Category Archives: Education

The Good Donald Trump

I had every intention of watching President Trump’s first address to a joint session of Congress last evening. Instead, I got Trumped by the School Board. We altered our February schedule so we could meet on the last Tuesday of February rather than the third Tuesday. And, as I’ve explained, our new more amicable Board pulled a Trump on me without warning. They rehired our oily, Machiavellian attorney, Kevin Rupp, whose practice has pioneered the removal of school board members who ask too many questions and bother their Superintendents.

So, I’m only catching up on Trump’s speech that today’s commentators are explaining was a traditional stick-to-the-teleprompter affair. (I gave a couple of those myself last night sans teleprompter.) But I haven’t changed my mind about our new President or the staff he has surrounded himself with – a staff that I think Attorney Rupp would find very agreeable.

An an old highschool acquaintance of mine and I recently “friended” each other on Facebook. Sue sent me a post this morning from the Guardian Newspaper that helps cement my contempt for our new “Common letcher and Chief.” Coincidentally, it involves an author whose book I plan to read at Lakewood Elementary next week. Its author is Australian, Mem Fox.

Last year when I read at Lakewood they asked me to read a book on forestry and suggested Dr. Seuss’s the Lorax. This year they are talking about recipes and asked if I had anything that might fit that topic for which I could bring a recipe for the students. I thought of Pavlova.

I love visiting book stores in other nations to see what local authors are writing for children. In England decades ago I discovered the charming book Five Minutes Peace. Four years ago in Australia I discovered Mem Fox among others.

My old classmate, Sue, sent me this disspiriting story about Mem’s latest trip to America and the moment she “loathed” America.

Thank you Mr. President. You have more than made up for the awful Nobel Peace Prize that those ditzy Norwegians gave President Barack Obama when he was beginning his administration.

To Err on the side of self flagelation is….

Loren Martel.

Loren has been outdoing himself lately. His columns have been churned out almost weekly and he is in the Duluth Reader yet again this week aiming a blow torch very narrowly at his favored whipping boy “The DFL-endorsed Board majority.” He has a little left over for our Superintendent’s wandering eye as well. More on this in the next post but I’d like to linger on the meat of his retraction in the first paragraph. Loren admits a mistake, not his first, but offered one of his most important corrections.

He recently explained that since the days of Dixon our taxpayers had suffered a 60% increase in their local school taxes. It turns out Loren was way off the mark. He corrected himself: “Our tax levy from the district has risen by a whopping 246% since the start of the Red Plan.” Yup. Yup. Yup.

I’ll add some additional details, one of which I learned today in a conversation with an MDE finance expert from that Era who watched with astonishment as the Duluth Schools proceeded with their exploding hot potato. I learned that a few years ago the District had the opportunity to raise money for capital costs to help pay off the Red Plan but chose instead to take the money out of the General Fund and thus from classrooms. The reason is understandable. Having already failed miserably in their promise not to raise taxes as a result of the Red Plan, the powers-that-be decided it was better to raid classroom money rather than further anger voters. For many years we took six million annually from the classroom for bond payoffs. Now its a little over three million stolen annually- and that’s not an unfair description.

I asked if any other school districts in the state had ever done such a thing. “Yes,” I was told. Minneapolis and St. Paul did it briefly. I asked if they took anything close to 5% out of their General Funds for bond payoff purposes. “No,” was the answer. And of course we both knew that Duluth will be doing this for ages. “Some of these bonds won’t be paid off for 35 years,” I was told. (Or was it 50 years?) This major outlay from the General Fund was made necessary by change orders, cost overruns, lying, grossly inflated charges even more excessive than those recently exposed at Prior Lake. What makes it worse is that the Red Plan Board members regularly denied that they were taking General Fund money to pay off the bonds on the Red Plan. No wonder they wanted to remove Art Johnston when he kept asking for the public data that confirmed how bone headed the Red Planners had been.

Loren quotes one of the applicants for the Superintendent job who the Board passed on in 2012. Stan Mack was a thirty year administrator who frankly told the board that the Red Plan’s financing was “unprecedented in Minnesota…a most serious problem…major leakage from the General Fund, caused by school board action.” Mack did not get the job but three of the Board members were unable to get their preferred candidate Mr. Gronseth hired. But time heals all wounds. Six months later the new Superintendent was sent packing after a well orchestrated campaign to make him look like a ninny. Positivity at last.

PS. That Martell article is in the news stands but not yet online. I think the Reader stalls a few days to keep its advertisers in the print version happy.

