Excorcising ghosts

Yesterday we didn’t feel much like going into San Fran proper. I looked on the Internet for tickets to Wicked but the only reasonably priced tickets that popped up for Saturday evening’s performance were snapped up before I could check to see if my wife wanted me to buy them. Instead we decided to head to San Jose to visit the Winchester House. We’d both heard a story about its eccentric owner on National Public Radio a long time ago.

The story in brief:

Sarah Winchester, four foot ten wife of the President of the Winchester Rifle Company inherited a fortune when her husband died at the tender age of 40. Already grieving over the loss of an infant she consulted a medium who advised her to move from New England to California where she might be able to hide from the ghosts who’s lives were claimed by the Winchester. To additionally confuse them she was advised to build a home and keep building as the racket would drive the spectres away.

She did and she did. She moved to San Jose with a fortune that put her in the ranks of her Era’s Bill Gate’s. She built a house and didn’t stop for the next 36 years. Construction was 24/10. She oversaw the construction, destrution and remodeling of over 600 rooms. The current house has 150 of them and you would be hard pressed to find a more confusing labarynth. (darn it I wish I could figure out how to use a spellchecker on this from the lap top)

As Sarah Winchester’s eccentricities were described in what we were told was a mile of traveling through her home with windows built into ceilings and doors to nowhere I leaned over and whispered to Claudia that if one had to choose a response to the guilt over one’s responsibility for so many deaths I thought Alfred Nobel’s was a little more practical. After inventing dynamite he put his war waging millions into the Nobel Peace Prize.

To atone for the millions lost in the Civil War Mrs. Winchester built her own version of the Red Plan – to keep the ghosts confused. She would have fit in nicely on the Duluth School Board. At least she spent her own money.

No news is bad news

Its Sunday morning and once again I put a bare five hours into my slumbers before waking a little after 4AM Pacific time. I gathered up the computer to head to the lobby to blog.

The bell captain just passed by tomake sure I wasn’t some vagrant off the streets using their WiFi early in the morning. I look a little scruffy because I forgot to pack the recharger for my electric shaver.

We head to the airport in an hour and a half to fly home to Duluth so I was glad to seem light email traffic which I should be able to polish off before boarding. The First two reminded me of what is at stake and will stay with me in the final drive to rustle up the last $30,000.

The first was the blog post Brandon Stahl composed on his blog over a week ago about why he quoted a City Attorney’s warning to City Councilors without asking permission. He almost apologized for his sense of obligation to report the news when it was inconvenient. At least he reported it. At least he doesn’t regard the Trib as the Chamber of Commerces happy talk newsletter.

The second came from a Piedmont parent and covered a story I’ve been trying to get the Trib’s Ed Reporter to talk about – the exodus of students from the Duluth Schools. If I’m right that we’ve lost 10% of our eligible enrollment that’s news. Its close to $8 million state dollars and goes a long way to explain the teacher layoffs. Most of it can be laid at the feet of Dr. Dixon.

When the City-wide PTA Chair raised some cain about this a month ago or more in an angry email to the School Board the intrepid Ed reporter told me she trying to get an interview but he wasn’t returning his calls. As far as the Trib’s reading public knows nothing’s happening in Piedmont. Read this and ask yourself whatever happened to Woodward and Bernstein.

I just wanted to pass on something I heard Thursday. Many parents from Piedmont have pulled their kids out of Piedmont. Many to the Edison’s. The mom I spoke to who was a PTA officer for many years said she was angry for being lied to by Dixon. I watched Piedmont being emptied a couple weeks ago. This mom said construction isn’t starting for a year. Why did they close it a year a head of schedule? She said one year at Lincoln the Piedmont parents would have dealt with, two NO. They have opened “Pandora’s Box” and it will be nearly impossible to close it.. construction isn’t
Piedmont was closed a year ahead of time as the board wanted it closed a couple years ago when Chester Park was closed. Now they got their way, didn’t they, for a couple years? Too bad they had to lose so many children out of the district doing this. This board, Dixon and his cronies have zero common sense. (Not you Gary)

Blessings,
B

Putting another Dist. behind the Eight Ball

These news stories were just emailed to me. I’ve followed the story for a few months and talked to some unhappy folks about it. At least, they will get to vote on the bond referendum. JCI will do well whether it wins or loses and the District can’t afford them either way.

