Category Archives: Duluth Schools

Duluth’s school levy referendum

I wish the DNT had included its little graphic that went with the newsprint version of this story today on one-third of Minnesota School Districts going for levy referendum increases.

The law that permits levy referendums has changed over time since the Duluth School District first offered such a levy in 1993. When Duluth first offered a levy the District raised (If I remember correctly) something like 1 million a year over 5 years with voter approval. The State then gave matching money each year to Duluth of 3 million a year. The Duluth School Board did not actually have to levy the taxes that voters approved. This, however, did not cancel out the matching $3 million from the state. By OKaying $1 million in local spending – that was never levied – Duluth’s schools still got $3 million extra from the State. Pretty Sweet.

In the table, that I can’t show you, 8 neighboring school district’s levy referendum basics are compared. Mesabi East is asking local property taxpayers to pony up an additional $700 per student. That’s the biggest. Three Districts, Hermantown, Proctor and Virginia are asking for $0 dollar (not a typo ) levy renewals which will result in remarkably different levels of per pupil spending increases. Hermantown and Proctor will get $1 per pupil spending increases if their levies pass. Virginia will get $800 per pupil if their $0 tax levy increase goes into effect. Don’t look at me for an answer to this. I’d love the Trib to do a follow-up explaining how this can be so. Couldn’t just be a typo could it?

The information on the graphic that surprised me, but shouldn’t have, was that all three levels being offered to Duluth voters will increase taxes by some level raising either $98 or $122 or $246 per pupil for Duluth Students from local property taxpayers. The highest level, if approved will generate even more money per student. It won’t just increase per pupil spending by $246 per pupil. As in the 1993 levy I described the state must be obligated to match local spending which would push the per pupil money from the locally generated $246 up to $404 to $650 per pupil. Why there is a range of spending per pupil is lost on me but then Minnesota State school financing has always been described as the most complicated tax law in the world. In either case passing the highest level of levying would be a very good financial gain for our schools. Its a pity that Dr. Dixon left such a legacy of deceit and mistrust behind him that we will be lucky to pass any levy this year.

Oh, and that wasn’t what surprised me about the graphic. I was surprised that every level of the levy authorizations would lead to a tax increase. I was thinking that the first, and lowest, level of proposed increase would be a simple renewal of the existing local levy which would lead to no increase at all. Silly me. We did that two years ago and that levy is still in effect. I’m not sure how long it continues on, perhaps three years. So, any level of increase this year granted by Duluth taxpayers will mean an increase in local spending.

I resent what appears to me to be the DNT’s attempt to jolly Duluth into being happy about our new schools in order to get some level of increase passed this November. That crappy headline suggesting our students are coming back is just the latest sample of their sweet talk. I got enough sweet talk and lies from Dr. Dixon to last a lifetime. I don’t want my local paper to engage in it too. Its bad enough that the Trib swallowed his bullshit over and over again for six years. Very tasty!

Here’s my simple calculus. We’ve got wonderful (I hope and pray) new schools that were far more costly than we needed for a first class education. We’ve got an escalating problem of too few teachers and too many kids and too many school building bonds to be paid off. If voters don’t pony up even more just because they’ve been lied to for years, our schools will hobble along at far less than cruising speed. I will vote for the highest level of school spending. It will force the state to match some of our local taxes. I’d prefer it if we could somehow put the lion’s share of this taxing on the richest Duluthians but the law won’t allow that.

If I was an editor at the Trib who really wanted that level of spending to pass I’d fess up and tell its readers: “You’ve been right about the Red Plan all along. We’ve been handing out uncritical nonsense about our schools from a pathological liar to keep you voters sedated about being cheated to build these new schools. We’re sorry. That doesn’t change the fact that our classrooms need more money. You could punish us, the Chamber of Commerce, the public employee unions and myopic parents for our negligence but in doing so you will also be punishing our children and the future of Duluth. No one could blame you if you did do that but please don’t. We supporters of the Red Plan don’t deserve your forgiveness but punishing us, however gratifying, will punish you as well if you truly believe our community’s schools need more than brick and mortar. You were right about this all along.

Publishing a confession like this would be a classic case of eating crow. Only saints eat crow. To bad the Trib’s editors aren’t saints.

