Category Archives: Education

Holy Cow! The Trib printed my letter

Apropos the last post:

Reader’s view: The flight of Duluth students is Dixon’s legacy

The writer of an Oct. 6 letter seemed disappointed Red Plan critics weren’t the ones who set fire to a Lester Park playground. He bemoaned the “vitriol” endured by Keith Dixon, writing, “I believe the former Duluth superintendent was one of the most brilliant, courageous and gutsy administrators.”

The writer, a former Budgeteer columnist, knows something about vitriol, having used it three days before a primary to eviscerate mayoral candidate Herb Bergson without mentioning Bergson once ran against his brother.

This columnist doesn’t seem to mind the regressive taxes that made the Red Plan twice as expensive as other such projects in Minnesota history. When School Board member Gary Glass estimated Johnson Controls’ no-bid contract could entitle the company to

$33.4 million, the columnist gave Glass the “Bergson treatment,” calling him dishonest days before a general election. The “brilliant” Dixon and his staff convinced the News Tribune that Johnson Controls would earn only $4.5 million, 2 percent of costs (“No $33.4 million ‘plum’ in contract,” June 19, 2007). Yet, six months earlier, the district signed an agreement giving Johnson Controls up to 11 percent of costs as payment and to use to pay contractors and subcontractors. Since when is lying courageous?

Dixon’s haste to complete Red Plan projects forced children to move en masse to new schools. The flight of 10 percent of students is Dixon’s legacy. When the administrators he left behind claimed this year’s loss of another 15 students was really a gain of 300 it was as though Dixon never left.

Surely the “educator” in our columnist would agree small class size is one of the few necessities for successful learning. Yet swollen classes are also Dixon’s “gutsy” legacy.

Sadly, having a small School Board has not improved its education. It turns off microphones when people ask questions.

Harry Welty


The writer was a Duluth School Board member from 1996-2004.

Chickens coming home to roost

Today’s Trib was non-stop coverage of a failing school district. I hardly know where to begin except to say that it all began with a vile abuse of trust.

I don’t think the Dixon remnants know how to communicate honestly any more. Its the old story I always give for sticking to the truth – I’m not smart enough to remember my lies. Neither is the District and with the smooth talking Dixon gone none one is left who can soft soap the DNT’s editorial board.

Art Johnston will be made out to be a boogeyman for saying the District’s figures are a sham but the District hasn’t made much of dent against his arguments. Even the Trib’s Education reporter had to say that many of the disagreements between Art and the District can’t even be compared. The two claims he has made that can be measured against each other do suggest that the District is providing self-serving data. 1. That the District has repeatedly exaggerated the cost of inflation and 2 That while the District has made “$24 million” in cuts in recent years that hasn’t actually meant less spending.

Point 2 is pretty bad for the District. What makes it worse is that our District is still spending about the same amount of money it did five years ago despite losing 2,000 students or just under 20% of its students during that time period. Presumably that should mean even more spending per child today and yet the classrooms are far more crowded than ever.

My guess has always been that this is a result of operational money going to pay off Red Plan debt but the District keeps denying this. Where has the money gone then? They’ve got the same money. They’ve got 18% fewer students. But classes bursting through the walls. A healthy dose of truth, no matter how embarassing, is very much in order. Don’t bank on ever getting it from the Dixon crowd.

I’ve said before that I plan to vote “yes” on all three levels of the proposed levy. The District and our kids need the revenue. My prediction is that the District will never see a dime of it. Why?

Throw in the loss of the homestead credit. Throw in a near certain 4.9% school district tax increase that can’t be prevented by referendum and an uncommon City referendum asking for more. Throw in great uncertainty over the European Common Market……. Well. you get the idea.

And by the way, I sort of agree with Frank Wanner that GOP Rep. Garofalo has declared war on our children. They say it takes one to know one. I can’t, however, explain why Frank has such a high opinion of Keith Dixon.

How dumb are the Trib’s editors?

