Art and me

I just mowed the lawn I’ve got a funeral memorial in a little over and hour and then Claudia and I are taking our grandson’s to the Wisconsin Dells to splash in a water park. The load of verbiage I’m carrying would take weeks to dispense and frankly, even if I was up to it I don’t have the time. Thus I will once again disappoint the 2,000 plus of you who have peeked at my blog over June.

I’ve been telling some folks recently that our Board members have been thinking with all the clarity of soldiers returning to home with PTSD. I got a couple years to recover from mine when I retired from the active fight against the Red Plan in 2010 as Art Johnston took up his lonely crusade for clarity.

At first he had Gary Glass with him but they were no match for a board majority that was still in musk oxen mode having formed a circle to keep the wolves out. For six years now the majority of the Board refused to ask questions almost as aggressively as they have asserted that their brilliant administrators were working miracles in the Duluth Public Schools. Perhaps its the PTSD that blinds them to classes of the high thirties in elementary schools and 40’s in our secondary schools.

A newly elected School Board has renewed the old practice of question asking but one are remains off limits, the Red Plan. This seems silly to me. The main perpetrators of the Red Plan are gone, Dixon, Wasson, Hustad, Grover etc. Furthermore, it is likely impossible to understand our crowded classes and lost music program without understanding the financing of the Red Plan. Finances have been particularly difficult subject to breach. We have one Board member who insisted for years that we were not taking any money from classroom operations to pay off Red Plan debt. And yet four straight years on her watch we transferred $6 million annually from operations to debt service.

Apparently the Finance Office never wanted to correct her fiscal myopia because she has never recanted her financial ignorance. Art and Harry Welty are a threat to a clearer understanding of our district’s iffy finances. For months I’ve moaned about the document shown to me briefly last January that projected a $13.7 million deficit when I run for reelection in 2017. At no point has the Finance Dept. attempted to assure me that this will be averted.

David Bolgrien who ran against Art Johnston last year (perhaps at the urging of one of our assistant principals) met with me over coffee at a point when I despaired of ever getting along with Art. I was at that point officially neutral about who the western fourth District should elect. David disparaged the days of the “Harry, Gary and Art show.” I suspect that is how the entire Move Forward Duluth crowd talked for years. There is a great desire to get over the Red Plan but to my way of thinking that is leading folks to ignore the elephant in the room. Why is Denfeld in ferment? If you can’t examine the history of the Red Plan it will remain a mystery. If you can’t get honest, practical explanations for the current finances of the District it will remain a mystery. However, the real mystery to me is how the majority of the current school board has come to the conclusion that it must remove one of the question askers and on such pathetic grounds.

I think its worth understanding how a $19 million change order that renegotiates Johnson Controls earning from 14% to 25% can be authorized without a vote of the entire school board. But asking such a question, even after receiving a warning from the State Auditor that such an action is unwarranted, is apparently verboten.

As long as Art Johnston wants to ask the same questions that I have I will be his ally no matter how sullen he gets when he is denied the information he requests. As long as there are 40 kids in our high school classrooms I’ll keep asking why? That’s why I’m quite confident that if the current school board refuses to ask those questions it will be replaced in the 2015 election with a Board that is every bit as curious about the answer as me. I expect that to be the case even if this Board dim wittedly wastes tens of thousands of dollars on lawyers to find some pathetic justifican to remove Art Johnston.

I confidently predict that only death will prevent Art Johnston from serving out a third four-year term on the Duluth School Board.

As always I have a lot more to add. Ah, but I’ve got grandkids to vacation with. Ta ta.

Loren Martell outdoes himself

Despite being a long standing partisan for Red Plan skeptics Loren Martell provides a fitting description of the recent School Board meetings first, the one not recorded for television which resulted in a vote to investigate Art Johnston, and the following week’s Board meeting(recorded on youtube) which weighed in at four hours long. Martell’s ten-minute review of the two meetings published in the Duluth Reader are a pretty good lesson in civics if not civility.

