Category Archives: Duluth Schools

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

The Quality Steering Committee

I finally steeled my courage and attended, uninvited, the Quality Steering Committee. Chair Seliga-Punyko forbade me to attend when I asked out of courtesy if I could attend, although not appointed. I had enough other things going on so I decided to avoid that fight. More recently Alanna Oswald had gotten a similar no go.

I don’t know what the fuss was all about. I was greeted cordially and learned that it is a rehash of the topics dealt with in the School Board’s standing committees. About a third of the attendees are Union board members, a third are principals and the last third is other administrators. The meetings have freer give and take than the committee meetings and no one drones on.

When I left I thanked everybody and said that I wished I had invited myself to the meeting years earlier.

The DNT’s very reasonable editorial on mulch…

that I will not abide by. It begins:

Now that estimates have come back at more than triple the originally talked-about cost, can the Duluth School Board please do right by taxpayers and take a step back on replacing rubber mulch on school playgrounds — at least until the science is there to tell us if the stuff is even a problem?

I may vote to put the mulch plan up for rebidding. Or, I may consider another parent driven plan that promises to be closer to the original estimated price and that might mean a one-year installation of all ten playgrounds.

So, its too early to follow the Tribune’s advice. And even if all we can do is accept one of the current bids I won’t rule out accepting it. That is for a couple reasons. First, the money will not come out of classroom money (General Fund). Second, This is an issue that due to the perception of stonewalling was greatly heightened parental unhappiness, Third, Its hard to ignore the question posed to me by a chemist “What if years from now you learn it was toxic and you let kids play on it for several years?”

I’m still working on a campaign website

If, after today’s many ridiculous posts which began here, you would like to see me put my long experience, keen insights and cool demeanor to good use you could make an online contribution to my campaign.

I’m afraid to rent a PO Box this year for fear of letter bombs. Keep your donation under $100.00 and nobody has to be any the wiser. That’s state law!

Welty for School Board donation page.

Meanwhile we are going to take Rockridge off the market…

… and spend $3 plus million to fix it for Woodland Hills which has just sold its white elephant Cobb Elementary to Many Rivers.

Do not get me wrong. I can’t blame Many Rivers. I can’t blame Woodland hills…….for our school board’s foolishness.

I’m pleased for Woodland Hills which our family has a long experience with. My wife Claudia Welty served on its Board of Directors for ten years finishing as the Chair of the Board. She served with Bill Westholm among others.

This is one of Minnesota’s preeminent schools for court adjudicated young people who have so many strikes against them that WH is often their last chance. I’ve teared up at the stories of its students at the annual Board of Directors dinners. ISD 709 provides the teachers for these students and they are paid for by whatever school district they came from. Its like open enrollment.

However, Woodland Hills’s upside is a downside for 709. Instead of selling Rockridge we are now going to spend millions to make an elementary school usable for high school aged children. We will pay more for transportation and will take over maintenance costs as well. Furthermore, the financial tables have been turned on us for rent/lease costs.

We haven’t decided whether to pay for Rockridge’s fix up from left over Red Plan monies or bonding or partly from our own general funds (classroom money). Until recently we were paying WH $150,000 annually to rent space in Cobb for our teachers to teach. Cobb’s growing decrepitude was about to force WH to double the rent to $300,000 annually. Maintenance costs were soaring.

So, if we were to bond for the Rockridge costs (to save classroom dollars) paying back the bonds will cost us over $400,000 annually. That’s a hundred grand more than if we had simply paid WH more to continue renting Cobb. Meanwhile we lose a sale……two sales actually. We lost the Nettleton sale and we lost the Rockridge sale.

Instead of attending the next MSBA School Boards Association Conference it might be cheaper for our school board to attend this one:

Sorry Rosie!

“I just post rumors”

The Trib also covered the most recent offer to buy Nettleton to fall through.

This was something I posted a week ago, possibly to the annoyance of some board members who wanted us to adhere to the policy forbidding the District from selling empty schools to “competitors.” I noted in that post that an even larger offer had been made by the Many Rivers Montessori for Nettleton than the unreliable developers who left us holding a costly bag yet again. Would that be you Rosie?

Alanna Oswald had asked me how it was I knew that it was Many Rivers negotiating for Woodland Hills Cobb school (after having given up on our school board). Today she sent me the story on Many Rives purchase with the comment, “I guess you were right.”