Maybe I should start by asking that of myself. How dumb am I? I spent so long writing about the column about Edison’s funding its new schools that I forgot all about the false headline some Trib Editor wrote for it. “Local view: Edison didn’t use public money to build school'”

Geez! the headline contradicts the subtle admission in the column that state funding is what pays for the new Edison School. That’s what my post spends its time explaining. Only a thousand or so people will read what I’ve written. Fifty thousand may read the Trib’s misinformation. Too bad.

Who paid for Edison?

I read this explanation of where the new Edison school in Duluth got its financing before church today. It is certainly accurate. I’m not sure how many of its readers would be very confident of the answer to the question posed by this post’s title after reading it.

The answer is this: Minnesota taxpayers have and will continue to pay for the building of this school. It will not be owned by Edison or the public. It is the property of a business created for and affiliated with the Edison School. The writer baldy says: “…these buildings are financed via private investment, not public money. ” that’s the conclusion to this paragraph:

As the owner of the buildings occupied by the Duluth Edison Charter Schools, the Tischer Creek Duluth Building Co. financed the purchase, renovation and construction of these facilities through the sale of bonds. Private investors, not local or state taxpayers, invested in Tischer Creek Duluth Building Co. and the Duluth Edison Charter Schools. These investors, not taxpayers, assumed all financial risk throughout the 30-year life of these bonds. Thus these buildings are financed via private investment, not public money.

But the investors are counting on public money to make the investment pay and there is risk. If Edison went belly up the investors would have a very hard time recouping their investment. I think their gamble was a pretty good one. Edison has been around and growing for over a decade now and there is nothing on the horizon that appears to pose a threat to it or the investors in its new school building. As long as Edison thrives and the state doesn’t change the law state “lease aid” (read tax revenue) will continue to pass from Edison to the school’s investors as the author’s next paragraph makes clear:

Lease payments from Duluth Edison Charter Schools provide the Tischer Creek Duluth Building Co. the revenue for repayment of these bonds. State law, administered by the Department of Education, determines the appropriateness of the use of Lease Aid. The law assures that if Lease Aid funds are provided for new facilities the school and Affiliated Building Co. clearly demonstrate the need and ability to maintain programming long-term. The process is called Review and Comment.

By the way. The author and I have not got on well for the past couple years as long time readers will know. By coincidence I did meet him today for the first time in a couple years when my daughter took us on a tour of Edison where she works. Its not a fancy school but its a very nice one with very nice views. By the way, the cost per child of building the “Academy” is far less than half the cost per child of the Red Plan schools. My Grandsons will very likely attend it.

The two of us shook hands. I have no doubt that either of us are inclined to take any or our less than cordial words back about the other but I feel better putting the worst of our enmity behind me. He got his schools. I’ve made use of my freedom to criticize the method by which some of them were built. That criticism does not extend to the Edison schools. Everyone in the state of Minnesota paid for them. I once calculated that we in Duluth only paid for something like 2 percent of the cost as we are only about 2 percent of the state’s population. That, unlike the Red Plan schools makes Edison’s building a bargain for Duluth taxpayers.

No Child left falling between the cracks of Outcome Based Education

I experienced very little “local control” when I served on the Duluth School Board except from my fellow school board members. As George Balach said of me when I was elected to be the Board Chair in 1998 I was only one of nine members. As Chairman I was pretty much the prisoner of all the other school board members. Before that I had been one of two newly elected board members and the seven longer serving members took little notice of me.

The year I was elected Chair I leveraged the support of four newly elected School Board members who did not trust me or the other four incumbent Board members. They had all run elections based on the theme that the incumbents were bums for bringing the Edison Schools to Duluth. The four remaining incumbents, including me, had all voted to bring Edison in and to add insult just after the newcomers were elected we voted to protect Edison from the possibility that the new Board could prematurely scuttle the Edison experiment. Because I got the anti-Edison newcomers to vote for me with my vote providing the five-vote-majority on our 9 member board my old colleagues didn’t trust me either.

