Category Archives: Duluth Schools

The new East will have “about the same number of students”…

….as the school-and-a-half it will replace.

On that brief WDIO report I mentioned previously I snorted when I heard about the new school having more parking spaces than East High. For the past couple years the District has been ignoring the hundreds of spaces rented by the District from the Diocese of Duluth. The District would have to find similar parking to accomodate the kids attending the new East High like, for instance, at the Northland Country Club. Of Course, those students would have to park and then cross the busy Superior Street yet one more traffic safety issue.

But a friend noticed something else in the story that I hadn’t noticed:

from WDIO:

“But Kerry Leider, Property Manager for Duluth Schools, feels otherwise. He said the new high school has 366 spaces– almost 200 more the old school–with about the same number of students.”

This seems odd. If there will be the same number of students at Ordean as at East, why did they have to build a new HS?

Its hard to see how the new school could have about the same number of students if it is to keep all its old students and then get half the kids who attended Central High School. Could the enrollment diaspora from our schools be that dramatic or is Mr. Leider simply dismissing a looming headache?

Good Values

Watching the news segment linked to the previous post I caught a millisecond view of a chart from a survey taken recently. Evidently it asked one question that had been asked of Duluth residents in 2007. I could be taking this out of some context but the chart asked, “Good value from investment in school”

Apparently in 2007: 74% of the responders said yes and 18% said no.
The results in 2011: 58% of the responders said yes but 35% said no.

Not a big surprise. Those are the years of the Red Plan – So far! We’ll see what the “good value” ratings are after we stick 45 kids in Advanced Placement classes.

Anticipating a 10% increase in enrollment

That’s what Dr. Earhart told the Glen Avon’s Presbyterian Men’s Club his Marshall School expected to see this fall. Even though Marshall’s tuition, at roughly $13,000, is half what a similar school in the Twin Cities would charge its a big sum for little Duluth. Marshall’s stunning growth can only be explained by the turmoil in the Duluth Public Schools. $13,000 is now the price of escaping from the Duluth Schools……for those who can afford it.

Wait until the goodies that the Duluth Teachers got for themselves during the School Board’s clueless contract negotiation kick in. (I’ll be working on that post when I can find some time in a week or two) Marshall can look ahead to a few more good years. The public school teachers will have a miserable experience but they will be well paid for it. 45 kids in an advance placement class. Sheesh!

Keep pumping up those last five earning years to boost your pensions DFT. Never mind the young sprouts following in your footsteps. The only thing that will keep them in the classroom after their idealism withers will be scar tissue.

P.S.Retirement can be a good life for a teacher.

Here Here!

I would have quoted a different passage in Gary Glass’s commentary today but the link at the Trib isn’t working at the moment. I’d have posted the paragraph about reelecting a new school board.

It was no wonder School Board member Mary Cameron came off as miffed in a May 10 News Tribune story after hearing that negotiations with Duluth’s new superintendent had begun without her. Apparently she had become disconnected from the rest of the old majority. Disconnectedness describes the School Board’s relationship with the people of the district, illustrating the reason this School Board is broken. Yes, broken, and disconnected.

Enjoy it while it lasts

The Red Plan which began as a way to close a high school, morphed to a long range plan then to a way to lure students back to Duluth then to an energy savings and efficiency project and finally to a means of injecting vigor into Duluth’s economy is finally winding down. The economic stimulus part, except for the bond holders which will be collecting our repayment for the next twenty years, is coming to and end. This comes from today’s story on our anemic jobless rate.

“Some of the big construction projects that were helping us keep ahead of the game have run down,” Digby said.

A big chunk of the Duluth school district’s building projects are done, as are Amsoil Arena, the Enbridge pipeline expansion and mining company upgrades, he noted.

A few Red Plan projects remain while some of the biggies finish up. Sure, lots of the people employed lived elsewhere and will be taking Duluth’s money home with them but there’s no question some of the $293 million spent on dubious buildings has added life to the community even as the Red Plan itself has driven ten or more percent of our students out of our sparkling new school facilities.

Ironic STC closing

I received two quick emails in succession this morning on the planned closing of the STC – Secondary Technical Center. I’ve mashed them together:

Not sure if anyone noticed but today’s DNT had the legal notice / ad for the proposed closing of the Secondary Technical Center . – Don’t we have it somewhere that they weren’t going to close that for awhile? How could they possibly have the STC program in place at both high schools already? What greedy business is rubbing their hands together for that incredible site?

