Category Archives: Duluth Schools

I will miss Loren Martell’s reporting on me

Loren is often a week late for his Reader Column because the Reader goes to print Tuesday night when we have our regular Board meeting and the day after our Business Committee meetings.

I won’t miss being lectured to by my erstwhile colleagues but it’s certainly been gratifying to read the discussions that Loren’s columns transcribe. I hope he does some reporting on last night’s final meeting. This story about our red ink, which seems only to be online, has this brief interchange between Annie Harala and your’s truly:

The reserve, which was $2,359,436 at the start of last year, tanked to nearly half a million dollars in the red. Besides pointing a finger at special education, the district is also blaming that depletion on a levy adjustment for an elementary reading curriculum and a big loss of money due to enrollment once again dropping lower than projected.

“This year,” member Welty said, questioning this last point, “using ADM figures, I came up with 60 fewer kids.” Multiplying that with “the $12,300 per kid, I calculated that at about $740,000,” which, he added, “doesn’t account for the entire $3 million deficiency in revenues.”
“Member Welty, I think you missed a section of our conversation,” the Superintendent retorted, referring to the fact that member Johnston had just asked a similar question. “That was what member Johnston just asked —” Business Chair Harala chimed in, “and then you re-asked.”
“I think that question was legitimate from Mr. Welty,” member Johnston countered. “Looking at the numbers: they don’t quite jive.”
At one point, as the meeting progressed, Harala snipped under her breath that some Board members “should put their listening ears on.”
Harala also ventured a query of her own: “I have a question, before any other Board members start asking questions again. It’s kind of a–it’s a four-part question in one, that–aaaaaaah —so I keep thinking about–you know, there are some–I’m just gonna ask them: so what can we control, with where we’re at? And what can we do about what we can control? What can’t we control with how this budget happened, and what can we do about that? I just–we need–what–this is not a good state for us to be in. And what’s the plan for moving forward? So I’d just — I’d like to hear from administration on that —”

Expressing what everyone else in the room was thinking, Mr. G. replied: “I’m not sure I followed your four-part question, but I think I know where you’re headed.”
Over the past four years, whenever our current Chair of the Business Committee has asked a finance-related question, I’ve found myself fumbling with my listening ears, wondering how in the hell I can bring myself some relief by taking them OFF.

Squeezing some blood (thoughts on education) out of a turnip.

I began deleting old email messages on my District website a few moments ago. One gives me a link to clear out all of my district information on Google without disrupting non District info I had on a separate Google account previously. Having finished my holiday decorating…..including a second “fake” Christmas Tree in the basement with grandchildren produced gingerbread cookies I think its time to wrap up my District connections including turning in that tardy campaign finance form my Board policy book and my District ID’s and parking passes. I just discovered another eight inches worth of old Board books I’d put on some shelving to toss out so I’m really freeing up space. I have three or four bins of paperwork to look through some day and clean out as well.

I left my eight loyal readers hanging a couple days ago with assurances that there were subjects school district I intended to address related to All Day Kindergarten and more thoughts on Charter Schools. Promises, Promises. I’ll turn them into bullet points: Continue reading

Fighting my Blog freeze

I began writing the second fuzzy post on Kindergarten but stopped half way through. I’ll finish it and unlike its predecessor I may even proof read it. Why did I stop? Well, as I’ve confessed before my enthusiasm for writing about the Duluth Schools is significantly blunted at the moment what with Christmas, learning French and preparing to write a book and all. And did I mention I put five hours in starting a snow sculpture yesterday. I have even backtracked on a promise to the Business Office to turn in my post election finance report.

But today Jana Hollingsworth managed to put some special ed cost numbers in the Trib that our District has been unable to scrounge up what with its penchant for picking fights with Edison. I’d like to put that in perspective here and now but I won’t. I have to try to finish a snow sculpture before a noonish Christmas Concert for my grandsons. That’s become another priority over my receding compulsion to write about everything ISD 709.

Its kind of too bad that someone like me has been pushed off the 709 School Board. I am a genuine see-both-sides-of-the-story kind of politician. I want what’s best and fair for both our public school systems in Duluth even though I was elected to serve the larger 709 schools. Now the Superintendent has reinforced his anti-Edison majority which will not bode well for passage of future operational levies. (Why should Edison families vote for 709 operational levies when they feel under assault?)

Edison is quite right to claim that its schools are being scapegoated in the current 709 financial shortfall. But 709 has a legitimate beef. Edison spends twice as much on its special ed students as 709 does and then puts 709 in the position of paying for their more generous special ed spending. That creates a bidding war that 709 can never win with parents determined to get the best education for their special needs children.