It was all very humorous for about a week Continue reading

While Duluth’s public school enrollment declines college enrollment grows

The DNT did include a graphic from today’s newsprint story on the increase in enrollment numbers at local colleges. Its funny but when the Trib reported on this year’s public school enrollment they trumpeted a growth in public school students when there was really a small decrease. But this graphic does seem to show that there has been another increase in enrollment in our three Duluth colleges up to 20,326. If the graphic is right then last year’s enrollment for UMD, LSC and Scholastica was 20,052. Granted this is only an increase of 274 students but the headline is sure a lot more restrained than the one about the public school enrollment: “Area colleges show little change in student numbers.” The Trib could honestly written a headline more like: “Despite tough economy area colleges see enrollment growth.”

Its not clear to me from the story or the graphic if all the students listed are students living in Duluth or all students including disembodied online students. It would make a big difference for Duluth because higher education continues to be a major if not the major cause of growth in our area. 20,000 students. Heck that would be one in five Duluthians if they lived in the City. They may live cheap, ten to a rental, but they are pouring money into Duluth. Sure, they party on nice weekends around my neighborhood, curse them, but their spending powers Duluth.

on taxing millionaires the way the rest of us are taxed [BIGOT ALERT]

As the GOP rushes to defend lower tax rates on millionaire “job creators” I can’t help but think about a half a dozen job creators I’ve talked with over the years who are busy making jobs in China because the Chinese can manufacture so much, so quickly and so cheaply. I’m pretty sure that Bernie Madoff, in his prime, would have appreciated Republican support as well plus all the well connected white kids who got generous scholarships to study at the Ivies on their way to becoming job creators. As for Pell Grants for everyone else. Not a big GOP priority.

Cutting slack – or not

I only have a small coterie of regular emailers but they send me interesting things. One just sent me this column by a Republican mouthpiece explaining that just because one third of Minnesota’s School Districts are asking for operational levies (including I might ad Duluth) it doesn’t mean that District’s have fallen that far behind previous spending.

Johnathon Blake is absolutely right. Most districts are getting roughly what they got eight years ago only without any inflationary boost. But then inflation has been pretty much nonexistant over that time so what?

I’ll make two quick comments:

First: this information explains why the Duluth School District has no ground to stand on when it complains that its current fiscal woes are all the work of St. Paul.

Second: There is one big hole in Mr. Blake’s argument which is especially important for those who want to compare education spending between the fifty states. Minnesota has not kept up with the most aggressive states in investing in its schools. When I was on the Duluth School Board starting about twelve years ago we were ranked 5th or thereabouts among the fifty states in per pupil expenditures. Today we are in the middle of the pack around 23rd.

My two conclusions:

1. Don’t cut the Duluth School Administration any slack.

2. Don’t cut the great Tea Party anti-tax warriors any slack either.

Will Judy vote to increase Red Plan spending by…

…another $3.3 million a year?

If I understand the arguments of Loren Martell who I just spoke with and who was not handcuffed during the perfunctory meeting at which the Board raised another 15 million for the Red Plan the answer is, “Yes.” I hope the Tribune will ask her before the election whether she will vote to bump up this spending or not. It will do nothing to lower the student teacher ratio but it will add more bangles to the Red Plan schools.

I’ll have no objection to her doing this if she tells us prior to the November General Election what she plans to do. Would the Trib’s Editors be as curious about this as I am? I don’t know but at least one of their number, Chuck Frederick, is an honest man.

…if you don’t like an editorial cartoon published in the News Tribune, don’t blame the writer of the letter or column that accompanies it. Blame me.

And send the rest to jail

Perhaps Schools were designed to drain the life out of children. I’d like to think that was part of the reason I never made it as a teacher.

“These are students who demonstrate great daring, creativity and teamwork during long hours playing shoot’em-up multiplayer video games, a much maligned pursuit that teaches any number of valuable cognitive skills. Yet in the classroom, they stare blankly at chalkboards when they’re not stealing glances at smartphones, doing just enough to avoid being singled out and punished.”

And let’s test the hell out of them while we’re at it. OK Kids! Just what were the 14 points?

Speaking of a college education

Of all the sections in this infographic the one I find the most troubling is the one that says that only 1 in three students show a measurable improvement in cognitive skills after three years of college:

From C's to A's
Created by:

And how much of this info did JCI provide?

A better summation than I’ve offered on the St. Louis County School skulduggery.

