A second Candidate’s Debate

There was a debate for at large and the eastern district school board candidates at the Lakeside Community Club tonight. There were about twenty witnesses who weren’t attached to the candidates or the League of Women Voters.

At the end of the forum I reiterated my contention that the old School Board claimed there would be a $5 million per year benefit from the Red Plan. Nancy Nilsen is as long time readers will know the person this comment is directed at.

Nancy pleasantly explained this to me after the debate. She told me that the five million per year savings would only come into being after the twenty year bond payoff was accomplished. I mentioned the first of my two quick reactions to this news that this would be little consolation to any parent with children who would graduate anytime in the next twenty years. She agreed pleasantly. I commented something to the effect that this wasn’t much of a selling point to today’s students and parents. Once again Nancy pleasantly acknowledged this.

The Second quick thought I mulled over as I walked to my car. Since I’ve been caustically pointing out the dearth of this five million in savings for the past several years and my conviction that it was a dubious claim for years longer than this why did no one in the District explain the twenty year delay to me. I guess that like so many other question people had about the Red Plan the powers that be never deemed this important to address.

After the debate an old Let Duluth Voter came up to compliment me on my handing of questions. This person has evidently paid close attention to my recent posts. Perhaps this person is one of my long time eight loyal readers.

At any rate vis a vis my post expressing skepticism that 2,000 people had attended the recent meetings to figure out the future of the schools my reader had the goods. It was a story in the Duluth News Trib covering the meetings. Apparently it lists generally who attended. There were 2000 people but most of these were staff. Only 300 of the attendees were regular Duluth civilians. 300! At least the District’s flyer figure of 2,000 was about 2 per cent of our population. 300 attendees is about 3 tenths of one percent of our population. You can’t even call that sad.

That’s what the Red Plan did for this community’s “trust.” It evaporated. That’s why I can’t put any faith in the hope that 74% of voters want to put the Red Plan behind us. It’s why my argument that the upcoming levy vote will decide whether or not we are going to let the Titanic sink to the bottom of the sea is important. Jaded voters might ignore another cry wolf over our children by the Think Kids group. I don’t think they will refuse to plumb the house just because the contractor ripped them off building it. And they will have to pay off that house whether its still floating or lying useless a hundred fathoms below sea level for the next eighteen years.

Lawnsigns Sept 30

MY lawnsigns MO is this. I park my car. I grab a handful of lawnsigns in one hand and clutch a folder with my flyer. I start in one direction and proceed for a few blocks and as lawnsigns are taken I switch to the other side of the street and head back to the car where I’ll be able to replensish signs if they run out. Then I keep going in the other direction until I start running out of signs at which point I cross the street again and head back to the car. Then I drive a few blocks past where the car was the first time and do it all over again.

I spent almost four hot hours doing this today. I was over dressed with a dark long sleeve shirt. I had some very interesting conversations on East Superior Street where six years ago my lawnsigns were almost every other house. Sadly it seems that a large number of the old residents seem to have moved out with the coming of East High.

A few I talked to were pleased that the East Students were better behaved than they had expected. One long time resident did say the parking and pulling over when school began or let out was a safety nightmare. He commented however that it was the parents who were the real threat in their haste to accomplish a hasty drop off and pick up.

More lawnsign stories

On Friday I found a little more time to put up lawnsigns. Two of the houses I stopped at were telling. At the first I found three recent grads of the Duluth Schools……except that they were not grads. All three very bright students were enrolled at Lake Superior College. They were in our schools in the hellish year of 2011. One had transferred from Harbor City and was quickly overcome by the crowding and chaos at East High. All three opted to quit ISD 709 with little love and got their GED’s. GED’s are the tests that allow kids to get the equivelent of a diploma to continue their education in college without actually graduating from a high school.