But for local taxpayers Edison is something of a godsend. Other than the cross subsidy for special ed almost all of Edison’s financing comes from State taxpayers. To keep the numbers grossly simplified lets say each public school child (not counting special ed kids) costs $10,000 a year to teach. To keep things just as simple lets say that Edison has 1,000 students and ISD 709 has 9,000 for a total of 10,000 students. (In reality Edison has more and 709 less) This would mean that Edison gets $10 million for its kids and ISD 709 $90 million or a total of $100 million.

Normally 709 taxpayers would cover about 20% of the costs of local public school kids while the state would cover about 75% of those costs. Twenty percent of 10,000 students would cost local taxpayers $20 million each year or $2 million for every thousand students. Ah, but the state pays the full freight (not counting the cross subsidy) for Edison’s thousand students. Local taxpayers thus get a $2 million savings. Even when you subtract out the cross subsidy local taxpayers are getting a nice subsidy courtesy of state taxpayers.

That doesn’t mean that 709 doesn’t feel the burn as parents pull their children out of 709 school for Edison’s special education which then bills 709 for its more generous spending. Yes, yes, yes. The state law only lets Edison charge 90% of its special ed costs to 709 but considering they are spending double on each special ed student that’s a very modest break.

I’ll keep things grossly oversimplified again. Assuming that 20% of Edison’s students are special ed students (200 kids) and cost double what 709 spends. And assuming that the costs are $20,000 for Edison SPED students and $10,000 for 709 kids. And then, completely forgetting the 10% reimbursement discount. Edison could demand $4 million from 709 or two million more than 709 would pay to educate Edison’s SPED students if they were all in 709 schools.

The actual numbers can be found in today’s Trib story. To me they strongly suggest that some compromise ought to be sought in state statute. They also suggest another reason for the 709 schools to be resistant to the sale of Central to Edison. Edison would be able to charge special ed costs to 709 for 9th through 12th grade students that currently attend 709. That would be a special ed enrollment jump of about 25% for Edison meaning more costs charged to 709.

It took the News Tribune to ferret out this information and so local 709 junkies can be sorry to see Jana Hollingsworth leave the education beat. There is no trust or cooperation between Edison and 709. The bridge I might have formed has been severed by the voters and that is a loss. My daughter was an Edison SPED teacher for the last couple of years until she left for another Independent School District and, through her eyes, I had an inkling of that took place in Edison. At double the spending of 709 they offer wonderful special ed services but even they have their challenges.

I’ll add one other marvelously oversimplified wrinkle to this story. At present Minnesota taxpayers are able to deduct all of their state and local taxes from their federal tax returns. The Congressional Republicans and President Trump are diminishing that deduction with the soon-to-be approved new tax changes. They don’t want the penurious (cheap) super Republican southern states to look so bad by comparison with Blue states in their public ed spending. I called that the “Deep Southification” of America in a recent post. Its better that northerners are penalized for having better schools. My hero, Lincoln, must be rolling in his Springfield grave over that.

If Minnesotan’s tire of funding the cost of Special Education because they can no longer deduct those costs from their Federal taxes it could be curtains for lots of children. Its too bad that Republicans only care about children when they are in utero instead of after they are born.

Two fuzzies, a referendum and a gift horse (2F,R,Horse) – A prologue

NOTE: I ONLY TYPED THIS UP TO CLEAR MY MIND SO AS TO GET BACK TO SLEEP. THESE 1485 WORDS SERVE AS BOTH THE PROLOGUE AND FUZZY NUMBER 1 (SPECIAL EDUCATION) I HAVE NO PATIENCE TO EDIT IT. ITS MY SLEEPING PILL AND I DO NOT PROOF READ SLEEPING PILLS. I’M GOING TO BED AND MAY OR MAY NOT ADD TO THIS ONE MORE FUZZY POST (ABOUT KINDERGARTEN), A POST ON THE NEXT REFERENDUM AND ONE ABOUT A GIFT HORSE.

My last post ended as though I was washing my hands of the Duluth Schools thusly: “Not my problem. My last meeting is Tuesday night. I lost. I’m free.”

Then my one remaining success on the Duluth School Board, Alanna Oswald, sent me an email which kindly punctured my balloon. She pointed out that a special Thursday meeting has been added to our schedule to “fix” our belatedly announced budget shortfall of two million plus bucks. We, the school board, have to do something because if we don’t the shortfall is enough to put us into Statutory Operating Debt otherwise known as Financial Hell. Its where the frog is pithed (made brain dead) just before a couple of high school freshman start carving it up for a lesson in anatomy. So, I will be resurrected zombie-like and made to slap some band aids on our budget before a new posse is sworn in to save the day after.