The date of the proposed hearing is is Thurs, June 2nd, 2011 6:30 PM – at the STC

Just received confirmation –

802 is the address of the STC building – so the hearing will be at STC.

Please consider attending this hearing. It takes less than a half an hour, – you would have the opportunity to speak, (although not required to do so) – The District should see some “bodies” of people who oppose the closing of STC, the newest (1995?), nicest location, and still unpaid for, with 4+ years of bond payments to be made.

The STC was built less than twenty years ago for about $4 million without a referendum under the same laws which the School Board used to justify spending $297 million on the Red Plan without a vote. As noted the remaining bond obligations will have to be paid off for four more years. If we sell all the buildings like the STC on the Central High campus it is possible that the Duluth Schools will have to pay for their demolition to attract or satisfy a buyer.

I wrote a letter to the editor to the DNT shortly after the building was completed criticizing then Superintendent Mark Myles for not holding a referendum. I learned later that the decision to proceed took place before Myles was Superintendent. He gave me a call after my letter was published and he was not happy.

So, a building that was built without a vote is being torn down without one too even though its still being paid for.

The STC had a number of programs that attracted a number of students from outside the District into Duluth and their districts had to pay ours to educate their kids. Today more Duluth kids are being educated outside of Duluth and our District is having to pay these other districts to educate them.

There is something called the “law of unintended consequences” and it sure seems to apply to the Red Plan in spades.

Equity I (in Duluth)

From an email today concering a letter in the DNT:

Sorry, for some reason I cannot link it, but a language program has been cut at Lester Park. So much for those buildings enhancing programming.

I can still remember Judy Seliga telling everyone how they will be able to add NEW educational and sporting activities.

I can link to the letter.

The gist:

Since 2002, the Rockridge/Lester Park Foundation Board has provided our students, staff and families with an in-school Spanish program. This program was initiated and funded by parent volunteers, teachers and principals who believe passionately in public education and who saw a need for bilingual learning.

Sadly, ISD 709 has mandated we remove the program because of the need for equitable learning across all elementary schools.

If “equity” is the justification being used by the Duluth School Board to cut this program at Lester Park sounds like the District is using desegregation mandates as a scapegoat much as it is using the State’s cuts in education to hide the incompetence that has brought our district to a new low. This is the sort of blame casting I’ve come to expect from the political party that blames America’s problems on illegal immigrants, other religions, homosexuality and the folks who are endangering the rest of us by walking around without carrying concealed weapons.

With the new GOP legislature rampaging around the Board may lose deseg mandates as a whipping boy – see the next post.

Fort Fumble

This beautiful picture in the DNT Website reminded me what Duluth’s teachers used to call the Central Administration Building – “Fort Fumble.”

The School Board might just revive the sobriquet.

The Duluth School Board will vote next week whether to terminate 14 nontenured teachers.

That’s fewer than last year, when 24 nontenured teachers were terminated in the spring. The district needs to cut about $5.7 million from its operating budget, which will be finalized in June.

The Duluth school district’s human resources manager, Tim Sworsky, told board members Monday night that the terminations were due to declining student enrollment, and amounted to 12.25 full-time employees.

A “perennial candidate” comments

Our perennial newspaper printed my column submitted a couple weeks ago with not too many alterations:

Mostly they edited out Gary Westorff’s name repeatedly as the author of the offending letter.

A staff representative for Education Minnesota pointed an accusing finger at an honorable Duluth School Board member, Gary Glass, in the March 25 News Tribune. In a letter to the editor, he said he would never support Glass for School Board, and he advised the voting public to replace Glass.

According to the letter, Glass falsely claimed credit for the school district’s savings of $1.7 million by switching to a new insurer. The credit belonged with the unions for working out the issue with the administration, the writer said.

But that was wrong. I can verify that Glass was lobbying for a change in insurers a couple of years ago, when the district chose to renew its old carrier.

I, too, commend the union for agreeing to help our troubled school district, which just borrowed

$20 million to pay its bills and teacher’s salaries. But I’m not overwhelmed by the savings. I suspect it wasn’t hard for the new carrier to lower premiums, considering the large number of staff shed in the wake of the Red Plan. I would be much more interested to know the letter writer’s attitude toward the loss of so many Duluth teachers.

Placing responsibility for this might be more useful to voters. Then again, it might not be that big a deal for the writer, who also represents teachers in Proctor and Hermantown, districts that are growing at Duluth’s expense.

