The emperor’s new clothsline

I have a hard time finding and fishing out the freebie Parade magazine from my Sunday Paper these days stuck as it is in all the advertising supplements. Its shrunk in size and content and until last week had even cast off its once regular cartoon section. They put it back. In a little slip of paper they call “Ha” they had five cartoons last Sunday. I loved the one with a laundry woman putting clothes pins on a line with nothing apparently dangling from them.

I’ve once again woken up in the middle of the night to mull over the previous day’s experiences. Yesterday finished up with three hours of school board meetings where the evidence of a looming fiasco in the Johnston impeachment was painfully apparent.

In the middle of the meetings I got an unexpected call which I chose to answer out in the hallway just before we began discussing the resolution to treat Art as a politician rather than an employee of the district. It was a return call from one of the District staff I once worked with back when I was on the Board. I’d called this person months ago and when I didn’t hear back I guessed that he/she didn’t want to be reminded of old times or get roped into talking about how we got from then to now. I was wrong. My number had simply been misplaced and found later. I explained that I was in the middle of a school board meeting and begged to continue our call later in the evening after the dust had settled.

A quick recall of the three hours might be this. I asked questions like crazy barely getting to all the things I was interested in finding out. Art reminded the Board how shabbily he had been treated. The rest of the Board mostly sat mute in the wake of wreck they had embarked upon. My HR (human resources) meeting lasted an hour and a half. Amazing! Rosie contributed her name droppy laden praise for the information provided by our speakers. Bill Hanson had others available to explain our finances. The Superintendent hung in their enduring some pointed and well earned barbs by Art. The Board reminded me of sheep passively allowing themselves to be drawn to the slaughter house. Sad. Worse yet, my desire to help them save themselves is ebbing. Shame on me. Shame on me. Its our children who will suffer if they can’t pull themselves out of their muddle with a big wet kiss of an apology for the man they detest because he is dogged asking questions about stuff they want to forget.

Which leads me to the subject I was mulling over as I law awake in bed. The emperor. Keith Dixon.

Three years ago I began an all too short series of posts about Keith Dixon’s lies. I have long suspected that Supt Dixon if not a sociopath had sociopathic tendencies chief among them lying with narcisism a close second.

Here is a list of lies I’m aware of although I’ve forgotten others that I was told before I began keep track of them:

He left his family in Colorado but when hired to superintend Faribault explained that he would be bring his family up to Minnesota after his hiring. Instead he began dating young women in Faribault, marrying one and breaking up her family in the process and got her a job for the district he superintended and put her into an office next to his.

He accused a lone critic of his on the Faribault school board with forging his wife’s name on a contract to get paid a stipend for her volunteer work with immigrant students in the District.

Upon arriving in Duluth he told a meeting of folks honoring the martyrs of Duluth’s infamous lynching that he had learned about race and civil rights from his black college roommate. This was on tape. He had no such roommate.

He told a great number of people in Duluth that he had a degree in civil engineering as well as in education. Not true.

He let word out that Johnson Controls would only earn a few million dollars from their work on the Red Plan.

He told the Duluth News Tribune’s editorial board that the school board would soon reap a $32 million dividend in savings from the Red Plan. They later had to apologize for getting the story wrong.

He said when he left the district after draining the District’s reserve funds and just before classrooms got packed to the rafters with students that he was going into retirement. Within weeks he took a new superintendent’s job in the Twin Cities.

Some of these can be excused as white lies but they all represent a pattern of glibness sans conscience papered over with charm – unless you didn’t go along with his program. He fostered a coven of sycophants and a district that will be recovering for years from his grandiose spending spree.

I wrote a second email to the young fellow who sent me that supportive email I posted yesterday. He asked about the future consequences of our Red Plan debt. This is part of what I wrote him:

I don’t think anyone planned on keeping the district in the red for years when it comes to programming. But surely, someone on the inside saw the likely results. That person should be jailed.

I don’t see any easy fixes. Just 1. Ask local voters for more money – a cold day in hell possibility. 2. Get more money from the legislature – not much more likely 3. Learn to teach with too few teachers – if possible or 4. Get some payback from Johnson Controls. Sadly with each passing day that gets much less likely.

Our current school board is accusing Art Johnston of being the villain for pointing out that JCI got a 25% take on a $19 million dollar change order that the Board never voted on in part of the $60 million extra spent on the Red Plan over its initial promised cost which was up from the original 14% take JCI was supposed to collect for their program management. Ah, but to hide the real reason for abusing Art they are counting on the six buletin point accusations against Art for reacting badly to the District’s persecution of his partner of 14 years.

