Category Archives: Education

Good runners can complete a marathon in under three hours.

It took the Duluth School Board four hours to complete the May, 2017 meeting.

For those of you who can’t wait for the Reader’s Loren Martel to unpack yesterday’s meeting in next week’s Reader I’ll mention a couple details.

It was a four hour marathon but a productive one. I counted 35 people in the audience at the midway point but noticed that six were looking at their cell phones. I highly recommend this distraction to help future audience members pass the time when I’m engaged in a sonorous monologue.


A half hour demonstration was scheduled before the meeting began to give High School speech competitors a chance to strut their stuff to the school board and early audience members. Their coach, Jill Lofald, is rumored to be contemplating a run for the School Board.


During the public comment time at the beginning of the meeting my friend, Henry Banks, took our Chair, Dr. Kirby, to task for an impolitic moment at a recent meeting with minorities. He addressed the people at the meeting with a “You people…….”

The good doctor is a fairly blunt spoken physician, something I much approve of when consulting doctors. But a poorly thought out “you people” can be a big turn off to people who resent being lumped together and stripped of their individuality. Presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton, learned this painful lesson when she put all her detractors in the “Deplorables” basket. It became a badge of honor for Trump supporters even those the Secretary of State had no wish to offend.

Henry spoke sternly but at one moment he seemed to be taking on a tone that challenged our “civility” code and Supt. Gronseth jotted down a question for me on a note pad. “Personal attack?” Although it was open season on anything we Board members had said publicly I was moved to fight my disengaged microphone to get the attention of the target of the “attack” Chair Kirby.

While the mikes were fiddled with Henry stood down and waited patiently until I was on air. I commended Chair Kirby for his restraint while facing criticism and noted that we might be heading into personal attack territory. I didn’t express myself with David Gergen’s concision when he said that the nation might be heading into “impeachment territory.”

Henry put up with my interruption and then resumed his objections which in my opinion did not too far breach the attack mode. He got a little round of applause from the audience.


while mulch took center stage it was not the only spending item we palavered over. We had a lenghty discussion about allowing the demographers RSP to finish its analysis and help the district draw new school boundaries. I was gratified when the vote swung my way with a little more room than I had anticipated. It was a 5-2 “no” vote. This seemed to be a harbinger of a kinder gentler school board.

There was one important decision left undecided after we had consumed four hours – whether and when to hold a meeting on equity as requested by the Denfeld parents. It appeared that such a meeting might be set to take place in July after our June budget setting meeting. July would be too late to easily re-adjust our spending to follow “free and reduced lunch” populations into the schools they attended. Art Johnston explained to the lone remaining Denfeld Equity champion after our meeting that Chair Kirby had promised we would hold a meeting with the Denfeld contingent. Three of us would call a special meeting if necessary. For my part I want the compensatory ed money distributed more closely to the spirit of the law and follow these children into their schools.


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.


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.


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.

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!

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

Number 1


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!!!!

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!

Inside Baseball oops School Board – email 1

A very thoughtful email on the comparison between Congdon and Myers-Wilkens the two schools nearest my home.

Dear School Board Members-

I’m writing to you both as a parent of a child at Myers Wilkins elementary, an East Hillside resident and an intervention teacher for your Families in Transition (homeless) program.

I understand that there has been ongoing concerns regarding the number of students attending Congdon elementary and I believe recently there was a public meeting to discuss those concerns. I did not attend this meeting.

Still, I was at Congdon, serving homeless students for the 2014-2015 and 2015-2016. At that time, and I believe still, there seemed to be two pervasive false perceptions at Congdon:

One, that shelter children were being bused to Congdon in large numbers from outside their boundaries and two, that Myers Wilkins elementary was better equipped to “deal with those kids”.

As with everything, there is a small kernel of truth with these perceptions.

Families in Transition is in place in ISD 709 to ensure that our district is abiding by federal McKinney Vento guidelines, one of our charges is to help homeless families maintain their student’s school of origin, as research shows that multiple school transitions have negative academic consequences.

To this end, when magnet elementary schools existed in Duluth we often enrolled homeless students in a magnet because of the busing. Magnet busing was available to all students in magnet schools from anywhere in the district. This freed homeless families to be able to find housing where ever it was available in Duluth without having to transfer schools for elementary students.

So, while a parent entering shelter within Congdon’s boundaries (and newly enrolling a student) could have enrolled their student at Congdon (because it is their neighborhood school), many didn’t. When magnet schools (and busing) were cut, this was no longer an option.

Congdon does have a domestic violence shelter, a hospitality house and transitional housing in its boundaries.

For students who call these housing organizations home, Congdon is their school and they have every right to attend Congdon, and always have.