I wrote back, “I just post rumors. I can’t help it if some of them turn out to be true.”

So, because of our fear of a competition from a pre-school we have lost out on a better offer for Nettleton while continuing to be stuck with an annual cost of about $35,000 to heat the building and protect it from window breaking vandals.

I apologized to two gentlemen at yesterday’s school board meeting

The issue of mulch consumed a third of our four-hour marathon Business Committee meeting yesterday. I had tried to prepare my “eight loyal readers” by posting two text messages from a fellow I greatly admire who has led the charge to have the crumb rubber mulch replaced, Cory Kirsling. Those posts were “I won’t wait three years” Parts Three and Two.

I won’t rehash the whole meeting here but there are two stories in the Trib about it. The Mulch story puts the discussion in perspective. It’s replacement will cost more and take longer than the Board was led to believe surprise, surprise. Luke Sydow, of SAS has been attempting to find contractors who will do the work but none was willing to offer a bid to do it in a single year. That more than anything set the Board’s teeth on edge because its not a decision which will fly with parents. As the story indicates I would prefer to have our parents help us put together a consortium of local contractors using volunteer labor to do the job over the summer.

Mr. Sydow, had read my blog and took exception to some of the comments that had been made by Mr. Kirsling. Although, it took about twenty minutes for me to be recognized to offer it, I did finally get a chance to apologize to Mr. Sydow. But I also apologized to Mr. Kirsling. I had posted Mr. Kirsling’s comments without his permission. Had he spoken on the record he would have been more politic. Mr. Sydow was very gracious under the circumstances and we shook hands and I repeated my apology as he left the meeting. In a moment I will go back and append NOTES OF APOLOGY to the offending post.

During a three minute break afterwards Member Rosie Loeffler-Kemp stopped as she passed me and scolded me about offering more apologies for other inaccuracies in my blog. Then she zipped on and was halfway across the Board room before I could finish saying I would be happy to correct any other mistakes if she would only point them out to me.

PS: I just took a call from a local contractor who asked me incredulously if the School District had never heard of a “vacume truck.” He explained that they have them for the railroads to suck up taconite pellets that fall off the trains. He told me they could suck the mulch out of a couple playgrounds in no time. I told him that Cory Kirsling had been telling us this for several months. The contractor was gobsmacked that we were talking about a million dollar plus deal. He thought we could get all the playgrounds filled with wood chips for a hundred grand but he suggested simple earth would cost almost nothing. I had a short conversation with him about “attenuation” to explain why a dirt surface wouldn’t fly.

Whew! National Teacher’s Day

Why do I lead the title of this post “Whew”? Because in a school board member’s blog National Teacher’s Day should not go unremarked on and for this school board member, seeing today’s Google’s animation was just one more of a half dozen things for me to remark upon. Its not quite the straw that will break my back but I feel its weight.

If it was national school board day it would be more like that Woody Allen snippet from his spoof on Tolstoy Love and Death:

As a certified, if not certifiable, school board member I have license to use this clip in remembrance of that other wit, Mark Twain’s, toast to school boards.

BTW – I saw this movie when I was in college and I busted a gut with this gag. Until I just googled it I hadn’t seen it since. It still a good gut buster.

My daughter, a teacher, who was just awarded her Masters degree in education a couple days ago, shared this thoughtful appraisal of the “superteacher” on Facebook.

Word has it that one of the candidates for the school board this fall comes from the ranks of teaching. I hope this teacher doesn’t find themselves falling from a pedestal and into a Woody Allen spoof come January. And today’s Trib was full of stories about the Duluth School Board which hints of an idiot’s convention. I’ll add a couple of anecdotes while I’m at it starting with my apology.

I WON’T WAIT FOR THREE YEARS! – PART 3

NOTE: AT THE MEETING FOLLOWING THIS POST I APOLOGIZED TO THE WRITER OF THE TEXT MESSAGE QUOTED HERE AND TO THE REPRESENTATIVE OF SAS WHO TOOK UMBRAGE TO COMPLAINTS ABOUT HIS COMPANY’S METHODOLOGY. I EXPLAINED TO BOTH MEN THAT I HAD NOT ASKED PERMISSION TO USE THE MESSAGE AND THAT I WAS CERTAIN THAT MR. KIRSLING’S PRIVATE MESSAGE TO ME WOULD HAVE BEEN MORE POLITIC HAD HE KNOWN HE WOULD BE QUOTED. I ALSO EXPLAINED THAT IT WAS UNDERSTANDABLE THAT PARENTS WHO HAD BROUGHT THIS ISSUE TO THE SCHOOL BOARD’S ATTENTION TWO YEARS AGO WOULD BE UNDERSTANDABLY DISTRESSED AT THE CURRENT ROADBLOCK SINCE THEY FELT THAT THEIR CHILDREN’S HEALTH WAS THREATENED.

