Category Archives: Red Plan

With 20 x 20 hindsight

Supporters of the Red Plan School Board have constantly accused Red Plan critics of misrepresentation of the truth. In fact it has been the other way around since the early days of the Red Plan.

I pulled out some old Trib stories from the past to illustrate this point. This one titled Overheard: Johnson Controls talks about red plan and dated June 5, 2009 begins thusly:

After grilling both Duluth schools Superintendent Keith Dixon and the anti-red plan group Let Duluth Vote, and after publishing roundups of their comments on long-range school plans and related subjects, the News Tribune editorial board this week sat down with Johnson Controls. The school district’s consultants on the red plan were represented by mechanical engineers Jeff Schiltz, who has worked in Duluth for Johnson Controls for 18 years, and Michael J. David, a Johnson Controls employee for 17 years in Minneapolis.

Following are excerpts straight from their mouths — as “overheard” by editorial board members.

— On the contract between Johnson Controls and the Duluth school district, which designates the firm to both design and implement the district’s long-range facilities plan:

“What the school district was looking for … was a partnership.” — Schiltz

“‘You’re in the long haul with us.’ That was the intent.” — Schiltz

“It holds our feet to the fire for accountability.” — Schiltz

“It helps to guarantee that what gets promised and planned is what gets designed and built.” — David

“[Such a contractual arrangement] is very common.” — David

— On Let Duluth Vote’s argument in its lawsuit that the contract violates bid laws: Continue reading

Dixon’s record passing operating levies

I have a friend who keeps me abreast of our old Superintendent Keith Dixon. He shared this information with me the other day:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vkc7V04SYD0&list=PLsyDmscCuwWk5DN5p73UlYNy9wdMXaM8R

The new superintendent of Centennial ISD 12

I think this fellow is the second superintendent after the Dixon “interim” period

Dixon is long gone but his record is stark. After pushing through a controversial building levy in Faribault, MN he was unable to pass an operating levy for the classroom which led to his jump to Duluth. Ditto Duluth.

Evidently he helped get another building levy passed as he left the Centennial School District. His successors are still trying to pass a levy for the classroom.

Some School leaders don’t deserve a polished apple

At this year’s Minnesota School Board Association conference I noted with interest that during the annual awards ceremony the entire seven member school board for the St. Louis County Schools was called up for special attention. They had managed a singular accomplishment. All seven had completed the many little seminars available to all Minnesota School Boards by the Association for the year.

I did this myself in my earlier years on the Duluth Board but back then none of my fellow Board members did much of this stuff so I was all by my lonesome during the award.

What makes this all the more notable is the vast size of the St. Louis County System. It includes all the sparsely settled portions of St. Louis County and the members who are far from St. Paul are also far from each other. I’ll bet some of them drive fifty miles to get to school board meetings. Maybe a lot farther.

And yet, Like Duluth, they marched to Johnson Controls tune to build a massive new facilities plan which has riven the District ever since. The biggest difference was that their voters who just barely passed a referendum got to vote on it whereas (to use my favorite word of the week) didn’t get to.

To sell it the school administrators did all sorts of things like lie about the District’s finances to voters. This has been the epic investigation that led to the tiny little Timberjay Newspaper receiving accolades from the state’s newspaper association. I have a couple folks who send me all the latest on the ongoing controversy which has gotten the St. Louis County Schools repeated hand slaps by various courts. I really don’t have time to read it all but the latest 26 page ruling by an administrative court is interesting. It explains the role Decision Resources had in telling voters how foolish it would be not to build all new schools. This is run by Bill Morris the fellow who did the same for the Red Plan at its inception and who I listened to with interest at the MSBA Conference when he explained that families leaving ISD 709 could no longer be counted on to support our local referendums.

The Law judges outline among other interesting things the many charges a local Duluth consultant charged JCI for work related to selling the building bond to local voters. This firm worked for them in Duluth and judging by what it earned on the relatively small St. Louis County Schools it must have done much better on its billing for the Red Plan. These costs would all be considered “soft costs” that added up to $84 million in the case of the Red Plan…..all of which the Duluth School Board has refused to make public. By the way, I’ve suspected for four years that this firm was paying someone to assassinate my character. The someone almost talked the Duluth Tribune’s editors into printing a story that I threatened his children. If this is the sort of expense we would find in the soft costs no wonder the district is so intent on keeping all of them (84 million taxpayer dollar’s worth) hushed up.

By the way one other notable thing about these award winners. Last year they racked up an astonishing legal bill of about $700,000 on a case they lost and should never have pursued in Court.

The Red Plan legacy – Traffic Safety

Traffic safety at East High which a number of parents have been writing to the school board about since at least the beginning of the year with little discernible reaction the School Board or the Administration has finally gotten past my posts ( here and here) to the pages of the Tribune this Mother’s Day. As I pointed out it is a legacy of the Red Plan predicted long before construction on the East/Ordean site ever began. The City of Duluth was called on early to intervene and the City Council made a little noise about the traffic issue but the Red Planners largely got their way and yet another Red Plan dilemma, like our teacher layoffs and large class sizes was born. Today, after the fact and the construction to see how this concern can be alleviated without a great deal of expense.