Point two, the perception that Myers Wilkins is more equipped for “those” students. It is true that Myers Wilkins staffing looks different than Congdon.

It looks different because of the population of families it serves. MW typically sits around 85% students in poverty. 25% of MW students receive special education services. There is a Northwoods program, it is full. In addition, because Northwoods is an outside agency, there is the ability to exit a student with severe behavior needs without a plan in place, and then that student returns to the regular education classroom.

While MW is somewhat equipped to handle students who have endured trauma, to say that those services are readily available or to not acknowledge that those services aren’t completely overloaded is false.

As a parent and a professional, the school district needs to address that MW is a segregated population socioeconomically, and unfortunately, with that comes a wide array of needs.

I hear Congdon’s class size concern, it’s real, but it cannot be fixed on the backs of homeless families or to further skew a school that is already largely a school in poverty.

Here’s one crazy solution: Take the Congdon/MW populations and create a K-2 and 3-5 building, providing classroom size relief and socioeconomic balance.

As a parent and teacher, thank you for taking the time to consider my perspective.

Peace- SA

Here is my reply. One of my shorter ones:

Thanks SA,

Thank you for a very informative letter.

And thank you for a very alarming suggestion. I like it.

Harry Welty

A little “flight” reading – The Sage of Emporia

For years I’ve wondered if William Allen White “the Sage of Emporia” ever wrote anything about his fellow Kansan, my Grandfather George Robb. Although I’ve known about him and knew the famous quote about his sagacity for years it took Doris Kearn’s wonderful history Bully Pulpit about Teddy Roosevelt and WH Taft to fill in White’s biography.

That’s because as Kearns researched the book she discovered how closely Teddy was to the many “muckrakers” (Teddy’s description) the dedicated journalists who exposed the many evils of the “Gilded Age.” Teddy was just as effusive as Donald Trump but unlike Trump he was also well informed and a friend of the press and its investigative reporters. White was one of these although, unlike so many others of this era William Allen was a country boy. He retired from the Progressive era and New York to sedate Emporia Kansas where he owned and edited the Emporia Gazette with a national reputation gained in the Roosevelt Years.

Last year, after subscribing to, I found that White’s Gazette regularly covered my Grandfather’s politics after he was appointed State Auditor of Kansas. Many of the articles mentioned his being awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor but I’ve found nothing that suggests the men rubbed shoulders together which was a bit of a disappointment. But last Fall I discovered White’s name in a letter sent to my Grandfather by his closes brother, Bruce, while George Robb was hospitalized after the War.

“Uncle Bruce” mentioned in his letter that he had just read William Allen White’s short book about the War, “The Martial Adventures of Henry and Me” to better understand what trench warfare had been like. Well, I had to read that. I found it online as its now in the Public Domain. I printed it out and decided this trip to Florida was the prefect time to read it through.

White wrote the book when he and the editor/owner of the Wichita Beacon were asked to check out the theater of war by the American Red Cross just after Congress declared war. White was in France during the time my Grandfather volunteered and began his training.

Its a light read and it gave me some wonderful context. I’ll mention two such items:

White writes: “‘In the English papers the list of dead begins ‘Second lieutenant, unless otherwise designated.’ And in the war zone the second lieutenants are known as ‘The suicides’ club.'” Then White proceeded to explain why. My Grandfather was a second lieutenant.

White describes meeting an English mother of two children whose husband is in recovery after losing an arm and a shoulder. He suggests somewhat indelicately that her husband should get a good education and become a typist. When she says they couldn’t afford for him to go to school White reports his reply to her: “That’s too bad–now in our country education, from the primer to the university, is absolutely free. The state does the whole business and in my state they print the school books, and more than that they give a man a professional education, too, without tuition fees–if he wants to become a lawyer or a doctor or an engineer or a chemist or a school teacher!”

As my Grandfather began his education in Kansas and became a teacher in Kansas and was chosen to be a principal in Kansas only to turn down the promotion for the trenches, I found White’s assessment of public education one hundred years ago fascinating.

Patience and Impatience

I have yet to go through the four paper copies of the Tribunes that were delivered to my door while I was away in Florida. I believe only one of them, last week’s Thursday edition mentioned the Duluth Schools and that only to inform the public which of the incumbents were planning on running for reelection. The news must have been in the Friday paper copy because I my quote was given to reporter Hollingsworth Thursday morning while Airport announcements were being made in the background.

I had to repeat myself to Jana because I whipped my answer out pretty fast. I said,

“I don’t think there is anybody better prepared to deal with the challenges of the Duluth school district than somebody with my long experience, my patience and my impatience.”