The other home belonged to a teacher who retired last year. She knew me instantly from my many visits to Denfeld and had an obviously jaded view of my being readmitted to the School Board. The reasons for this are long and to me understandable. We chatted briefly and I went off to continue a little more leafleting. When I returned past her home she called me over and we had a serious talk for fifteen minutes. Like the teacher I saw on Park Point a few days earlier she said that she knew very few teachers in Duluth who thought the levies would pass. She wanted to know what I would do if elected to right the boat. I told her that if the levies failed all I could do was amputate arms and legs like an Army surgeon at the battle of Gettysburg. I told her that the school board should finally start being tough negotiators with the staff in contract talks unlike Dixon who simply wanted negotiations over and done with to avoid more controversy. She wasn’t interested in that because she thought it was old news. It was the current circumstances which concerned her not history.

Her comment to me just before I left was that it looked like the District was doomed. I wouldn’t be running if I thought that was inevitable. Still, its a sobering thought.

A teacher’s worth of propaganda

I haven’t managed to bring myself to read the District’s twenty page promotional piece cover to cover. It is much as I wrote previously intended to sell the District to the public. Reading it gives no sense of urgency about the imminent failure of the upcoming levies. Instead it is all self congratulatory stories that will make the voting public complacement or prove that the District has no shortage of funds to make wonderful things from happening.

Among other things in the publication we learn that Newsweek has listed East High in the top 2000 public high schools in the nation. Reading closer this is not such a big deal. Its Minnesota ranking is smack dab in the middle of 46 rated schools at 21 and the same is true nationally. East ranks 1089 over all out of 2000 schools. That puts it in the bottom half. How will it rank after the failur of a levy which forces it to put 50 kids in a high school English class and not just the current 44?

Much is made of the recent Dixon-like round of community meetings which hosted 2,000 Duluthians to talk over the future of the Schools. This is barely two percent of the District’s residents. How many of these 2,000 were teachers and staff who almost shouldn’t have been counted. In the photo of such a meeting there are only eight people in the photo other than the Superintendent. Now that’s bringing the community together.

This flyer doesn’t know whether its supposed to convince people that the schools are OK or pitch a levy. That means its a double failure.

It cost my campaign $329 to print up three thousand all black handouts printed on both sides. That’s a little more than ten cents a copy. I don’t see how the District’s flyer could have been printed up for much less than a buck a piece. Sent to every house in the District or 30,000 or 40,000 houses this flyer is costing close to the beginning salary of a teacher. Oh, the WLSSD put an ad on the back page. Maybe they footed the bill. I’m sure that would please Willard Munger.

Honest Abe would weep

The Republican Party of 2013 seems to be a party of Southern racists intent on punishing America for having the temerity to elect and intelligent black president. Its also intent on replacing Lyndon Johnson’s war on poverty with a war on the poor; finding ways to prevent the poor from casting their votes; making the president as unpopular as the Republican Party by ensuring that America defaults on its debts even at the expense of a new world financial crisis, and saddling America with as many Foreign Wars as possible just so long as its poor people who volunteer to get shot up. The have eliminated dissent by muzzling anyone in the Party has a different point of view in much the same way they are censoring school text books of all mention of global warming and evolution.

3000 Red Plans

The red plan has been a major focus of this blog for 6 years. The election this year has been a major focus through the summer and fall. But there are so many other things on my mind. For instance, yesterday I heard a remarkable story on NPR that is almost as remarkable for its not being that remarkable. It was the story about the Defense Department’s latest fighter plane, the F-35. Its years behind schedule for completion. It is supposed to replace the fighter planes of all the service branches Army, Navy, Marines. And it cannot be killed because parts of it were designed to be built in every congressional district in America to guarantee that no Congressman will ever vote to put the taxpayers out of their misery. So far it has cost of one and a half trillion dollars. That’s trillion with it T.

I’ve rounded up the costs of Duluth’s Red Plan, which is slowly killing our schools, at half a billion dollars. This Defense Department airplane has cost the equivalent of 3000 red plans and is nowhere near completion. It’s so easy to become a cynic when you hear a story like this.

