Category Archives: Duluth Schools

1.3 + 1.7 = ?, 6.5 + 6.5 = ?

School Board member Ann Wasson does her math a little differently than Art Johnston.

If you get a 1% increase in pay next year and a 2% increase the year after that second year will be a 3% increase over the year before the contract was negotiated. Same for the Health Insurance increase. (6.5 + 6.5 = 13)

You would have to look very hard through Duluth (or anywhere in the US for that matter) to find any workers getting an annual 6.5% increase in health care costs. As I said before such an increase will only lead to layoffs. Board member Wasson has probably paid little attention to the drama in the City of Duluth over the cost of health care. If she had she might realize that what she has given away will only lead to travail. That she gave so much away a year before negotiations had to begin was indeed improvident.

Not only is the Red Plan bonding set to come due but the current Board has a one time gift from the Federal Government of $2 million which will not likely be renewed with the prevailing Tea Partying climate.

Good luck getting a new excess levy passed

Its not only the Red Plan that has cost teacher’s jobs. Its the new teacher contract.

On July 20, the board passed a $63 million teacher-labor contract. Teachers were given 3.1 percent pay raises and 13 percent medical benefit increases. They now have 100 percent of their health premiums paid with zero deductible. Most of their dental is paid, too.

This compares to a 0 percent increase for city workers the past three years and high co-pays.

Despite the District’s cry of insolvency the District managed to conclude a new contract without the help of the School Board that was a lot more generous than the City has been in contracts with City employees.

Voters are likely to remember this the next time the District cries poverty and asks for more local property tax increases.

Our Schools aren’t failing

This is the contention of yesterday’s Trib editorial which tried to give context to the unhappy results of the MCA test results for Duluth’s school children.

No, our schools aren’t failing or lousy, no matter what might be suggested by Adequate Yearly Progress reports. But improvements obviously are needed. An entire community can come together – and can work together – to help all students succeed

As I told a person who emailed me about this the Trib, having backed the Red Plan, now owns the school district’s test results. Those results will forever (twenty years anyway) be linked to the Red Plan’s mortar.

So far the results aren’t encouraging: “Duluth schools fail state standards for yearly progress.”

If this is true all hell should break loose

Over the past four years I’ve read three things about our schools that were shocking.

The third most shocking thing was the jaw dropping cost of the Red Plan at $293 million which including interest will be almost a half a billion dollars.

The second most shocking thing I read just before the cost of the Red Plan was announced was that the School Board could implement the plan without a vote. I was so shocked I made a call to my old buddy Tim Grover to ask him how the District could justify this. Tim’s response…….sort of ……Well the lawyers say we can.

The most shocking thing I’ve ever read about our district was stuck in as a little sidelight in today’s story about the unhappy parents of the District’s Native American students. The story says that they have a dismal 20 percent graduation rate which sure seems low by previous estimates to me. But this isn’t the shocking fact I was referring to.

The story mentions that we have about 450 native students which considering that godawful rate of graduation rate has a significant gravitational pull on the whole grad rate. But this isn’t the shocking fact I was referring to.

The story mentions that our student enrollment is about 8,500 students which, I suspect, is far below any projections of enrollment for our District that any credible source has ever anticipated. But even this isn’t the shocking fact I was referring to.

I can’t even believe the shocking fact. Its so shocking that I suspect it is a misprint. It is this – and someone should do a fact check immediately. According to the story Duluth has a graduation rate of 65 percent! That’s down near the rate for the state of Mississippi. That is unbelievable.

The story reports:

The district has 8,651 students, and 453 of them are American Indian. The 2008 graduation rate for American Indian students was 20.8 percent, compared to an overall graduating rate of 65.8 percent.

I know of no good explanation for this other than the possibility that Jana Hollingsworth, the story’s reporter, inadvertantly cut 20 % of the actual District graduation rate which is listed as 85% on the District’s web page for good news.

From “Katie’s Page… “We are proud”:

“Graduation Rate for Central, Denfeld, and East 93.05% (including alternative sites 85.44%”

Frankly a graduation rate of 85.44% is nothing to write home about. A decade ago the state of Minnesota boasted a 90% graduation rate. Educators like economists fiddle with definitions all the time so its hard to know what compares with what in previous statistics.