Occam’s Razor meets ISD 709’s enrollment data

I think I’ve made the story about the Duluth School District’s enrollment data far too complicated. Let’s simplify.

The District says it arbitrarily subtracted 300 students from last year’s enrollment to project this fall’s enrollment. This year’s projection was 8,429 so when you add back the arbitrarily 300 subtracted students it must mean that last year’s enrollment was 8,729.

The District says that this year’s enrollment is 8,711 which is 18 students fewer than last year’s enrollment. That’s the change. There is no increase of 282 students. There is only a further decrease of 18 students.

That’s better than the 300 students lost annually in recent years but its hardly a reason to reelect incumbent school board members.

Heck, they should all be fired for submitting such a poor example of math homework to the public. I sure hope its not the DNT that hands out their grades.

Forget the 15.

Forget the 15 student enrollment increase I reported earlier. It may not be even that rosy.

Claudia got to the newspaper on her own and trundled up irritated with the DNT’s reporting on Duluth School enrollment. She noted, quite rightly, that while the story trumpeted 300 new students in the public schools the story’s column of enrollment figures showed an increase in Edison’s enrollment of 140 students and 46 for the Marshall School. Furthermore the numbers for Duluth didn’t seem to match the reporting.

We’ve spent half an hour trying to figure out what the darned Trib numbers mean. Not much it turns out.

The figure at the top of the columns reading Duluth Public Schools (enrollment) gave me my figures for an enrollment jump of 15. I should have looked more closely. Although last year’s figure was listed at 8,696 and this year’s figure was listed as 8,711 and this is an increase of only 15 the numbers given by the Trib seem to be bogus.

Here’s the column of figures reported by the DNT. they include both Edison (a public school but not THE Duluth public schools and Marshall School which is a private school.

…………………………………….last year…this year……Difference
Duluth Public Schools……….8696…….8711……….15
Denfeld High School…………1463…….1292…….-171
East High School……………..1560…….1621……….61
Woodland Middle School……963…….898……….-65
Morgan Park Middle School….703…….698………..-5
Stowe Elementary………………350…….360………..10
Laura MacArthur………………..450…….465…………15
Piedm……………………………….500…….451………..-49
Homecroft………………………..403…….397………….-6
Nettleton…………………………450…….450……………0
Congdon Park…………………….503…….533………….30
Lakewood…………………………284…….272…………-12
Lester park……………………….519…….549…………..30
0
Marshall……………………………419…….465…………..46
Edison……………………………..1070……1210 ……….140

NOTE the 0 between the Duluth public schools and Marshall and Edison is not in the DNT.

My post from two days ago came from a memo the District sent out to School Board members.

Instead of showing school by school enrollment data like the DNT (The Trib wants to make the case that fixed up schools are attracting more kids) The District shows grade by grade enrollments. But what the District reported and the Trib sinks its lips into is pure worm.

The District shows what it projected for this year’s enrollment last year – 8429. That was a lowball figure. So far this year’s numbers show an enrollment of 8,711. Using the “projected” figures leads to a phony conclusion: that the Duluth Public Schools have seen a 282 increase in enrollment. Horse feathers! You can only figure out what the actual increase is by looking at last year’s actual enrollment numbers not lowballed projections.

After half an hour of going over the numbers I’ve concluded that the actual Duluth enrollment figures between last year and this year may have gone down by 137 (Subtract this year’s DNT reported enrollment of 7880 from last year’s reported enrollment of 8566

Coincidentally the figure 8,429 in the second column showing this year’s Sept. enrollment is exactly the same figure as the District’s document shows being projected for this year’s enrollment. Is that a coincidence?

The story seems to herald a particularly big growth of high school students but the DNT’s chart shows a decrease between last year and this year of 110 students. Last year we had 1463 Denfeld Central students plus 1560 East students for a total of 3023. This year we only have 2913 high school students, 1292 at Denfeld and 1621 at East. Again, that’s 110 fewer students. Perhaps this is nothing more than the Trib failing to type all the numbers into its spreadsheet.