Americapocalypse

I love my blog’s search function. It always surprises me what it can reveal in and about my ten years of blogging. Apparently, not counting this post I have mentioned “paranoia” in 47 previous posts. Its easy to count as the search function shows me 20 posts per page and there were three pages with 20 + 20 + 7 such posts. A couple even had the word “Paranoia” in the Title. Now that’s a small fraction of my total 19442 posts (not counting this one). I think that shows some restraint on my part as it means I’ve only mentioned it in .0049724926 percent of my total posts. (You gotta love calculators)

It’s on my mind now despite living a pretty mundane life. Last night my very interesting evening with the School Board (beginning with our hush hush closed meeting to discuss……….) Shhhhhh!

As I was saying – after my night of school board meetings I had eight minutes to drive up to my heart-dappled Glen Avon Presbyterian Church to practice with our choir. This will be difficult for me to continue thru June because Claudia is now working Wednesday evenings helping register homeless folks in at CHUM. Until June I’ll be skipping choir practice to take care of our grandsons. I’m looking forward to these evenings but since I can’t really read music I’ll be missing my only chance to practice our music by ear. I don’t mind looking foolish at a School Board meeting (that’s a lie) but I hate the thought of coughing out an unplanned solo or hitting a false note in church.

Ah, but a sick grandchild and my rare Wednesday board meeting left me free for the night and I hurriedly parked on the south side of Lewis street as I have for twenty years. Thank goodness I got the music. It is tricky and syncopated. When I left the practice feeling relieved I opened my car door and saw a parking ticket fall to the street. Twenty-four bucks! I guess I should thank my lucky stars I got away with that for the past two decades. It was bound to catch up with me sometime.

So this morning I awoke in our guest room bed alone. I moved there after waking up and fretting for a couple hours that would have been better spent sleeping. I have all day to fret. Last night however, I decided the deep well that I have put in my mattress may explain the sore shoulder muscles I’ve endured for the past week after shoveling snow. If so, maybe its not simply the Americapocolypse that has me up at nights. I’m going to lobby for a new mattress.

Claudia, it turns out, had to leave early for her Twin Cities Seminary classes this morning. She left me a pot of coffee and two sleeping cats which she had fed. Nice. Then, I read the 25th day straight of unsettling news about our new Command-her and Chief. Then, I thought about the likely imminent departure of our Superintendent. Then, I thought about how unless we can find alternative funding the School District may have to pull money out of the classroom to pay for replacement of tire mulch. Then, I thought about how to lobby the Minnesota Dept of Education to take money out of our Capital funds instead. Then, I saw my parking ticket on the dining room table. Phooey!

The ticket explained that I could pay easily over the phone and easy sounded, well, easy. But when a cheery voice announced I could do it easily for an extra $3 charge for phone processing I hung up and wrote a check instead. I’ll pay 54 cents for Post Office processing instead, thank you very much.

And behind all this personal minutiae lies a fearful political collapse of the Republic. The press won’t cut Trump any slack as he blunders his way proving that he can make the national political transition of government as chaotic as last year’s election. He has read his political mandate about as well as he can read. The saving grace is that in a pinch the Republican’s in Congress will likely not give him authoritarian powers lest he do to the Republicans what Kim Jong-un did to his half brother a couple days ago. They still need a powerful enough justification to impeach Trump so as to shield themselves from their fire-breathing Limbaugh and Rapture-ridden Christian base.

I take little comfort when I read an old testament Christian’s explanation that God chose lots of evil men to work his will in Old Testament times and that’s why they voted for Trump. Trump is our Nebuchadnezzar. An illiterate, pussy grabber is God’s judgement on America. Maybe that explains Trumps stunning retreat from his last thank you to the RNC convention for cutting Gays some slack. Then he backed off and threw a bone to the fundamentalists scrapping the Johnson Amendment.

I’ve often joked that “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean someone isn’t out to get you.” Looking at my Facebook feed which keeps growing exponentially as I add new friends I see how the folks on my side of the political divide are rallying. I only get short glimpses of the pro-Trump side as they typically eschew the Fake News I rely on. They probably feel paranoid about my jokes about the impeachment of Trump. That may be cause for alarm. At choir practice last night a friend told me of a retired school superintendent he knows (and that I know too) who is out buying all the ammunition he can.

I really need a good mattress.

How the Cookies resist crumbling

The Education Committee lasted almost three hours yesterday. We had several long presentations but the surprise was what I might have imagined to be a non controversial new policy on Wellness.