St Louis County Schools
Board OKs new contract with Johnson Controls

Contract includes spending an additional $300,000 in preparation for November bond referendum

TOM KLEIN, Cook/Orr Editor – The Timberjay (Tower MN) – 27 Jun 09

Consultants Johnson Controls got the go-ahead on Monday for additional work related to a $78.8 million bond issue.

The contract, approved unanimously by the school board, will cost the district a maximum of $300,000 — twice the nearly $150,000 already paid to the Duluth-based consultants for preliminary work on the bond issue. A comprehensive study of the district, which accounted for more than $90,000 of the initial fees, was paid for with a state appropriation through the Iron Range Resources Board.

Several board members expressed concerns about the fee and questioned if they would be liable for the full amount if voters reject the bond proposal.

Superintendent Charles Rick told the board that the work will be done in advance of the referendum and the district would have to pay the bill regardless of the vote’s outcome. He stressed that the $300,000 quoted was the maximum that the district would pay and actual costs could be less. However, he cautioned the board to expect to pay the full fee.

Board member Zelda Bruns said the work was essential. If the bond passes, she said, the district could use a portion of those funds to cover the costs. If not, she said, the money would have to come from the district’s regular funds.

Third phase

Phase III of the contract is divided into several tasks with the cost for each separated.

A report on the district’s plan to the state Department of Education carries the heftiest price tag at $80,000. The report is required before the district can ask for a vote on the proposed bond issue. The state reviews the report, which details the condition of existing facilities, describes the district’s plan and outlines issues to be addressed by the plan. The state’s review determines whether a vote can proceed and specifies how large a majority is required to win passage of the bond issue. A favorable rating allows passage with a simple majority while an unfavorable rating requires just over 60 percent of the voters’ support.

In Phase III, consultants will also prepare a “fall back” plan in the event that the bond issue fails and develop a related plan for financing for the district ($22,000); facilitate development of a new educational plan for the district that will focus on overall academic design of buildings and improvements in education and extra curriculars to attract students ($47,000); and oversee development of a plan for the transition period, including financial operations, during the period between the vote and the district’s completed construction of new and remodeled facilities ($26,000).

Other components of Phase III include assistance communicating the district’s plan with the public, including polling residents, ($50,000) and site assessment for two new schools that will include preliminary work on wetland delineations and soil samples to determine if sites are appropriate for the water and sewer needs of the schools ($67,000).

In related action, board members also approved appointing two board representatives to serve on site committees for the proposed new schools.

Cotton representative Chet Larson and Albrook representative Bob Larson will serve on the committee looking at options for a new school between those communities, while Orr representative Zelda Bruns and Cook representative Tom Beaudry will be on the committee reviewing options for a new school site between their communities.

Community residents will also serve on the site committees, which will provide a recommendation to the board. The final decision on sites, however, will rest with the board.

********************

Board approves deficit budget for 2009-10
TOM KLEIN, Cook/Orr Editor – The Timberjay (Tower MN) 27 Jun 09

The St. Louis County School District will end the 2009-10 school year more than $800,000 in the red, according to a preliminary budget approved Monday. The net result is that the district’s reserves will fall to $2.56 million — about half of the $5.37 million that the district had banked at the end of the 2007-08 school year.

Even so it’s an improvement over the current school year in which expenses totaled over $1.97 million more than revenues.

And the forecast could have been worse if the district hadn’t been able to negotiate a different health care plan with employees, according to Business Manager Kim Johnson.