A rate of 85 percent could be grounds for firing the Superintendent. A rate of 65 percent, should it prove to be true, is grounds for riding him out in tar and feathers on one of the I beams from one of his many new temples of education.

Eunuchs on the School Board

Today’s reasonable sounding story in the Trib about changes to the Red Plan costing eleven million dollars, which (as the paper noted) won’t change its overall cost, reminded me once again what eunuchs the current school board is.

The changes themselves aren’t surprising but are indicitive of overly optimistic Red Plan cost projections which haven’t been born out as the Red Plan gets more expensive.

There will likely be no new transportation building. The STC will be sold (to save classroom time by ending bussing to it) and the OLD CAB will not get some fix ups. All of these are sort of routine except for the revelation that the Administration had never run them past the School Board. Nope, the majority of the Board is happy as clams staying out of the conversation between the Administration the Community and the State’s Educatioin Department.

Why, it makes one wonder why we even have a school board. Its just a little excessive democracy.

My poor baaack!

After building particularly big snow sculptures I’ll have a very sore back. Twelve hours of sitting on my tush, half of this in too comfy sofas, entering data in my Let Duluth Vote Data base my back is once again pretty sore. Getting this filled out has been of higher priority than blog posts and I have a few more hours to go today before I spend much time here. Every major street in Duluth has a dozen contributors or more. Many streets of just a block or two have one or two. These are the folks who sent in thanks you’s back when it seemed just a matter of time before the Dixon School Board would acknowledge public anger at the theft of their vote.

I was up till three this morning so I was a little slow getting up. No Trib on my doorstep. I put in a call as I did a month ago under the same circumstances to the circulation department. That time it never showed up. They assured me it would come this time.

Maybe someone purloins the trib when stuff shows up in it that I’d be interested in. For instance I got an FYI email sent out with the story on next week’s school board meeting. That’s when bids on the Wheeler Middle School get voted on. Like every other hell bent to leather aspect of Dr. Dixon’s work it seems planned to hurry up and defeat any compromise – like one that could save $50 million and simply use Central High as a middle school.

There may be a good reason for Dixon to hurry. For months a rumor has swirled around that Dixon is planning on announcing his departure soon. If this is true he’d want unbreakable contracts in place to guarantee Duluth couldn’t escape from his breathtaking foot (stomp) print. The rumors began circulating more fiercely when Sarah Horner the old trib reporter covering education got the axe. The rumor was that she had just heard the story of Dixon’s plan to return to Faribault for a new job and when she caught Dixon being less than honest about his plans she began writing more critical pieces. The story I recall asked whether killing the magnet school program and using its million desegregation dollars to help make up operational shortfalls was worth it.

I’ve checked with a couple Trib people and they all assured me that Sarah’s hasty departure to parts unknown below the equator had nothing to do with Dixon pulling strings.

Anyway, today’s story online has a an up beat little log to help Duluthians forget that they were stripped of their voting rights to build Dixon’s folly. Its cute:

I see that Tim Grover mentions that he grew up in the neighborhood and that he hasn’t heard complaints from locals about the new school. Well of course he hasn’t.

Having gotten my letters informing me of a Thursday screening by Duluth labor for its endorsements in the August DFL Senate primary I found the concluding sentence of the story timely:

The board also will approve layoffs of tenured teachers and eliminate positions next week, although the total number of each was unavailable at Monday night’s meeting

.

Days gone by

A friend sent me this news story from 2003. I stole her subject heading. I can’t post in colors as she did some of the passages from this article so I capitalized them. In light of what happened here post Dixon they are very interesting.

07-28-2003 – Almanza proposes closing two high schools: Denfeld and East
Tom West
Budgeteer News

Duluth Superintendent of Schools Julio Almanza proposed Tuesday closing two of the city’s three high schools. However, except for one incumbent, there doesn’t seem to be much support for the proposal among the candidates running for school board.

Most of the candidates said they would like to see two high schools maintained and one closed.

Almanza proposed after months of study and input that Denfeld High School and Grant and Chester Park elementary schools be closed next summer, and that East High School be closed no later than 2009-10.

The closings have been necessitated by declining enrollment. Almanza proposed the high school closings in order to keep more elementary schools open and to maintain the 6-8 middle school grade configuration.