I don’t feel much need to elaborate further here and now. The Trib’s story echoes everything that parents have been telling us:

During the same end-of-day departure frenzy, many students trying to cross the avenue in a pedestrian crossing zone had to wait for traffic that didn’t stop for them.

“The cars kind of forget that pedestrians have the right of way,” said sophomore Lizzy Nikcevich, waiting for her mom to pick up her and some friends after school. “I’ve been crossing the road, and cars have bumped me.”

Its hard for me to explain this as anything other than a legacy of the Red Plan. That kind of explanation has been a great frustration for school board members like Mike Miernicki who keep insisting the Red Plan is over and done with. Rehashing it to Mern is just so much “negativity” and explains his imminent escape from the Board. That’s the next post.

Running down our children

The School Board has gotten a steady stream of pleas from East High School parents begging that we do something to make their parking safe. This danger was predicted years ago by Let Duluth Vote and one of Duluth’s preeminent landscape architects Kent Worley:

There is extremely limited space for parents to stop their cars along 40th Avenue East to unload and load students In fact there is space for only 15 cars at most [didn’t the Traffic Study state space for 101 cars to load would be necessary?] Where will others go with not having enough space to even stop the car? They will go to the dead-end bus drop lane, and that is exactly where you do not want them to go. The reasons are safety, students walking between incoming and leaving buses, and incoming and leaving cars. Cars entering and leaving parking lots should not be mixing with the buses, but because the site is so small, parking and buses and parent cars will have to use the same drive. This is an absolutely wrong way to safely deal with students, cars and buses, they need physical separation. Others typically try a quick stop and drop along Superior Street in the midst of its fast moving thru traffic. The few parking spaces for drop on 40th are not isolated as they should be with their own SEPARATED parent car arrival / stop / waiting / parking activities which normally occur. Thru-traffic vehicles occupy driving lanes which are un-separated from drop/pick up lanes. Students will be walking across 40th Avenue East from its east side crossing to the school as parents attempt to stop along this east curb, again in moving traffic.

There’s more here on the old Let Duluth Vote website.

Kent’s predictions have come true.

This is a parent’s plea to us this morning:

Hello,

I have a daughter who attends Duluth East and I shot this video yesterday. I have put it on You Tube and I think it will show you a little bit of the insanity that occurs while trying to leave the parking lot after school. There is no direction and cars turning onto 40th try to avoid pedestrians, etc. There are also cars parked backwards on Luverne as well. When will we take charge and do something about this dangerous situation? Will a child need to be injured (or killed) before we stand up and make this safe?

Having someone to direct traffic onto 40th and hold kids back from crossing so that traffic can clear, seems to be a simple solution.

We need to do something before it is too late.

https://youtu.be/e90DP7ymx4c

Thank you for your time!

Here’s his video…….it gives me the willies.

I did reply to the parent:

Mr. *************.

Thank you for sharing this video. This is the best proof yet of our desperate need to find a solution to this dangerous situation. I’ve put it on my blog with some commentary.

I’m too angry at the moment to offer you any comfort. I think the danger of this situation is ironically one of the few things that keeps our children safe. Local drivers have gotten used to driving with care during periods like this. Unfortunately, not everyone driving through on E. Superior will always be familiar with or anticipate this can of worms.

God help us because the School Board is preoccupied with other more pressing matters than the lives of our children.

I’ll share my thoughts with the rest of the Board. Maybe it will wake them up.

Harry Welty

What I told the Senate Subcommittee on Elections today

The previous post was meant to be a quick one about my trip to the state capital today so that I could turn in having made some comment on the day. But what I wrote has left me so angry I doubt I’ll fall easily to sleep. I’ll probably stew for hours about all sorts of bloggable issues. The top of the list is Art’s lawsuit which is now in full swing. You’ll read about it in the paper tomorrow along with the obligatory passage about how attorney Mary Rice uncovered Art Johnston’s career as a serial killer…..or was it something else? At least I can now say a lot about Art’s lawsuit because its finally public and I am no longer subject to a second censure for speaking out of turn about it.

So much. There is so much to write. Ah, but I’ll just leave you with my 733 word testimony to the committee this afternoon. Then I’ll try to go to bed and not think about it. Art told me that the semicircle of legislators listened to me in rapt attention. I did get a gentle rebuke from Chair Katie Sieben afterwards when she pointed out that my fellow board members were bit present to defend themselves. That’s funny because that’s how Art Johnston has felt since June of last year when he was accused of all manner of vileness. Now he’s going to get his day in court.