Jana, didn’t add the bolding to that last bit about my impatience but I think she chuckled a bit under her breath when I repeated it. Its been a long three plus years with two of them wasted on a futile and destructive attempt to undue the 2013 election. Four of the board members who brought that about are now off or soon to retire leaving only Rosie Loeffler-Kemp to defend her pro-removal record and Art Johnston and me on the other side of that catastrophe to seek public vindication. Its that waste of two years which prompted my reference to both patience and impatience. It could hardly be otherwise.

The last year has seen some recovery from the first two dark years which imitated in microcosm the trials and tribulations of Washington D.C. Let’s hope that the tweet machine, Donald Trump, isn’t elected to the Duluth School Board this fall to fix everything.

My visit to Florida over the weekend brought home the division across the land as I listened to FOX News and visited with in-laws with very different opinions on the state of America. Hand me the sutures, Nurse, and some cotton for a little mopping up.

Oh, and this New York Times piece over the weekend on the same set of issues caught my attention: How the Left learned to Hate like the Right.

Before I leave for Florida….

…where I’ll be wishing my father-in-law a Happy 90th Birthday, I’ll point my eight loyal readers to two stories about what’s happening in the Duluth School District.

Second, from tomorrow’s News Tribune there is this. It explains the school board’s sudden surprising (to me)lack of enthusiasm about employing RSP as our guides for further public input on resetting school boundaries. Suddenly equity has more of our Board’s attention than the uneven distribution of our school age population.

And First, giving vent to his frustration with demographer’s is the Duluth School Board’s most faithful chronicler, Loren Martell, in the Duluth Reader.

And while its not online yet there may be another DNT story tomorrow mentioning that I will be running for reelection to the Duluth School Board. I’m not sure any of the other incumbents has announced yet but I’m kinda counting one colleague to join me at his leisure.

Shielding college students from bad politics

Political provocateur, Ann Coulter, was dis-invited to speak at a college campus recently. Ironically this was at the Berkely campus which in my teen years was famous for its student driven “free speech” movement. Back then it was leftish opinions which the establishment wanted tuned out. Now its right wing enthusiasms.

Back in the 1960’s it would have been harder to get much further rightward than the American Nazi Party. I once blogged about my Dad’s irritation with a clueless student who was impressed with a speech given at Mankato State College by American Nazi Party leader:

I’m not surprised. Midwesterners are unfailingly open. The American Nazi Party’s head, George Lincoln Rockwell, made a speech at my Dad’s college, Mankato State, in 1967, a few months before a disgruntled fellow Nazi assassinated him. My Dad came home with a sour attitude afterward because a student told him he was impressed. You see, Rockwell had told the students to go to their kitchen cabinets and look for items labeled “Kosher.” He assured them they were a sure sign of the imminent take over of the world by the Jews. The student told my Dad that he had done just as instructed and, by golly, Rockwell was right!

Someone like Coulter, arguably less loathsome than Rockwell, ought to be allowed to address today’s college students. I suspect they would generally greet her with more skepticism than the young man my Dad complained about in the 1960’s. On the other hand, the First Amendment doesn’t guarantee anyone a pedestal to preach from, let alone a tax supported pedestal.

“My Buddy” found some allied thought on the Internet and shared it with a circle of friends which included me:

From Elizabeth Warren, at

And from
Liberal political comedian host Bill Maher said the University of California, Berkeley is the “the cradle for f—king babies” after the university caved to pressure and disinvited — and later re-invited — conservative commentator Ann Coulter as a speaker.

And from Bloomberg View: – Berkeley Once Stood for Free Speech. Now It Rolls Over:

Not a thank you

Contract talks will start soon and one of the last Duluth School Board members to be an active negotiator sent this email to the School Board today. I take his point:

Board Members,

This subject is the most important item you vote on, since it represents about 80% of the District’s budget. The time has come for a great deal of knowledge & understanding by members to support students and taxpayers vs union and administration. To me the District’s financial crisis started at the regular board meeting on 7/20/10 which included the need for approval of the teachers contract for 7/1/11 to 6/30/13 by the administration and board chair. Member Glass ask administration what the costs of this new contract was and was told they could not tell him until they voted on the contract. Three board members objected to the lack of transparency and costs information and wanted to get a legal opinion with motion to table failed 4 to 3. The board then voted 4 to 3 to approve the contract almost a year in advance of its term without knowledge of costs or funding. My estimates of the total costs of that contract was $2.5 million.