[I say Alanna is my only remaining success because Art Johnston, (who I helped “tame” the way one might attempt to turn a bobcat into a house cat) and I have both been forcibly retired by the voters. I worked my tuchus off to elect Alanna two years ago and she is by far the only person on the school board who understands our school’s workings as well as our top administrators. I fear the rest of the board will ignore her in deference to the Superintendent.]

So……there is no washing my hands of the District just yet…..especially since I’m keeping my campaign checking account open until the 2019 election just in case. And that means I woke up at 2AM with the Duluth Schools on my fevered brain…..sacre bleu. (I told you I’ve been studying French.)

First fuzzy (and not a warm one) Special Education funding: Continue reading

Doomsayer ignored

I’ve had a month to recover from my most recent election defeat. I was quick to cast a gimlet eye on the satisfied reaction of the News Trib’s editors who viewed my warnings as over the top doomsday talk rather than as a necessary warning.

Well, I can be an I-told-you-so as well as a prophet so I’ll belatedly link to yesterday’s banner headline in the Trib “Duluth school cuts loom.” We have lost a three million dollar reserve which we painfully cobbled together in my four years on the School Board. We have a couple day’s reserve of one tenth of a million dollars. Statutory Operating Debt (SOD) and State intervention is just around the corner.

As for the three fresh new faces who are going to cure our ills with positivity…….only one of them, Josh Gorham, has made a habit of attending school board meetings both before and since his election.

Minnesota School Boards in Concert

I just snapped this picture of all my monthly school board books (meeting agendas and accompanying documents) from 2014 through 2017. As you can see I ran out of room in my file cabinet after two years and piled the last two year’s worth on top of my file cabinet. I had twice as many, eight years worth, after I retired from the Board in 2004.

When I retired then I tore out all the minutes of each meeting and tossed the rest. Two file drawers were freed up. This time I’ll only get one empty drawer but that space is badly needed as I begin to focus on researching and writing some books. Besides, if I wanted to look through these old books they are located (for the time being) in the Business office. That could change. Our Administration is hellbent to go paperless and digitize all of the District’s docs. There is a move to give all Board members “Chrome books,” an electronic tablet, starting after the new school board is seated to put an end to paper. I won’t miss the new regime. I’m a happy forest eater.

Although I don’t often go back through old board books I did this morning because I’m not leaving the Board a happy camper. I attended a state School Board meeting on Saturday to decide what issues the MSBA (Minn School Board Assn) will lobby the legislature for. The meetings are the “Delegate Assembly” and I was one of the duly elected delegates from District 27 composed of a dozen districts near Duluth. My seatmate on the Board, Rosie Loeffler-Kemp, was also elected.

The MSBA Legislative Assembly began seventy years ago to decide on a platform to push in the legislature. I attended them regularly for the first eight years I was on the School Board. Resolutions are traditionally brought to to the Assembly by individual school boards but occasionally they are brought by board members with an axe to grind without their Board’s support. Such was the case three years ago when Art Johnston and I introduced a resolution to kill the state law that lets a school board expel a board member the majority doesn’t like. We didn’t win that argument.

For most of the last twenty years our School Board (other than me) have paid scant attention to the Delegate Assembly. So, you can imagine my surprise to find that four of the 16 proposals considered by the Delegate Assembly came from the Duluth School Board. Of these four the MSBA leadership opposed three of them including one that seemed intent on causing a civil war between Independent School District’s and Minnesota’s 150 or so Charter Schools.

BE IT RESOLVED, THAT MSBA URGES THE LEGISLATURE TO REMOVE THE OBLIGATION OF LOCAL DISTRICTS TO COVER SPECIAL EDUCATION FUNDING GAPS FOR CHARTER SCHOOLS.

Rosie Loeffler-Kemp was hot for this resolution but it died for lack of a second. Rosie did speak up at the microphone for one of the Duluth resolutions which asked that the fee to file for the school board be raised from 2 dollars to $20. To my delight, several school board members argued eloquently that such a change seemed anti-democratic after Rosie argued that the proposal would keep riffraff from filing for public office and thus making school board elections unpleasant. Rosie likes to keep things simple. Its been rumored that she attended a recent elementary school PTA meeting and explained that in the future she expected our School Board meetings would only last an hour from now on. (no more three and four hour meetings). The rumor further suggested that Rosie was confident that the School Board would begin being more supportive of the school administration. This should be a comfort to our Superintendent who could barely contain his excitement the day following the School Board election.