Eternal student sans anxiety

Claudia was encouraging me to resume swimming again. She said it would protect me from the stress of the School Board. I told her it would be a good idea but that I’m no longer feeling the stress I felt intensely for about two months leading up to our adopting the teacher’s contract. I explained to her as I have here on the blog that this is because so much is now out of my hands. For better or worse we charted our course, dug our grave or crossed our Rubicon. Choose your preferred metaphor.

Yes, we have taken a boneheaded detour toward sanity with the faux Art Johnston crusade but that will burn out one way or another with no egg on Art’s face. In fact, his chief antagonist seems to be leaving Duluth. How convenient.

As for me my wife and I took a short trip to the Twin Cities where she was able to attend the retirement party of her good friend who ran the Minnesota Safety Council for a quarter century. We decided to stay two nights and enjoy temperatures that were nearly twenty degrees warmer than the Lake cooled air of Duluth.

On the way down I read to Claudia from a delightful book I bought for her a decade ago, The Color of Water. There are some great belly laughs in this story about race and a lot of wisdom.

Yesterday we went to the Minnesota Science Museum to see the traveling dinosaur exhibit with some impressive skeletons from Africa, Australia, and South America. I had just finished reading every article in the latest Scientific American which was on dinosaurs. I highly recommend the article about the evolution of feathers. That is now settled science but it wasn’t when I wrote my silly book about a kid traveling back to the time of dinosaurs back in 1992. I made his chief enemies feathered. I’m about to recycle another hundred of the damn things that are clogging up my attic….a good place for them to collect dust.

Even Claudia said she got a lot out of the exhibit because we didn’t have our grandson’s running underfoot. We may take them there later before the exhibit moves on. She was particularly intrigued by the maps of the continental drift.

Later that afternoon I persuaded Claudia to help me look for a huge statue that I was sure was in downtown St. Paul which I had heard about in some college art class forty years ago. It turned out to be in the Ramsey County Courthouse and St. Paul City Hall. We had a good hour dawdling in the building snapping pics and going up to the 18th floor law library to get a good aerial view of the Mississippi in flood down below us.

The Building was started after a successful referendum election (imagine that!) in 1928 the year my Mother was born and before the Stock Market Crash. When the Depression hit people worked for peanuts so the City had beacoup bucks to spend lavishly on their new civic trophy. The Building is pretty amazing and the three story onyx statue on the main floor is pretty remarkable. It rotates 66 degrees to the right and then the left every five hours.

Later that night we went to a light mystery play “The Red Box” centering around a Depression Era sleuth Nero Wolfe at the Park Square Theater.

We are back home waiting to watch the delightful Jack Benny movie from 1942, “To be or not to be.” Its going to be on TMZ but I suspect you could livestream it on Netflix or Amazon Prime. I much prefer the Benny version to the Mel Brooks reprise from the 1980’s. I just sent a text to my son suggesting he watch it. I enjoy being an eternal student and I felt like I spent my recent studies sampling my Mother’s childhood.

Tomorrow I sing a solo for Church. Pray for the congregation.

An old friend’s daughter does good

An old high school buddy, who I haven’t seen since he got married thirty years ago, and I found each other on the Internet and began emailing each other in recent years. We keep talking about getting together again. He’s the fellow I reminisced about last January who sent me an erudite article on opium cultivation in Afghanistan. He’s retired to the D.C. area and I told him a month ago that Claudia and I were thinking of passing through this summer. I’m not so sure now. The damned School District has gone wacko and I don’t know if I dare leave Duluth this summer or fail to attend any School Board meetings. I may have to stay Duluth bound.

Anyway my buddy sent me this video and told me his daughter helped produce it for the New York Times. Its only eleven minutes long but it dampened my eyes.

JCI’s wreckage to the north – the latest

I read this letter to the Timberjay today and thought it sounded a lot like our experience in Duluth. A little investigation showed the writer is an retired registered civil engineer who warned St. Louis County that the site selected by JCI could not handle the septic in a rain of over six inches because of the soil content at the nearby creek. I wonder if his projections came true with this month’s record rains?