It is now May. There are only two ways to make the possibly toxic mulch safe before the next school year:

1. We allow the Duluth community to do it for a very modest amount. or

2. We promise the moon to any contractors willing to meet our specs in one year’s time. They have all passed on $1.2 million. Maybe we can shake someone out for $2 million. or

3. We don’t let the children play on the playgrounds next year.

I lauded Cory Kirsling in the second of these posts. By the way he plans to get Minnesota’s playground safety inspector’s license in the next few weeks.

Before I share Cory’s take on the terrible predicament we are currently in you should know how fussy the Red Plan contractors were in fixing up one Duluth school playground. At Lakewood Elementary (with a relatively new playground) they simply removed the wood mulch and replaced it with rubber. That’s pretty much what I would let parents do to all our playgrounds now. Take out the rubber. Put in wood chips.

Now here’s Cory’s analysis:

This is the problem Harry….

The consultants gave a bid for what they were asked for. They were asked to give a bid based on what was asked of them.
Which was: how much to replace the mulch, removing the equipment to make sure that we had correct depth around the equipment, for fall heights or where the mulch meets the equipment for steps, or the slide bottoms (which just today I showed members of our group is ridiculous, because none of the playgrounds have a certain depth now, and is completely random everywhere)

We didn’t ask them to come up alternatives. Like pads on top of concrete bases, or raising curbing to meet new mulch requirements.
Or even inventive ways to remove the tire mulch like a vac truck, etc.

Also the board requested that a playground licensed installer do the work, because of warranty issues. Did anyone contact the playground manufacturer to see if we could just have a licensed representative on hand to direct the work? Or take in account that several playgrounds have older equipment that has no warranty. The consultants based all pricing on one playground schematic. That would be Lester Park, and off square footage. Which again includes sidewalks and green spaces. The administration or board didn’t ask them to do a site by site survey. So the consultants are basing all pricing off what was given them. Not what they went out and explored themselves.

I did explain all this before the consultants were hired.

Why nobody just asked the original playground installers to come in and give recommendations is beyond me. Skip the consultants and hire a engineer and ask that person to come up with the most cost effective method. Then have Dave Spooner [our Facilities chief] search out bids from companies.

Instead we had the consultants put bids out that nobody saw. Because they were posted on a wall at several locations. Not in the paper, or make a announcement on the news etc.

The district must overspend on so many projects it is mind boggling.

I won’t wait for three years! – Part 2

Remember the name Cory Kirsling. Cory has bird dogged the mulch issue for a year and with an adroitness and tenacity that makes slow-but-steady bureaucracy eat his dust. When the Lowell PTA hopped on board with mulch replacement Cory helped its parents put a natural, non-rubber crumb, mulch, play space next to the soot staining main playground. Our district administration did not stand in the way and no one worried about insuring the volunteers. I blogged about this project last year.

In reply to a text message from me, Cory outlined what he has lined up to replace our tire mulch. His text, sans the name of people and businesses who have agreed to help remove our mulch, ends this post. These folks may be able to do this for less than our consultant will be paid by 709 to come up with a $1.2 million proposal following the fussy requirements demanded by the bid we sent out.

Now I’m not suggesting that Cory’s plans to help parent volunteers will give us better playgrounds than the $1.2 million plan we will be considering over the next two weeks. I’m not even suggesting that the controversial tire mulch is a threat beyond than the annoying stains it causes. But in the face of the unknown dangers lurking in the chemistry of the mulch I know this. Cory Kirsling has developed most of a plan that would get rid of all the tire mulch over the summer while the $1.2 million plan will keep children in contact with the dubious rubber mulch for up to three years. As a frustrated parent told me this morning, the government seems to be telling us that the people who remove the rubber mulch will have to wear hazmat suits to do the job. That’s OK I told her. We will simply order 6,000 child sized hazmat suits for our children to wear at recess for the next three years.