Comp ed

I’ve been sent an email reminding me to return my school board member’s visitor pass and parking permit, sure signs of my lame duck status. I’m not completely finished. I just got to a Double Tree Motel in Minneapolis to participate in the MSBA Delegate Assembly tomorrow. That’s where school board reps will determine what the state school board association lobbies the legislature for.

I’ll share one last email sent to the Duluth School board with equal parts complaint and thank you:

November 30, 2017

School Board Members

To school board members Annie Harala, David Kirby and Rosie Loeffleer-Kemp again you express your preference to only supporting the needs of East High School students. Your vote does not surprise me, but you should be ashamed that you do not equally represent all of Duluth’s High School students. Parents and grandparents of students throughout Duluth are at a loss as to there your priority regarding students is. It is too obvious who you deem worthy of your concern. As a resident and tax payers I want all students equally represented throughout the Duluth school system .

The difference in attendance between the two high schools has been a major issue which you have not resolved. But [you] continue to use this funding to resolve problems at East’s because of its enrollment numbers. If you refuse to resolve or are unable to resolve the attendance issue please remove yourself from the position of a responsible school board member, we need members who want all students to have equal advantages and giving all schools equal footing can resolve most of our current issues and distrust.

All the concerns regarding changing the use of this funding seem to be based [on] one school, large class sizes, teachers affected, loss of counselors. These concerns are already losses for Denfeld students. Denfeld has class size increases but the loss of subject availability has been the worst for educational opportunities. Time to open your eyes and see the city as a whole unit not just who can be assisted the easiest. Denfeld is in crisis mode and you don’t seem to care.

This funding has a purpose but is not used for that purpose. Denfeld students do not deserve only 80% of its allocation while East receives almost 400%, really, you feel good in knowing you have treated all students fairly. I see the scale of justice for all students very off balance. And to quote John Krumm on the issue from the Duluth News Tribune. The west side was “paying for part of our cake.”

I hope you do not believe your are pulling the wool over the eyes of residents of Duluth, for you are not. But you should be ashamed for not stopping the injustice of it all. Our students deserve better representation than you give them.

And to school board members Alanna Oswald, Art Johnson and Harry Welty thank you for trying to address the injustice you see going on with our current school board. And for school board member Nora Sandstad, it was too bad you could not of stayed and showed us what side of justice you were on.

Sincerely
Xxxxx
DuuthMN 55808

I replied:

Harry Welty
1:15 PM (5 minutes ago)

to xxxxxxx,

Please make your concerns known to the new school board members who will take office in January. They will be part of the votes in June which will decide the next budget and whether Compensatory Education funding is spent as the legislature intended it to be.

Harry

The Esko Girl was missing

There was one noteworthy absence from yesterday’s special School Board meeting to give the Western School Equity group a public hearing – the newly elected representative of the Denfeld area.

A short while ago I spent an evening in the Duluth Public Library looking through the annuals of Duluth’s high schools to get a better picture of the many connections between current poobahs in the Duluth Schools. I looked through a great many Denfeld books trying to figure out which class Jill Lofald had been a member of. When I failed to find any evidence of her I was puzzled. During every public forum I was at Jill made it sound like she was Denfeld born and bred not just a long time Denfeld teacher. When I asked a friend about this they pointed out that Jill graduated from Esko’s schools. I guess I should have figured that out in advance because her older sister was a member of the Esko school board.

The meeting itself turned out to be a much bigger deal than I had anticipated. Alanna Oswald, Art Johnston and I had originally wanted no more than to let the equity group sit with us at a school board committee meeting to talk with us. When our Administration and its majority on the school board did its best to thwart this discussion the three of us once again made use of the State statute allowing three board members to call a special meeting. It was the Central High School sale discussion all over again with a large audience of concerned citizens.

Board member elect Josh Gorham was at the meeting. He’s been a regular at our meetings for a couple months now. I even saw Sally Trnka briefly when she hugged her old rival Dana Krivogorsky who had been watching the meeting on youtube before she arrived to watch the meeting in person for the last hour and a half.

There were a lot of Denfeldites at the meeting as well. At the beginning of the hour the three meeting callers had to plead with the majority to allow the equity folks get that chance to have an exchange of information and discussion as Chair Kirby seemed intent on limiting non-school board members limited to the three minutes they have at our regular public comment portion of school board meetings. We managed to soften up the opposition to this so that Kevin Skirwa-Brown and others managed to say just about everything they wanted to the School Board.

