Category Archives: Duluth Schools


I’m still waiting for my paper version of the DNT to show up at my front door to see if there is more to this online story.

Dr. Foster is new to Duluth. He ran a quiet little district without a high school and very little media scrutiny. He’s had a mere week to see our District up close. I wouldn’t expect him to have much more than platitudes in his arsenal. But even at this early stage I’d take a platitude. I treat them kind of like trading cards. I like to swap them with others. Come on DNT. Finish this story.

I wish the School District could get…

…a $2.3 million settlement from JCI! Only we should be able to collect $15 million.

First it was guaranteed that JCI wouldn’t get a dime over $4.5 million . Then it was guaranteed that we were about to get a $32 million savings on the Red Plan spending. The guarantee that the Red Plan would only cost $297 million turned out to be little more than JCI’s sales pitch.

From the Trib:

Montgomery said he places more stock in the task force’s action plan than he would in the projections of an entity that stood to financially benefit from a project.

Memories of Duluth’s experience with Johnson Controls remain fresh. The city invested about $3.8 million in improvements at the Duluth Steam Cooperative based on the recommendations of Johnson Controls, but many of the projected savings failed to materialize. A legal battle with the company ensued, and the city received a $2.3 million settlement resolving the case in December.

I.V. seems like a nice guy

Other than a video from Nebraska where Dr. Foster was also a candidate for a superintendency this is my first look at Duluth’s new Superintendent. he was featured on WDIO last night.

His name is I.V. as in ivy. Like the S in Harry S Truman neither letter is an initial for a name. Together they are the name. I guess the periods will prevent him from being confused with the Roman numeral.

Dr. Foster as been here a week and is settling in. He’s already speaking optimistically about passing an operational levy. The best chance of succeeding was the departure of his predecessor. Even if it passes he will find the District in bad shape.

His previous district was a quiet suburb which did not have its own television stations or newspaper. It didn’t even have a high school just a middle school and some elementary schools. I think he will be in for two big shocks, the financial difficulties he faces and the intense public scrutiny. He will have to be more than just a nice guy to weather both.

School funding on the chopping block

The Duluth District just had to borrow twenty million to keep running, something it hadn’t done, if I remember correctly, since before I was on the school board. One of the reasons for this is the state’s delaying giving school districts state aid on time. If the State delays payments for a couple months and Districts can’t pay their teachers then they have to borrow money from banks and pay interest to do it.

According to this article the recent “compromise” plan of the GOP offered to Governor Mark Dayton included delaying an additional $700 million to schools. This says that the Governor was OK with that if not to the overall compromise:

Delayed school aid payments. The accounting maneuver helped Pawlenty finish a budget in 2009, when he exercised his executive authority to push $1.2 billion in school payments into the next fiscal year. The price of balancing the state’s books this way is that schools have to wait longer for the money, and the payments must be caught up if budget surpluses return. As the current shutdown started, both sides released documents showing that Republicans had proposed delaying another $700 million in school payments, and Dayton was open to it.

No matter how the state’s budget is resolved I think we can expect it will be solved in large part on the back of school districts.

“Nattering Nabobs of Negativism” is catchier than…

….”Doubters, defeatists and pessimists”

This letter in today’s Trib is an antidote to Dr. Dixon’s last hurrah (which I can’t find on the Trib’s online site) at the Budgeteer.

When students leave the district, Duluth’s school administrators don’t tend to investigate why. Instead, it seems they decide to spend taxpayers’ money on marketing the school district, to keep up a legacy of denial and in self-promotion. The reality is that students and their parents, like the bullying victim and her parents, want their problems acknowledged and addressed head-on.

and this:

Back when the plans to expand Ordean into the new East High School were being discussed, we voiced concerns about locating a high school adjacent to active railroad tracks. The administration’s response was that trains hardly ever ran on those tracks. The tracks run right behind our property, within four blocks of the school, and we observe trains running so frequently that the administration’s response either constituted absolute denial or complete ignorance.

I suppose that folks like the letter writers will soon be labeled by the Trib’s editors as “pessimists.”

Doubters, defeatists and pessimists long have plagued Duluth with their “it’ll never happen” declarations and, no matter how good and beneficial something might be for the community, their insistence that, “We’ll never get it done.”/blockquote>

I’d be curious to know if the taxpayers have had to pay the Trib to print all of Dr. Dixon’s self promotional columns in the Budgeteer over the past five or six years.

““traitor,” “tyrant,” “despot” and “deceiver”

Tim Grover gets a sympathetic pat on the back today from one of the students who served (in a non voting capacity) with him on the School Board. It begins:

During my 12 months as a student representative on the Duluth School Board, board Chairman Tim Grover regularly has endured abuse from angry citizens and board members, and he has done so with professional dignity. I have heard many insults, including, “traitor,” “tyrant,” “despot” and “deceiver.”

Peter Witzig is more than charitable and makes the case for Tim simply being pragmatic and going with the flow. Not mentioned in his encomium is Tim the Chairman shutting off the microphone and having critics hustled out of School Board meetings in handcuffs. If only the British could have done the same to Sam Adams.

While the editors are busy lauding Dr. Dixon before his send off…

…the School District is giving eager buyers a couple weeks to shore up its finances by taking some abandoned properties off its hands.

From an observant friend about the ads today:

In the Legal Section of today’s DNT there are the legal Requests For Proposals for selling

Lincoln Park
Morgan Park
Garfield Building
Bayview Property
Hartley Hills Land

All the Requests For Proposals “close” on July 14th.

Nothing like doing this in the dead of summer while people are not paying attention.

I thought Morgan Park and Woodland were going to be open for another year? I did not think the completion date for East (as a middle school) or the new Lincoln Middle school was this fall.

Any takers out there?

So what’s the deal with Central? Why isn’t it on the auction block?

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.