I am asking every member to please read the current contract prior to voting on a new one. The District can not continue without an expert negotiator at the table with member at all times. In my opinion since 2010 the District has not come close to any benefits to match given employees. As a former board member and chairman of the negotiations committee I had an expert attorney and Asst. Supt. Business Services with me at the table at every meeting. I then had 2 other members of the committee to review contract before the total board had the opportunity to vote after knowing the costs.

I get upset when I read insurance is projected to increase $600,000 without any question. The District can not continue to pay all the various insurance costs. I look at Health Reimbursement Arrangement (HRA)’s which the District gave employees 1/1/2010 without any benefits to students and taxpayers. The District contributes 100% of the single and family maximum out of pocket expenses for medical and prescription drugs which started at $1,900 single and $3,800 family. I have yet to find anyone having this benefit. The board should not continue with percentages for insurance benefits. Currently every increase generally is paid by the District each year & the District needs to go with a fixed dollar amount. How does the District justify paying for a single employee’s insurance annually $10,272 and family employee $20,582?

The District must consider major changes to their negotiations to survive in my opinion from all benefits to lowering or eliminating steps and seniority increments. The District can not continue to pay all the increases each year because it is not sustainable. Any questions please contact me.


Richard Paulson

And Art Johnston wrote this pointed reply. By the way, I am pretty sure the Attorney who negotiated for ISD 709 and who approved telling the Board to keep the public ignorant of the contract’s costs is the same cussed lawyer who didn’t protect my right to sit in on negotiations three years ago.

Art Johnston
10:21 AM (3 hours ago)

to Richard, schoolboard
Thank you Rich, for your comments and recollection of what happened in the past.

Your recollection is correct in that we [were] told, by the administration, that we could not talk about the cost of the contract, until after it was approved, because it was “proprietary”. I strongly objected to that and used MSBA statements that the price of the contract MUST be told to the public before we vote on it.

Members were reprimanded by the administration about even trying to talk about the contract price. The former administration’s reasoning was obvious flawed and likely illegal, but that never stopped the previous administration.

This time around, all of the information will be fully disclosed to the public before the vote.


The ISD 709 demographics meeting

I just listened to the meeting yesterday about Demographics. I have some catching up to do because I missed the first half hour. These are dry meetings but already on youtube there have been 45 viewings. Praise be to Art Johnston for pushing the school board to video these meetings to make them available to the public.

Rob S. Schwarz, AICP, of RSP is quizzed about the plans he might help Duluth’s schools design after their demographic study. Mr. Schwarz begins by talking about the Cedar Rapids, IA, experience and urges us to google RSP’s work there while warning us about “fake news.” He proceeds to say that RSP would never encourage a city to do anything as preposterous as build 13 new schools in a five year time period.

I was among those who let loose an involuntary chuckle because that’s just what Duluth did with the Red Plan. Too bad we didn’t have RSP advising us.

Closing schools? Rehabbing schools? Shifting boundaries?

I missed the first portion of yesterday’s Committee of the Whole (COW) meeting with the demographers we hired to map out the future needs of our schools. Alanna Oswald tried to protect me from showing up late yet again but once again I had the phone on mute. I quickly scanned the handout I was given and was intrigued by one glaring bit of information. Of all our newly fixed up schools only one, Congdon elementary, could expect future enrollment growth over the next ten years. “Well,” I thought to myself, “The parents and teachers have been begging the Board to change their boundaries for the last three “Think Kids” meetings.” I wish we had done this a couple years ago.

When I suggested that we could change the Congdon boundaries by ourselves now and skip making any further payments to the demographers for a year’s worth of community meetings some of my colleagues were appalled. The defenders of the “process” rolled out the big guns. Why we needed community involvement. (three years of Think Kids meetings evidently didn’t count) – If we tampered with even one school’s boundary we would cause a domino effect just like in Vietnam and all the adjoining school boundaries would have to be tinkered with (nevermind that all the other schools were predicted to lose students over the next decade and have plenty of room for reboundaried kids) Also, nevermind that we could do this now and grandfather in existing families and let them stay at Congdon…….NO, NO, NO…….we had to delay decision making for another year. No one seemed to know how much we would pay these consultants for a year’s worth of meetings but Alanna Oswald sent them to me last night. We would pay another $31,000 or as I think of these expenses one-third-of-a-teacher.

I also missed one big headline from the beginning of the meeting. Alanna told me it was suggested that our declining enrollment might necessitate closing one of our existing elementary schools. Lakewood was a likely candidate. Golly, what a testament to the demographers of the Red Plan!!!!

After having this COW I hustled down to Congdon Elementary where 85 folks were assembled to tell us how overcrowded their school is. I don’t think the delay pitch went over very well with them. Here’s the DNT story about that meeting.