Until the Trib clears this up the public has every right to be skeptical, perhaps even hostile. The DNT has to take some heat for this because its getting its blarney from the District without subjecting it to even the most elementary level of scrutiny. That’s how Dr. Dixon got away with murder for six years. Some of us are growing weary of this oversight.

The answer is “15”

The question is: “How many more students have the Duluth Schools attracted this year over last year?

The story’s DNT Headline reads: “Duluth schools attracting more students”

It turns out that the District incorrectly assumed that this year would be like other recent years and there would be another 300 fewer students at the beginning of this school year. However their foercast was wildly off and no such enrollment decrease took place. Because the District didn’t lose the 300 students (and actually gained a negligible 15 students) the addled Headline writer is treating the nearly flat attendance as though 300 more students were actually enrolled in the District. School Board member Ann Wasson goes delirious over the illusion of 300 more students:

School Board member Ann Wasson said she was excited about the additional students.

“Duluth public schools have the educational facilities with the programs that all families are deserving of,” she said. “I’m thrilled to see the public is understanding this. Certainly, it doesn’t correct the problems we have with funding at the state level, but it helps. We’ve waited long and worked really hard.”

Today’s DNT has this story on its backpage: Report: Most Americans claim they wouldn’t miss their local newspaper.

The DNT has the good sense not to have put this on their website I found it elsewhere on the web. It was brave of the Trib to put it in newsprint. In my opinion it would be a shame to keep losing local newspapers. Sadly, the Headline above undermines my opinion.

If you visited my blog two days ago you got a heads-up about this nonsense. At least I seem to have a pretty good handle on our schools. And I haven’t taken any tours of the new buildings yet.

How did Circle Pines become Coon Rapids?

I’ve gotten a correction. I know I’ve been saying for some time that Dr. Keith Dixon has gone on to Coon Rapids but apparently I’ve gotten my suburbs mixed up. Email from a friend:

I just googled Dixon and he serves the Centenial District, located in Anoka County, schools include
Blaine, Lino Lakes, Lexington, Centerville and Circle Pines.

If this is true then Coon Rapids is one lucky little community. I see that Blaine and Coon Rapids are kissing cousins. Hope he doesn’t rub off.

Pardon my skepticism

The DNT has helped the School District trumpet a growth in student enrollment by about 300 students lately. If true it could relieve many and engender renewed confidence that the District is on the mend. But I have my suspicions that this may be a little too cute. Bill Hanson had projected a 300 student reduction and cut the budget by this amount at the end of last year. Upon what basis he concluded there would be an additional loss of students on the eve of the District having five new schools on line I have no clue. Common sense would suggest that some students would come back. At the very least anticipating the enrollment to stay flat would not have been outrageous. Predicting that 300 students would leave after the worst of the Red Plan hassles were about to abate, Gee, I don’t think so. Maybe it was a case of undue conservatism.

Or maybe it was a way to make the unexpected growth that the beginning of a new school year look like a great turnaround for the District. Such a turnaround might have called off the media dogs. But if the enrollment didn’t really drop 300 and then didn’t really grow 300 that means that we’re witnessing smoke and mirrors. Very reminiscent of Dr. Dixon – but he’s gone!

The oddest thing about this, if my analysis is on target, is that Bill Hanson doesn’t seem like a Machiavellian to me. That was Dr. Dixon’s specialty. Perhaps it rubbed off on the administrative team that Dixon left behind for his successor I.V. Foster. Certainly Dr. Dixon’s fall-on-her-sword public relations assistant would have easily mastered the dark arts and had some reason to protect her old boss’s posterior as he scurried away from Duluth.

If these 282 students are really new to the district, then their names should be new and their records should be transferred in from other districts. It would be interesting to check to see if 282 new students did transfer in, and from where did they did so.

Hey DNT I’m handing off the mystery to you. Are you up to finding out if you’ve been had again or not? If not that’s OK. You’re still covering your back from a potential lawsuit from one of our local hospitals.

Good luck…

…figuring out how this will affect your property taxes. It comes from Minnesota Public Radio.

The DNT reported a while back that losing the homestead tax credit would cost Duluthians on average a 5.7% tax increase. That doesn’t include what the City of Duluth or the County or the Duluth School District or voters on a proposed operational tax levy increase in a coming referendum will do to bump up our taxes.

