Category Archives: Duluth Schools

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.

The District’s next bond

The Nation’s financial panic threatens the last third of the Red Plan’s bonding. Hardly any investors are buying bonds from any governments. That was the gist of this story in the Trib’s Sunday Paper.

There was a significant portion of the story detailing the Duluth School District’s dilemma which I will quote in full:

Despite present bond market instabilities, Duluth school district officials remain optimistic conditions won’t have much affect on the cost of implementing their “red plan” – a long-range initiative to consolidate and renovate several schools.

Two-thirds of the bonds for the $293 million project already have been sold, with the remaining third slated for sale in the next six months. That flexible time window should save the district from being hit by bad market conditions, according to Mike David, account executive for Johnson Controls, the consulting firm heading up implementation of the red plan.

“If we had to sell them today, that would be a concern. But that’s not the plan,” David said. “The markets are in turmoil right now, but I believe everyone expects them to settle out, and when they do, we will sell them.”

The district is planning for a 5 percent interest rate on the final bond installment. If the market starts pushing that number up, David said it could be worrisome.

“Seven percent or something would obviously be higher than what we are expecting, but it’s difficult to say when it would really start to cause a problem,” David said.

The district received lower-than-expected interest rates on earlier bond sales, providing some wiggle room.

If anything, David said, the district is hoping the economic hard times will prove beneficial for the red plan.

“The fact that other projects across the country will be shelved as a result of this, we will hopefully end up with better pricing when we bid our projects because it will essentially decrease demand,” he said.

One thing you can always count on from JCI is an upbeat attitude. Their kind of jaunty like Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke when he was lopping off the tops of all those parking meters. It must be the sound of all that loose change.

Doty misses the point

In his recent column Ralph Doty makes some interesting and valuable comments about the Duluth Area’s property taxes. I have good reason for irritation with Doty on an old score but I appreciate anyone who can wade through the murk to point out useful information.

I found this observation particularly interesting.

“City councilor Todd Fedora recently told a radio audience that tax receipts from Duluth’s property tax levy were $13.5 million in 2007. But — here’s the rub – the city’s total health costs for current and retired employees was $17.4 million.

If the city wasn’t’t taking in a lot of money from its sales tax, it would have been bankrupt a long time ago.”

But on one score Doty is completely wrong.

“While the city of Duluth struggles with its deficit and the school district continues to cut important services to students, St. Louis County blithely goes about the business of funding projects and services the city can only dream about – and increasing property taxes every year to pay the bills.

Anger over city property taxes seems to be misplaced: The county’s share of a property tax dollar is 63 cents, while the city gets 22 cents and the school district receives even less at 11 cents.”

While Doty is right to point out the size of property taxes imposed by St. Louis County he too easily dismisses the tax increases of the School Board. Yes, the Schools consume far less property tax but the School District has a bigger budget than the City of Duluth. The schools property taxes are low because the State has made it a point to keep them low because of the relative importance of public education and its determination not to give poor kids and poor communities inferior K-12 schools. The State legislature didn’t anticipate that School Districts like Duluth would use the state’s school tax relief as cover to gouge taxpayers. If every school district in the state did what Duluth was doing the state would intervene in a heartbeat to prevent the state from going into bankruptcy.

When the District’s rates went down it made the schools share of the total property taxes look much more reasonable relative to the City or County. But to reinterate, The school district’s budget is bigger than the cities. Furthermore, the Red Plan will double the School’s property taxes in a few years while the County is increasing its tax rate by 5%. That’s nothing compared to last years school property tax increase of 56%.

Dismissing this monstrous increase by comparing the School District with the City and County is a lousy way to justify the Red Plan.

Fossils roar back to life

I slipped down to Ordean to snap a couple more photos on the dinosaurs rampaging through the neighborhood.

http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3200/2784650433_e0251c0179_m.jpg

The wooded ravine behind Steggy will be paved over for a parking lot.

http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3025/2785504584_f9191e7f24_m.jpg

The Duluth School Board will seize this home through eminent domain having never warned the homeowner or voters that its building plan would lead to this.