But the discussion included a couple of eastern parents who spoke in support of continuing to spend the western kid’s money to keep eastern class sizes small. They had been whipped up to attend by reelected member Rosie Loeffler-Kemp to counteract the lobbying by the western parents. Their appeals did not do them much credit and took on a very NIMBY tone even when they bent over backward to try and sound fair minded. Fortunately, one Eastern parent who described himself as a “cake” (East High cake eater) took the opposite approach expressing embarrassment that his kids got to have poor kid’s money spent on them. I thanked him after the meeting.

These comments brought two more Denfeld supporters out to stick up for the work of the equity folks. Dr. Mary Owens spoke eloquently about this being an issue of Justice. At the end of the meeting I told her that if she ever wanted to run for the school board I would be her campaign manager. Denfeld grad and teacher Tom Tusken also spoke forcefully and mentioned that anyone who thought there were small classes at Denfeld should sit in his class of 37 kids.

Jill Lofald’s neice Jana Hollingsworth was at one of her last school board meetings and wrote a fair news story about it for today’s Trib. Its one of her last because the Trib has concluded that her familial relationship with Jill will call her journalistic impartiality into question. Someone new will become the education reporter for the Trib and that’s too bad because it takes a reporter years to figure out the complicated story of our schools. When I served on the Board in my first incarnation near the end of the golden era of Newspapers the Trib had three education reporters. Its too bad that Ms. Lofald’s election will put the school district on the Trib’s back burner. I suspect the Superintendent and the majority of School Board members will breath a sigh of relief.

On Being Charlie

“That’s just Charlie being Charlie.” That was the rationalization Charlie Rose’s right-hand woman gave the young ladies who told her disturbing stories about their boss. She just chalked it up to …I don’t know, eccentricity I guess.

A cavalcade of clay feet have been revealed to be little more than heels in recent weeks. I, for one, appreciate the stink. It’s long overdue and there is nothing eccentric about this. From CK’s exhibitionistic Onanism to the barring of a District Attorney from his local shopping mall all of these stories have been “creepy.” As our soon-to-be President said on tape, “When you’re a star they let you do it,” adding, “You can do anything.”

I’ve put a lot of thought into the sexual proclivities of men since my best friend told me how he persuaded a neighbor kid to pimp his twelve-year old sister so that my buddy could have sex with her. We were high school freshmen. I would be five years older before my first such experience and it would be with an older woman where the power differential was more nearly equal. Continue reading

Our Little Thing – 2, Addendum

It is time for me to confess that Mary Rice, the attorney hired by the district to defame Art Johnston, was right to stress that I didn’t have perfect recall about what took place in 2004. Its because the accurate information was never entered into the record that I have just cast aspersions on those who did know what in fact had taken place.

I was probably wrong about the person I was sure had attempted to suborn a witness to give false testimony. The Duluth News Tribune made that clear a few weeks ago with information that was a surprise to me.

It now seems that, despite my imminent retirement, one school board member with good recall of what took place in 2004 will remain on the Duluth School Board.

Our little thing – 2

Last spring I learned that my daughter was applying for a position with the Duluth Schools. I quietly cringed but said nothing. There is more than a whiff of favoritism about our District which only seems to have intensified during the Keith Dixon years. I would hate to have my daughter suffer for my perceived crimes.

The thing I regret most over the past four years was my reluctance to visit schools early on. I stayed out of them because I had taken Art Johnston’s side in an almost unfathomable war and was worried that my comings and goings would be reported to higher-ups who would not forget the transgressors willing to talk with me. It’s often said that no good deed goes unpunished and associating with lepers is not popular.

Sometimes it was painfully obvious that the District’s employees felt the same. For instance, I made a date to speak with one principal but when I arrived at the office learned that she had decided to travel up the North Shore with her husband instead. She had called my land line to warn me but I rarely answer that phone anymore and missed the heads up.

In recent weeks something else has become painfully apparent to me. When I was defending Art Johnston back in 2014 one Board member had inside knowledge that could have supported a claim I made to the investigating attorney hired to flay Art Johnston alive. I gave evidence of an earlier attempt to give false testimony to the District by one of the chief witnesses against Board member Johnston. That employee’s former boss was on the Board with me and read the claim but never stepped in to support my testimony. He also helped the same employee exit her school gracefully after her colleagues learned of her actions. She later became an administrator and once again supplied misinformation, in an attempt to give the School Board grounds to remove Art Johnston.

Old friendships die hard in our District and it pays to be a favorite.

The night the attorney made her report to the School Board I ended up looking like a fool by attempting to act out what I guessed had taken place after the East High School graduation. My mistake may have given the Board more confidence to embark on the futile year-long fight to remove Art Johnston that would mar our reputation and waste $200,000.