Here are the 733 I shared in St. Paul today:

Senator Bonoff and colleagues,

I hope you don’t object to my calling you colleagues. Forty years ago I came to St. Paul to get advice from then House Minority leader, Arne Carlson, in what became a futile two election quest to unseat Representative Mike Jaros. Had my fortunes been different then, I might be walking these halls among you. Continue reading

March comes in like a lamb and a little demography

As February came to a close I was set to begin blogging up a storm with some squalls like I had in February. It was not to be. It began on a Sunday and I’ve been keeping to family on weekends. Then on Monday I was hit with what felt like a stomach bug. Couldn’t eat, thought cookie tossing made sense but couldn’t bring myself to do it and just sat binge watching the very satisfying end of the salacious “Orange is the New Black.” Salacious is a loaded word. There is a lot of lesbos in it but its done so casually that it ends up being in your face. The sex scenes would have gotten the adolescent me all heated up. Today they just sort of made me sit up in wide eyed astonishment and then in their frequency inured me. It had much the same affect as reading Andrew Sullivan’s blog daily for ten years. Women’s breasts were to Orange what casual even wincing explanations about the details of gay life were to Sullivan. A salutary effect in both cases was moving past titillation to a more grown up attitude about facts of life. I’m still in many ways a Puritan in mind. It reminds me of a line in a George C Scott Movie I watched 35 years ago, Hardcore. A puritanical father learns his daughter has been lured into a sordid life and goes on a quest to rescue her after she is too humiliated to let herself be found. A young prostitute he encounters in his search tells him that Sex is similar for both of them. Because of the miracle that is the Internet it only took me ten minutes to find it: Continue reading

Beyond Patience

That title is meant to be a joke.

Hooray! I’ve got my computer back. Think of it as my Thor’s Hammer. I can almost fly with it.

This post is supposed to be about last week’s school board meeting. I prepared notes to type up but I think I will be content at this point to see what Loren Martell reports about our meeting. He always listens to a recording of it before or as he writes it. I rely on memory and whatever illegible notes I took on my official board book during the meeting. I took lots of them last week.

I read with some trepidation the “Patience” post. I hadn’t proof read it and I worried that I might have been too dyspeptic since I was in a gloomy mood when writing it. No worries. Its surprising cogent and I only spotted one missing comma and one wrong preposition (if for of) and a “too” where there should have been a to.

Erik Satie is playing on Pandora in the background. I have even more post ideas that I’d like to address but they are accumulating so rapidly I find myself in the position of Sisyphus at the bottom of his eternally unclimbable mountain.

Speaking of beyond patience that seems to be Loren Martell’s condition. I read yesterday’s column “Where have all the Children Gone?“in the Reader and as always I recommend it. I will hasten to apologize for sounding like the always eternally optimistic Member Loeffler-Kemp but its worth remembering that things are not quite as grim for many of our children as Loren’s column makes it sound. Sure, classes are crowded and our course offerings have been trimmed but for bright and well-adjusted kids living with emotionally healthy families will get by. Resiliency is the word academics and social workers throw around to account for this. That doesn’t mean things aren’t tough. The letters we received from the Denfeld teachers spells this out. Now that I have my comupter back I’ll put some of them on the blog.

As for the finances of the District Loren is right to acknowledge that our steep financial fall has softened. Yes, promises that the Red Plan would pay for itself were always a joke. Yes, School Board ate up the old reserve to keep our slashing of teachers to a draconian minimum. Yes, we have stopped transferring six million of year out of operations to pay off debt service (by raising taxes in excess of 10% in two successive years). But, the fact of the matter is, for the moment the descent has stalled. Loren is right to fret about our continuing enrollment decline. Art Johnston put the cost of losing another 200 students at $2 million. That’s if they generate $10,000 from the state. At one recent meeting we were told they only generate $6,800 in state funding per student.

Even if the Edison Schools draw another 700 students out of the ISD 709 schools our best students will still get a good education in our schools. But what a loss in opportunities the Red Plan will have cost them. And let’s hope the teachers at East don’t feel compelled to join their Denfeld colleagues in agonizing that the kids in their classes have fallen behind those of the pre-Red Plan days.

I can’t fault Loren’s fears. I too am frustrated. I’m particularly aggrieved when I remember that before the Johnston imbroglio I had planned to read in every elementary school over and over this month. February has been “I love to read” month every year since I first got elected to the School Board.In my earlier service on the Board I made reading pilgrimages to the elementary schools all year.I still have my gorilla slippers and favorite books waiting in my attic for return engagements. Its just that I’m too busy putting together a defense of Art Johnston because of this stupid pogrom.

I’m not quite beyond patience but I’m close to it.

Two gratifying emails

I felt a lot better cranking out those posts yesterday. They are still just a fraction of what I am eager to write about but they prompted two emails which were most gratifying. The second one came this morning:

On Wed, Feb 11, 2015 at 12:21 PM, *** ****** wrote:

Thanks Harry,

Am a big fan of your blog and would be in the dark with out it. Without you and Art there would be no democratic process or discourse. Hang in there, ***

To which I replied:

And Thank you. Writing in my blog often feels like writing into a great void. I know I’ve got readers but they don’t often comment.

Harry

The first came last night and was a follow up on some earlier email correspondence. Here’s my reply:

******

I’m putting my replies in your text .

Harry

Mr Welty,

Admittedly, I’m a little late to the party when it comes to all things school district business. If I remember correctly, somehow the district/JCI convinced a judge that the paperwork, contracts, promises etc were JCI’s private property and not subject to FOI requests? No one appealed this?