City levy cap

During my eight years on the School Board I was convinced that there was so much overlap between the three local governments – City, County, School Board – that there should be more cooperation between them. There was some intercommunication but frankly, turf protection was a powerful obstacle.

I think we are overdue for some sort of more formalized integration, especially where the raising of taxes is concerned. Therefore I took note last legislative session when Gov. Pawlenty insisted on putting a temporary 3.9% cap on increases in local levies. This cap was not directed at school districts.

I hadn’t paid close enough attention to it to know the precise details. Did it refer to Cities or counties or both? So, last spring I called a city councilor and asked him about it. He seemed unaware of the law and the new Ness administration had yet to bring the subject up with the City Council.

Well, finally the Trib has written a story about the bind the City is in. The law is a ham handed and clumsy way to end complaints that state cut backs are driving increases in local property taxes. Governor Pawlenty can be accused of insisting on the cap on but Senator Tom Bakk, the State Senate’s Tax Committee chair, went along with it as did the rest of the DFL dominated legislature.

The City desperately needs money (in my opinion) and its having to resort to painful but pragmatic budget cuts. Meanwhile the Duluth School Board raised its taxes by 56% to begin the Red Plan. It still has another third of the Red Plan costs ($90 million dollars worth) to levy for the Red Plan. Now the District is asking for another round of tax increases for operational spending. The Schools are running amok while the City has fallen into a fiscal pothole.

If ever there was a time to give some joint city, county, school district commission authority to regulate the taxing and spending authority of the three entities this is it.

Red ink for schools but not for city

Let Duluth Vote has characterized supporters of the Red Plan as having drunk the koolaid. I don’t think there is a better example of this than Bevan Schraw who ardently believes the Red Plan will be a great boon to Duluth. Bevan is an old friend. I once passed out flyers for his campaign for the school board to about 7,000 homes.

Like other Red Plan supporters Bevan is besotted with Dr. Dixon. You would hardly recognize him as a koolaid drinker from commending Mayor Ness for his tough economy moves in cutting 217 Duluth employees.

“Kudoes to Donnie for his efforts. However, the problems continue to grow!!!When the Retiree Health Care Task Force put together thier list of recommendations, their 1st recommendation was to bring someone on board who had extensive knowledge about Municipal Bankruptcy. At the time City councilors and the Mayor were too proud to admit that the city was on the brink of finacial collapse. The State auditor also acknowledged that ALL property tax revenue collected was being spent for current and former employee Health Care. Nothing from that source to pay for necessary services. That is why every one is searching for additional ways to raise revenue { I am 100 % in favor of selling stained glass and land parcels.) The problem is only becoming worse. I heard on the news yesterday that Health care costs as predicted to rise 16 percent within the next year. This NATION must come to grips with the fact that whole Health Care system, and associated costs, has be totally overhauled!!!. Until then, bring in the bankruptcy attorney, and shed the burden of having all our property taxes end up with the SMDC folks – (those folks Who also get a City Subsidy for their parking ramp.) “

Report on School Board meeting

One of our LDV supporters made it to the meetings where Dr. Dixon was scheduled to get a $5,000 bonus for his successes and a second meeting which immediately followed.

Her report is excellent:

Hello All,

Well I did make it to tonight’s special school board meeting. I was the only one there for the first meeting from the public but I did speak to both Dixon’s bonus and to the upcoming operational levy. I also pointed out that Dixon’s use of the word “Vague” from the last meeting was offensive and a misuse of public trust., Apparently he told the school board to be Vague about what they would use the levy money on during the last meeting. The Board then retired to a closed meeting so I don’t know how they voted, but I can certainly guess that Dixon can go out and celebrate on the taxpayers of Duluth Again.