You can see what would have happened in Duluth last year if the Dayton GOP legislative agreement had gone into effect by looking at this. Its a 900 page pdf that won’t easily transfer to the blog here without a lot of tinkering that I don’t have time to do for you, my dear readers. Page toward the end of the alphabetically listed Counties to St. Louis. Duluth is the last entry under St. Louis County.

A correction and a comment

I was just notified that the $1 million for additional teachers allowed ISD 709 to hire about 14 teachers not 7.8. That’s a relief.

Oh, by the way, I meant to comment on the Trib’s being sued by St. Lukes. Too bad. I think the series on the neurosurgeon was important if a little extravagant especially considering his winning his latest malpractice suit. The Trib doesn’t need a big court defeat but in its own backyard that may be likely. The Trib doesn’t have a lot of friends these days. They might want a change of venue.

7.8 more teachers

This is a positive story until you get to the end. A charitable high school student describes class size at Duluth East as “ridiculous.” Criminal is more like it and the guilty party is now the Superintendent of Coon Rapids.

“They had extremely high numbers at the high schools, in excess of 40,” Foster said. “We had to reduce there.”

Marcus Jahn, a student representative on the board, said the No. 1 concern for students at his high school, East, is class sizes.

“Some are reasonable, and some are a bit ridiculous,” he said. “In calculus, I had to stand in the back of the room. There weren’t enough desks for everyone.”

Some students weren’t able to get into the classes they wanted to take, he said.

Foster said he had concerns about class sizes at a number of schools in the district.

“I don’t like seeing class sizes above 30, but we have limited resources to address that,” he said. “We have to make critical decisions.”

The additional $1 million comes from increased enrollment and an increase to the amount received per pupil.

1 million for 7.8 teachers. Whoa!

Oops, make that $3,000,001 in building sales…

…not $4 million.

In the previous post I made the mistake of misreading this story about the sale of Lincoln Park Middle School.

The sale of Woodland is a coup and, on reflection, not that big a surprise considering the breakneck pace of UMD’s growth. The sale of Lincoln for a single dollar (a quick glance at its headline as I dove into the story on the Woodland sale confused me into thinking thinking it was a 1 million deal 1) suggests that the $15 million Dr. Dixon planned to raise in the sale of old buildings is a pipe dream.

The story explains why so many of our soon to be abandoned schools are a burden. Buyers might want the land but not the facilities. Maintaining them until a sale will be a financial drag. Knocking them down will be expensive too. There’s a good reason that the District announced both sales simultaneously. Many readers like me will see the Woodland sale while the disappointing results of the Lincoln sale are overshadowed. Sherman Associates got a good deal and they’ve proven to be an important developer in Duluth. If anyone can turn a buck on Lincoln its Sherman.

There are 10 more properties for the District to sell. If they all go for a dollar each it won’t make much of a dent in Red Plan bond financing.

Less Woodland

The School District is about to collect $4 million of the $15 million it relied on to pay for the Red Plan by selling unneeded schools. $3 million of it comes from selling Woodland Middle School and surrounding property to a developer, Mr. Lambert, who seems intent on building the Duluth version of “Dinkytown” that has long been called for. I had not expected this and its welcome news except perhaps for the quiet neighborhood below 8th street which is full of big old family homes ripe for turning into college rentals. That includes my house as well which is currently surrounded by a dozen formerly single family homes. Its keeping the party traffic high and my property taxes a little lower.

I’d always imagined that the lightening quick growth of UMD, which led to the closing of Chester Park Elementary as family homes were turned into rental units, would lead to UMD’s buying Woodland from the District. I’d figured that a government to government sale would be pretty small potatoes – not $3 million. Then again when I was on the Board Chancellor Martin was building the college like a grass-fire and that led to the school jumping by three or four thousand students. Its great for the local economy and ultimately will help attract more people to Duluth and that will pull more people into the public schools.

Whether a Dinkytown develops or not remains to be seen. The original is a hodge podge of hundreds of businesses and rental units. Mr. Lambert’s will be more like a development by a single corporate entity which is likely to be far more upscale than funky. The nearby homeowners are likely to prefer that.