That was JCI’s claim and a very weak one it was. That, however, was not the substance of the lawsuit. We claimed that they violated the law (court case law) by getting a no bid contract. Our attorney was removed from the case because there was an appearance (that the Judge himself noted was not demonstrated in fact) that he had a conflict having talked to a school board member while he was representing the suing party.

My anger with this situation is fresh since I am late to the party…It is also my understanding that Glass, Johnson, Martell and you have all filed FOI requests that are being ignored? (Illegally?) Continue reading

Prescience

I was looking for a link on LD to a post that mentioned Gary Glass’s recommendation to refinance our borrowing to save money. It didn’t pop up with the words “Glass” and “Refinance” but some other goodies did. It was stunning to see how clearly Gary spelled out our current situation five years before it came to pass:

[Chair]Grover took as gospel that promised savings are assured. That assurance is built on faith, faith based on unseen public data the district administration refuses to provide.

Despite being a School Board member, a minority of one, I have been denied access to public data (including the basis for the review-and-comment documents) that could prove whether district promises have merit. Pardon my skepticism, but when a salesman refuses to offer proof of claims I won’t buy.

Unfortunately, the district’s attorneys discovered a glitch in the law to force customers to buy without having any say. My skepticism is fed by withheld information, closed agenda meetings and ill-informed decision-making. I fail to see how turning teachers into brick and mortar will help our children learn.

Maybe Superintendent Dixon is wrong. Maybe bigger, crowded classes are not what new School Board members will support. Maybe more teachers are needed to close the achievement gaps and implement more effective teaching techniques for better student outcomes.

The tax payers small Red Windfall

Its always nice to see the “Red Plan” mentioned in a news story as it was today. The 2008 bonds will be refinanced if possible and it appears that starting next year taxpayers will see the District reduce their burden by $235,000 a year until the bonds are paid off in their twentieth year.

I made a point of giving a nod at the Business meeting to Gary Glass who felt ridiculed when he urged that the District try to reduce the cost by refinancing the bonds. I’m sure he will be gratified to see his suggestion being acted on.

“Where this blog is headed” revisited – plus a little piss and vinegar

Lincoln democrat is 108 months old minus a week or two. This is its 12,830th post. Its the diary I share with whoever is prurient or curious enough to see what I’m pontificating about at any given point in my life. It is not quite a diary but I throw enough personal stuff in to make sure my readers can see the sinew and bones that make me frail and foible prone like any other human.

I’ve commented on the retirement of the Sullivan blog recently. I’m not sure when I first ran across it but I wouldn’t be surprised if it wasn’t about the time of 9/11. I cautiously supported George Bush in his invasion of Iraq and I suspect that support was built in large part on the thinking of Andrew Sullivan the gay wunderkind of the conservative movement. Like Sullivan I ended up realizing what a mistake George Bush made. Sullivan’s hanging all his thoughts out in the public as he changed his mind was a stellar example to me of a kind of public humility I could identify with.

If you look down the column on the right you will see that my blog began in March of 2006 and wasted little time in linking to Andrew Sullivan’s blog. I did so first in my nineteenth post. Like many old hyperlinks it is no longer active so I’d have to search through Sullivan’s archives to find it now.

I also linked to Sullivan’s blog in 2008 in a post that caught me just as I was ending my run of 100 biweekly columns in Duluth’s tabloid the Reader Weekly. That was my 1,289th post titled “Where this blog is headed.” I was ending my regular column for the Reader (without pay) and beginning a second campaign for Congress as an Independent candidate. I would end up getting far fewer votes the second time around than in 1992 when I garnered 7% of the Eighth Congressional District vote as the “Perot Choice” candidate.

That I did so poorly was in part my sudden preoccupation with an ancient story going back to the Congressional election of 1974. I was visiting my Mother in a St. Paul memory care unit every two weeks and spent part of my visiting day at the Minnesota Historical Museum researching that old bit of Duluth history. That’s not the best way to conduct a campaign for Congress.

Since then I’ve been caught up in what the Reader Weekly’s readers have voted Duluth’s worst boondoggle in eight successive Worst of the Northland votes. Continue reading

How to create implacable foes

The answer is simple. Be really, really, really uncivil to them.

I’m astounded at my tenacity and that of Loren Martell and Art Johnston. Character assassination hasn’t worked on us. Stonewalling and hiding public data hasn’t worked. In Loren’s case he was handcuffed by police at the direction of the School Board chair when he lingered at a microphone too long after the Chairman of the Board had turned it off on him. Art Johnston has been accused of vile deeds and is just a nasty procedural vote away from having his election overturned. I’ve suffered a few slings and arrows myself. I think the operative phrase is: what doesn’t kill you makes you more ornery. That’s not a smart tactic for folks with such big targets on their backs.

What brings this to mind is the civic meeting I attended briefly yesterday which began with an appeal for civility and the latest review of the School Board by Mr. Martell in the Reader Weekly.

Loren, saves the best for last not that his beginning and middle suffer from the delay. Here’s one nub:

“At the start of the Red Plan, the public school district had 2,327,295 square feet of building space. Our wily leaders are currently sitting on 2,416,027 square feet–nearly 100,000 square feet more than they started with. The goal of the half billion dollar consolidation plan was to reduce total square footage by 500,000 sq. ft. Even after all the “excess” property is finally sold or given away, 500,000 square feet of space reduction will never happen. No adjustment to this reality has been made to savings claims.”