The News Tribune and Minnesota Public Radio reported on a court ruling pertaining to a bond referendum that passed with 51 percent of the vote in School District 2142 in December 2009 (“Court: St. Louis County School Board money can’t be used to campaign for referendums,” Aug. 3). If you traveled south for the winter only to return to a higher property tax bill, here’s how it happened.

The Minnesota Court of Appeals agreed that “the School Board intentionally distributed statements in its educational material that it knew were false. It also ruled that using taxpayer money to campaign for passage of a referendum was not authorized.” In other words School Board members used our money to trick us into voting yes on a referendum so they could take more of our money.

There is more to a quality education than just the location and condition of facilities.

Rob Melnotte

Early evidence of the superiority of bricks over brains.

Greetings, School Board members~
The results of the 2010-2011 Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment (MCA) science test will be publicly released tomorrow, August 12th. The MCA Science is an online test given to students in grades 5, 8, and once in high school. It is designed to help districts measure progress toward meeting Minnesota’s academic standards, as required by the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). The MCA science results for the state, district, and individual schools are attached.

Here are a few themes from the data:

Scores for grades 5, 8, and high school decreased 3, 5, and 6 percentage points, respectively, over last year’s scores.

Oh my God!

Each grade level scored below the state average.

No wonder Dixon hightailed it out of town.

Seven schools scored above the state average (Congdon, Homecroft, Lakewood, Lester Park, Lowell, Woodland, East).

Meaning that the other 7 or so schools scored below the State average.

Three schools made gains over last year’s scores (Congdon, Nettleton, Lowell).

Meaning that the other 11 or so schools saw no improvement or declined.

American Indian students scored above the state average and made gains over last year’s scores in grade 5.

Meaning that American Indian students scored below the state average in grade eight and in high school.

Asian students scored above the state average in grade 5 and high school.

Meaning that Asian students scored below the state average in grade 8.

Black students scored above the state and made gains over last year’s scores in grade 8.

Meaning that Black students scored below the state average and declined from last years scores in grade 5 and in high school.

Hispanic students scored above the state average and made gains over last year’s scores in all three grade levels (grade 5, grade 8 and high school).

Meaning success for the District’s smallest ethnic minority.

Students receiving special education services made gains over last year’s scores in grade 5.

Meaning that Special education student’s test scores declined in grade 8 and in high school

Note: The MCA-II science test does not yet match the current MN academic standards. Next spring, with the launch of the new MCA-III science test, the standards and the expectations will be aligned. MDE noted that this transition may have an impact of this year’s test scores statewide. District administrators, principals, teachers, and other educational staff will carefully study this data and use it to review curriculum and inform instruction.


Tawnyea L. Lake, PhD, NCSP
Director of Assessment, Evaluation, and Performance
Duluth Public Schools

Thank you Timberjay

I just received the entire Timberjay story from its publisher. He’d heard of my interest in it from some reader. As I said before its a joy to see serious journalism still being practiced somewhere, anywhere, in Northeastern Minnesota.

Court of Appeals raps St. Louis County School Board
By Marshall Helmberger

The Minnesota Court of Appeals has dealt a serious blow to the St. Louis County School Board as it seeks to defend itself against charges that it broke state laws in its quest to win passage of its $78.8 million bond measure. Continue reading

Imagine trying to be a little more creative…

…as a python constricts your diaphram and I think you will see what Minnesota’s schools face.

I haven’t read any of the reactions in today’s Trib about the latest Minnesota law attempting to make teaching more effective. I suspect the State’s continued constriction of spending will have a much bigger impact and for the negative.

I was going to link to the story on the state’s delayed payment of K-12 funding but the Trib hasn’t bothered to put it on their website. Yet!

Hell freezes over

No not really. It will take the Democrats and the Republicans working out a sensible federal spending/taxing plan for that to happen.

My buddy sent me this. No sharp elbows here. We both apparently agree with this old Republican war horse.

Would you run for office now?

Oh, hell, no. Now it’s just sharp elbows, and instead of having a caucus where you sit down and say, “What are you going to do for your country?” you sit figuring out how to screw the other side.