The letter’s accusation wasn’t the only recent tripe I’ve read about public schools in the News Tribune. On March 11, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker wrote a tear-soaked column bemoaning his inability to keep one of Wisconsin’s “outstanding, first-year-teachers” on the payroll, owing to union contracts. Walker was in such a state of grief over this that he’s seeing to it that thousands more Wisconsin teachers will lose their jobs.

On April 13, former Duluth School Board Chairwoman Ann Wasson wrote a commentary claiming the Red Plan already had saved $4 million in operating costs. It would have been far more accurate for her to say those “savings” came from staff cuts. In fact, the district justified the Red Plan to the state by saying it would allow the district to save $5 million annually through efficiencies like laying off unnecessary janitors, secretaries, principals and teachers.

(About half of the savings was to come from cutting staff while the other half would come from Johnson Controls lowering energy costs. Presumably, JCI will do a better job for the district than it did for the city of Duluth’s steam plant.)

The Red Plan did indeed lead to staff cuts, but they’ve come about because 10 percent of our students have switched to other schools. Ah, but our remaining teachers now have SMART Boards so we can justify putting more kids in their classrooms.

Wasson was right about one thing. Our public schools will be desperate to pass an increased operating levy. Why the public would trust additional money to a district that denied it the right to vote on the Red Plan I have no idea, but I’ll support an increase for our children’s sake. They are the only innocents in this sorry story.

I take some hope from Faribault, Minn. As I understand it, Faribault couldn’t pass an operating levy referendum as long as Keith Dixon was its school superintendent; its passage had to wait until Dixon moved to Duluth.

Dixon’s June retirement is just around the corner, so, by all means, we should keep our fingers crossed. But please, let’s not point them at the wrong people.

Harry Welty is a former Duluth School Board member, a perennial candidate for public office, an oft-quoted critic of the school district and Superintendent Keith Dixon, and an organizer of the grass-roots group Let Duluth Vote.

Everything considered

I just read through the endless list of ideas, questions and wish lists that were compiled by various groups within the Duluth School System and larger community. It took a long time and despite a lot of redundancy it practically cries out for a savior. No Superintendent can hope to salve our wounds and save our schools without the help of the community. I hope our new superintendent can win over and deserve our trust. Honesty and humility will be critical. The honeymoon, if there is one, is likely to be short.

Shades of Deja vu

WDIO reported tonight that Dr. Hess of the Bemidji School District has just dropped out as one of Duluth’s three finalists. That means that a fourth candidate has been added to the list of three finalists. That is how Dr. Dixon made the cut six years ago by being added after another person’s withdrawal. When Dr. Dixon was selected to be Duluth’s superintendent he was in effect the only candidate left as the others had withdrawn or dropped hints that they weren’t all that interested.

I don’t envy the School Board. For the time being it has three finalists but one of them has children enrolled in the neighboring Hermantown School District which has pulled a lot of Duluth students into its orbit. That’s a little awkward.

Also, from what I can see, none of the candidates have been classroom teachers. That is not a necessity but for a District attempting to make nice with the teachers its not a plus either.

At risk in Duluth

It seems that the initial Superintendent candidates have the right idea about helping out at risk kids:

The first three Duluth superintendent candidates all talked about the importance of closing the district’s wide achievement gap Tuesday night during the first set of interviews with the School Board.

But in Duluth that means severing our connection with a charter school set up to do just that.

Hindsight is 20 20

I caught the bygones a couple days ago and recalled this incident from 20 years ago:

Bygones for March 14, 2011
News Tribune:

Minnesota Commissioner of Education Gene Mammenga yesterday announced cuts to the Duluth school district’s desegregation program including …

Deseg funds have been under threat for many years and since its a lot of money for Duluth it would be a big dea to finally lose theml. It is probably what’s keeping Dr. Dixon’s vaunted Integration Specialists in the saddle.

So, I wonder, when is the Trib will get around to reporing the anticipated elimination of deseg funding? They got the story from twenty years ago right but they’ve missed the latest imminent blow to the Duluth School District’s finances. When they get around to telling us remember that you read it here first.

Meanwhile back in Duluth

From the April 5 Trib

The search for Superintendent Keith Dixon’s replacement soon will enter its next phase.

School Exec Connect, the recruiting firm retained to help locate the Duluth school district’s next superintendent, already has received about 30 applications from candidates around the nation, said Ken Dragseth, one of the company’s partners. The firm has been reviewing resumes, checking references and doing background checks as it works to recommend a slate of five or six semi-finalists.

“We think we’ve got some really good people,” Dragseth said.

Let’s hope so.