A District Unrepentant

My Saturday DNT contained a glossy and glowing twenty-page insert “We are ISD 709.” It fits in perfectly with Superintendent Gronseth’s faith that 74% of Duluthians are prepared to forget the past and support their schools in the upcoming levy. He hasn’t been out knocking on doors like I have to know better. I can’t help but wonder if the prospectus’s excessive twenty pages isn’t more proof of the District’s insecurity.

The danger of such back patting by the very people who told us what a success the Red Plan would be is that it may backfire by reminding Red Plan critics of the hubris of the Red Planners. If so, this pricey piece of advertising will be more likely to entrench the Red Plan’s bitter foes making it less likely that they will vote for the District’s levies. Defeated people don’t enjoy watching the triumphalism of their conquerors.

I’ve got grandkids this weekend, Grandkids likely never to be enrolled in Duluth’s public schools, (like the Superintendent’s own children) so I’ll read the happy talk later.

Oh, here’s one more observation. This handout makes the District look so prosperous you would never know we have 44 kids in our high school English classes. Red Plan opponents will get the feeling from this that the District is swimming in money. It sure doesn’t look like the District is desperate enough to need any levies passed. Where is the blood on the floor that I’ve been warning against? it must be my vivid imagination.

Lawsign signs

I’ve been putting up lawnsigns for two days now. It involves knocking on lots of doors and getting lots of different reactions to the plight of the Red Plan School District. Only two people of a few hundred have essentially shut the door on my face refusing my handouts. One told me Minnesota has such low property taxes she couldn’t understand why people were kicking about the cost of new levies…….and she told me her children are moving out of Duluth because of what they heard about the Duluth Schools.

One couldn’t stand Art Johnston. Another stopped his car to tell me Art was the only school board member who spoke for him. He asked me what I thought about the levies and I told him I’ve been telling people to vote for them. He said that meant he wouldn’t be voting for me.

Perhaps the most interest conversation was with a former teacher I taught with in the Duluth District. He told me of the terrible conditions at the new Lincoln Middle School last year. Three teachers had been injured in conflicts with students. One was a teacher who as I recall really took me to task in 2007 because I was not supporting the Red Plan. (It would have taken me hours to pour through my unsorted old clippings to find this op ed piece and confirm its contents so I can’t be sure my recollection is spot on) If my recollection is correct this teacher’s injuries in our new Red Plan facilities is indeed ironic.

The story continued that the principal ordered staff not to talk to the media about their problems. Ignorance is bliss.

Putting up signs has proven more time consuming than I’d bargained on. It requires going door to door, ringing the bell, having a little talk and regularly heading back to the car to replenish lawn sign supplies. Multiply a four minute conversation times the one in three yes responses I get or 12 minutes per sign and then multiply that by my 500 signs. That’s 6,000 minutes or 100 hours. That’s two and a half weeks solid door knocking. No wonder its only idiots, schemers, layabouts, and idealists that campaign for public office. I’m probably a bit of all four categories.

Re: Snake Email – a riposte

Snake in the Grass’s defender writes intelligently and I can fault few of the arguments laid out. But the flaw I think is this and it comes in one of the longer paragraphs. It says:

“Now we have buildings and nothing else. My granddaughter attends East High School and is very disappointed with her education. It is pathetic! Teachers have no time to teach or facilitate research or industry. They can’t even answer a student’s question, they are angry, and it shows. So, we failed our students and now we want more money to try to do it right again. Our students do not live in the world we are planning for them, they know it and it is part of the negative equation in education right now. Who will trust them? If they didn’t get it right going in, why should any taxpayer trust that they will a second time?”

Snake’s defender has a granddaughter in East High who is rightfully disappointed that the so called promise of the Red Plan has turned into rust.

So how will voting down the levies affect her experience at East. More teachers will be cut. More class offerings will be under threat. There will be fewer custodians to keep our shiny new school clean and properly maintained. Classrooms will get bigger. Interpersonal relations of all kinds will get worse.

I’ve said before that I’m not running for Civil War surgeon. I don’t want blood on the floor from amputating arms and legs after our great battle.