For a long time I believed that Mike Miernicki had honestly described his interaction with Art Johnston following Art’s argument with the Superintendent. I no longer believe Mike was being honest. I know Mike willingly, if reluctantly, agreed to make racism one of the complaints against Art. They were the foul harvest of a spy network set up by the staff member who had attempted to subvert the 2004 investigation.

This is what I now suspect happened on that fateful night. Art Johnston found Mike Miernicki and expressed his outrage with the Superintendent for the harassment of his long-time partner. Shortly after this Mike was besieged by three irate female Board members who insisted that Art had assaulted the Superintendent. (The Superintendent himself denied any assault) In an attempt at gallantry Mike embellished his account of being accosted by Art explaining how he had been spun around. That charge forced his best friend, the former supervisor of the spy mistress, to either back Mike up or undermine Mike’s testimony. I believe friendship prevailed once again and recall how uncharacteristically passionate Principal Westholm was in defending his own honesty.

Of course, Mr. Miernicki suffered a few slings and arrows himself during the two years he fruitlessly attempted to kick Art off the Board and I’m sure he nursed his wounds carefully. He wrote two savage critiques of Art this election season. One came before the primary and the second arrived before the general election. And the false claims leveled against Art will not die in the public imagination.

During the campaign the spouse of one of the “positive” candidates posted on Facebook the claim that Art had assaulted Bill Gronseth. When the spouse was informed of her mistake she took the post down with a replacement explaining that she guessed she had gotten in trouble for posting it. She chose not to admit any mistake.

It is important to discredit such uninformed thinking and to make sure the heads of our new school board members stay free of fog. They will face enough of it for the next four years.

I’ve been lauding the book “Last Hope Island” a lot lately and I’m reminded of the story it tells of Czech President Edvard Benes. The British forced Benes to hand Czechoslovakia to Hitler at Munich. Fleeing to England afterwards Benes was ill used by the British government which blamed the Czechs for not defending themselves even though they agreed to let Hitler take it over. One British diplomat said of Benes’s treatment that it was “a tragic illustration of the dislike that men feel for those whom they have wronged.”

Et tu, Mike?

Our little thing – 1

A quick search on Wikipedia tells me that “little” is not originally part of the Sicilian Mafia’s term for itself, “our thing” or “Cosa Nostra.” I’m not sure where the “little” came from but since I’m talking about our public school hierarchy here rather than organized crime its seems more appropriate and less threatening to insert the qualifier “little.” We educate children. We don’t put people’s feet into cement before tossing them over a bridge into a river. Although, come to think of it, IV Foster might beg to differ.

This is a topic I’ve covered before. To commence this post I began by entering the term “parking pass” into my search engine which led me to a post I recalled composing a few years back in which I made this assertion:

I have felt for a long time that there is an unhealthy favoritism riddling the Duluth Schools which I believe is corrosive. I’m just not sure that my corrosive criticism will make things better. I’ll try to stick to simple criticism from now on.

And this led me to the post preceding it which I began by grimly describing how our closest relatives, chimpanzees, reacted to perceived unfairness. Its always a surprise to jump back and read my old posts. Continue reading

End of the Campaign odds’n ends

I’m not yet ready to start my new life free from the School Board. The final step will be to put all the campaign debris on the floor of my office away. That won’t take too long because I’ve already done it a couple of times earlier when it was a major task. Perhaps the biggest thing I’ve begun doing to pull myself away is to begin reading aloud a new book to Claudia. I’ve said before that Last Hope Island is great. I’m about half through it. There have been several stories in it with pithy commentary about human frailty that I couldn’t help but associate with the campaign and the Duluth School Board. Those associations are among about ten items I’ve jotted down on a pocket sized note pad that are begging me to become future posts.

My readers are slipping away. What had peaked at over 600 has been winnowed down to 377 undernourished daily visits. Undernourished because I’ve not posted regularly. I suspect I won’t be able to help myself commenting on the School District over the next two years despite my yearning to write a history book or two. I’ve even mentioned to the publisher of the Duluth Reader an interest in writing about the Board. I told him a column might be called the “Minority Report” but frankly, I’m too eclectic to want to limit myself to writing about the School Board. A better name might riff on my old column’s name Not Eudora Redux. The Reader has a lot more eyes than my blog and I’d like that. Continue reading

The 2017 election’s good news a post mortem and a caution or two

A week ago I wanted to begin a post by writing that my defeat for School Board was a small price to pay for the successes of the Democrats in many regional elections. I attribute my defeat mostly to President Trump and the outrage he has caused and continues to cause as President. I anticipated that I could have a very difficult time with the election after I participated in the woman’s march early in the year simply because I was a man. That proved not to be the case as Josh Gorham won handily enough so it was something else that drove the numbers. (One woman’s organization did pester me)

Angry Democrats just would not give up. Continue reading

Anticlimactic Moody Mulch meeting and a jab back at the editors of the Trib

I am beginning my posts today with a throw away post about yesterday’s Business Committee meeting. I post it because I’ve tried to provide my ISD 709 wonks with ongoing information about the concerns of the District and mulch and District finances have both been part of that. But for me the first half of this post is strictly a chore. In eight weeks I’ll be free from an almost oppressive sense of obligation to keep readers informed.