A major part of the property may be the large forest nestled between Mount Royal, Woodland Ave., the Middle School and Wallace Street. If that’s included in the deal and scheduled for paving over neighbors are likely to want to have a say in how its done. The deer won’t be included in that conversation.

Smoking hot new schools

I just got back from visiting my Mother. While I was leaving her residence a vaguely familiar face hailed me and turned out to be a teacher I’d known thirty years earlier in my brief and inglorious stint teaching in the Proctor Schools. D and I had a nice chat and when I mentioned that I was mostly a local eccentric he kindly told me he was glad to know at least one. As I left and got to my car another vaguely familiar face greeted me. This one belonged to a six foot tall former student in my seventh grade Morgan Park Geography class from 21 years ago.

K was a lot bigger now. I again I rehashed the familiar I’m an eccentric conversation. Its my standard introduction of myself. K mentioned something about following my public complaints and taking much of what I said lightly then told me he had left town because of our schools. His children are a few years away from school yet but the taxes, the classrooms of 40 kids and what’s happened at Morgan Park convinced him that he wanted to raise his children in Esko. I told him that it didn’t sound like he had taken my constant badgering all that lightly and he agreed.

Bumping into a former colleague and student got me thinking that I ought to drive by some of the new schools while kids were there. I’ve commented unfavorably about what I anticipated might happen but I’ve not taken a look at the school up to now. My first quick drive was by the new Duluth East. I was most curious to see if the parking lot was crammed full as I had predicted. It had a few spaces and a smaller lot was being laid out and leveled across 40th Ave. East. Maybe my predictions were too pessemistic. Maybe the school is being very tight-fisted with parking permits. I don’t know.

I did see a bunch of kids across the street with one girl smoking a cigarette in the yard two houses down. That’s something the junior high kids in the Ordean days didn’t do as they were confined to their middle school during school hours. I’m sure the homeowner wouldn’t have been pleased.

That’s no longer a problem for the homeowners near the old East High. Its still under development with kids at Woodland but when it opens next year it will once again be a junior high. I saw the first two of the Judy Seliga-Punyko campaign lawnsigns near East. Not a big surprise. When I was on the school board the homeowners used to be up in arms about high school kids smoking in their yards. That will no longer be the case and some of the homeowners no doubt thank Judy for passing their bother over to the folks at Ordean. One of them used to get after me for not controlling the smokers and when I ran against Judy four years he had a Seliga sign in his yard. Its always nice when you can get what you want by electing your preferred candidate. I’ll bet it will be good for his home value too. As for Ordean neigborhood home values…..not so much!

“He ought to be in prison”

I can hardly deny my constant delight in pointing out anything negative about the Red Plan and the folks who defend its use. “It had to be done without a vote because the voters wouldn’t have approved it.” How could a true “small d” democrat not lampoon such laughable self justification?

When I excoriate the Red Plan its not our public schools I’m criticizing but the knavery behind the greedy interests who took advantage of the vanity of those in a position to impose it on Duluth by denying voters their say in the matter. As anyone typing in “DNT” in this blogs search engine would discover I also love to needle our newspaper which has done so little to expose this knavery. I’m still waiting for our newspaper to admit its report 5 years ago that JCI would earn no more than $4.5 million was in error and a deliberate lie. I suspect their editors would prefer to strip me of my credibility by exposing me as a child molester……Oh, I forgot. They nearly did.

I know that the local media must, of necessity, be cheerleaders for these new schools. Today the Budgeteer has a Pete Langr column extolling the virtues of the new Lester Park School. I can not fault a single jot or tittle of his description of the old school or the new school. Lester Park was due for an overhaul and a couple other schools were in the same boat. If, after imposing $300 million dollars of spending raised by the most regressive of taxes we didn’t have nice new school BUILDINGS someone would have to be called to account. As it is there is still much to be accounted for in the conditions to be found in the classrooms of our new schools.

So, yesterday, as part of my long running research for a book I’m working on, I happened to call a former FBI agent who once called Duluth home. When he found out I had been on the school board he warmed up and we talked schools. He was working on a Doctorate in Education at UMD while stationed in Duluth and when he left the FBI ended up putting nine years in as a high school principal and 15 years after that as a school superintendent. In fact, on one occasion he heard about one of our periodic calls for a new superintendent and was keen on putting in his own application so much did he enjoy his time in the Zenith City.