The meeting that followed started quite late, but Rich & I sat and listened to the information on the upcoming wording for the levy. Dixon immediately stated in this meeting that he never used the word “Vague” about the operational levy. At least two of our members heard it last meeting – In any event, it was quite clear that we have all ends of the spectrum on emotions from the Board on whether the Levy will be a success. Nancy Nilsen, supports a three tier question, using the current amount, and increase to 700 per pupil (double what it is now) and third tier would be 1200.00 (triple) Ann W seems to think that they should go for broke and demand the public support the full 1400 (maximum allowable) because the kids DESERVE a quality education. (too bad they did not think of that before they went for broke and angered the entire city with the No Vote Red Plan.) Tim Grover seems to believe they would be lucky to get the public to continue the current levy but believes they should tack on inflation costs. Big discussions on that issue because apparently a new law allows them to put the current amount on the ballot with wording showing that it will not increase taxes. Many of the School board members believe that any other wording could doom it. They all seemed painfully aware of the issues should the operating levy fail entirely. They talked about the wording for the three tier questions. A person who supports the full 1400.00 would have to check yes to all three options. A person voting down the levy would have to say no to all three questions. Etc., I think it sounds confusing.

Judy Seliga-Punyko finally saw the light when she finally realized that levy or no levy, the District will not be able to bring back the 7th period day. (her pet desire) I am guessing she has made promises to people In her area about getting that back for them. She seemed like a deer in headlights when that realization hit her.

They passed out a sheet that showed the effects of the different amounts of levy dollars throughout the 5 years that it would be in effect, even the full 1400 would put them in the red before the end of the 5 years. Nancy Nilsen pointed out that they could always put through another levy before the 5 years was up when they ran out of money again.

One of the interesting points that Dixon was attempting to make is using a couple charts. One showed 31 school districts in Northern & Central Minnesota. Duluth was considered the 6th or 7th highest income out of 31. Then he showed 275 or so Districts in Minnesota and the per capita funding amounts and Duluth was way down I think somewhere in the 225th. He then talked about what amount Duluth citizens could afford to pay. The reasoning was we can well afford to increase what we pay.

I heard several School Board members talk about how they will market for the levy. I think I heard that they are not allowed to use taxpayer dollars to market or do campaigning for the operational levy. Knowing their history in spending on the news tribune, that should be interesting.

I finally left at 8:30 and they seemed like they were beginning to wrap things up but the last I heard they were going to crunch some numbers and send them out to board members and maybe meet again in a few days to decide on which set of “tiers” to use in the wording.

Funny, it was one of the more interesting meetings for me. It was kind of interesting to see some vulnerability on a few of their faces, like, “hmm, maybe our actions really are going to cause this levy to fail.” – of course some of them are so far removed they don’t appear the least bit concerned (Ann Wasson & Nancy Nilsen)

A little more about the Central cannon

Chuck Frederick and I have been emailing back and forth about the cannon for some weeks now. He’s gotten a little more information about it and is looking for more.

He’s also been tinkering with a column I submitted to the Trib which will be in tomorrow’s paper. I can live with the final product he sent me after I had a chance to make one tiny change to it. The Trib’s version is 80 words longer than the one I first submitted to them. They’re getting generous with their ink. I’ll link to it tomorrow if it does show up.

Internal savings not going so well

Word has recently gotten out that administrative cuts that have been implemented by the Dixon administration have not gone so well. When the new Assistant Superintendent, Joe Hill, took over he was going to do the work of both the Curriculum Director and the Operations Director. But the workload has proven too great and a new Curriculum Director will be hired on an expensive temporary basis. This step backwards will not help the District as it faces a $5.9 million defict.

Another administrator will be camouflaged making it look like he’s been eliminated from the administration by having his salary paid for from a huge $9.2 million Safe and Healthy Schools Grant that the District was recently awarded. What the grant givers would make of having their funds used to pay for District administration is anybody’s guess.