So, here’s today’s News Trib story from soon to depart education reporter Jana Hollingsworth. (She won’t be allowed to report on ISD 709 while her Aunt sits on the Board) The headline, which Jana and her predecessors have always stressed are not the reporter’s to write, trumpets reduced costs for the mulch. In short, a simplified plan made for a $60,000 reduction in the million dollar project. This made it a little easier to swallow a $12,000 “change order “addition for the company overseeing the mulch replacement as they designed the simpler plan. Only Art Johnston objected and his qualms may be justified, however, for me this is not a battle I choose to continue.

The bigger deal was having our bond adviser explain to us how the Moody’s Investment Service downgrade of our financial status affected our borrowing for what is now to be called the Rockridge Academy. Steven Pumper said two things I found difficult to square. In response to my questioning about whether it was ultimately the state or the District taxpayers that were on the hook for bonds (or COP) repayments he explained that it fell on the state’s shoulders. He added that this meant that there was really no reason for our bonds to be downgraded forcing us to pay higher interest rates. However, he explained, Moody’s was simply giving bond buyers information that managed to raise our interest rates based on (and here I’ll insert my own words) the dimwittedness of ISD 709’s financing which has left us with virtually no reserve cushion. That last sentence almost deserves an exclamation point.

What makes this post worthwhile to me is a chance to point fingers back at the editors of the News Tribune who gratuitously gave Art Johnston and me a swift kick in the posterior the day after the election results were announced saying of us:

“Also Tuesday, voters picked a positive fresh start for the Duluth School Board, rejecting doomsday-trumpeting incumbents in favor of elected leaders who said they wouldn’t ignore the district’s very real challenges, including financial ones, but committed to working together toward solutions. It’s on the new board now to do just that. They can be held accountable, even if the task is thankless and won’t be easy.”

I consider myself an optimist not a doomsdayer. But optimism must be earned by realistically evaluating current situations. Our financially crippled Duluth Schools will continue to give lots of kids an education which will launch them into successful lives. But there will be fewer successful launches while the District lacks the adult contact time that many of our students need. That’s not a catastrophic tire blow out but it is a slow leak. Rather, I’ve always considered myself a “Cassandra.” She was an ancient Greek prophetess who predicted the future but was cursed by Apollo who made sure that no one would ever believe her prophecies.

FINGER POINT —> the Editors of the Trib who failed to heed my warnings are also flattering me by imitation by explaining opiningthat Duluth may not get permission from St. Paul to implement the sales taxes for street repair despite a whopping 76% yes vote in the recent election. As in my case I think the Editors are simply being prudent not doomsayers when they point out this glaring fact:

“It’s a good question, especially on the heels of a 31 percent water rate increase in Duluth, a 9 percent electric rate increase, revaluations of properties that are driving up property taxes by as much as 30 percent, and the coming unknown costs from Superior Street’s reconstruction and the Steam Plant’s conversion.

Like Duluth’s residents, businesses can only be asked to give so much. While fixing potholed streets is a basic city service and something voters Tuesday clearly declared as a do-it-now priority, workplace benefits are appropriately left to employer-employee negotiations. Government intervention here is government overreach. Calling on elected leaders to pick up the slack where union negotiators fail is inappropriate.”

A few weeks back I wrote a very modest column which I meant to keep the eyes of our next school board faced on the realities they will deal with so as not to find themselves mired in impossible promises to make the Duluth Schools the best schools in the nation. In that column I noted that twenty years ago local taxpayers put $14 million into our classrooms. Today we only put $2.5 million into them. That burden no longer rests on my shoulders and I’ll confess this is the first time in ten years that I’ve felt free from the responsibility of fixing things since I first predicted the District’s unhappy future.

Veterans Day 2017

Since the election I’ve woken from a couple of dreams about going door to door. In much the same way I keep thinking of new things to blog about the campaign I’ve just been through. This all comes at a time when I feel free of a great burden of public service and pulled to a larger burden of using the past to shine a light on the future. Think Book writing.