I’ve been spending the last week filing my untidy mess of documents. I’m so close to being finished. In my case its like girding my loins for the summer’s school board election battle. Only I’ve also got a legal battle to help fight to honor the votes of Duluth’s fourth School Board District. This will be a battle requiring quick access to nine years worth of bullshit on paper.

What I’ve done so far will make it easier for me to find all the huffing and puffing from Red Planners about how we had to get rid of hundreds of thousands of square feet of useless space requiring us to burn precious dollars to heat the space in the winter time. I might search those quotes out tomorrow but I’ll probably be too busy watching Superbowl ads.

At least our Red Plan fight has raised some public consciousness. Take this letter to the Trib yesterday:

So we’re supposed to build a new $34.7 million library to save $75,000 in wasted energy per year (“Consultants recommend replacing downtown library,” Jan. 27). That means that in only 462.6 years we will break even.

My blog is a treasure chest

In the previous post I did a search of my blog for mentions of Kevin Rupp. The first two mentions go back to 2009 and Let Duluth Vote’s lawsuit against the District. The second post in which he made an appearance is a hoot.

I asked Rupp’s caged bird, Attorney Mary Rice, if Art Johnston had violated any state statutes. She gave an imitation of Sgt. Schultz, “I know nothing,” and just kept pounding on the half dozen violations of school policy that – IN HER OPINION – Art violated. So what did Attorney Kevin Rupp say about the importance of our District’s policies when Art and I took the District to court for failing to bid out our half billion dollar Red Plan?

I advise you to sit down before reading.

“The notable thing is that [the plaintiffs] have not alleged the school district violated any law,” lawyer Kevin Rupp said. “They have only alleged the school district violated a policy. You can’t sue for violation of a policy.”

If I may be allowed to paraphrase our esteemed counsel I’d say:

The notable thing is that [the School Board] has not alleged that [Art Johnston] violated any law. They have only alleged the [Art] has violated a policy. You can’t [remove a school board member] for taking advantage of the First Amendment even if school policy frowns on free speech.

MSBA Notes 2 – The Incredible Shrinking School District

I have the terrible gift of prophecy where the Duluth Schools are concerned. Much that has happened since the uber ambitious Red Plan was announced I anticipated, its phony financial projections, the massive exodus of families, the chaos of an expedited construction as whole school populations were shuffled about for the convenience of contractors. So, it was without surprise that on the day I left for the MSBA convention there was a story confirming that our Edison Charter is well on its way to deciding to build a new high school just a stone’s throw from the Northstar Academy on the Rice Lake Road.

On my first full day at the conference I attended two fascinating sessions on Minnesota schools. I’ll post my “Notes 3” about the session on PELRA law led by our District’s lawyer, Kevin Rupp, following this installment which concerns one more prophecy.

Last Monday I missed our Business Committee as I was returning by plane from Florida. On Wednesday Art filled me in on what I’d missed as we drove down to the MSBA’s Minneapolis Convention.

Art has routinely annoyed our Board by continually pointing out our declining student enrollment at every meeting. The Board majority’s reaction seems to be to blame the declines on him for not being positive. If we would just ignore the lumpy rug in our living room everything would be hunky dory. Ditto for my blog.

Student enrollment figures are complicated by state financing which has a complicated formula for doling out money. Younger kids don’t get the same financing as senior high kids. This financing takes us away from just counting enrolled children and preoccupies with WADMs (pronounced waddum). The acronym stands for “Weighted Average Daily Membership.” Its essentially a figure which is calculated by multiplying each child by the amount of funding he or she generates to the District. WADMs are always larger than actual enrollment. But for our purposes simple enrollment is easier to explain.

In January ISD 709’s enrollment was 8,465.75 students. (Some kid must have left our system three weeks into January) This is probably the lowest student enrollment for Duluth since the baby boom. It may be lower than anything since the Depression or maybe even the turn of the twentieth century. I’d love to research this but the District probably wouldn’t let me go through its dusty old records or, as with Art, would charge me an arm and a leg to dig the data out.

At the Monday meeting our Finance Director, Bill Hanson, was uncharacteristically eager to point this enrollment drop out first before Art had a chance to grouse about it. This may be the best enrollment we can muster for the next decade.

The new Edison high school which 90 percent of Edison families want their children to attend will eventually pull another 600 students (150) per grade out of ISD 709. That will put us below 8,000 students. That’s hardly the enrollment you would expect for one of Minnesota’s “cities of the first class.” It will put a couple dozen other Minnesota School districts ahead of us in enrollment. Six hundred lost students will mean fewer state dollars, fewer teachers and a smaller curriculum. But that’s not all. Continue reading

Rupp si daisy

I had planned to go back to my notes to reconstruct my nine objections to retaining Kevin Rupp’s firm. I outlined them at our school board’s organizational meeting last week. That would have taken a couple hours to reconstruct and I am positively thrilled to discover, upon my return from the MSBA convention (Minnesota School Boards Association), that Loren Martell has done the job for me. He’s done it better than I would have because he has the meeting taped. His Reader Weekly Column today quotes me extensively. I must say, I’m pretty damn cogent – as cogent as our attorney is ….. well, read Loren’s column for yourself.