Although health care costs will rise next year, she said, the increase would have been in the double digits without the changes enacted for teachers. Johnson added that the elimination of 16 full-time equivalent teaching positions and retirements of five senior staff helped reduce costs for the district.

Even so, the district will be hurt by declining enrollment with a projected loss of about 69 students, which translates into a loss of $579,600 in state aid at $8,400 per pupil. That loss, however, will be offset by a one-time shot of federal stimulus funds for Title I and special education totaling $749,109.

Meanwhile, the state included no increases in funding for education which hampers districts’ ability to keep pace with increased costs for utilities and supplies.

A good example is food service, where estimated expenditures will top $1.1 million in 2009-10, up from $999,209 in 2008-09 and significantly higher than projected revenues of $845,838. The district plans to transfer $256,309 from its general fund to cover the anticipated shortfall.

Johnson said the rising cost of fuel to transport food is responsible for much of the increase.

Superintendent Charles Rick suggested that the district may have to look at adjusting prices to help offset the expenses in food service.

Board members also discussed whether savings could be generated by reducing staff.

Although the state did not reduce funds for schools, Gov. Tim Pawlenty plans to withhold 27 percent of state aid (about $1.8 billion statewide) until the next fiscal year. Districts normally receive 90 percent of their state aid and the remaining ten percent at the start of the next fiscal year.

That means that District 2142 will have $4.5 million of its $16.7 million in state aid deferred and will be forced to borrow money to maintain cash flow. That, in turn, will cost the district in interest payments.

But districts may be looking at an even larger problem down the road. Sen. Tom Bakk, DFL Cook, cautioned that districts might not ever recoup the dollars withheld by the governor.

“We’re looking at a $6 billion deficit in the next biennium,” he warned. “I don’t think we’ll have $1.8 billion to provide schools.”

Bakk urged districts to instead use their reserves or make cuts to avoid borrowing money, but acknowledged that option may not exist for some districts, including 2142.

If the state doesn’t repay all or a portion of the money it defers, Johnson said it would accelerate the district’s fall into statutory operating debt. If the state pays the customary ten percent it defers, but delays the remaining 17 percent, Johnson said the district would be shorted by $2.8 million – more than it will have remaining in its reserves by the start of the next school year.

“It will really put us behind the eight ball,” she concluded.

This is for you Harry

There has much been much consternation and anger among LDVers. The School District kept alternating between the message that the Plan B report was LDV’s to develope to the more credible message that a Plan B review and comment belonged to them.

Not surprisingly the latter sentiment won out and the District imposed a great many blemishes on the report before beginning a full court press to discredit Plan B in the local media.

Here’s a portion of an email circulating which spells out the District’s helpful work.

Clearly, the surprise visit Monday last, to ATS&R’s office in the Twin Cities by Bill Hanson and Kerry Leider, ISD709, and someone from JCI, to change and remove words and sections from the Pan B Review and Comment document would be seen as unethical by the public, and maybe seen as illegal interference in the petition process by the Attorney General.

And given the obvious moves to undermine this report, now revealed by

1) the District’s prepared questions and handouts at the Tuesday school board meeting presentation by LDV,

2) the Wednesday meeting at the editorial board of the Duluth News Tribune (results published Friday), and

3) the letters to the editor and Horner’s article on Saturday, quoting the District’s lines of prepared destructive criticisms of the document they themselves altered on Monday in the architect;s office in the Twin Cities: it is apparent that LDV must take action to correct these actions.

A supporter sent me this you tube under the subject heading, “This is for you Harry.”

My kind of email

Among the 45 new emails today this one came in under the subject heading “silent no longer”

Harry,

Am mailing a $100 donation today. Am also spreading the word among friends and acquaintances to immediately do the same. My wife Linda and I have been silently supporting you and your actions against the Red plan. . .