The initial Wellness policy presentation was given at our January meeting and Alanna Oswald joined by Art Johnston raised a number of objections about snacks in schools that might be outlawed by new federal regulations. I’ll be honest. I quickly tuned out the discussion eager for a quicker end to the meeting. But this was much bigger potatoes than I realized. Our student reps from the high schools became quite engaged.

Yesterday we learned from Student Rep. Ben Emmel that 200 Denfeld students had signed a petition supporting cookie sales by classes for special ed students which sold their school baked cookies each lunch period. In addition sports teams and many other school related groups were worried that their sales of similar goodies might be curtailed. and then there was the question of elementary students who brought birthday goodies to their classrooms.

After yesterday’s discussion it became obvious that many people had been researching the issue and the Superintendent himself bent over backwards to explain that the Federal Government had a lot of exceptions and flexibility built into its nutrition regulations. In the end I’m not sure the new Wellness Policy will pose a threat to these long lived traditions.

But then again when I was on the School Board the principals effectively killed a proposal to get rid of vending machines that sold pop and candy. Our fellow Board member, UMD Physical Ed teacher Pati Rolf, decried these unnecessary calories. She left before she won her argument but after the fact she prevailed. Nonetheless, calories have a stubborn habit of sneaking back. Just look at my Girl Scout Cookies which, by-the-by, do qualify as a “smart snack” under Federal nutrition regulations. I just ate three of them. “Smores” ummmm, yummy!

Chuck Frederick asked me what I thought …

…about the Superintendent’s looking for a new superintendency.

He may put a quote in tomorrow’s newspaper.

In short, I said I had no problem with it although I typed up a longer response to give my quote context.

Here is a little context. I got a call from a member of the Elk River School Board about Mr. Gronseth. We had a long cordial and frank conversation. Afterwards I suggested he call our superintendent and explain to him that I recommended he give him a call to follow up on our conversation. Then I called Bill because I didn’t want to blindside him about the possiblity that an Elk River school board member would call him to follow up on my conversation.

Mr. Gronseth and I had a long dinner together on Friday and had a frank and cordial conversation about my chat with the Elk River School Board member as well as other subjects relating to the Duluth School Board. Both our wives were out of town so our dinner was unhurried.

Put another way, I see nothing wrong with the Superintendent looking for new challenges. I think he would be foolish not to explore his options and I would never hold his search against him any more than I would condemn an East or Denfeld graduate for shopping for colleges other than UMD.

Secretary Money bags

The the Huff Post reports how much our new Eduction Sectetary donated to Republican Senators, all but one of whom returned the favor by voting to maker her the Nation’s Secretary of Education.

My Brother asked me yesterday what I thought of DeVos. I told him that she was the Koch Brother against public education. He wrote back to tell me he’d just left an unhappy message about her with his representative in Washington D.C.

After she fights off the Grizzly Bears in Wyoming schools maybe she can tutor the President in reading. I highly recommend she employ the drill and kill method so rapturously favored by the Republicans.

She came by her money honestly. She married into it. The fortune came from a pyramid scheme that passed legal muster.

Which reminds me of a story.

In 1978 I tried a different tack to run against DFL Representative Mike Jaros. I decided to speak one-on-one to a hundred of Duluth’s top civic leaders. One of them was a realtor who had been active in the Jaycees. At his suggestion we met at Wings Restaurant in a booth with a very narrow table. It put us face-to-face with barely a foot and a half distance between us. This fellow proceeded to stare at me unblinkingly through our entire meeting. It is the only time I’ve been so unnerved that I began to speak haltingly. He never took his eyes off me. I left hugely embarrassed and well aware that he used my hat-in-hand position to enhance his own sense of self esteem.

I lost that election but managed to elevate myself enough in local political circles to become an up-and-comer. About this time the fellow jumped to a new big money scheme – Amway. Amway sales strategy was a lot like chain letters. The first person selling made a fortune based on everyone else to follow raking in all the commissions from everyone else. At the lowest levels of sales – folks who worked under the folks who worked under the folks who worked under the top level owners Commissions were earned only on sales they made often to friends and families or those they could talk into selling under them for which they could collect commissions. Once the market was saturated it became near impossible to make a living on Amway sales.

The fellow who had stared at me non-stop years earlier called me up to have lunch. He wouldn’t tell me what he wanted until we met and it turned out he wanted to pitch me on selling Amway under him. I began returning the favor. I began staring at him non-stop while he wanted something from me. Suddenly he began to stammer and fumble just as I had years before.