Snake’s defender, articulate, fair minded and practical suggests that we will just have to solve our problems under the perilous circumstances and do with less. Let me suggest the impossible:

Perhaps we can decertify the teacher’s union and hire only non contract teachers. That would be one way around the difficulties but I think it would require Minnesota elect its own Governor Scott Walker while surrendering the state legislature to a Tea Party majority to effect the legislative changes required to accomplish this. That’s not going to be easy for me too pull off from a lonely school board post in provincial Duluth, Minnesota. Short of this I see no short term solution to make the half-billion dollar Red Plan a tolerable experience for this person’s grand daughter. I only see more blood in the East Hallways for her to slip and fall on.

That’s a lousy justification for giving idiots more money to burn. And I’ve got to say, I’m not entirely confident our district won’t burn it away with short term fixes. That said. I know what an amputation looks like but only from having read about them in Civil War Battle histories. I’m not eager to see the real thing.

Re: Snake in the Grass Post/email

Here’s a well written take on the snake in the grass email I just posted.

It comes from a voter who has my lawnsigns in the yard. Like me the writer has real sympathy for the fellow who beat the crap out of me. I will never blame any Duluth voter who votes against the levies for either a feeling of betrayal or for voting to stop what they see as the School District’s taxation excess. I simply can’t. In a post following this I will quote from this post to make my case for voting for the levies: In the meantime, I leave you with a defense of the snake in the grass email:

Good Evening Harry,
I read the blog or maybe I should say the rant you published this morning. My initial reaction was this guy is crazed. So, I read it again and then again and again. Aside from the unnecessary degrading of your position, which I think he is just plain wrong about, I began to see the level of frustration and much of what is said is not just vile hatred, but really conveys much of what many of us “older fixed income” folks are feeling. Continue reading

I’m “a snake in the grass”

My criticism of Art and my support of the levies led to one particularly angry email yesterday. It could suggest that I’m losing my base of Anti-Red Plan voters.

The email would be easy to lampoon. It begins by saying that the author does not have time to explain everything here then proceeds in a few thousand words to lambaste me. Much of it is redundant. Some of it reveals things that would be easy to poke fun at. Its not a chicken hearted anonymous email because, while I don’t know the author’s actual name, I have his/her email address meaning that I could respond and defend myself.

The author is right about the costs of the Red Plan. He’s nearing a fixed income and, as Mike Jaros has complained, the Red Plan’s cost falls most heavily on the poor because they are regressive property taxes. Rich people like me, one of the emailers bitterest complaints, have gotten off easy in our providing ourselves with shiney new schools. Its not paid for with income taxes.

Lots of the email is capitalized which Internet chat folks know as “shouting.” He’s mad. I don’t blame him. Neither do I think I have any hope of convincing him that our spending a half billion on the Red Plan means we have an especial need to follow it up with even more taxes to prevent the investment from being a total disaster by allowing our schools to fail.

Here’s the email:


I can’t trust you any farther than I could throw you. Maybe that is what you need anyway is my tossing you around like a rag doll. It appears that is what you are trying to do some of us. You are an idiot. I do not have the time to explain it here. Continue reading

lawnsigns or blogging?

It will be both. I did start late today by visiting my Mother to sing to her down at her “residence” at Park Point. I’ve got five weeks to put up about 450 more lawnsigns. If I did nothing else I could probably do it solo in two weeks. It likely will be solo. My only volunteer Liam is about to flee Duluth in the face of the cruel Winter. He’s kept me in touch with my “base” Let Duluth Vote constituency by calling from our old list. Not everyone is happy with me for supporting the levy and I understand. More on that in the next post.

I sat down next to a former board member at yesterday afternoon’s oddly timed School Board meeting. Rich let me know he was disappointed that I was supporting the levies. We joked off and on about the deficiencies of the the District’s finances.

Near the end of the meeting there was an embarassing exchange between Art and everyone else. Art had questions about the levies and the funding of the District. He restated his question about four times and got the same response from Bill Hanson. Both men talked past each other and frankly I barely had a clue what either man was explaining to the other. Minnesota School finance is godawful complicated but it shouldn’t be incomprehensible. I suspect Bill Hanson prefers to keep it opaque and have no faith that Art has the ability to fight through the fog.