I advised him that he was probably lucky not to have applied and he wanted to know what I meant. The readers of this blog can smile at the thought of the conversation which followed.

When I explained how the Red Plan proceeded without a referendum he was dumbfounded. Why, there is no way that could have happened in his state. I told him it had never happened in Minnesota either on anything like this scale. The old FBI agent in him volunteered that the superintendent who pulled it off ought to be put in prison. I didn’t disagree.

About the District’s financing

The Zenith article accurately explains that no one, apparently not even Bill Westholm a recent top ISD 709 Administrator, much understands the District’s financing. The question implicit in many critiques of the Red Plan is that classroom money is being used to foot the construction bill. My loyal readers know my blog has rolled in that accusation like a pig in mud.

So here are some random thoughts to help make sense of, if not explain, what’s been going on……….I think! (Note that last caveat)

When the District submitted the Red Plan it made it extremely complicated in order to justify avoiding a referendum. There were three school building finance laws it had to contort its plan to meet. Its been years since I reviewed this but I seem to recall that health and safety improvements was one, alternative facilities was another (and I can’t recall what the Alternative Facilities law was all about any more) and there was the famous law that gave Cities (not school districts) of the First Class the right to raise money. One of these was the law that Jaros helped pass for the purposes of promoting integration and that he decried the District using to justify itself.

These three laws required that each of its new or remodeled Red Plan buildings was to be funded on the basis of three separate pots of money authorized by the three laws. If a building got some money for health and safety improvements then the building plans would have to demonstrate that x percentage of the building cost met the requirements of the health and safety finance law. Somehow the entire 300 million got approved by the Pawlenty Dept. of Education with each building getting different proportions of funding from three separate legislative authorities. Imagine the bureaucratic mess untangling the separate funding streams that this would lead to. How could a builder hope to stay true to the three laws as change orders altered construction building by building? It would be such a Gordian Knot that no one in our understaffed and underfunded State Department of Education would even attempt it. That meant that Johnson Controls Inc. and the Dixon Adm could simply tell the State “Oh, by the way we’re making changes to the Red Plan but don’t worry…..it will still meet all the legislative requirements,” and the State would oblige by saying, “I know nothing!”

As the Zenith article rightly points out there is supposed to be a separation between operational (classroom) expenses and capital (building) expenses. It dawned on me a few weeks ago why the District has seemed to so magically move money back and forth so that (not mentioned by the Zenith article) the School board borrowed $5 million recently from the classrooms and used it to pay for construction bonds.

Here’s what I think is going on and it does me little credit that I didn’t have this figured out years ago:

The District said the building plan would cost $297 million and the State Okay-ed this. The District said “But it won’t really cost this much because one fourth of the cost – $5 million a year – will really come out of school operations. We simply won’t bill taxpayers for this at all because we won’t need that operations money any more for the classroom. Why, shucks, we will save $2.5 million each year on the incredible energy savings JCI will build into the schools for us and we will be so efficient at staffing that we won’t need secretaries and janitors and traveling teachers and that will save us another $2.5 million. We can used this $5 million to lower taxes. Hooray! Of course if we have miscalculated we could still use that unneeded operational savings to build the Red Plan. But really! What are the chances of that happening?”

The state seems of have responded with an accounting like comment…..”We’ll, if you say so. Not our problem. Go ahead and tax the hell out of your public because we all think local elected officials should make these decisions even though our Governor raised hell in Duluth a couple years ago saying Duluth voters should have a right to vote on the Duluth Arena which will cost them only one sixth as much as this behemoth Red Plan that is twice as large as any other school building plan in state history!”

Dear Readers, Never mind my apology for saying I never understood this before. I’m beginning to realize that I did understand this from the beginning. I’m just getting old and I forgot about all this hocus pocus. Gosh. I was prescient. Too bad I’m barely sentient anymore.