Here’s his letter:

Looking back, there was no justification for school plan
In the aftermath of the $78 million St. Louis County School District 2142 disastrous project, more and more is being learned.

1) The courts confirmed that the voters were lied to about the financial condition of the school district.

2) There are no cost savings. In fact, it costs more to operate five schools than it previously cost to operate seven schools.

3) The new schools have smaller classrooms, inadequate storage space, and class sizes have increased.

4) Construction was faulty, resulting in leaking roofs, cracked walls, and unusable sports fields, along with water and sewer infrastructure freezing up and at times becoming a health hazard.

5) The construction management, in an effort to avoid massive cost overruns, made millions of dollars in changes while construction was going on to cheapen the material and construction quality. All this was done without the school district’s approval or without informing the district.

JCI made over $11 million on this project. There are rumors that bribes were paid to get the initial support and continued irrational defense of the project. Unfortunately as we look back, there was no justification for the project. However, it continued giving credence to such rumors.

Dennis Peterson

Gheen, Minn.

It amazes me the extent to which the Duluth and St. Louis School Boards will go to make sure no one investigates the process whereby both their systems got huge JCI school projects built. So far the school board to our north hasn’t tried to kick any of its curious board members off.

Gardening and life interfering with my passion

I keep thinking that my outside and yard work will be short-lived but I have a bad habit of underestimating what it will take. I need to paint my eaves and windows again. We decided not to renew our lawn service because we both have been wincing at the chemicals that probably get flushed into Lake Superior or might be killing of the honey bees. That means I’ll be pulling weeds up manually if I can keep up. I’ve tried to sow grass seed but didn’t really work the bare spots as well as I could. I’ve been weeding and mulching our flower gardens and tending to strawberries and raspberries. I spent an afternoon pruning trees and spent a couple hours hauling all the brush off to the City’s compost site. Last Sunday a woman at church complimented me for cleaning up the sidewalk along 21st Ave. The city left a mountain of sand covering it it from the winter and all the rain is still weeping through five or six pipes along the sidewalk which has made the walkway a muddy sandy mess. The earth is still weeping.

So, with eighteen months to go I keep telling myself that writing the blog or one of a succession of books I keep planning on – the next one to be done before the critical 2015 election – is not so urgent. I haven’t finished writing a book since I ran for Congress in 1992. I can’t afford to fix up the attic this year anyway to make a big enough space to house all my research. Crumb bum. So I garden and do yard work, and serve food once a month at the soup kitchen.

But sometimes I just can’t keep things in. Last night I woke up with heartburn……ate too late at night with a glass or two of wine……and couldn’t stop thinking about how Art Johnston has been set up. So I got up and spent two hours on the last WW III post. After that I couldn’t fall asleep again. One lousy night’s sleep is no big deal. I’ve had four very good night’s sleep in a row leading up to last night. I intend to keep it that way.

Claudia poked her head in and bugged me about typing in front of the computer’s “blue screen.” She says, and I’m sure she’s right it makes it very hard to fall asleep. I’ll take that chance. Its only now just 10pm. I’ve got one more post in me. Sometime this summer I’ll start cranking out posts like mad…….I think.

WW III – Getting past the Day of Infamy

My reluctance to proceed with the World War lll posts is getting to a few of my avid readers. Here’s an email I got a couple days ago:

“Handsome Harry: Is that all you are going to give us what is posted on your website? We have inquiring minds and have an insatiable desire to know. ***”

I’m only beginning my 7th of 24 months before Duluth elects a new school board in which I have some hope of being a part of a majority. In fact, I have very little doubt of this coming transformation. This stupidity only cements my confidence.

But 18 months is a long time to wait. And our classrooms show little sign of shrinking. World War III is, as I told the Duluth News Tribune, a terrible distraction. It is a distraction, however, that the majority has chosen to inflict upon Duluth. Art and I are innocent bystanders. As for Art’s partner Jane Bushey; she is a nanny goat tied to a tree to catch a tiger.