Here is what Cory just texted me based on the calls he made today looking for help to remove what might turn out to be a toxic substance poisoning our children:

I have contacted multiple people today.

1. ****** ********** of ***** construction. He has a vac truck.
He can remove all the tire mulch and do any drainage work that needs to be done with out moving a single piece of playground equipment.
He said he could do this at a fraction of the cost that has been proposed.

2. *** ***** Recycling will take all the tire mulch.

3. **** ********s will truck the tire mulch too Tri State. Again at a fraction of the cost.

4. ******s landscaping can provide all the EWF it will be yellow pine.
Resistant to mold.

5. We will use a seed spreader to spread the EWF .
The county uses these to spread hay on the side of roads.
We use all volunteers to spread it.

6. D****** believes we could do all the work this summer. It would take a couple of weeks.
He actually laughed at the consultants price.

I will have all the information by next week. But not in time for the meeting on Monday. We need to buy time.
Then we need to show the mismanagement and how little research this consultants did.
(They didn’t even go a look at each site, how can you give a accurate bid without doing that?)

Sent from my Verizon 4G LTE smartphone

A pleasant day ends with a nightmare

I got my grandson’s to school a little after eight and scurried home to prepare for a meeting with my fellow school board members and the Superintendent. BUT AT NO TIME WAS THERE A QUORUM WHICH VIOLATED THE MINNESOTA OPEN MEETING LAW!!!!!

This is something new that Supt. Gronseth ran with. He is meeting once a month with all the Board in a series of one hour meetings. He and Chair Kirby attend all of the three one-hour meetings. Two other Board members meet Chair Kirby and the Superintendent for a single hour. (That’s three board members. It takes four to make a quorum) Today at 8AM it was Art and Annie. (Art was in Florida so me missed his meeting and rescheduled a meeting next week with the Super) At 9 it was Alanna and Rosie. At 10 it was Nora and me. In my conversations with Alanna her group talked about different subjects than my group. Frankly, however suspicious this might strike folks had we done something like this three years ago we might have averted the Art Johnston catastrophe. There was almost no casual conversation between board members other than at tense and strained School Board meetings.

We as a board need to get to know one another. That is the surest way to avoid stupid and damaging presumptions which lead to paranoia.

After my meeting, during which I learned some interesting things not all of which were sunshine and roses, I was in a good mood. I went to the fitness center and swam a 1,000 yards. I set up a campaign banking account and then returned home to some interesting phone calls, one in particular.

One of the mulch mothers called to lobby me. She was grateful for my donation to the fund raiser (the snow sculpture) but wanted to hear me say she could count on me to vote for an immediate replacement in a single year of every school playground. I had a lovely conversation in which I jokingly refused to be pinned down no matter how firmly she tried to press my wings to the pinning board. She told me something that would later raise some questions for me and that paranoia which is so destructive.

One Board member has been telling all the parents that she supports a three-year replacement. I was surprised to hear this because this was my idea originally. I’ve since sort of shrugged it off as likely more expensive but I told the parent I needed to see the bids next week before making a 100 percent guarantee that I would move for a one year replacement in all our playgrounds.

Well, tonight Alanna went into our online Board book and discovered what the damages will be. Most of the parents were confident the costs would be in the neighborhood of $400,000 an easy peasey price to accept. Alanna told me that the bid came in at $1.2 million and that it will be three years before the last playground is fixed. Our consultant on this charged us $100,000 for this unhappy result.

I will be scrambling for some other solution. Perhaps we could have our parents remove the mulch themselves and we could put in wood chips and then bid out the necessary engineering to make the playgrounds safe in the years ahead. We will have a lot of furious parents. Frankly, tonight I am at a loss.

This adds to my skepticism about consultants a worry that was aptly described in Loren Martel’s latest column in today’s reader.

Inside Baseball oops School Board – emails 3,4,5,6

Number 1

Harry,

Thanks for speaking with me on the referenced matter.

