your efforts in trying to tackle messy problem.

T F

My reply:

Thanks for your thoughts T,

There are no easy answers to your concerns or to the Denfeld group’s concerns. The one small bit of bedrock I stand upon is this: East High with its better-off student body is getting additional funding that is meant to be spent on Denfeld’s less-well-off student body.

I agree that taking AP classes from any school will only prompt a small stampede to PSEO classes at colleges which will further reduce aid from the state of Minnesota to ISD 709.

I agree that ITV classes may be avoided if other more attractive alternatives are available.

I agree that just as East families have a hard time picturing the problems at Denfeld this group of Denfeld parents may fail to see the consequences of taking things away from East.

I sympathize with this Denfeld group and do not dismiss any of the alternatives they have proposed. I will add another consideration that I find distressing. I don’t think the Denfeld group imagines that many of their recommendations will bear fruit any time soon. Like you, many of these Denfeld parents have children who will soon graduate so that their current advocacy is likely to come to a precipitous conclusion after this year. This has been Denfeld’s plight for the past six years. Its best and most savvy advocates have abandoned Denfeld for greener pastures and taken their advocacy with them. Perhaps the only thing they may get will be a fairer distribution of the Compensatory Aid they are (by virtue of the spirit if not the letter of the law) entitled to. At least until next January they have me, a former East parent, on their side to push for better treatment as an “at-large” member of the school board. I sense some folks eager to see me disappear from the scene as little more than a long time trouble maker. We will find out how that turns out next November. I can only hope that if I am replaced it will be with an equally firm advocate for our poorer western schools.

And Denfeld needs advocacy. Our Administration seems comfortable deferring any tough decisions which might help Denfeld until a thorough review….a year-long review…which suggests nothing will change for Denfeld until 2018 unless the School Board demands change. A request by the Denfeld group to meet with the School Board seems to be targeted at July after the Board finalizes its budget for next year at a June meeting.

Harry

…………………………WeltyforSchoolBoard.com

The present and the past of ISD 709

Loren Martell describes last week’s Business Committee meeting which led to this week’s School Board meeting. Its much easier to read his synopsis than watch the video of the meeting, which in any event, was rendered mootish by our actual meetings discussion and decisions.

Loren notes some evolving by Board members and does a pretty good job explaining the issues. He once again rails against the DFL cabal which he argues controls the Board and which I may join should the DFL endorse me at its June 3rd convention. My only promise to the DFL, should I be asked to make one, will be to remain true to what I believe is best for the ISD 709 schools.

I also enjoyed Loren’s summary of how our District got into its current fix. I know we are constantly asked not to look back but I’m a follower of Santayana. “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”:

How in the world did our school board screw up so badly?

I can actually answer that question: a bad process. The public was denied a vote and the microphone was turned off in the boardroom. Agenda meetings were held in secret. Board members who wouldn’t cooperate with the swimming pool stampede were censured and ganged up on.

Furthermore, the power players controlling the Board gullibly believed all the carnival barking from an “expert” corporate hustler. They actually swallowed all the hyperbolic bunk about a long-range facilities plan—“already half paid for!”—that would “lay out what’s occurring in the district for years into the future. (A plan) that will right-size the district’s square footage to what is needed for planned enrollment (and) help those who maintain facilities use district resources wisely.”

Further still, they hired someone who’d gotten a 2% favorable leadership rating from the public in his previous job, someone who’d received a 66% vote of no-confidence from the teachers’ union, someone the Board of Education of another bitterly divided town was considering paying off, just to get rid of. They gave this serial consolidator carte blanche power to storm in here, run up a bill of half a billion dollars based on one mediocre demographics study, and storm out again.

Hup – two – three – mulch. Hup – two – three – mulch.

The Trib reports that the Duluth School Board is giving playground mulch replacement new life and maybe a little quicker and cheaper:

The board was unanimous in its decision to rebid the playground project and change it to leave playground equipment in place, using cheaper safety measures to ensure kids aren’t hurt by that change. It is hoped that would save $300,000. District officials said the goal would be to have all 10 playgrounds finished by Oct. 1.

More borrowing for 709?

Or as the Trib’s banner headline read this morning. School projects could lead to debt.”

It is debatable whether the rubber tire mulch is a toxic threat and there were other locations to teach Woodland Hills students than Rockridge elementary School. That said, time, inaction and the June deadline for making budgetary decisions means the Board will likely pursue both projects.