I had hoped to build a coalition on the existing board to work toward some budget resolution and an honest assessment of our chances to win some compensation for the incompetent work of Johnson Controls that left us with forty-plus kids in classes and schools that will be overcrowded mere years after the Red Plan’s completion. So far I have proven unequal to that task. Explaining why I have failed would require me to analyze my fellow school board members which would almost certainly annoy them and make coalition building all the more unlikely. That’s the reason I’ve bitten my tongue, or fingers, in this blog for the past six months. But the senseless attempt to remove Art Johnston suggests to me that it would be folly to bother with reconciliation. That’s ironic because the Civility code we just adopted encourages “apologies.” It will be a cold day in hell before this Board says it’s sorry to Art Johnston. I might as well proceed as though war is inevitable. We are well past December 7th.

Its not as though I gave up on building bridges. I have been a jolly good sport and bent my back to encourage Art to be a jolly good sport too. I’ve been coming to Board meetings singing. I’ve set up one on one with all my fellow Board members save one and with the Superintendent too. But, of late, my veiled references and comments about current going’s on in the blog have not been popular. Chair Miernicki sent me an email quibbling with my blog’s skepticism about charges of assault.

We were going to meet so that I could hear his side of the story but that was canceled in favor of a golf outing last Thursday and has not been rescheduled. I may be the only Board member not to know what took place from his perspective.

This is a small town and everybody eventually learns everyone else’s business. I recall an old Board colleague of mine who used to go out with all the Board members after School Board meetings to unwind at Grandma’s restaurant. He got an anonymous letter from a teacher when he first faced reelection telling him that he was shooting off his mouth at Grandma’s in front of the wait staff and that a lot of them were the children of teachers who reported everything he said to their parents. This Board member was so shellshocked by that claim, which was probably true, that he curled up in a fetal ball and was crushed in the next election.

What have I heard about this Board along those lines? Apparently one of Art’s biggest critics on the School Board has been going around town boasting to all who will listen that Art is going to get taken out. Charming.

Sunday’s story in the DNT is just the beginning. It revealed that one of the primary justifications, perhaps the only one, for removing Jane Bushey from her job at East High was bogus. The father of one of her children has never contemplated suing the District because of her conduct. Yet this was the reason Jane was given for being stripped of her seniority rights “for her own protection.” No wonder Art Johnston is testy. No wonder Jane described Art has heroic in her defense at our last school board meeting. You can watch her defense of Art in the District’s June meeting video at the 56 minute mark on Youtube.

Our last vote at last night’s four hour SB meeting

First, I was expecting to blog a lot as I entered this week because I’m so full of thoughts and it looked like it was going to rain all week. But then it turned sunny on Monday and I had to garden. Then I got an email invitation to meet with Chair Miernicki on Thursday so, I decided to keep my mouth shut for a while. I’ve got more sunshine today and more gardening to do so except for this update I’ll probably not put much more in the blog today. But the blackout due to my upcoming meeting with Mern is off. Mern told me last night that he’s golfing on Thursday. I simply have too much in my head to wait until a meeting with Mike is rescheduled.

You will want to read the story about last night’s meeting in the Duluth Tribune this morning. Betty Davis’s “bumpy ride” has begun. It was so awful that Superintendent Gronseth mentioned the possibility of a retreat or something like it to help we school board members get past our bitter divides. I’d welcome that.

The symbolic detail of our four hour slog that will stick with me was the vote on the nine points of civility.

Poor old Anita Stech (our kids attended Chester Park elementary together) had to endure a four hour long meeting until we considered a resolution to abide by the nine points. It followed half an hour of discussion on a motion by Art, seconded by me, to have a discussion about how one can get issues placed on our agenda for discussion. We were voted down 5-2 with lots of assurances that our administration followed all the policy rules. It also followed half an hour of abuse heaped on the Board by Art’s supporters. It followed three more hours of discussions that were often quite business-like.