While wishing you Godspeed in meeting your/our 100K goal, pragmatist in us would appreciate 75% return if goal is unrealized.

I don’t know these folks and its delightful to hear the silent majority coming to life.

4AM San Fran by the bay

I’ ve kept my wristwatch on Duluth time but my new cell phone set in its charging cradle acts like a night light showing me the local time automatically through the power of gps technology. I went bed past midnight Duluth time and woke up at 4AM Pacific time. Add the two hours of time zones and that’s a respectable five hours plus. The problem is that this is as good as its gotten on what supposed to be a vacation. Starbucks hasn’t opened yet and that’s not good for San Fran and its not good for me. Ambient music plays in the lobby of the second Marriott of the week. This one looks across the bay in So. San Fran at planes taking off and landing at the airport.
The first thing I did was review the latest additions of donations listed in recent blog posts and add them to the latest donations reported to me from our PO Box all generated from the ads we placed almost two weeks ago. I’ll try to get that thermometer ap figured out again and upload it to the next post. We’ve got a ways to go.

One of the phone messages I found on my cell once we escaped the Sierra’s dead zone was from the Trib’s Ed reporter asking what our latest take was. I’d cranked out a quick press release earlier in the day saying we’d hit 6o%. It wasn’t much of a release and it told reporters to check this blog for the latest. I didn’t return the call because it was well past the Trib’s deadline.

And the Siearras? Beautiful. Shirtsleave weather. Sunny. We drove a short distance to the biggest tree in the world the General Sherman. Every year it adds the mass of a sixty foot tree to its girth. In the early morning sun the red of its bark and the shadows from its deep folds would have challenged the best landscape artist. Sequoia is out of the way and we had a small company of travelers with us, an extended family of slavic speakers, a trio of monks.

The day before I had worn my Abe Lincoln tee shirt. I should have saved it for today because a great many of the giants were named after Abe and his generals. I stood on the railing protecting the tree’s roots from being lovingly trampled and made my wife crouch below me to get a picture of me and the tree named after President Lincoln’s second favorite general.

The trees are so large there is no way to capture them in a photo with a person showing both their scale and the human. Its either a person up close with the trunk behind them and the remaining 200 feet to be imagined or the entire tree with a dot of a person standing at its feet.

Since my last visit forty or so years ago the paths around the trees had become paved people highways cunningly twisting through the giants to offer dramatic views.

Mule deer common. I saw my first western tanager and white faced woodpecker. A black bear munched in a meadow surrounded by giants. We spent a spare few hours strolling through two stands and then drove down a thousand feet from the exertions of 7,000 feet to the Park’s “Crystal Cave.”

A raging fire through Kings Canyon the year before had burned the electrical wires that lit the cave. We were all issued mag flash lights and took a dimmer tour with points of flash light tracing stalagtites and mites willy nilly from 25 hands as we proceeded through the cave.

Well, that’s enough of tour. Light is finally brightening the lobby skylight and more people are checking out. Time to look at my email and make a few calls to Duluth.

The path to the cave must have been another thousand feet but

45 messages

Geez,

A guy gets out of Internet range for 24 hours and we wakes up with 45 emails to read. My fingers are starting to numb up but I stopped and put them in my pockets while I paused to watch the sun pop over the summit. Its still chilled but the first email I opened was about someong having to go collect another check. That warms me up.

My little group plans on getting an early start because we only have half a day to soak up the park. They should be meeting me here at the restaurant for breakfast in the next twenty minutes or so. I might get one more post in before shutting down but there’s a lot of email to wade through first.

Sunrise in the Sierras

I stumbled out of bed at first light. The Sierras to the East are hiding the rising sun as I type but its lit up the sky behing the mountains to the east. Its a gorgeous view from the Guest services building where I saw kids wifiing yesterday. My cell phone is dead to the world but here I am connected to the Internet with moring birds calling all around me. The air is crisp but a sweatshirt is more than coping with the chilled air. My fingers might get a little stiff in another half hour though.