If and when (and with me its much more likely when) the people of Duluth hear about Jane Bushey’s treatment all sympathy for the School Board and Administration will evaporate instantly.

Hint to the Board – lambs to the slaughter or big wet kiss of apology. Its your choice. Keith Dixon is your Judas goat. Do you really want to continue following him? He’ll hang you out to dry along with his invisible laundry.

Shame on me. Shame on me.

(this post could use a good editing. Maybe I’ll attempt it later after I fight off my damn cat who is demanding attention now)

Over two years on the New York Times Bestseller List

I finished reading the Color of Water to Claudia over the weekend. Actually I didn’t finish it. I got to the epilogue and Claudia offered to finish it. I’d gotten a little teary in my histrionic reading and she kindly offered to finish while I wiped my eyes.

I’ve never had much desire to read so-so books unless they are about subjects I’m immensely curious about and they are the best available. That post title is at the top of the page of later editions to James’ McBride’s book “A black man’s tribute to his white mother.” The paperback is a slender book despite its 290 pages. It was an easy engrossing read and more than justified my time reading it.

One other comment found on the front cover of the book was a quote from Mirabella, which I gather is a woman’s magazine. It says “The Color of WAter [will] make you proud to be a member of the human race.” I don’t disagree. And right now, on the Duluth School Board, I need all the evidence I can scrape up that we humans are a tribe worth fighting for.

I bought the book some years ago and its been sitting in a bin of books under a bed awaiting the time it would be recovered for a reading. I think its only the second of third book of the year for me such have been the time demands of serving on the School Board.

A resolution based on our attorney’s legal analysis

You taxpayers won’t get to see the three page analysis from out Attorney that you have paid several thousand dollars for him to write up. See my snarky email comment to my fellow board members here.

But it has resulted in a resolution for us to consider which I agree with to wit: we will publicize all the charges and accusations that are being made against Art Johnston rather than treat him as an employee of the District whose personnel records can be shielded from public view. (my paraphrase to spare you unnecessary and painful legalease)

I suspect that when the accusations are made public, God knows when, they will end up proving to be a huge embarrassment to the accusers. If so, maybe we could ask them to foot the taxpayer’s legal bills on this. They are surely adding up. Thankfully, we will get a monthly update on those costs as they accrue.

I got this email today.

I just wanted to drop you an email offering you my support with all your on going issues In the school board. I am an avid reader of your blog and follow the issues involving our elected school board for the Duluth schools. I am a 2007 graduate of Duluth Central. I have followed the “scandal” of closing what I personally believe to be the largest, newest and most up to date school in the district with room to expand and to hold sporting events of all sorts. I’m no financial advisor but to me, a normal citizen looking from the outside, to spend millions of dollars and to have class sizes go up is a little backwards. Enough about the rant just saying again go you and glad to have someone with the stones to stand up to puppets and for what’s right. I’m pulling for you and for Mr. Johnston. Keep up the good work!

Sincerely,

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

We’re so special

Heavens to betsy! I’m about to write about some other important education topic than the sorry attempt by the Duluth School Board to go beyond simply denying us a vote by undoing last year’s school board election. I’m thrilled.

Seven or eight months ago Board member Judy Seliga-Punyko strongly encouraged me to read an article on Special Education in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. I did just now. Its an eye opener.

Its about Minnesota’s generous, some would say excessively generous, Special Education funding provisions. For example according to the article the state pays an annual average $8,486 for each “general” education student but $22,144 for each special education student. The story says we have 40,629 “disabled” students. If that means they are part of that special education average Minnesota spends $899 million dollars to educate them……(that just can’t be correct)

This being Lincolndemocrat I feel like engaging in a little unnecessary “Harry’s Diary” stuff to explain why I read the article all these month’s later. Last week a student from UMD’s public radio station, KUMD, sent me an email asking if I’d do a five minute interview about Minnesota’s and more specifically Duluth’s special education situation in light of some recent changes in Federal demands and expectations. It turns out that Minnesota meets the federal requirements. (Were one of 15 blue states that do on this Washington Post graphic)

I emailed back suggesting that there were other folks far better qualified to speak on this subject but me but KUMD was only looking to fill five minutes and I figured I could do that. Well, I was busy with grandchildren this weekend so I didn’t do my homework until this morning when half an hour before the interview I tried to find out what the new Federal regulations were. I couldn’t recall having read about them in our local paper. Sadly, my router was down so I only got about ten minutes to look for the story before the interview began.