STUDENT ENROLLMENT FOR 2003-04 IS PROJECTED AT 10,779, BUT THAT NUMBER IS EXPECTED TO FALL STEADILY TO 8,749 IN 2012-13. THE CAPACITY OF THE DISTRICT’S BUILDINGS AS THEY ARE USED NOW IS 12,288 STUDENTS. Continue reading

Stuff in the Trib today

Rather than separate posts I’ll just make quick comments on several of the stories in today’s Trib.

I made the front page headlines and Roger Reinert only made the back pages. My name was singled out along with four other semi-controversial names as candidates who have filed. The others were Tim Little a city councilor who lost a pissing contest with the Trib, Jay Cole a wheeler dealer with no cards and Carinda Horton who the Chamber probably got fired from her KDAL talk show program when she got too vocal in criticizing the Red Plan on air. (Carinda’s husband, Tim, likes to get into public rows too outside the boxing ring where he is better equipped to throw punches)

The message I get from this is that those of us not properly anointed as serious by the Trib will have a little bigger credibility hill to climb. Trib reporter, John Myers mentioned (quite rightly) the fact that I’ve run for office many times before. Ah, but then there’s the counter balancing effect of experience.

Roger was sort of mentioned on the front page. At the top of the front page there was a little graphic of a train with little boxcars filled with passengers. One lonely little boxcar, however, stood empty. You have to go to page A9 to discover that it should have been occupied by Roger Reinert.

Roger has only lost one race for public office. I’ve lost quite a few more than that. (I hope you don’t mind my being coy and not announcing the number) On the other hand I think we have both won two elections. That evens things up a bit. I’ll take today’s paper as giving me a slight edge in day two of our contest.

The County Board approved a half million sale of tax forfeit land to the School District to build the new Wheeler Middle School. Some voices are calling for the District to save the $45 million on the school and simply keep New Central as the middle school.

This reminds me of something a Faribault Chamber official told me in defense of Dixon’s days in that city. Continue reading

The Trenti Law firm?

I understand that the Trenti law firm from the Iron Range represented the District in the scapegoat case. Why not a Duluth firm? What happened to Beth Storaasli who has represented the District for ages in such cases and her firm which is on retainer for the School District?

Maybe the District only wants a firm with a classy web presence.

Maybe no attorney in Duluth wants to represent the District any more.

Maybe this case required a ten-foot pole.

Irony alert

This post will contain some irony. Some folks hate irony some hate puns. Both are examples (often) of humor at either end of a spectrum. Irony tends to reside on the sophisticated end although not always. Puns tend to dawdle at the unsophisticated end of the spectrum although, again, not always.

So I’ve been thinking about Eric Ringsred’s travails with the Norshor Theater a magnificiant and historic building that he has heroically and desparately attempted to save without bankrupting himself. One means of keeping the grand old lady afloat has been to tart it up a bit by setting up a “Gentlemen’s Club” on the premises. Let’s not be coy. That’s a strip club. Tongues have wagged. According to Eric, the City of Duluth hounded Mr. Gradisher, the club’s owner, beyond reason and the Trib piled on in an excess of righteous zeal. Then the Trib got to spill more ink on Mr. Gradisher as he began to unravel until an obituary wrung the last bit of ink from possible from the tawdry tale. Perhaps, I should congratulate the Trib for following at least one story to its logical conclusion.

In this day and age of voluntary sex video submissions to the Internet the idea of a strip club is a little quaint. Sure, you might be able to see a pretty girl naked up close and let your imagination wander but you can slake the thirst for skin and then some on porntube. This is a day and age of breathtaking exhibitionism. Yes, on the Internet you can see people stripped of their cloths doing what comes naturally – having sex with a third party filming it with close ups ad naseum. Then again, perhaps there is something to be said about retaining one’s imagination.

As far as I’m concerned this ain’t nothin. What astounds me are all the people who are so hungry for their fifteen minutes of …… notariaty…… that they will reveal far uglier and degrading things about their lives on Judge Judy, Maury Povitch, and Montel.

But the Trib really got into a lather over Eric’s Strip Club which has had me thinking. The aforementioned Gentleman’s club that has been the target of so much disapprobation is not the only one in Duluth.