I survived my second attack from the forces of evil yesterday. Sabateurs tried to burn down the Marriott where I was staying doing desperate last minute blogging to rally the troops. I thought I was safe but half way on the road to Sequoia National Park I pulled out my cell before the mountains put its service in the shadows and called to arrange for one of my LDV confederates to pick up donations that had been slipped into my mail box at home. As I was speaking to her I heard a loud explosion off to the side of the car and looked up as rubber and debris spewed out from the semi at our side. Now JCI is using their technology to blow up bombs where ever I go. Well, they didn’t get me this time but I felt bad for the trucker who had to pull off the road. In war there are always innocents.

I haven’t checked the email yet. It did ocurr to me last night that my latest report of our fundraising didn’t take into the additional $5,000 I decided to kick in on account of the news that the City would be partially reimbursing me for installing latteral lines to the sewer system. That puts us over $60,000.

Signing off

Its check out time and with it goes my ether net connection. I don’t know if Sequoia National Park has wireless and, you know what, I don’t care. We’ve got four and a half days. We need some more angels like the ones who’ve stepped up to the plate since we began shaking the money tree five and a half days ago.

Another $10,000

Got a call. Another $10,000 cashiers check has been set aside for us. We’ve got almost 60% raised now with four and a half days left to collect more. Dr. Dixon’s little editorial gift this morning is evaporating before his very eyes. The latest check came from another person who can’t afford it. If we raise the $100,000 by noon Tuesday we’ll have what it takes to get our injunction. If by then Judge Hylden announces that he’s going to require a $1 million bond we’ll give all the cashier’s checks and other donations for the bond back. Then we’ll concentrate on the school board race and lobbying for the Planning Commission to order an EIS on the Ordean site.

For those wishing to see the School Board’s hopes of quashing the bond evaporate a little faster here’s the scoop.

We need $100,000 in cashier’s checks or certified checks which total up to $100,000. They should be made out to: St. Louis County Court Administrator.

Unlike regular checking account checks cashiers checks and certified checks are already pre cleared. They are as good as crisp new federal reserve notes. The Court won’t take checks that there is any doubt about. That doesn’t mean we won’t take regular old checks for $25 or $100 or $500 or $1000. If we get them by Friday or even Saturday they will likely clear their banks by Tuesday noon at which point we will draw out what we have in the Let Duluth Vote account for the Court Administrator.

But the big checks will give us more confidence if they come in as cashier’s checks. If a donor is willing take one out at their bank as late as Monday evening or early Tuesday we’ll put it in the pot. I can probably cover any shortage from the LDV account so long as I’m aware of other checks that are still clearing the banking system and which are only a few days from deposit.

$600 more

Got an email saying $600 more had been collected. Will update thermometer when I have time. For now until I leave for Sequia in two hours I’ll only be able to post additions.

I’m still alive

On my way out of my room carrying my disconnected computer and camera I realized I could take a picture of the masses thundering out of the hotel. (I just now remembered I packed in such a hurry I didn’t bring the cord to do this) An announcement ordered me to go down the stairways and avoid the elevators. On the way out of the room I picked up the $20 room service tip I’d left on the table thinking it would be a waste for it to burn. The Chinese room service women were waiting to let the guests out first. I waved the bill at one of them and explained that I would put it back if the Marriott didn’t burn down. Then I told them I wouldn’t leave the building unless they went first.

I got three flights down when the Fire Marshall took over the loud speaker to tell us there was no fire. Ah ha, Dr. Dixon, you thought you had me against the ropes yet again but there are some things even your influence is to puny to overcome.

After I got the computer up and running again I checked my email and discovered that in the fifteen minutes I was gone another person had sent us a donation through our paypal account. Go down a couple posts to the one called Donate to make use of it.