Here’s a fragment to whet your gag reflex:

During the Rice Report meeting, Mr. Welty sent a nervous rustle through the room by making an open reference to dark scandals buried in the district’s past. To avoid sailing too far into tabloid waters, I’ll leave part of the following quote intentionally blank. Again referring to the same person (whom he blames for the months-long Johnston conflict), Welty said:
“When I was on the school board before, this person lied to cover up (——-) abuse.”

By the way, I found out yesterday afternoon that the Trib was calling MSBA staff to ask about Mr. Rupp. I presumed it was in response to my two thousand word post that morning about Mr. Rupp’s indefensible failure to prevent our Board policy on negotiations from being urinated on last March. I might have been wrong. It might have been prompted by Mr. Martell’s column.

Attorney Rupp is truly at his best when he shields the guilty and slanders the innocent. And let us not forget, well paid – by Duluth tax payers.

A warning to Minnesota School Board members before engaging the legal services of Attorney Kevin Rupp

Background:

I am Harry Welty. I served on the Duluth School Board from 1995 through 2003. I attended every MSBA conference in those eight years. This is my second conference since getting reelected to our Board in 2013. I’ve never had my eyes opened so wide at our conference as I did at last night’s two hour beginner’s negotiation session.

Our district is infamous for its fractiousness. That was true when I was on the board the first time and we brought in one of Minnesota’s first charter schools despite significant union opposition. After I retired from the Board in Jan 2004 things got hot again when our District imposed a quarter billion building bond without voter approval. I publicly opposed this decision and led a campaign to encourage our Board to give the decision to the voters. They did not yield and then, again without allowing public participation, raised the projects cost by an additional sixty million. Counting interest the plan is nearly half a billion dollars to. To pay for it we laid off a great many teachers and crammed kids into classes and lost better than ten percent of our students to open enrollment. Now that I’ve regained a position on the Board getting financial details about the past is like pulling hen’s teeth. No one will tell us where, for instance, $84 million of “soft costs” for the project just completed went to. As board members yourselves, MSBA members can understand my concern for this breach of fiduciary responsibility.

The real tragedy is that our School Board with the advice of Mr. Rupp has been fatally preoccupied with the attempt to remove a fellow school board member on the flimsiest of trumped up charges for the past nine months. It is rare to remove board members let alone for simply exercising their first amendment rights.

Nonetheless, this has been Mr. Rupp’s baby since June of last year. For me this detour from education has been an astonishing turn of events. It will continue all through this year until the next fall’s election. If he is removed this board member will almost certainly be re-elected by his unhappy voters who’s schools have not fared well under the new plan with a massive student exodus.

I should confess at the outset that my board recently censured me for divulging the fire sale price of a property once valued at nearly $30 million. It was sold for a pittance. I was in the wrong and voted to censure myself as well. Now, on to what I learned at the Conference Wednesday night about how Kevin Rupp has represented us over and beyond his role in prolonging a divisive and expensive legal civil war that has made the running of our schools a secondary issue we have little time for.

At our recent January organizational meeting we considered the routine resolutions re-instituting our banking and our four law firms. A motion was and made and defeated to dispense with the services of Mr. Rupp’s firm.

I listed nine concerns about Rupp’s service the most egregious being his recommendation (hidden from public view and from me) that the Board accuse my colleague of having spewed racist comments. This was laughable as the targeted board member, Art Johnston, is the only Board member who serves on Duluth’s NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) chapter. Also Art’s campaign manager was recently elected President of our NAACP chapter. For eight months Art has had to live with this (dare I say it?) black cloud invented by Mr. Rupp hanging over his head. It was pure character assassination.

Last night I was aghast to learn that another of my complaints against Mr. Rupp was for more grievous than I initially thought it was. He allowed our District to violate state law by keeping me out of a meeting during our contract negotiations that should have been open not only to me but to the public.

I’ve never revealed the full story on my blog until now for the sake of getting along but comity is long gone from the Duluth School Board and its time to face facts coldly. Last March I was left livid when our Superintendent, Mr. Gronseth, followed Mr. Rupp’s advice to exclude me from negotiations. This was despite Board conversations guaranteeing me access to the meetings and despite our board policy that made me a member of our negotiation’s team.

This would have been a new experience for me. Although I had served on the Duluth School Board from 1995-2003 and voted on four teacher master agreements I had never actually sat across the bargaining table. Last night I learned that in some larger districts attorneys and administrators will try to keep board members at a remove from the negotiations. But I got elected pointing out that Duluth was in massive fiscal trouble. I had made it clear I wanted to exercise my right under our own policy to be a part of the negotiations. Our Chairman, Mike Miernicki, and our Superintendent knew I would attend a March negotiation meeting. It was not a surprise when I showed up.