At the end of the inconclusive questioning Ann Wasson, who prefaced her criticism of Art by saying she was leaving the Board and had no reason not to be candid, let loose with a battle cry defending the Administration. She said she hoped the public understood that we employ people who know this finance stuff. Coming from someone who clearly understands so little I could imagine the parentheses in her defense (because I sure don’t) She then complained that Art was simply muddying the water.

Ann has made the mistake of deferring to her betters ever since she got on the Board. Her comment reminded me of the woman who made me cringe when I was busy campaigning for Republicans in 1972. That woman dismissed protests against the Vietnam War by saying that “the President knows more than we do so we should trust him.” Yeah sure!

If our school administrators know so much I have a simple question. How is it that they could tell then Board chair and self proclaimed finance expert, Nancy Nilsen, that the Red Plan would save us $5 million a year which we could pour into our classrooms? Instead we now have 44 kids in High School English classes. Perhaps Nancy, like Ann Wasson, put too much faith in the proposition that our administrators knew what they were talking about.

If I’m elected I expect to figure out the finances. I’m not very smart so I’ll have to work real hard to do this. But once I learn something I think I’ll be able to explain it to other people like me who aren’t bright enough to see the beautiful new robes on the King because he just looks naked to us. This is despite our Duluth betters telling us over and over that he’s really wearing beautiful new robes woven by Johnson Controls.

For another attempt to explain the levy questions check out the DNT,s story today.

All work and no play make Jack a depressed boy

A few years ago some school districts were curtailing recess for elementary school children so they could study harder and pass tests.

Why does this not surprise me?

It’s not just that we’re seeing disorders that we overlooked before. Clinical questionnaires aimed at assessing anxiety and depression, for example, have been given in unchanged form to normative groups of schoolchildren in the US ever since the 1950’s. Analyses of the results reveal a continuous, essentially linear, increase in anxiety and depression in young people over the decades, such that the rates of what today would be diagnosed as generalized anxiety disorder and major depression are five to eight times what they were in the 1950s. Over the same period, the suicide rate for young people aged 15 to 24 has more than doubled, and that for children under age 15 has quadrupled.

Oh yeah, and there have been a truck load of school districts that have been scandalized by teachers and administrators doctoring the tests of their children to make them look better. It started in Texas under Governor Bush’s push for statewide testing and most recently popped up in Georgia.

I’m down to twenty dollars

Actually, My campaign warchest will soon face a deficit of about $140 after paying for an ad in the Hillsider.

I put my money where my mouth is. Don’t tell Claudia but I’ve put in $1,500 so far. She only knows about the $700 I put in writing a check.

The only ads I would put in from here on out will be those making the argument that our schools will implode if we don’t pass the levy. Those of you who have been reading my blog for the past month know that. You may also have heard me say I can speak with more authority on the need for a levy than the Red Plan boosters who have been shamed into silence.

I’ll put up lawnsigns, about 500 of them, but there will be no more ads on my dime in the local media encouraging the passage of the levys unless I get a little new money in the account. I’ve done my share.

If you want me to do some of that advertising consider donating to my campaign. You can do it online here.

Remember: Honesty is the best policy!

My house and levy referendum taxes

The old saying is “many hands make light work.” So too with paying for our schools.

I wrote in my first flyer that the new referendum would cost most of us a “couple hundred dollars” a year. I was woefully off. I made a gut based guess rather like so many Americans who think we’re giving 10% of our national budget over to foreign aid. Humanitarian aid is just barely one-twentieth of ten percent or about .055%. That’s 55 cents for every one hundred dollars we pay in taxes.

A $250,000 home will be charged an extra $60 bucks if we pass both levies.

It will cost me, let alone most of us, less than that. According to Zillow my house is estimated to be worth $196,000. Despite its noisy location on one of Duluth’s busiest avenues its a very nice home. Very nice. Its value is probably well above the median home value in Duluth. Yet I’ll pay less than $60 a year to salvage our schools and their High School English classrooms with 44 kids in them.