I will cavil a bit at one obvious point about the headline. While certainly true, all budgets, whether that of a family; a business; or a non profit like a church; or the school District, is constantly weighting budgetary priorities. Did a neighbor kid without proper insurance back his or her car into your garage? Unless you are sitting on a big pile of cash you will have to do some budgetary juggling. And District 709 no longer has a ten percent reserve, the protection of which, consumed my first eight years on the School Board.

We will pay to remove the rubber mulch although quite possibly for half the cost trumpeted by the Trib thanks to Cory Kirsling and other PTSA parents. We will fix up Rockridge. Both will be paid for by local taxpayers. My concern is that it not come out of taxes designated for the classroom but that it come out of taxes destined for capital projects (for buildings).

Only $600,000 of the anticipated $3.6 million expense could be siphoned out of our General fund for the classroom. (Too much for my taste) The rest would or could come from taxes already levied. But we have ongoing capital needs for maintenance which would lose out if we robbed money already set aside for it in order to replace our mulch and re-purpose Rockridge.

Budgets are not static and always undergo change through any given year. It’s just that the District has precious little give these days as our priorities change. I am used to walking on thin ice. I just don’t expect to find any money I should break through it – just ice-cold water.

…………………………WeltyforSchoolBoard.com

Where the Red Plan demographers drew the line…

…that supposedly divided our school population into two equal halves. (this was sent to me by Art Johnston today as he reviews our current proposal to hire more demographers to help us plan possible new school boundaries)

I learned something about the Dixon years that helps explain today’s vast inequity between Denfeld and East.

I’ve groused for years about the financial pretzel twisting that the Dixon’s administration pulled off to finance the Red Plan and keep people happy at the same time eg. spending down the reserve, balloon payments on bond costs, raising taxes surreptitiously after making impossible promises, ignoring public referenda, laying off teachers and lying among other crimes that slip my mind. There was yet another action I’d not been aware of.

Dixon broke the law by handing out Minnesota compensatory education funds to eastern schools that should not have been given them.

At the time Minnesota required that 65% of comp ed funds to go to the schools based on the free and reduced lunches they served. The district was only allowed to spend 35% of the millions of Comp ed dollars throughout the District including eastern schools. But under Dixon’s division of the spoils only 35% of Comp ed Funds followed the free and reduced lunch kids into their schools not the 65% state law mandated. Eastern schools got to share an undeserved Comp ed bonanza.

Today we are abiding by the law’s requirements which have been altered from the Dixon days. The State now only requires that 50% of Comp Ed funds follow poor kids into their schools and we meet that rule. I presume that the GOP legislators who are big fans of “local control” and not fans of Comp Ed are responsible for the change.

…………………………WeltyforSchoolBoard.com

Denfeld Equity Questionaire

Yesterday my blog was down for much of the day. I presume this was the result of the worldwide hack. You can see it play out on this map over the day. I had no way to post and this one comes belatedly.

I had been sent this questionaire from the Denfeld Equity group and was reminded yesterday that I had not yet replied to it:

On April 18th, we provided a summary of our work outlining areas of inequity and specific recommendations for addressing them in the short term and longer term. We trust you have had plenty of time to consider them and now ask for your initial response.

We heard the administration’s desire to calculate the fiscal impacts of each of the recommendations before discussing the inequities. This approach, however, would sidestep the essential discussion of what is currently just vs unjust / acceptable vs unacceptable. Leadership requires that you articulate not merely what we can afford, but also what we must be committed to addressing.

The community engaged in these issues is eager to hear from you. We ask for your responses to the following questions by Thursday May 11th. Responding to our committee will allow us to share those replies with the larger community. Your response(s) will save you having to hear from and respond to each person individually.

1. How important is it that ISD709 do things for the 2017-18 school year that are not already being done to improve equity within the District?

2. Which examples of inequities and unmet needs are, for you, the most pressing? (this is not dependent on the cost of addressing them or inclusion on the list we generated, simply the most pressing inequities/needs)

3. Considering the four priority issues (not strategies) put forth by our group, which, if any, do you support addressing differently in some form in time for the 2017-18 school year?

Thank you for your response. We look forward to working with you to creatively consider how to address the pressing equity needs within the District.

Here was my belated reply: Continue reading