SO…. This means that while the District didn’t initially raise that $5 million from operational expenses it has the authority from the Pawlenty Administration to do so at the drop of a hat or at the first major sign of a fiscal calamity. Doing this, of course, would mean breaking a promise and Dr. Dixon wanted to be able to patch the holes in his operational budget by getting voters to pass other “excess” levies. He managed to talk voters two years ago into renewing an old levy but they did not vote to increase it much to the Superintendent’s chagrin.

I suspect, because I suspect Dr. Dixon of a great many devious things, that what Dr. Dixon hoped to do was get his increase in the operational levy passed and then to talk his loyal School Board into levying the extra $5 million authority the state had given him to pay for the Red Plan. Let’s call it “mad money.”

Dr. Dixon had authority to levy an extra 5 million. He wanted more operational levy authority from voters. He had a plan so complicated that no one in the state could ever hope to audit what the District was doing, AND…..

… meanwhile the District kept getting the OK from its pliable school board to make changes willy nilly in the building plans. Expensive new swimming pools were added; Properties were acquired for vastly more than they were appraised and don’t forget the change orders. Change orders are pure gold to contractors. Their original bids might have been stingy but once a client wants to make changes the client is at the mercy of the contractor. The sky is the limit.

Dr. Dixon, is of course, the man to blame for this confetti but he has gone on to his great reward – another superintendency.

He has left the explanations for what has happened to his many loyal accolytes who, judging by the Zenith article, don’t have a clue what the Hell is happening. They do have a Finance man, Bill Hanson, to explain things but good luck understanding anything he says..

About that new Edison School

I’ve mostly ignored this story for a variety of reasons but it is sort of an elephant in the room. A friend emailed this comment to me this morning:

Wish the DNT would have identified the writer criticizing Edison as a #709 employee.

Here’s what I wrote back

Ms. Holte teaches Headstart at Laura Mac or did when I was on the Board. She once wrote in ten years ago or so upset that the District was using Roundup to kill weeds. I think that’s how I got to know her and I subsequently began reading to her classes every year.

She’s beaten up Edison in a couple previous letters to the Editor. What she writes should be covered by the Trib. I scratch my head over the building of the Northstar too. Although my family doesn’t quite buy my explanation (and I’ve not made any inquiries recently) I think that somewhere in state law Charter Schools are given state backing to build facilities. One of my family members seems to think this has all come from donations. If so, the District should hire that fundraiser pronto at triple the salary.

If I’m right, and I’m sure I am, its state taxpayers who are backing Edison’s bonding whereas Duluth taxpayers are footing all the bills for the Red Plan.
I’ve never had any legislative say in any laws making the Edison school financing possible so I’m simply a witness to the results.

Edison might not have been so eager to build if the District hadn’t cast them adrift, at the behest of the teacher’s union and then made it clear that they wanted to undermine the school. The teacher’s union had the chance of being a part of Edision back in 1996 but demured. After ten years of lagging behind the District’s student test scores this year they are creeping ahead of the District.

Edison teachers don’t make nearly what ISD 709 teachers make and are apparently having a little more success. They also have a pretty high morale. They also aren’t saddled with the Red Plan. Its fortunate for the Duluth Public Schools that the new Edison School isn’t any larger than it is, temporary traffic jam or not. BTW the Trib didn’t report on any traffic and parking troubles at East High but the Zenith story did. Fair and Balanced? I think not!

Harry

From the Zenith about our Nadir

I haven’t read it yet although its author called me about a couple of my recent posts. I was sent this excerpt from the latest Zenith:

“While exact numbers aren’t available yet, the District has 100 to 250 more students this year than expected, reversing decades of declining enrollment and netting an additional $600,000 from the state.

Still, it’s a small recovery from the net loss of 1,779 students since 2004, according to the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE).”

Dixon Middle School, indeed!

This is grim but I can only hope that some of those lost students really do represent children who are no longer in the district since my last year on the School Board. However, I suspect a lot of kids dropped out in recent years with no one to catch them.

Go Loren Martell!

Your name springs from Charles Martel who saved Christianiaty at the border of Spain over a thousand years ago. See what you can do for us.