I didn’t have it in me to prolong his agony so I began giving him eye breaks by staring away and lowering my eyes. I didn’t give it up completely and when he regained confidence I would again return an intense gaze. I didn’t bring him to his knees but I was able to keep causing him subsequent hiccups with short bursts of a steady stare.

I don’t intend to give Donald Trump a similar rest but I don’t need to. There are millions of Americans returning his cocky 2016 gaze. Of course, he still has his finger on the nuclear button. Talk about a trump card.

A little Harry’s Diary

I woke up at 3AM yesterday and couldn’t go back to sleep because I was mulling over Trump nation. That happened often last year and the chaotic beginning of his new Administration isn’t offering any peace of mind. Is funny but this is a switch for me. It used to be all school related insomnia that kept me awake – the Red Plan, ousting Art Johnston etc. Now it’s all worry for the good of the nation.

I got up and spent the next three hours pounding out a long post. At 6AM I realized it was a messy casserole and I pulled an Abe Lincoln. When he got mad at someone he wrote them an angry letter then put it in his hat to think about. Invariably he would read it later and throw it away. He just needed to blow off a little steam but didn’t need to unnecessarily make friends and enemies even ornerier. I’m not living in a Civil War, at least not yet, so its not so critical in my case but at times like this morning I put messy thoughts on standby and then don’t post them.

Last week with my Uncle in Colorado I had a fun time, not even bitter sweet, asking him questions about the past I never got around to asking my Dad about before his death in 1987. It was that and palavering about our bumptious new President’s many outrages. Uncle Frank’s family, despite coming from five states, was in general agreement. We were all suffering from shock and awe. At one point it occurred to me that we represented four Blue states, California, Colorado, Minnesota and Massachusetts so no big surprise. Red state Montana was represented too but my cousin explained that her recently deceased husband always shook his head at election time because he knew his wife would cancel out all his votes. They didn’t talk politics.

For the past couple of days I’ve been typing up my notes and that is proving bittersweet. My Uncle followed my Mother as the editor of the Topeka High School Yearbook called the “Sunflower.” I have some fun new stories about that school at the end of World War II. As I paged through the annuals from 1945 and 1946, the latter one edited by my Mom, I noticed a couple interesting things.

In 1946 my Mother (daughter of a war hero)’s annual made no mention of Alumni lost in the war. But in 1945 there was such a list at the beginning of the annual which would have been printed four months before Japan surrendered. There were 91 dead Topeka High School boys on that roll.

I also got curious about the teachers my Uncle Frank mentioned in his tales. I noticed there were a lot of unmarried women teachers. Twenty-five years earlier his Mother, Ruth Marsh, was required to quit teaching when she got married but that proscription had ended at Topeka High by 1945 – there were 8 married women teachers. However the old ethos had not faded away. There were far more spinster teachers – 22 to be exact.

Just got a call. My Uncle Frank died yesterday. From now on I’m responsible for the smudgepots.

Sticks and Stones, Pt. 1 the unspeakable

I’ve been looking forward to Loren Martell’s take on our January School Board meeting. The only truly objectionable thing about it was its length. We Board members behaved ourselves exceptionally well although we did get a tad tiresome and long winded. Our new Chairman, Dr. David Kirby, ran things in good humor and fairly and bent over a bit to make sure the static minority didn’t get run over.

Loren has made it a habit of beginning his columns as our PR person, Katie Kaufman, would like – with a glowing account of the good stories that begin each Board meeting. This time it took up about half his column in part because we Board members did little to be ashamed or embarrassed about. There were three issues that Loren covered. One related to our attempt to push good health. One devoted to mulch. (I don’t intend to belabor that one here) And finally, the issue referred to in Loren’s headline: “Vile Words.”

I recommend you read Loren’s coverage if mine doesn’t quite satisfy. Simply put, our staff composed a presentation which included a power point slide with a list of the aforementioned vile words. They were words hurled at a trans-gendered student over the course of a school year in another district. I’m grateful to Loren for quoting my restrained and careful thoughts about their inclusion on a power point slide. Poor Loren had to listen to me at the meeting and then once again on a recording to get it down right. I showed such probity:

“Member Welty partially echoed member Johnston’s concerns: ‘If this particular slide is to be used as part of our outreach to the community, beyond the professionals who I trust will approach these words with the sensitivity they need, I would be concerned. I have not seen a school district document like I’m looking at now.’ He questioned the possible “counter-productivity” of using such words.”