And here’s the DNT story about our demographer COW with my suggestion that we try to entice students to our western schools by letting them have more of the Compensatory Education money that they are entitled to. That fits into the spirit of the law rather than letting our District spend poor kids funding on rich kid’s schools.

And finally, our plans for Rockridge resulted in my getting a call from the Real Estate expert who valued our facilities for the Red Planners. He wondered why we were paying rent to use another school’s building – the old Cobb School that we sold to Woodland Hills twenty years ago. I had no ready answer for him. Then he asked if we were going to set up an amortization schedule and make certain we would have Woodland Hills rent the Rockridge facility at a rate which would pay off what it would cost us to fix Rockridge up. I explained that we don’t know how much it will cost to fix up Rockridge yet. We are paying experts one-and-a-half-teachers to estimate those costs before we agree to fix Rockridge, however the current guesstimate for fixing it stands at twenty-five teachers. I didn’t think to mention that we might not bond for this. We might pay for it out of our capital costs and general fund. General Fund????? Yup, that’s being researched even as I type this. More classroom dollars will go for rehabbing old buildings.

When the Congdon parents asked if we were trying to come up with innovative ways of educating kids with our fewer dollars I pointed out that we have fewer teachers (and the larger classes that they deplore) because: 1) The Red Plan takes $3.3 million (34 teachers) out of our General Fund for debt repayment annually and no experts have come up with a plan for us to restructure this debt so that we could return this money (and 34 teachers) back to our classrooms. And 2 our unhappy voters have only authorized a pitifully small $1.8 million referendum annually (14 teacher’s worth). When I told the Congdon crowd we had the ability to offer voters a referendum for two or three times that amount the Superintendent explained that my calculations were an oversimplification. (One I got from him I might add)

I’ve put in a call to our new CFO to find out about the Rockridge financial mechanics. I’ll report back to the realtor when I get that straightened out. I may even share it with my eight loyal readers. In the meantime I’m going to swim a few laps to work off my frustrations before I head over to serve food at the Damiano Center.

an email re: the last school board meeting

To All School Board Members,

At the regular school board meeting of April 18th there was a very large audience of Denfeld parents, students, teachers and principal Sconers. They were in support of the Denfeld community who is demanding equity . They have been asking the board and Mr. Gronseth for 3 years to have equity with East High School and it has fallen on deaf ears.

Just prior the public speaking portion of the meeting started I saw Mr. Gronseth talking quietly with chair Kirby and before the audience participation portion of the meeting began chair Kirby asked the audience to hold their applause because it disrupted other speakers. I believe that Mr. Gronseth didn’t want the viewing public to see the huge support that the Denfeld community has. A parent from East also spoke to the fact that the Denfeld students are being short changed and the East community is in full support of having this change next fall. She had a petition of over 70 parent signatures to see that change has to come.

The other very interesting aspect of the night were the East Middle School Science class students who presented at a competition and won awards for their excellent work. The children shall lead, the two students study on rubber mulch proved that the mulch is harmful to living organisms. Thus harmful to children. The board should remove the rubber mulch from all playgrounds in the district that are using this harmful substance and replace it with wood chips like the Congdon Park School has.

Thank you

And my reply:

Hi xxxx,

Thanks for your thoughts.

I agree that Denfeld has been short changed in recent years although it seems more inadvertent than purposeful and not unlike that poor frog put in a pot of cold water that turns to boiling.

I think its fair to conclude that Chair Kirby was anticipating some demonstrations in response to Denfeld speakers and his comments weren’t uncalled for. However, his call was heeded from the outset which had one unfortunate result. The crowd did not applaud the wonderful achievements of the students whose work was highlighted at the beginning of the meeting.

In fact, the Superintendent and I exchanged a little quiet small talk about that unfortunate non applauding for the students ourselves after it was too late to remedy the situation.

As for me, I don’t mind applause from the public even when it demonstrates dissatisfaction with the School Board. I’d rather hear it at a meeting than experience it when running for reelection. It gives me time to mend my ways.

As to the mulch. I agree.

Harry Welty

We don’t want to build new schools for those Duluth kids!

But we will bus them in so they can attend our old schools. Such was the overwhelming decision of Wrenshall’s voters in yesterday’s building referendum.

I’d be happy to welcome the 100 Duluth students currently attending Wrenshall back into the fold. Heck, I’d welcome the entire Wrenshall student population open enrolling into our brand-spanking new schools.

Annie Harala suggested sending our buses into outlying school districts last night’s meeting conjuring up the image of a dog-pound van hunting for strays. I don’t see that as terribly practical but if I thought a mass exodus was about to occur I’d have no problem sending our buses elsewhere. Think about it Wrenshall!