But I was surprised when I found a large gathering of about twenty teachers and half a dozen of we management negotiators. It had been suggested that these were very secretive meetings. Instead it was very open and the door to the room was left wide open. I got there early and sat at the table across from many old teacher acquaintances. But when our administrators and Attorney Rupp entered our Director of Human Resources, Tim Sworsky, asked me to move back from the table and ushered fellow Board member Rosie Loeffler-Kemp into my seat without explanation. I thought perhaps that he was having me be gentlemanly.

After half an hour of friendly rhetorical speeches by the teachers we took their latest offer and broke up into separate “caucuses” to dicker among ourselves away from the folks across the table. I followed behind the rest of the management “team” to the Superintendent’s office to palaver in secret with my team. Just as I got to the door of the Superintendent’s Cabinet Room, HR Director Sworsky turned around and told me that I wasn’t part of the group. Why Rosie Loeffler-Kemp, who had been ushered into my seat at her first negations session, was permitted into this caucus and not me despite our board policy I had no time to contemplate. Reeling, I sat down in a coach in the main office while the door was closed behind the grown-ups. That’s how I felt and that’s not a good feeling for the most senior member of the school board to feel. I had eight full years service compared to seven by our second most senior member.

It didn’t take me long to start fuming. At 11:15 AM I texted the Superintendent: “ I don’t do livid. I’m close to making an exception. You are violating school board policy and you have a very unhappy SB member in your foyer.”

I expected the Superintendent to check with the attorney and admit me very quickly. I sat for about five minutes waiting for common sense to break out while my eyes were glued to the door. At the end of a short hallway the Superintendent skulked out and furtively looked over his shoulder back into his main office where I sat stewing on his couch. He saw me staring at him while he ducked into what I presume was his private washroom. I wondered if he’d read my text. When he reappeared a minute later to return to the caucus I called out to him, “Superintendent, I sent you a text message.” He ducked back into the Cabinet Room. I was very angry.

I felt no good would come from remaining in the Superintendent’s Office in such a foul mood so I left the building to cool off. I drove to a parking ramp near Duluth’s sky-walk and began walking back and forth to walk off some of my humiliation. It didn’t work. Then I got a text message.

At 11:25 AM Supt Gronseth: “Just came our [out] to talk to you-please speak with Chair Miernicki.”

At 11:26 AM Board Member Welty writes: “I left him an angry [phone] message when I was shut out of the meeting. But I will call him again.”

At: 11:29 AM Board Member Welty: “Left him an even more furious message.”

Half an hour later at 12:02 AM Supt. Gronseth wrote: “We are back in session.”

I drove back at entered the larger open meeting but after it broke up a short while later with counter offers I departed, resigned to skipping any further negotiation sessions but still furious.

I kept this story under wraps to ensure that the Board didn’t get sucked into an ugly row although I did share it with the education reporter at the local paper who never covers the interpersonal relations of Board members. After I cooled off the Superintendent told me it had been Chair Miernicki’s responsibility for keeping me out of the “caucus.” The superintendent told me that he just couldn’t persuade Chair Miernicki to be reasonable. This seemed unlikely because the Chair had assured me I could participate but I took his explanation on good faith. Board members did exchange some heated email for some days afterward but no one ever could explain why the assurances made to me had been abandoned. This episode was the first of what would become a long list of grievances I would hold towards attorney Rupp.

That brings me up to last night at the MSBA conference. I attended a two-hour session on negotiations for beginners led by some very experienced MSBA staff negotiators. I heard basics that our board and negotiators seemed never to have considered during our negotiations that led to our approval of two two-year contracts. I took a lot of notes especially when I learned that our attorney , Mr. Rupp, failed to defend my rights during our negotiations.

Remembering my experience with Kevin Rupp I asked the MSBA’s Bill Kraut: “How many school districts have no Board members on negotiating teams? Mr. Kraut turned the question back to the 140 or so school board members in attendance. No one in the room raised their hand except me.

Then Mr. Kraut went on to say something that astonished me, The public not only can attend the open meetings but can’t be prevented from attending the caucus meetings of the School District when they break from the general sessions. Any Minnesotan could demand admittance because they are public meetings except, apparently, one school board member in Duluth. I raised my hand for a follow up question.

“If a school board member is denied access to the caucus is that kosher?”

Mr. Kraut took a few moments to consider this question. He seemed taken aback. Then he authoritatively said “NO.”

I feel like a prize fool. Our attorney, Kevin Rupp, originally from a big Twin Cities law firm that I voted hire years ago, didn’t pass on this elementary bit of state law that was explained to us in a beginner’s class on negotiations. Kevin Rupp kept his mouth shut during my angry texting or worse, he let our district deny an elected board member with a fiduciary responsibility to be admitted to a caucus that every Minnesotan had the legal right to attend. It wasn’t just our District policy he refused to enforce. It was the state’s Open Meeting law.

When I get back to Duluth I’ll find my seven other objections to Mr. Rupp’s service and post them also. For the time being I’ll just mention one of those complaints from that list. With Mr. Rupp’s negotiating assistance the relatively poor Duluth School District managed by 2013 to place Duluth 15th on the list of Minnesota’s highest paid teachers. Not surprisingly, Duluth also has some of the most overcrowded classrooms in the State.