On the list were two words I almost never use; the “n” word and the “c” word. As for the others that I’m less fussy about…….I’ll write two posts following this tomorrow. One concerns the “c” words use among other things at the recent Duluth Women’s March and the other concerns my reminiscences while meeting with my Uncle Frank last week in Denver.

It was suggested at the meeting that candor demands that one must not shy away from the words themselves lest we allow them to have too much power over us or, to the contrary, that in listing them publicly we will make them commonplace and risk making it easy for others to use them in common parlance. My objection was not quite either of these. I fretted that putting them on a District document might raise hackles from those who find the words particularly offensive. I’m not one, if you can believe this, to court controversy gratuitously. (that’s fifty cent language for “unnecessarily.”)

So there will be a Sticks and Stones #2 and #3 tomorrow. I hope you enjoy them. They will be every bit as gratuitous as anything else I’ve ever posted on Lincolndemocrat.

US Education Amway style

AFT President Randi Weingarten visited Lincoln Middle School yesterday. I would have been tempted to stop by had I been paying attention. I’m not sure I was notified of the visit because I haven’t been reading all my District related email lately. I did a mass mailing related to mulch about two weeks ago and haven’t been reading much more than the subject headings of new email since.

I’m not much into rubbing shoulders with big shots but there was one American Federation of Teachers President whose visit to Duluth I’ve always regetted missing. His name was Al Shanker and he wasn’t always the apple of my eye. I see I’ve mentioned him three times over the past decade in the blog.

Once a bitter foe of Ronald Reagan’s the two became buds and championed similar efforts to improve public education through something called charter schools which were intended to eliminate bureaucracy and be more child centered. Over the past forty years a lot has happened to that movement and its a very mixed bag.

Ms. Weingarten was visiting Lincoln to find out about its efforts to become a “Community School” like the Myers Wilkin school. Among the most notable thing teachers in such a school are asked to do is make home visits to make connections with their student’s families. Its an idea I thought made a lot of sense twenty years ago or even longer. I think I still have my copy of 36 Children somewhere that I read forty years ago. The Harvard educated teacher spent one year in a Harlem School. Of course, it takes a lifetime to make a difference. The one year is like slumming even if it resulted in a nice little book.

Brenda Vatthaur is one of the great principals we’ve hired into ISD 709 recently. She put on a presentation about Lincoln MS’s work at the MSBA convention a couple weeks ago which I attended. She’s been there more than a single year despite that first year nearly killing her. She recommended a couple books to read for those of us in her audience. I jotted down their names for future reference……if I ever find time.

The AFT President had a couple choice words to share about Trumps nominee to take over the Department of Education. Betsy DeVos is another billionaire having married into Amway royalty. The most troubling story I’ve read about her efforts at reform put her in the same category as the Koch Brothers who are using Citizens United to pummel politicians with their vast wealth. Don’t expect any cordial detente like the one between Reagan and Shanker with Secretary DeVos.

If I was a senator I wouldn’t vote for her to be the next Secretary of Education. I’m afraid she will push public education into another pyramid scheme like Amway. I once was approached to become an Amway slave to help it build its pyramid and make a fortune for its pharaohs.

And to be clear. Its not the charter schools I object to so much. Its vouchers, especially when the life is sucked out of public schools in order to justify replacing them with “for profits.”

MY most enjoyable MSBA convention ends

The image below helps cleanse Lincolndemocrat after the previous post.

I jotted down titles for about ten posts I wanted to write through the School Board conference which ended at noon on Friday. It remains to be seen if I will get around to any of them. I snapped this pic of our key note speaker, retired Minnesota Supreme Court Justice, Alan Page.

Thirty years ago he also spoke to the MSBA Conference. That was 1987 which was a pivotal year for me. I was sacked from my last teaching job. We moved to our current address. I made my first “public” snow sculpture. I began thinking seriously about running for the school board. I told my Father this in his last few days of life just after telling him I’d lost my third teaching job then “softening” this with the preposterous notion that I was thinking about running for the school board. It was a futile attempt to cheer up a dying man whose oldest son had just been fired for the third time in a short, disastrous teaching career. He told me solemly that he wondered if I had “will to fail” which broke my heart and caused me many years of deep self reflection. Then my Dad died during one of the most beautiful autumns I’ve ever experienced. My Dad used to pile us into the car to visit Hiawatha and Olathe, Kansas, to marvel at the sugar maples turning red.