If you have lived in Duluth for a few years you probably know exactly where I live especially if you drive by my home in the winter and notice the snow sculptures in my front lawn as you pass. Drive by it again and compare your house to mine. If your’s is a lot more expensive you will pay more to save our schools than I will. If your house is more modest it will cost you less.

Ask yourself how much value your house will have if we let our schools go ghetto. Who will want to move to Duluth to buy your home and send their kids to a ghettoized abandoned school? Its a serious question. I want you to contemplate it with your head not your heart.

I wan’t to serve on the Duluth Schools to keep them healthy. I don’t want to be elected to be a butcher and leave blood on the floor because my only medical option is to amputate. That’s what I told the Chamber Forum on Monday. If I don’t sound to uncivil saying it, I hope those ninny’s support the levy.

DNT: “Our view” is no view yet

I didn’t comment on the Sunday Trib which had an editorial and two big op ed’s about the ISD 709 Referendum:

I’ve just reread the editorial and its worth a comment.

At no point do the Editors urge voters to vote for either question 1 or 2. Instead they let Tom Albright do all the talking. They quote his explanations on why the levys should be passed. At the end they say benignly of Tom’s arguments, “That’s their pitch anyway. It’ll be up to votes whether to buy.”

Well thanks a lot DNT. For six years you have been torn between being a Red Plan booster, harping against Red Plan Critics, while never quite finding the gravel in your guts, or ink in your editorials, to to find fault with the Red Plan’s once ardent promoters. In fact, you’ve been burned by those promoters right up to Dr. Dixon himself. After he paid you a call you were once persuaded to write a glowing editorial about a mythical $32 million in savings that a putatively happy school board would be able to spend in the classroom. I guess like the Chamber of Commerce you now do not wish to soil your reputation further by promoting more spending even if it’s required to rescue our schools and save the half billion investment in new schools that was forced down taxpayers throat. Its a decision you were complicit in and now you are treating it like a turd in a paper sack.

Like former Board Chair Nancy Nilsen you bought the argument, or never disputed it, that the Red Plan would give us $5 million a year in savings to lavish on the classrooms. Now that we know that instead of a positive return the Red Plan has given us 44 students in high school English classes you zip your lips like Seargant Schultz in the old TV series Hogan’s Heroes. The best you can offer is: “I know nothing.”

Former Board member Tony Stauber also weighs in with some cautionary words that fall short of an endorsement of the referendum and a trio of students write an earnest plea not to let the referendums fail. This is not the public campaign which will save the Duluth ISD 709 schools.

School/Community libraries

The DNT editorial today strongly urged that Duluth consider using our new high school libraries as community libraries since the upkeep on the Main City library is getting more expensive. That prompted a comment to me in my inbox:

On Mon, Sep 23, 2013 at 8:24 AM, ********** wrote:

DNT attempts to paint a marriage made in heaven by mixing the libraries.

Money: there is a recently approved tax to maintain city libraries and parks, not the school’s libraries
Parking: barely sufficient for students
Accesability: Bus stop directly in front of downtown, centrally located library.
Safety: Schools just had to be sure no riff raff ever crossed their thresholds with monitoring devices. Now what ? (Also will story time for toddlers be amongst hormonal teenagers?)
Hours of operation: Who can use the library and when?
Civil rights: Libraries are the great equalizer, opening up information to everyone. This plan sounds so much like the RP, a middle class perspective by those of comfortable means.

Duluth wants to be an urban, upscale town and cannot even keep its libraries open?

Too many unexpected, unwanted consequences with the latest scheme to help the schools, that is really what this is about.

My reply:

I don’t oppose the idea *******, It matches arguments I’ve made before about community use of our schools. However, the first thing I thought of was that if we permitted this we would certainly want to install metal detectors. There would be no way of screening crazies who might hide their ill intent by pretending to visit the school library. The liability would be too great.