Name Changes

Re: some of the odd recomendations for new names for the old East Junior High (there were only 20 for crying out loud most of them from one of the School Board member’s spouse by the sound of them) I submit this excellent column from a great East High School History teacher, Ken Jensen. He sent it in to the Trib in 2009 related to a potential name change for another Duluth School. I think it applies equally to East. Call it East Middle School and be done with it. Call it Dixon Middle School and forget about passing an operational levy for the next quarter century.

Again, I have my email pals to thank for digging this up:

Name change for Duluth’s Denfeld High School?

As a former history teacher, I always look to history and precedence for answers. When Central High School changed buildings, its proud name and traditions followed. When Morgan Park High School was closed, its proud name and traditions ultimately passed into history.
Again, Duluth sees the closing of a high school. Denfeld is not moving or closing. Why change its name and assume the estimated cost of $250,000 to change the name, colors, and logos on sports equipment, uniforms, and building signs and engravings? I remember witnessing seven years of fundraising just to get new band uniforms! Does the district have so much extra money?
East High School is not closing; it is changing buildings, just as Central did. Shouldn’t precedence be followed? Why assume all those additional costs of changing the name of a building? Does the district want the eastern high school to get all new uniforms, logos, hockey jerseys, and so forth, while the Denfeld community makes do with all its “old” used stuff?
I taught in the West End and in the east end of Duluth , and I hope the district will seek to improve the feelings of both ends of our community rather than creating more negative feelings within the community.
The only justification I have heard for changing a high school name and spending additional dollars is “to unify the new student body.” Why unify one new student body and discriminate against the other?
We also must consider how many dollars in scholarship money would be lost to students if we changed names. What if alumni stop contributing to schools to which they no longer feel connected?
I graduated from the first and oldest high school in Bloomington , Minn. Lincoln High is gone now, along with all its traditions. I understand the feelings of a third of our community. I’ve taught at Central and appreciate the great history and traditions of this fine school and truly wish that Duluth could support three, and even four, high schools. History shows us change is inevitable, and it shows us how to proceed into the future.
History, precedence, fairness and common sense dictate the answer to the question of name changes. After witnessing 40 years of our district’s actions, I doubt that fairness and common sense will prevail.

Ken Jensen of Duluth is a former high school history, social studies and journalism teacher.

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.

Lots of school news in the Trib today

Yes by all means we should rename East Duluth’s revamped Middle School after Dr. Keith Dixon…

Also on the list are names that reflect the place; Tischer Creek, Hawthorne, Woodland, Birchen, Birch Hill, Lakeview, Pine View, Horizon, Deerwood, Aerial, Birches, Longview, Ore-Wood, and names that honor people; Greysolon, Snively, Alworth, Sieur du Lhut, Pearson and Dixon (the recently retired superintendent who oversaw much of the long-range facilities plan).

…who has left such a special legacy of educational achievement in Duluth.

Duluth students scored poorly in math compared to the rest of the state, while pulling about even with the state average in reading. Compared to last year, Duluth students increased their math proficiency, while their reading proficiency stayed about the same

The District’s guess as to why our scores fell is it that we’ve suddenly got a lot of new poor kids pulling the scores down:

Duluth school district leaders acknowledged that, overall, students performed poorly in math last year, saying it was probably because of the increasing number of students enrolled in the district who live in poverty.

“Studies have shown us that, historically, they achieve at a lower level,” said Assistant Superintendent Bill Gronseth.

Huh! Did these poor students all enroll last year at the height of the Red Plan induced student exodus?

And apparently no one wants the new Duluth East in their Athletic Conference. How confounding!

Duluth East’s application for membership in the Lake Superior Conference was rejected again Monday at a meeting of conference activities directors.

Last Question – Where’s Jana? Much as I like Brandon Stah’s reporting I sure hope the Trib hasn’t cut its last remaining Education reporter.

Skepticism abounds 2

And in regard to the WDIO story about selling off twelve schools I got this email from another skeptic:

Thanks Harry for bringing up the excess schools. My spouse just mentioned the same last night. Sounds like those buildings were worth more alive than dead.

Remember Dixon saying he could sleep better if there was a buyer for Central? The financial scheme just isn’t working.

But worrisome is this line “Hanson said individuals have proposed ideas to the district on how to use the properties, but he would not give anymore details.”

Time to follow the money and in Duluth, the players.