I used to watch Alan Page with my Dad but only in the playoffs where the “Purple People Eaters” couldn’t quite lift the Vike’s to a Superbowl victory in four attempts. As a college kid I was aware that Alan Page and the other Vikes drank at Mankato’s downtown bars where my future mother-in-law met and dated one of the coach’s who were using the state college’s facilities to train in the pre-season. Page was famous for carrying a huge purse like bag over his shoulders to the bars. Trust me, no one made fun of a people eater wearing a purse. Besides it was the “Age of Aquarius.”

I love to tell people that I threw a glass of water on Page. Then I explain:

The first time I ran across Page was at one of the earliest Grandma Marathons while Page was still a Viking. Claudia and were out near the Northshore mostly oblivious of the tiny new Marathon’s progress when we drove past a table on Hwy 61 just out of Duluth. We had already noticed other such tables on London Road loaded with water-filled cups for the Marathoners. No one was manning the table as a couple of runners were jogging up in the distance. For the heck of it we pulled over to hand the cups to the stragglers. One of them was Page who was running against the wishes of the coaches who didn’t want him running off any of his massive tackling poundage. As I lifted a cup to him he said, “throw it on me.” I didn’t argue.

Page read a thoughtful, sober-minded speech about his growing up in the shadow of the Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, with no childhood thoughts of a football career. Instead, Page, a 70-year-old like Donald Trump, recalled the impact of Brown vs. Board of Education on him as a black kid. (a frequent subject of this blog) Page told anyone who asked him that he intended to be a lawyer. (He probably has pre-law books in the handbag he took into Mankato’s bars)

During training camps his coaches did their best to “educate” their rookies by requiring them to the NFL playbook together. Justice Page told us that the hardest words in these book were “tackle,” “defense,” and “offense.” He recalled how six of the ten recent college graduates on the team struggled. It left Page to ponder their betrayal by an educational system that insured them a poor future after their star turn in the NFL.

Page also mentioned his thirty year old educational foundation which has spent $13 million to get struggling kids to and through college. In thirty years its helped 6000 kids.

He said he was distressed by America’s turn to Trump and alluded to the Trump Empire’s long legal fight to keep its apartments segregated in the good old days. Page is building bridges while Trump is building walls.

A day late?

After several years of heating and maintenance costs the Nettleton School suddenly has a couple of interested buyers. At our recent closed meeting to consider one offer I was sternly warned, by a board member who often sternly warns me, not to broadcast the potential buyer nibbling at Nettleton. Since then a second buyer, the Many Rivers Montesorri School, has come in with a much larger offer, $500,000, than they originally proffered for the school.

One question a fellow board member and I have been texting each other about is whether our Board will consider selling the building to whichever buyer has the biggest offer.

NOTE:

I just received an email from the Superintendent informing us that a letter-of-intent has been signed with another buyer apparently rendering the Many River’s offer null. It was also suggested that not accepting it would mean that we were not negotiating with the first party in good faith. (Gosh, WWTD What would Trump do?) As for bad faith —– Imagine a teacher accepting a job at one school only to decline the job after being offered a better contract at another school district. That’s something that happens all the time.

I’m not sure about the ethics of this. It also raises the question of whether the second offer by Many Rivers was made before the letter of intent was signed. If the second offer came in before the signing I rather think that the School Board should have been notified before any signing took place…….but I’ve not asked that question yet.

At our last closed meeting to consider a Nettleton sale all we had was a price and the name of a (still confidential) potential buyer. The Administration was improving on past practice by bringing a potential offer to us before they began negotiations with the potential purchaser. I suggested to my fellow board member that since it is the School Board that will OK the deal the letter of intent might be unenforceable until such time as we vote on going through with the sale.

This will give me something to research over the next couple days while I attend the Minnesota State School Board Conference in Minneapolis.

My reply to an anonymous email

From: “Minkdevil”
To: “Harry Welty”
Cc:
Sent: 16-Dec-2016 02:37:28 +0000
Subject: School Sales

At least someone can sell a damn school!
http://www.duluthnewstribune.com/business/4174343-two-sherman-properties-sold

Sent from ProtonMail, encrypted email based in Switzerland.

To which I replied:

Howdy Minkdevil,

I prefer to correspond with folks by name rather than pseudonym. My name is out there and I wish more people were confident enough to step out from anonymity. At least your email is pretty straight forward and I’m happy to comment on this story you sent me.

The implication in your lone sentence is that we need people with business acumen to sell schools. Your comment implies that School Boards are lousy business people. Yup. Yup. Yup. I’m an ex-history teacher not a salesman. I tried selling insurance years ago and hated it. I remember persuading people that they needed insurance only to have them buy it from [my competitors]. I ain’t no Donny Trump.