I’ve gotten about five since leaving Duluth totaling about $260. This one was for $100. I haven’t counted them yet because I didn’t bring my password to have the donations transferred to the LDV accounts. Of course, I couldn’t even open the account to see how much was there. Its been a couple months since I last looked at it. There should be close to $700 more in there that we’ll be able to add to the kitty. I called my daughter and left her a message asking her to look on my secret password list for it and to call me back with it.

If push comes to shove I can probably draw a little larger cashiers check on Tuesday than I’ve promised to donate as long as I can be sure enough donations will come in to pay me back within a week or so. I hope a few more of us will do that on the strength of last minute donations. I don’t think the Sixth District Court will object to a half dozen cashhiers checks so long as they all add up to $100,000.

I’ve asked my supporters to send me phone numbers today of people who would likely contibute because I’m making calls to them from San Francisco to raise more money. If any of my readers has the phone number of a prospect email it to me at harrywelty@charter.net. There’s a link to my email on the page called “talk back” on the top of the long list to the right of this post.

I’m skipping my tour of the treasures of King Tut to do this. Wish I could scrape off a little of the gold on his sarcophgus. I hear gold prices have been going up.

$12,000 more dollars!

Two more pledges for $5,000 have come in. One will be given the moment we’ve raised $85,000. That’s like the previous pledge of $10,000 that was promised once we raise $90,000.

Another $1,000 was just collected. I know of at least one more pledged $1000 check so I’ll put $12,000 more on the thermometer.

Poop! The measely $540 we got yesterday didn’t make it to the thermometer I posted from my wife’s laptop yesterday. If I can’t get it loaded now the total raised to date is: $45,650. We’re almost half way there.

Yippee! I figured it out.

http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3396/3659633617_67f69c2362_m.jpg

Someone can’t wait to read this

After I reviewed and sent some morning emails I looked at what was reported to be a very unfavorable Trib editorial on Plan B. One of the people commenting on it said he couldn’t wait to see my rebuttal in the blog. Well I put it in the comment section. This is what I wrote:

This editorial is well reasoned. It is like many well reasoned arguments based on faulty information and thus its logic fails.

Goats have beards. Men have beards. Thus men are goats.

Dr. Dixon has been angling for this editorial for a year. He’s set up a situation to ensure an unfavorable comparison by first delaying a plan for a year when compromise was still possible. Next he rushed a plan and insisted on work that could be used to discredit the final product while keeping important public data hidden. He’s never released the so called staff saving info completely because it woudn’t bear up to scrutiny.

He can however sell a bridge and the editorial are the latest investors.

Plan B will have to prove itself to the Mn Dept. of Ed not an editorial board reeling from all the contractors who were mad at them for the Lindstrom cartoon and panicked because they are afraid a bond will be posted delaying the gravy train. No one can threaten to pull advertising from State Government.

I’ve never liked the Plan B wording. I took comfort in knowing it was going to be non binding. Once people can vote they can vote for Plan B to vote against the Red Plan knowing that it will never go into effect. Then a new school board can direct its attention to preventing Ordean from turning into a $51 million Laughingstock High.

Day 4 fundraising

A very modest fundraising day. I was in and out of phone contact and I forgot how to update the graphic. There are a number of folks collecting checks. Some were left for me in Dultuh but I wasn’t in Minnesota. I’ll have someone else pick them up.

Looks like I’ll continue being a day late in reporting our funds. Hope I have more to report tomorrow.

http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2429/3654150356_94507745e9_m.jpg

To donate.

To donate

Donate on line here.

This is the pledge which spells out your risks.

In short.

If the bond is set higher, say to a million dollars, you get your money back imediately.

If we win the case you get your money back in October.

If we lose the case some or all of your money may be taken but the Red plan will have been largely stopped until a new school board is elected in November saving every taxpayer a huge amount of money.

BUT if we lose and forfeit the bond we hope this little venture will raise enough to pay everyone’s money back. Maybe they’ll even make a tidy profit on their donation.