In the hub of our tourist district Canal Park lies the Club Saratoga a strip joint of some reknown. Long before I moved to Duluth almost forty years ago my aunt and uncle paid it a few calls back in the 1960’s when they lived in the Twin Cities. Back then it was tres chic to go to strip clubs. This was the era of the bump and grind, Sweet Charity and the movie version of Gypsy Rose Lee’s life which I saw with my parents as a grade school kid.

A few years ago the Club Saratoga, which I don’t think I’ve ever patronized, was the subject of a sunny story in the Trib despite the fact that it still apparently offers the old bump and grind. In addition to the late night flesh peddling it also showcases some really great local jazz on weekend afternoons. The Trib’s story mentioned a number of older church women, including the mother of a local judge, who regularly attend the Saratoga’s jazz sessions. Several belong to my church as does Eric Ringsred.

So, there you have it. One strip club gets kid glove treatment by the Trib while another is tormented to the point that its owner/manager commits suicide. There is so much irony in this that its waaaay beyond the “go figure” response it seems to demand.

All I’m sayin is: What’s up with that?

Vigilance vs. paranoia – 2 anecdotes

I’m sorry but that Glass photo story has me in a bit of a lather. Talk about image vs. substance.

I don’t know what the parents of the east choir students were thinking but I couldn’t help but recall that one of Gary Glass’s opponents on the School Board has a degree in music education and two daughters at East High. Maybe they sing too. I’d sure hate to think that Gary’s innocent picture taking was used to make Glass look bad with the DNT a useful foil to broadcast the nonsense. I have had similar experiences most recently in connection with my fight against the Red Plan. Certainly Gary’s other antagonist on the Board Chairman Tim Grover did nothing in the story to throw cold water on the parents suspicions – if they were real suspicions.

The previous post makes it clear that I also took a picture of the Choraliers while I was a sitting school board member. In my case I was also the father of one of the choir members. I’m quite aware that parents have a duty to be vigilant about their children and the adults whose care they are entrusted to.

The year before my daughter joined the Choraliers an event of seismic proportions hit the choir. Its charismatic director, Eric Holtan, was convicted of having sex with some of his female choir members. In looking for some Internet reference to this awful story I was surprised to learn that Mr. Holtan now denies that anything happened. Apparently he was recently nominated for an award in Tuscon, Arizona, the state where he served out his conviction, as one of the city’s top 40 new up and comers.

Mr. Holtan was convicted for taking more than just pictures of his students in Duluth. A year after his departure my daughter joined his old choir and I was the one taking pictures. His recent lionizing and unmasking brought to mind today’s front page Trib story about local civic awards.

Like a retired CIA employee my service as school board member has left me with a legacy of anecdotes which I am unable to fully disclose lest I violate legal restraints placed on me during my term on the School board. Sometimes there is more to a story if only one digs deep as the Arizona blogger did.

A week or two ago I read the names of a number of Duluth teachers whose teaching skills were being justifiably lauded. Among them was one who had come to the School board’s attention for having solicited false testimony from another teacher to protect a student – suborning perjury.

The student in question had been sexually aggrandizing fellow students [talk about being vague] in one of our schools. The false testimony would have cleared the student. Our Board debated the merits of firing the subborning teacher but decided against it. (I can’t remember how I voted in the closed meeting) Perhaps the recognition now being bestowed upon this teacher justifies our decision. In any event, this teacher was not guilty of sexual aggrandizement. That had been the work of the student the teacher had tried to shield.

As for the student. . . a former board member mentioned to me that shortly after the student was expelled the offending student’s picture was published in a local paper. In the photo the aggrandizer’s arms were wrapped around the shoulders of new students that he/she was touring about school – the school he/she had transferred to after the expulsion.

Anne Frank and a sense of proportion

Ten years ago I bought the newly published “definitive” unexpurgated version of Anne Frank’s diary. It got lost on my bookshelves with many other books I’ve meant to read but got lost behind other books that jumped on my shelves.

Before publishing the diary after it was given him Anne’s Father prudently edited out his deceased daughter’s impolitic but honest observations that would have offended the polite sensibilities of his age – sensibilities which did not prevent her death in a great mass murder.