The fact is schools are built to be schools. When you refuse to let buyers keep them as schools they have to dig deep to re-purpose the buildings. That’s risky. Old Schools are white elephants and spending millions to demolish the buildings is the quickest way to get rid of them. As it is we are spending a quarter million a year to heat our remaining schools in the winter and monitor them for vandalism for the rest of the year.

Selling them on the cheap to a real wheeler-deeler like Sherman makes the most sense. The problem is that when our Board designed the financing for the Red Plan they built an unreasonable expectation that they could sell a half dozen old buildings for $20 plus million dollars. It will never happen and because of it we are transferring money from our classrooms to pay off the bonds we used to pay for the Red Plan construction.

I think Sherman still owns the old Lincoln School which he bought for one dollar. In the meantime he has sold a couple of old schools some of which he did not buy from the School District. For instance Jefferson School was sold long before the School Board put a covenant on the sale forbidding the building to be used as a school. Guess who uses Jefferson’s first floor? Its Many Rivers Montessori.

You sent this story to one of the three school board members who is willing to sell Central to the Edison Schools. Ditto a sale to Many Rivers.

But even Sherman has his limits. He toyed with buying the Nettleton School for a couple years that we had to pay $35,000 a year to heat the building while he considered his options. He recently backed out of the sale. As the story notes he has a much bigger fish to fry in Duluth the fixing up of the Northshore Theater. I don’t fault him. He’s a businessmen and we have a firesale he didn’t want to get burned in.

The part time School Board isn’t designed to make money. Its elected to oversee the administrators of the local schools. About the best we can do is try not to let empty schools end up being a drain on the system. We are handicapped by the decisions of previous Boards which spent too much and gambled that leaving a half dozen old schools on the market during a period of financial straights [would pay off]. Those Boards left future Boards holding the bag.

Please send the story to the Board members who want to hang on to the old schools.

All the best
Harry Welty

Children can’t handle philosophy?

I was delighted with today’s rebuttal of this ill thought out think piece published in the Trib on December 4th.

I was strongly tempted to write my own critism. Its the second time I’ve been tempted to argue with this retired Iron Range teacher but I’m a busy fellow and, as a school board member, I don’t want to wear out my welcome writing op-eds to the Tribune. This “educator” opined that it was a waste of time to teach kids philosophy because their brains weren’t ready to handle it and more prone to taking stupid risks. Hell, why do we bother to teach them anything other than readin and writin and rithmatic before they are old enough for post-graduate studies?

Here’s is a sensible reply I second.

A short sample:

Heck, I’m a middle-aged man; we are famous for making bad life choices despite our well-developed brains. Just this summer, against my better judgment, I followed a couple of friends over a dangerous waterfall crossing at Tettegouche State Park. (And I’m still gunning for a sports car.) My fully developed prefrontal cortex may mitigate bad judgments, but it doesn’t immunize me against them.

More importantly, my bad choices do not make me a bad philosopher; they just make me human.

All for one and One for All

One of the nicest things I’ve seen recently came from a group of East parents who are determined to make sure the CITS course offerings at Denfeld measure up with those at East High. They have started an online petition among East students and parents in support of fair treatment. Alanna Oswald who seems to catch every bit of important intelligence in this District forward this to me.

CITS is College in the Schools. The petition is apparently only meant for East parents and students so I won’t make the link to it generally available. I hope the Greyhounds are good at getting it out to their folks because I’d like to see a lot of names on it.

Duluth East Parents and Students Support CITS Opportunities at Denfeld

A few notes about this petition……….This came out of multiple discussions with my own East HS kids about how they are benefiting from CITS classes and that not everyone in the school district has the same opportunity. I feel strongly that we have a responsibility to speak up and voice support for equal opportunity, particularly if we are benefiting from classes currently. So, we talked about this for many weeks and wrote this petition together. This is strictly coming from us and not from the school directly. We also talked about how this issue is complicated and that we know the district has been tackling it, however, we felt support from the East parent/student community could be stronger. We hope you see the positive intentions behind this.

We, parents and students from Duluth’s East High School, want to express our support for finding a solution to providing the college in the schools courses that are needed and desired at Denfeld High School. We feel it is not fair that the decision to have one school larger than the other would limit the opportunities for students in the district (Duluth News Tribune article, November 13, 2016). As we know, these classes benefit the students who want to take them not only because they provide more in-depth learning on a topic of interest but they reduce the overall cost of higher education after students graduate. It is unfair to not provide equal access to these classes for all Duluth students. To clarify, the same classes are offered but it appears as if they are offered as single section courses and therefore difficult to fit into a course schedule. Therefore, the issue is “access” not what is offered.

