Category Archives: Duluth Schools

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… 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!


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.

Skepticism abounds 1

Regarding the coverage of the Schools in the news I got a flurry of email this morning. One was directed at the Trib editorial that attempted to banish pessimism.

What percentage of students have left the Duluth School District (since the beginning of the Red Plan), as compared to the number of students who have returned?

Also, weren’t the new schools designed to be smaller since the district projected they would have fewer students in the future? Wouldn’t that then give an appearance of being crowded (along with too many students in a classroom)?

I’m not saying that this isn’t good news, but if the Duluth News Tribune were to include some actual facts and figures with their opinion, some of the doubters may become believers.

If there are only a couple extra classrooms to handle an excess of students that is worrying because of at least a thousand lost students only a couple hundred seem to have re-enrolled. The whole (initial) justification for the Red Plan was that we had too much space which required building smaller schools. If we’ve built too little space for our children then Dr. Dixon and the School Board made a terrible miscalculation. Either that or the Trib’s gushing about crowded schools is just hyperbole. Which is it?

I’ve had a disquieting feeling for some years that all the demographic data tossed around at the beginning of the Red Plan might have badly underestimated the number of likely students or schools would be enrolling. Because of the barrage of criticism leveled during the early Red Plan years I was worried that the Red Planners would hide any of the shortcomings in their work from the public – as they hid so much else. If these $315 million dollar schools (the District added another 15 million to the price tag this year and is considering another 19 million) don’t have enough room for the children in the community then the build it all at once crowd will have given us a costly inflexible set of facilities.

I’d like the administration to give us the facts that my emailer calls for.

How about it DNT? Are you going to make any inquiries or are you going to continue to play cheerleader to help lure students back?

47 kids in a biology class

Its not just the schools that are packed. According to today’s story in the Trib a lot of classrooms are packed too. Time will iron out the worst of this crowding but only the worst cases of it. As I wrote earlier most of the new money going into the schools will not reduce the number of children per teacher. Its simply to hire additional teachers because there are additional children. The bottom line is that of 6 new teachers hired, one of them will be divided up between all our 9,000 children.

The result:

Several students reported large class sizes on the first day. Sophomore Nicole Bourgoyne said she was in a biology class with 47 students, and sophomores Kristel Baltazar and Abby Weisinger said their geometry class had more than 40.

Josh Gruba, a senior, said he was in a study hall of 105 students in a classroom, and there wasn’t room for everyone to sit.

Another senior, Alex Smith, was in a chemistry class with between 40 and 45 students without enough seats to go around. But Smith was philosophical about that.

“I thought it went pretty well,” he said. “If it had been the old East, last year, it would have been a mess.”

Denfeld also had some large classes, including a math class with 45 students, Crawford said. If class sizes remain that high, adjustments can be made, he added. Already, the school has been able to add faculty with the money the School Board approved this week.

Likewise, Piedmont School added a fifth kindergarten class and might have to add a sixth, Obst said. A kindergarten-friendly room is available if that needs to happen, she added.

Having more children than expected “is a wonderful problem to have,” said Wolden, the Lester Park principal. “Weve made some adjustments. We have another teacher to help us with large class sizes. We’re watching some of our other classes to see if our enrollments do go up … then we’ll have to discuss how we’re going to manage that.”

At-large School Board candidates – 2011

I agree with the DNT Editors on their recommendations for Duluth’s at-large candidates for the School Board. Either Ryan Stauber or Mike Miernicki would be a good addition to the Board. Bill Kron, I presume the former long time County Commissioner, has nice things to say about Mike in today’s paper. Ryan has a very short and smart letter about the district in the paper as well. He’s crisp and precise something I’ve seen little of in most of the current batch of school board members.

The state of our district is becoming dire. We have brand new classrooms going unused due to teacher layoffs. Class sizes are growing at an astronomical rate. And, most disturbing, public perception and trust are at all-time lows. Other educational facilities in our area continue to grow, even generating waiting lists. While we watch others flourish, Duluth public schools are floundering. We’ve lost 50 percent of our students over the past 34 years, we’re not just bleeding students; we’re hemorrhaging them at an unprecedented rate.

The third candidate Doug Frisk, no friend of mine, has a lengthy applogia for the Red Plan and a call for a little Kumbayah.

As painful as changes have been for Duluth, we must move forward rather than look back and pick at that scab. Our community can only heal if we move forward together.

I was sort of impressed when he wrote about children who were “innumerate” (can’t count their fingers) but less so at his promise which is prefaced by call for “iterative” improvement: “My vision to move the district forward includes parent involvement, challenges for all students and iterative improvement.”

I promise to listen respectfully, but I won’t promise to always agree. I promise not to go down a path my conscience tells me is wrong for our children or schools. I refuse to promise everything and deliver nothing.

For a guy who says what we need is more parental involvement I guess his conscience has told him to make sure there is no public involvement is such trivial details as building the new schools the public will have to pay for.

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.

Do new teachers cost $90,000?

A fellow named Mike Switaer made a comment on today’s Trib story which was hidden because a lot of readers said they didn’t like it.

“so each full time position is $90000? most teachers I know don’t make that. I know “benifets” are added but the city and PERA are arguing now that city of duluth employees should not have medical benifits included as part of their payroll package, at least not when figuring retirement amounts.”

Only 6 people “liked” the comment and 18 “disliked” it when I viewed the online comment section.

Who in the hell would have disliked the comment? It was better than a comment. It was a question. Don’t we learn from our teachers something like, “there is no such thing as a stupid question”? It wasn’t a snide question or a smart ass question. It seemed to be pretty genuine and I couldn’t help noticing it because I’d done the same math after reading the story. 6.6 teachers divided into $6 million dollars is a bit more than $90,000 per teacher.

When I started on the Board 16 not terribly inflationary years ago new teachers were being paid about $54,000 a year. I seem to recall that that was both salary and benefits. Six or seven years into my 8 year tenure on the board I used that figure in a little back room calculating and was told the figure was terribly outdated. It was closer to $65,000 or more.

I know the District has been relatively profligate under the awful fiscal circumstances in recent teacher negotiations but even so $90,000 does seen like rather a lot for a new teacher.

I suspect that the teachers hired back will not be “new” teachers so much as laid off teachers whose salaries are fixed above that of a first year teacher. I’m not sure what the average cost of a new teacher is anymore but things have changed. Sixteen years ago I could make a simple calculation that a million dollars would get us about 20 new teachers. Today it appears the same one million would barely hire ten.

By the way, Mr. Switaer, Thank you for not hiding your identity. Thank you for posting a non-snide post. Thank you for asking a reasonable question. I apologize for the 16 people who have swept you under the carpet. Let me welcome you under rug with the rest of us dust mites who have raised embarrassing questions.