A couple weeks ago I stumbled on the original 1960’s Hollywood treatment of Anne on one of the movie channels. By today’s standards it was a little saccharine but not badly so. It was based on the early version of the Diary available to the reading public.

Last night I was dog tired after six hours of yard work and gardening when to my dismay I remembered that the latest PBS telling of Anne’s story was about to be shown. I didn’t think I could stay awake to watch it. Not a problem.

This Anne Frank was less saintly, alarmingly self knowing and far too often a self centered pill. then again she was thirteen/fourteen when she was crammed for two years into an attic with a lot of strangers. I wept at the end for her loss which I did not do when watching the 1960’s Anne Frank.

For the time being this blog is primarily dedicated to exposing the depredations of the clueless do-gooders who stole our right to vote in Duluth. We will get excessively expensive and in some cases unnecessary schools for our troubles. Our bodies won’t be shoved into a crematorium or bulldozed into a pit with thousands of others as a result of our loss.

How firm a foundation

Vic,

Sent me a link to the latest MoDo column. Vic has a bit of a love-hate relationship with Dowd. I suspect he sent me this one because he agrees with it as do I.

Not being catholic I’m not a good person to take swings at the new Pope although a couple days ago I wrote a longish post that needed editing and which I’m still sitting on.

This one begins with an observation about women that nicely ties into the observation I made in the previous post about my wife’s role in our family and the larger economy. It starts with women’s loyalty to the sexually stunted Saudi Arabian regime which will never make a first rate nation until such time as women are integrated into the economy instead of being treated as chattel. It then proceeds into the Catholic churches misogynistic paternalism that has pitted sexual predators against children with the latter losing out.

And all this ties into my recent local crusade because in each case supporters of Saudia Arabia’s royal politics, the Catholic Church’s Papcy and the Duluth School District’s School Superintendency are being asked to avert their eyes from dirty little secrets and lies for some greater good.

The Nazarene would have noted that such support is founded on sand.

Charter Schools

Among my “allies” in the anti Red Plan world is a fellow who has been madder than hell at me for a decade. He blames me for bringing in the Edison schools and killing his own children’s school Birchwood Elementary in the middle of Duluth Heights. He used to lambaste me in the paper having done so as I recall last year.

He wrote a letter to the editor this week which I mostly agree with. He concludes by warning that however we deal with this Red Plan we shouldn’t let Central High School be sold to the Edison schools.

This is all a preface to what’s become a long post about what to make of charter schools. Continue reading

Unconscionable

Today’s story on Dr. Dixon’s continued plundering of a million in Desegregation funds to fund all day kindergarten needs some explanation. Here’s mine. Dixon convinced some of his acolytes like former Board member Bevan Schraw that new schools would attract back students from Edison and elsewhere. The folly of that is belied by Edison’s plans to build a new school which would be able to accommodate another 200 students.

All day kindergarten will be the supposed carrot to lure families to the Duluth Schools. Certainly the completion of some elementary schools will be enticing but the ballooning classroom sizes will put a lot of parents off. My guess is that after three or four years of losing students until all the schools are finally completed there will finally be a stabilization with a much smaller student population.

Dr. Dixon is trying to hide this transfer of money by giving the Board options to supposedly fund the all day kindergarten. That’s bull, of course. The board might do some of these other things but it can and will only do it by taking deseg funds.

The current all day kindergarten in Duluth is set up as a program that guarantees poor families free all day K if they want it. Better off families can take advantage of it if they pay for it on a sliding scale just as they would day care. The Deseg program allows for smaller classrooms in the deseg schools with minority children. Until Dixon showed up this was slowly improving test scores in Duluth. Now these funds will be dispersed through out the District and will mean schools with richer school populations will draw this money off. In other words spending for minority students will be drawn away from them to implement all day kindergarten.

Dr. Dixon claims that his other alternative deseg spending will prove superior. The best reason to treat this claim with skepticism is his sorry experience in Faribault where minority students fared worse under his tenure. This was pointed out by former Duluth School Board member Eileen Zeitz Huddleson in letters to the editor shortly after he replaced Julio Almanza. Ironically, I pooh poohed Eileen’s letters in a rebuttal shortly afterward.