We understand that the Duluth School District is very aware of this situation and is also interested in finding a solution but we suggest that this become a priority. It also seems to make sense that other entities that might benefit from more highly educated and trained students, like the health systems, be brought in to help solve this issue.

So, as East High School students and parents we want to express our appreciation for the classes offered at our school but strongly support a solution that offers the same opportunities to all students in the Duluth Public Schools. Results of the petition will be shared at an upcoming school board meeting. Thank you!

Jana’s got her ear to the ground

I was not at all surprised to read Jana Hollingsworth’s story about a new wrinkle in funding college in today’s DNT. Students beginning in 9th grade can start accumulating financial breaks from their good grades and other school activities with a sort of Kick Starter for college tool.

Though I don’t admit being surprised I had never heard of this before. So I guess I was a little surprised especially by how many students are already taking advantage of this. It will be another five years before anyone in my family reaches 9th grade again so I’m forgiving myself for my ignorance.

This all ties in with an earlier story about how our students can get college credit while still in high school thus trimming those college credit costs later on. An old friend sent me a couple emails wincing at 1. how we were making kids grow up so fast and 2. expressing skepticism that high school teachers would be teaching college credit classes.

From her second email:

Surprised to hear that HS teachers taught college courses.
There seems to be much support to continue this, but maybe now is a good time to rethink the whole program.

K-12 is free, guaranteed, mandated education. As it should be.

If those fortunate enough to be gifted to breeze through some (key here) disciplines, why not expand and take other, mind broadening courses? Explore some areas that will not be something the student wants to pay for in college?
Tutor others not doing so well?

The 90’s of get there and get there fast (usually to start making money fast) are over.
New times, new programs?

For what its worth here’s my reply to her justifying my support for the program in the rural areas where kids can’t travel easily to urban college campuses to take the alternative PSEO route:

******

To me knowledge is knowledge. Lincoln only had a little primary school learning. My son quit after high school and then decided four years later to attend LSC a very lowbrow school. It got him into UMD where he picked up a masters and now he’s in a Doctoral program at Washington U in St. Louis.

I don’t have much use for the meritocracy of an Ivy League and I don’t think a fast track through college is bad either. The accrediting agencies [and] the SATS are fussy gatekeepers. There is no guarantee that a college prof will be a good teacher any more than there is [proof] that a good high school teacher will only be able to teach at a secondary level.

My primary beef was that rural kids far away from urban colleges would have more limited means of saving on college tuition by earning credits prior to actually attending college. I simply linked it with the red/blue voting in the recent presidential election. [as one more example explaining why rural folks might have a chip on their shoulder]

Harry

Another Assault on Red Minnesota

Jana Hollingsworth has written another knowing article about our local public education scene in today’s Trib.

Its gist is this: By placing new demands on high school teachers who are teaching classes in public school to students that can earn college credit for such classes we are about to deny kids a lot of affordable credits they can apply to their college transcripts. In doing so we are putting college that much further out of reach for some kids……..especially rural kids too far from colleges to take alternative PSEO classes while still in high school. Post Secondary Educational Options are similar except they are taught by college teachers on a college setting. Poor you if you live in East Pumpkin Corners sixty miles from the nearest college. You are effectively denied a chance to take such courses like a high school kid from a college town.

This law is a boon to college teachers and colleges who want to keep that tuition money for themselves. There may be a legitimate accrediting issue when it comes to high school teachers teaching college classes but in my view it is greatly overblown. On the other hand, the teachers’ unions which might go to bat for their members to teach in CITS classes have also been the chief enemies of leting non licensed teachers with advanced degrees in physics, chemistry and engineering a chance to teach in the public schools even when the nation runs short of such teachers.

So much depends on whose ox is gored.

The kids who will lose out pretty much fit into the red spaces on the map below that I found in Aaron Brown’s political blog. The Red spaces denote folks who voted for Republican congressional candidate Mills. These voters feel left out of America’s current prosperity which is becoming increasingly urban. Depriving their children from earning pre-college college tuition is simply one more kick in the teeth to the rural landscape.

Its worth remembering that many of these folks voted for Barack Obama. I’m guessing that the folks so eager to impose fussy new requirements on rural schools are mostly fans of big government.