Damn Speech

One of the things I have managed to upload and which has stayed intact through all the messing around is my “Damn Speech.” I took the Lord’s name in vain.

It’s perhaps the best example I have of my composing a speech on the fly. Its a bit long but I was pretty charged up when I gave it. I had been planning for two years to support a referendum to raise more property taxes for the Schools. Minnesota had slid from fifth place to the middle of the pack where per pupil spending was concerned and it was worse for property tax poor Duluth. We’d been cutting the school budget for years and I was desperate to fill our coffers back up again. Then on the eve of our decision about whether to offer an excess levy referendum Nine-Eleven happened.

That pretty well made a hash of any drive to raise taxes. Certainly a levy referendum seemed a lot less important. Nonetheless, I felt I had a duty to press for the referendum and when one of the other school board members made light of the few parents who had showed up to suport the levy it really stuck in my craw.

Take a look

Another sign that the Duluth School District is on the right path

I recently heard a story which confirmed a long held belief. People who are being watched are more likely to behave. This has also been confirmed by video cameras placed in cars and directed at drivers. People behind the wheel correct their careless behavior rather than let it be captured on camera.

Of course, doing what is right because it is right rather than doing right because you’ll stay out of trouble is not particularly honorable but just tell that to the person whose gotten hit by a wreckless driver or mugged, raped and cheated because no one was watching.

When I was on the Duluth School Board one of the more troubling incidents involved a rape in a Denfeld High stairwell. The Board talked about getting cameras but was stymied due to their prohibitive expense. Apparently this roadblock has been lifted. Way to go Duluth Schools!

A Superintendent for 14 years!

 In 1978 I ran for the state legislature for a second time. I decided to go about it differently as knocking on doors seemed mindless and hadn’t gotten me elected two years before. I made appointments with about 80 leading citizens thinking that somehow these meetings would generate good vibes. If they did they made no difference in the outcome of the election. 

One of the people I met with was Richard Pearson Duluth’s Superintendent of Schools. I met him in his office at Old Central High School. Since then I’ve met with three other superintendent’s in that office.  Richard Pearson died last Friday. The Trib had a nice story about his career in Duluth. 

I didn’t really get to know Dick until years later when I served on the School Board. Our times in office were quite different. He became Superintendent during the “Minnesota Miracle” when the state pioneered the practice of equalizing educational spending between rich and poor school districts. He witnessed the first and only teacher’s strike when the teacher’s unions were flexing their muscles. He served for fourteen years! Before I was finally elected on my fourth attempt for the School Board the District averaged one Superintendent per year. During my time on the Board we had a three-year and a seven-year Superintendency. Fourteen years! 

Dick’s family and mine both belonged to Glen Avon Presbyterian so we saw each other there. I went over to his house once to ask about school finances and he commisserated with me a couple times over the fiscal difficulties I faced. He was a practical man and this served him well during his leadership of the District. I’ll miss him.

More Money for the Board?

The last time the School Board raised its pay was the year before I was sworn in. Evidently the Board is considering whether to bump the pay up by about 11 percent.

Laura Condon, who has served for 9 years says she’s opposed to this since the District is having hard fiscal times. So what else is new? If the Board had been taking cost of living adjustments for the last 12 years the pay would be considerably higher than the proposed increase.

This seems like a good time to bump up the pay. Bob Mars, a man of means with a sense of noblese oblige would disagree. He never accepted his pay. He felt that being on the School Board was a responsibility that should be given freely. This is a rather utopian idea. I never voted for a pay raise for myself because, like Bob, I didn’t need it and it would have been politically awkward. However, I’d hate to see the Board become the preserve of the well-to-do. The pay did help a couple of our Board members of more modest means. Certainly being on the Board is a great responsibility.

Things are going pretty well for the District right now and the Board seems to be functioning smoothly under the new Dixon Administration. I say go for it. I’ve got no problem with the School Board’s taking a pay raise.