A google search led me to Judy’s old recommended article which I got about two thirds of the way through before I got my call. You can’t do too much damage in 5 minutes and I answered three questions. I explained that the Feds gave Minnesota a pass in large part because our state bends over backward to fund special education. I explained that Duluth’s schools were among the most handicapped accessible because we just completed the most expensive school building plan in Minnesota history. Finally I said that special ed was a fearsome issue because it pitted special ed families against general ed families since money spent on special needs children were kept away from the general student population. That was all safe enough to say.

Once I hung up I went back and finished reading the Star Tribune story then I looked for mention on the Internet of the Federal changes to Special Ed that I was supposed to be talking about. It turns out they are more executive order than congressional mandate. The Washington Post had a good general background story on the issue.

So to get back to my original narrative there is no question but that special ed costs are draining funds away from the classroom. St. Cloud a similar sized districts may lose one million of its general fund dollars to state and federal special education mandates. That’s what one of our finance people suggested Duluth lost. But when Judy says that this explains Duluth’s unique problem with overcrowded classes she is surely wrong. It doesn’t help but it pales besides the six million dollars we stole from our operations funding each of the last four years to pay off Red Plan Debt.

We no longer have to do this because the Democratic legislature and local voters recently added that six million back to our budget.

ISD has a second special ed problem. Parents can pit it against the Edison public schools to get the best deal for their special ed students. This means that if Duluth doesn’t think a child should be offered the double spending special ed requires the parents can go to Edison and get the special ed services. This then is simply passed on to the ISD 709 schools to pay for to the tune of 90%. We pay for the student either way whether we provide the services or Edison does.

Whether this is the most fiscally prudent thing to do comes under severe examination in the Minneapolis Tribune’s story.

This is just the sort of thing I’d love to be dealing with right now but you will have to excuse me. I have to defend Art Johnston’s voters from the bone-headed and expensive attempt by our District to remove their representative from the School Board.

Otto immobile

Two months ago I gave the State Auditor, Rebeccca Otto, a letter about my concerns about the School Board’s apparent violation of its public duty to review and vote on large expenditures of the public’s money. For weeks I wondered whether anyone had seen the document other than my blog’s eight loyal readers. Well a couple weeks ago I got a call from Ms. Otto’s office. A subordinate had noticed it and gave me a call back wondering how it was connected to the review of the District’s finances that was prompted by the petition Loren Martell circulated to voters back in 2011. I was a little tipsy when he called and in too jovial a mood to breath fire. The next day I sent him an email with a few smoke signals in it:

Mr. Kerr,

Thank you, very much, for your call yesterday in the late afternoon. I was very glad to hear from Auditor Otto’s office. You happened to call me when I was in the middle of a very long and intense conversation with my wife, a retired corporate executive and current seminarian, about my preoccupation with the trials of the Duluth Public Schools. I jokingly told an old School Board buddy at a high school graduation recently that it was a “Chamber of Horrors.” As I have devoted the last twenty-five years to the politics of the School District I know a bit about our difficulties. We currently have the most beautiful new schools in Minnesota with upwards of fifty kids in some classrooms. In four years our CFO projects a sixteen million deficit which could be taken care of by culling another 200 teachers from our already significantly diminished staff. Who knows? Maybe we’ll enter the record books with sixty or seventy kids in a class. My wife, the corporate executive, was challenging my earnest fears with sound corporate skepticism when you called us. We had been talking earnestly under a warm sun in our patio while polishing off a bottle of pinot grigio. Claudia detests politics so she left when I got your call. Afterward she commented sympathetically that “Mr. Kerr is probably a decent fellow who will be working late into the evening on the public’s business” and then she abused me for making you put up with my tipsy conviviality before you plunged into a long night. That was her as a seminarian.

At age 63 and a long eccentric career of trying to find a place in Duluth’s politics, it has fallen to me to save the Duluth schools. I am, as this email suggests, an unorthodox politician. Coincidentally, my Grandfather was the State Auditor of Kansas. He never lost an election. A staunch Republican George Robb defied his Governor, Alf Landon, who had appointed him to fill the vacancy of publically disgraced Democrat, by refusing to fire all the Democrats in the office. He kept them on because, as he told Landon, they were good people and knew their jobs. My Mother told me this story when I was young and it has sadly infected my entire life during which politics has become a blood sport. Maybe that explains my checkered career. Oh, and lest you think my Grandfather was a fan of Democrats he told me when I was twelve that the worst mistake he made in his life was the one vote he gave a Democrat, Woodrow Wilson, who broke his promise to keep America out of War. (The great irony of this is that George Robb volunteered and won a Congressional Medal of Honor in that war. Go figure)

Your call took me from intense and defensive concentration as my wife second guessed my school board actions, and knocked me into a jolly, tipsy, good mood. I was simply delighted to get a call back from Auditor Otto’s office weeks after turning in my complaint.