Dr. Dixon’s manipulation of race has been shameless. Continue reading

Closing the barn door after the horses get loose

Now that the School Board has come close to completing the Red Plan without ever once paying any heed to its policies on bidding its occurred to the Administration that its time to change all the policies they ignored over the past two years.

In a jam packed agenda for the Monday Business Committee meeting including change orders, new contracts and loads of spending they’ve tucked in changes to the bidding policy.

3.
Policies and Regulations
A.
Policies
1)
Modification of Policy 3075 – Requests for Proposals – Second Reading Administration is requesting that Policy 3075 – Requests for Proposals be modified as submitted. Recommendation: It is recommended that the Duluth School Board approve the modification of Policy 3075.
2)
Modification of Regulation 3075R – Requests for Proposals Please note that administration is planning to modify Regulation 3075R – Requests for Proposals, conditioned upon the board approving changes to Policy 3075, in order to ensure that the Regulation is consistent with the intent of the policy.
3)
Deletion of Policy 3076 – Soliciting Prices (Bids and Quotations) – Second Reading Administration is requesting that Policy 3076 – Soliciting Prices (Bids and Quotations) be deleted. Recommendation : It is recommended that the Duluth School Board Policy 3076 – Soliciting Prices (Bids and Quotations) be deleted.
4)
Deletion of Policy 3080 – Award of Contracts – Second Reading Administration is requesting that Policy 3080 – Award of Contracts be deleted.
Recommendation: It is recommended that the Duluth School Board delete Policy 3080 – Award of Contracts.
Duluth Public Schools, ISD 709 • 215 North First Avenue East • Duluth, MN 55802 • (218) 336-8752
5)
Deletion of Policy 3085 – Quotations for Professional Services – Second Reading Administration is requesting that Policy 3085 – Quotations for Professional Services be deleted.
Recommendation: It is recommended that the Duluth School Board Policy3085 – Quotations for Professional Services be deleted.
6)
Policy 9105 – Official Publications – Second Reading Administration is requesting that the name of the publisher within the policy be changed to reflect changes in ownership of the Duluth News Tribune.
Recommendation: It is recommended that the Duluth School Board approve the changes to Policy 9105 – Official Publications as attached.

The meeting is Monday at 4:30 PM in the old auditorium on the second floor of Old Central. It could be interesting. The Trib will be sure to miss it because they never miss a good opportunity to cover news in the District. However, with two new school board members infected with a little curiosity the Administration might have to perform some fancy double talk to get through the meeting. As an added plus from now on all the remaining old board members won’t be able to skip meetings for fear the Administration will lose its rubber stamp.

Edison’s new schools – who decides? who pays?

I had heard from a family member who went to work at the Edison Schools two years after I began fighting for a vote on the Red Plan that plans for building a new Edison School were in the works. I think its fair to say that I have somewhat complicated feelings about this. Perhaps I’ll outline them in the book I’m writing.

For now I’ll just answer the two questions this post’s headline pose.

Who decides whether the school is built (or rather under who’s authority is it being built?)

State Statute determines whether Edison can have a school built. I’m not at all familiar with this statute at the moment.

Who pays for the building of a new Edison School?

The State of Minnesota will pay for the construction. Duluth taxpayers will only contribute to this to the extent that they contribute to the state’s budget. I can only hazard a rough guess at the percentage of the project’s cost this will impose on District residents. It would be something like this:

Duluth School District (as opposed to the City of Duluth’s population) has about 90,000 residents. Round that up to 100,000 and divide that by the approximate population of Minnesota (4 million I think) and you get a figure of about 2%. Duluth taxpayers will pay about 2% of the cost of any new Edison School should it be built. That’s a lot less than the 100% of the Red Plan that Duluth property tax payers have to underwrite. 2% of what could be a twenty million dollar building would cost Duluth taxpayers about $400,000. That’s less than 1% of the cost to Duluth taxpayers of the Red Plan and it will be for a school that will educate about 10% of the Duluth public school population.

Considering that the State of Minnesota allowed Duluth voters to be cheated out of a referendum on the Red Plan I’m morbidly pleased to see the state give Duluth a little something back for the $430 million we have been forced to surrender.

I hope this puts things into perspective.