I still have about eight weeks to wrap up my final school board work. For instance, I’ll be meeting with the Superintendent at 8 AM this morning as part of his five-month-old initiative not to let unhappy school board members feel like they are out of his loop. Each month all of us meet separately with Mr. Gronseth and Chair Kirby in groups of three so as not to violate the state’s Open Meeting Law. Continue reading

Eternal Vigilance

I have had a night to sleep on the final words of my last post:

“I have no plans to comment on the Duluth Schools very much in the future. It’s time for me to write a book.

Sayonara.”

I am reconsidering this. The words that ring in my ear are these: “The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.” The last ten years of watching the Duluth School Board and its recent Superintendents have driven this point home to me. For instance:

I blogged a few days ago about the special meeting Alanna Oswald, Art Johnston and I called, under the provisions of Minnesota’s state statutes, about the expenditure of Compensatory Education funds in the western schools. We called it for November 15th at 5 O’Clock in the Board room. I took letters to be mailed to all of the school board members into the Superintendent for his executive secretary to mail to board members to make this official. The letters were not mailed out according to my request and according to the statutory provisions. The time was also changed to 4:00 from our designated time of 5:00. Par for the course.

I’ve mentioned to a very few people what I will now declare to the blog. I told Superintendent Gronseth that I knew we didn’t trust each other at a meeting a month or two ago. He doesn’t trust me because I blog. I don’t trust him because of stunts like this. By making it appear that the Administration has called the meeting and by not sending out the letters I took to his executive secretary it makes it seem as though the Superintendent will be in charge of our agenda. I don’t know that this is what he’s planning but it would be easier for him to endure our complaints should he decide to set the agenda for our meeting now that Art and I will not be returning the the School Board. That leaves Alanna Oswald, our fairly regular ally, at the mercy of the majority and in the same unenviable position that Art Johnston was in for the two years before I was elected – a lone voice of reason doomed to be ignored. That the Superintendent may be starting this with two months left of our tenure is unpalatable to me to say the least.

My plan is to begin writing a book having nothing to do with the School Board. Not campaigning every living hour will make this possible and still leave me time to report on the happenings of the Duluth School Board. I expect that Loren Martell will give up that ghost. He too has been operating on fumes for the past couple of years. But I will not leave Alanna Oswald to the mercies of a system that has been incredibly cruel and myopic to dissenters. I’ll be happy to pass on a minority report especially as I’m leaving two very good eyes on the Board as I depart it.

Time will tell whether the new Board with the machiavellian Rosie Loeffler-Kemp and Superintendent in charge will allow Alanna to be run over by its freight train. I like and trust David Kirby and Nora Sandstad and am convinced of Sally Trnka’s good intentions. About the others I have my doubts which I will share with far more candor than even my eight loyal readers have grown accustomed to.

As a friend who offered me condolences in a text said, this Board will have a very hard time overcoming the difficult problems my blog and my campaign have taken pains to enumerate. Ah yes, I allowed, but that doesn’t mean our new school board can’t make things a lot worse by making stupid decisions. Perhaps while I’m writing that book I’ve been pining to begin, I can keep the School Board on its toes and make sure it doesn’t pull an Art Johnston on Alanna.

Sayonara

I got a very sweet phone message from Sally Trnka commending me for my service and telling me how nice it was to get to know me through the campaign.

I left a message back and commented that her call was very nice and that under the traditional roles it should have been me as the defeated candidate making a call to her.

I told her she had a good attitude that I was sure would serve her well and wished her the best of luck serving Duluth.

I have no plans to comment on the Duluth Schools very much in the future. It’s time for me to write a book.

Sayonara.

Hillside Stories

Three months of walking Duluth will come to an end today. Looking at the city-wide map I’ve been marking in I’d guess that amounts to 40% of the city. By the time you count similar travels through 20 previous election campaigns there are very few corners of Duluth I haven’t seen.

Although I’m not knocking on many doors I have fascinating little chats with people every day while finding surprising connections. Yesterday was no exception. I began at the top of Lake Avenue passing out flyers in a spot I’d covered door-to-door 41 years ago when I first ran against Mike Jaros. Although the steps were covered with ice and snow my legs, thirteen years shy of becoming the legs of an eighty-year-old, did surprisingly well left foot be damned.

In one of the gems built since those ancient days with a spectacular view I paused take it all in. The homeowner saw me and invited in “to warm up.” He looked a little familiar. Like the other stories here today I’ll be vague so that few will be able to tell who he was but when he introduced himself I knew immediately what my connection with him was. Continue reading