Of course, being every bit as skeptical as my wife, I couldn’t help but remember that Ms. Otto suddenly finds herself with a rich, ambitious, DFL challenger in an election year that she has angered many Democrats in Northeastern Minnesota. I also wonder how the 4,000 occasional readers of my blog will react to this email to you should I put it up on the Internet.

Those readers have already seen the letter I took to the Auditor’s office. They may be as curious as I am to see how Auditor Otto’s office will react to my taking her official warnings seriously. Was she serious when she said elected signers of public contracts should desist until their entire elective body approves expenditures?

Our many controversies have already prompted one of Ms. Otto’s Republican challengers to call my lone ally on our school board to inquire about the larger audit that you initiated last year after receiving Mr. Loren Martel’s petition in 2012. It seems that there is hell to pay in our district when Board members ask tough questions. The Administration recently reassigned my ally’s wife (significant other really) from the job that she loves on bafflingly suspect grounds for “her own good.” Even a casual observer might wonder if this is some sort of payback to punish a dissenting school board member. It came about after our inquiries to your office regarding the million dollar change orders that our Board never approved.

Ours is, of course, not the only bone headed school district. Many have been inspired by the scrappy little Timberjay newspaper in northern St. Louis County. Its vigilance in exposing the careless and costly mistakes of the St. Louis County Schools has rallied the legislators of both parties to support the Timberjay with unanimous and bipartisan legislation.

I hope the Minnesota Auditor’s Office is up to challenge of giving good direction to Duluth’s troubled schools. My Grandfather told my Mother (in a more chauvinistic age) that a “man has lost everything when he’s lost his reputation.” I hope Minnesota’s current Auditor can help the Duluth schools recover much of their tarnished reputation and put things to rights as my Grandfather would have. Sadly the State of Kansas decided some decades after his retirement to abolish the Auditor’s office as duplicative and unnecessary. I’d hate for a similar fate to befall our Auditor’s Office. My Grandfather had a high regard for one of Mrs. Otto’s predecessors, Stafford King, who had an even longer tenure in office in Minnesota than my Grandfather’s 24 years in Kansas.

Sincerely,

Harry Welty
Duluth School Board member (no longer so tipsy)

On Fri, Jun 6, 2014 at 5:39 PM, Mark Kerr wrote:

> Mr. Welty,
>
> Thank you for speaking with me this afternoon. My contact information
> is listed below.
>
> Sincerely,
>
> Mark F. Kerr
> Assistant Legal Counsel
> Office of the State Auditor

Supporters of Ms. Otto’s reelection bid might want to send her this post to make her aware I’m strongly inclined to pen a poisonous critique of how she handles her office and mail it off to several of Minnesota’s daily papers before the August primary.

2:35 AM, Fourth of July

After four lovely days with my grandsons playing in the Wisconsin Dell’s water parks I’m back in Duluth where a short time ago I was assaulted with a dream about being chosen to be a principal at a dying public school just minutes before its students assembled in the auditorium for their first day of class. I woke after my attempt to give a compelling speech to the kids resulted in all but a handful of them sneaking out of my speech. I guess I should take my dream to mean that vacation is over.

I didn’t completely tune out the difficulties of good old ISD 709 while in the Dells. I answered an email or two and took a call from the Tribune’s education reporter despite scowls from Claudia for letting business intrude on our fun.

Before bed last night I saw a cryptic note from our District’s Chief Financial Officer alluding to data sensitive material that was attached. I didn’t open the email at that time supposing that it would refer to the long awaited audit by our State Auditor which was prompted by a petition of Duluth voters. More about that in the next post.

But that was not the subject of the post. It was a legal analysis from our school board attorney Kevin Rupp. Mr. Hanson noted that it was a private communication that could only be released to the public after a majority vote of the entire Board to do so. I guess I would be pushing my luck to hint around at its momentous contents. I’ll risk sharing the dismissive reply that I sent all my fellow School Board members regarding the secret document’s contents:

Far be it from me to unilaterally make public this highly charged letter from the School Board’s attorney, Kevin Rupp. I will wait for the entire school board to weigh in and cast a majority vote on this question. If that vote should fall short of a majority I will consider whether to join Art as the potential subject of removal by releasing the analysis in defiance of a no vote and thumbing my nose at the rediscovered authority of our long ignored school board policy book.

To be clear, I wish to make all charges against Board member Art Johnston public. Apparently, there is one court opinion referenced at the end of Mr. Rupp’s three pages of analysis that suggests elected officials “personnel” data should not be considered as being off limits to the public. That’s good enough for me. I’m all for transparency.

Harry Welty

On to the State Auditor….