Through various sources, I achieved a greater understanding of the situation. It is known #709 is responsible for providing education to Woodland Hills residents. At some earlier time, #709 agreed to pay Woodland Hills rent of $150,000+/- per annum for use of Cobb school (owned by Woodland Hills) to do so. Because of the aging building’s increased maintenance costs, etc. (the building owner’s responsibility) Woodland Hills reportedly requested annual rent be increased to $300,000+/-. ISD #709 balked and Woodland Hills threatened (as part of the negotiations) to seek charter school linkage. This, of course, created great consternation as the district might lose its per pupil $$$ reimbursement and teachers would be shifted elsewhere or, perhaps cut back. So, #709 suggested the alternate location of Rockridge be provided with the district renovating the building to accommodate Woodland Hills student population needs. In addition to feasibility/engineering study cost, reports suggest renovation costs may approach $2.5 million dollars. Since the district is obligated to provide these students an education, Woodland Hills is not obligated to participate in such costs nor pay any type of compensation. (Will they?) Any question of student added transportation cost isn’t even in the equation.

It is of interest to note, the former Cobb school, being vacated by Woodland Hills students, is being purchased by a Montessori school who had previously offered to buy Rockridge. So ISD#709 policy to not sell to another educator, not only lost the opportunity to dispose of a “shuttered” building but will possibly require $2.5 million in district expenditures. At the same time, the districts attempt to thwart competition by refusing to sell to a perceived educational competitor simply moved that entity to another location from which it will expand its student population. Does this sound like a solid ISD#709 business decision? Sounds like a taxpayer loss and disservice to community expectations.

So, it appears from available information, to maintain Woodland Hills per student $$$ reimbursement (with no guarantee of W.H. not having future linkage with a charter school) and faculty positions, #709 is potentially expending $2.5 million to reactivate Rockridge school. Under current debt, where will these funds be coming from? Or is it simply a matter of again going back to the taxpayer. You suggested this topic had not been fully vetted at the board, therefore you were absent reasonably knowledge of the transaction. Perhaps this provides some insight for your further discovery.

Harry, your filing for reelection was noted in today’s paper. Quite frankly, the whole school reorganizational process is a mess. Several of the buildings could have been sold save for the board’s non compete policy. Several educational entities are planning and will soon establish their own buildings. ISD#709 can never, through refusal to sell school buildings, limit educational expansion within the community. The diocese is even reorganizing to accommodate educational expansion. It does appear, however, the expectation of being able to continually tap the taxpayer prevails. I hope you can bring some reasonable discussion on these issues to the campaign. Positive changes would even be better.

Number 2, My 1st reply: Continue reading

Inside Baseball oops School Board – email 2

like Duluth the Minneapolis schools has decided to replace its rubber tire mulch. Cory Kirsling who has been lobbying the State Legislature with other ISD 709 parents to get rid of rubber tire mulch on State playgrounds forwarded this email to Duluth School Board members:

Hello board members
I’m sharing this email I just received, and want to thank you for your commitment.

Sincerely, Cory Kirsling

———- Forwarded message ———-
From: Dianna Kennedy
Date: Apr 28, 2017 3:45 PM
Subject: MPS will replace the tire mulch!!!!
To: A WHOLE BUNCH OF PEOPLE INCLUDING THE DULUTH SCHOOL BOARD

It’s official!!!

The Minneapolis Public Schools have included $3.3 million dollars in this year’s capitol budget to replace the tire mulch in all 47 playgrounds!!!! Thanks to the commitment of Director Nelson Inz and Superintendent Ed, the project is fully funded and work will begin soon.

What happened last night:

At last night’s Finance Committee meeting the new COO Karen DeVet and Superintendent Graff made a special point to announce that the project will be fully funded in the FY18 capitol budget. They are EXCITED about it and call it an early, positive step toward their larger overall Wellness goals. Of course, our champion Director Nelson Inz was there, but it was the chair of the committee, Director Jenny Arneson, who gave us our moment. She insisted on giving Graff and DeVet a few minutes to present the news despite the fact that the meeting was running very late. The committee then passed a motion to recommend all of the staff capitol budget recommendations to the whole board, making the recommendation to include playgrounds in the captiol budget official.

The big discussion last night was centered on the general budget (called Fund 1)—which is facing a very difficult deficit. You’ve probably been hearing about layoffs and difficult meetings. It seems that everyone is happy to have the capitol budget (called Fund 6) be dispute-free, as there is ample money in that fund to cover the projects they want and it cannot be used for the general budget.

After the meeting, I also learned that Superintendent Graff is planning a resolution for the May 9th school board meeting, in conjunction with the 1st reading of the budget to the whole board. The school staff and the school board are looking at this project as a positive action that they can tout…because they all really need something positive right now since the general budget is so difficult.

So we did it! They did it! Minneapolis children will have healthy playgrounds!