If we weren’t busy following Mr. Rupp’s legal advice to remove a school board member for asking too many questions we might have time to deal with such critical issues.

Central and the STC’s 77 acres will earn us $4.7 million

That’s Loren Martell’s calculation in his latest Reader Weekly Column. I noticed it wasn’t in the Reader’s website when I tried to link to it. I sent them an email encouraging to do so. You’ll have to find it at one of their dispensers unless and until it makes it to the Web.

The Article is a train wreck so startling that its hard to avert your eyes through its full two pages of exposition. The calculation comes in the last paragraph under the section subtitled “Time for a rebate!”.

That’s quite a fall from what the property was valued at when the Red Plan began so very long ago. OH WAIT! Loren’s column is up now. Read and Marvel.

5th Day of Christmas

I’m imperfect. That is something we all are encouraged to accept in the message of the man whose birth we celebrate at this time of year. My own ongoing imperfections were outlined in this letter today in the Trib. (So far I’ve only read the headline and the Author’s name. I will have ample time to do read it in the coming day and ample time to reflect on it over the course of the coming year.)

Why have I been too busy to pour over the paper? Well, I’ve been watching Box Car Children this morning with my grandsons one of whom I just delivered to his daycare. Yesterday I played a three-hour marathon of Monopoly with the older boy. I think its been twelve or more years since I last played the game. The Tan Man clobbered me and, like most seven-year olds, derived much satisfaction in his triumph. He was staying with us because he had a fever and couldn’t go to school. We were just pulling grandparent duty and that duty continues today. I hear him and his Grandmother now playing Angry Birds downstairs.

This will be my last mention of politics for the Season and, as it all relates to me, I think I’m safe in doing so without damaging the spirit of good will that these posts are meant to foster. Its a spirit rather well embodied in the paper mache figure (pictured above) that my Mother sculpted twenty years ago.

Last night I received an email subject titled “Control Freakish”.

It read in part:

Hi Harry,

I’m growing concerned at the amount of control you are trying to assert over this whole political pot hole mess.  You really shouldn’t be advocating to people to not speak their minds. To leave meetings to go request people not speak at the board meeting is completely counter productive towards the goal of wanting people to be more involved, and getting people to speak up is a constant battle. Not enough people, including myself, speak out. Now you are running around requesting people not do it? That is not cool….

From afar, I’m seeing you get obsessed and absorbed by a political in the end, as I believe others are only going to see you as a person who is manipulative and scheming.

I responded in part:

If I fail this is what I think I face:

Raising a hundred thousand dollars. Spending all my time with lawyers in court and no time time in schools. A community civil war. Years of delay in fixing the financial drain that the Red Plan has been. Making half of Duluth hate me and the rest of the School Board for the damned good reason that we have placed our vanity above the interests of the children we were elected to serve.

This explains my reluctance to imperil my diminishing hope for peace. And you are wrong. I do have some control over things. My Mom always told me it takes two sides to fight. I’m just not taking any swings right now.

God damn me. God damn every one of us.

Had I been a little more reflective I would have concluded: “God save me. God save every one of us.”

My Mother, whose own father was the elected State Auditor of Kansas for 24 unblemished years, often told me that she wished I would not go into politics. Its really her own fault that I did. When I told her in Junior High, at the time I was reading JFK’s “Profiles in Courage,” that I was ugly she turned my adolescent insecurity on its head. She didn’t argue and tell me that I was pretty . Instead she told me that Abraham Lincoln was a terribly homely man. That idea came as a shock to me. I’d looked at his pictures in those years following the Civil War’s Centennial hundreds of time. I especially remember pouring over all his photo portraits in a Life magazine article in 1961 or 62. All I had ever seen in his photographs was nobility, sagacity, resolve and in a few of them a small hint of mischief. My Mother helped me see Lincoln the way people of his time saw him in the gruesome cartoons they drew of him. Because of my Mother my new attitude was “By God, if I’m ugly why should I let that bother me?”

Appearances are often deceiving. In this Season might all ask ourselves why we still worship a pathetic man who was executed in the most humiliating way his own followers could possibly imagine. And yet, despite that degradation, even Kings like Good King Wenceslas would come to emulate and worship the Carpenter.

It takes two to tangle

I read Sam Cook’s thoughtful column today with interest. I don’t usually read his columns because I don’t hunt and I rarely fish but I like Sam’s style. Back when I had a mustache I’d have people confuse me with him much to my amusement. I thought it was funny partly because we both got our start in Kansas although we both mostly lost our drawls ages ago.

If I were where Sam is I’d probably have written much the same column. I’m not however so I’ll have to hew to all the posts I’ve put in this blog going back to the Ice Age. I would guess that Sam heard from his Kansas mother what my Kansas mother told me on several occasions as I was growing up. “It takes two to have a fight.”

There is an important corollary to this rustic old saying and that is – It takes two to end a quarrel.

As Loren Martell makes clear – our quarrel is a donnybrook.

For my part I tell anyone who will listen that our situation reminds me of an old African proverb: “When elephants fight the grass gets trampled.”

In this case the grass is the 24 bright young high school students Sam met in an English composition class. I hope that our two sides remain mindful of the grass below our big stumpy feet.