Four hours later the Civility Pledge resolution was finally introduced despite never been listed in advance as an agenda item. I commented that it was interesting how mysteriously some items could appear on the agenda out of nowhere if the right combination of people in power chose to add even if contrary to our policy.

Art made a motion to add the word Honesty as a tenth point with a tail about being kind to each other. To his credit Chair Miernicki said he supported the addition. In the end that was a sufficient reason for a majority of the Board to sooth and placate their injured and accused colleague by voting for the addition to the Civility Pledge.

After Pandora’s curiosity got the better of her and she opened the box of horrors that polluted the word of man, one last critter flew out of the box. It was hope. Maybe that’s what that last vote was at last night’s meeting.

Do no harm

Sorry Dear Readers,

But I’m entering another moment of blackout where I’m not sure what to write because what I write on this blog could have a deleterious effect on the Duluth School District or at least the relations between the elephants (school board members) trampling the grass (our children’s schools).

The genesis of the blackout was my blog and the fact that Chair Miernicki read it and responded to my comments with an email offering to give me his side of the story this Thursday. This is a very positive development for me because up to know I’ve been in the position of asking other board members to meet with me. Mike has, to put it euphemistically, a hot potato in his hands. He said he expected a terrible Tuesday at our Board meeting I told him to expect a terrible summer instead.

I’ve had two Board members make it quite clear that they don’t care for my blog. In my cordial two hour meeting with Judy Seliga-Punyko a month ago she told me she wished I would stop blogging. I told her that wouldn’t happen. Rosie Loeffler-Kemp has turned to me during our closed meetings and made comments to the Board about our staying silent on some subjects in our writing and then turned to look meaningfully at me to make sure I understood she had me in mind when she made her comments.

I want the school board to be a team but right now its spinning out of control and I have no desire to save it from its foolishness. In fact, I’m so frustrated at the Board’s unwillingness to look at our District’s precarious position that I am resigned to waiting until a new board is elected a year and a half from now. I don’t plan to be in the position of a 5-2 minority after 2015.

My wife told me the other day that I’m not a “harmonizer.” I winced a bit at this but I suppose its true. Sometimes a person has to decide if they want to go with the harmonious flow or strike out on the bumpy road of dissent. She’s studying at at a seminary now and studying one of the most influential dissenters in history. Did his dissent make the world worse?

a shout out to our attorney, Kevin Rupp

Hey Kev,

I wanted to share the quick legal research of a layman (woman really) who was at our recent Board meeting. She didn’t charge me $400 an hour for her work leading up to this email. Oh, and was it on your advice that the Superintendent shut the door in my face when I followed the contract negotiations team into the secret planning meeting despite clear School Board policy that made me a member of the negotiation’s team?

(Art, I cc’ed you in case you thought any of this was useful, and toward the bottom the teal highlighted portion [Lincolndemocrat doesn’t do colored lettering] may help you with the requests for data)

My partner ****** posed this question, or is it a thought, to me, and I can’t stop thinking about it:

So you have this attorney the district has now hired. Said attorney is going to ask a bunch of questions of a bunch of people. He is going to come back to the school board and say whether or not these accusations have any merit. The school board will vote to take Art off the board if even one of these accusations appear to be true 

Since when does a lawyer and a single opinion become a judge and jury?

Since when does an attorney get to decide if a man is guilty or not, and not have to represent his case in a court of law?

Why does only one of the ‘charges’ against Art actually have a board policy number written after it, as published in The Reader?   where does the wording for the other charges come from as formal rules that were broken? Are these charges just made up? 

The district’s attorney works for every board member. Therefore, how does the district’s attorney justify speaking to one of his employers, you, in the unprofessional way he did in full public view and still get to be employed? It only served to attack your reputation along with Art’s. 

I have since been looking up rules MN School Boards are suppose to follow . MN State Statues that define what a school board is suppose to do. There are plenty that support alternative dispute resolutions, and many that clearly aren’t being followed. The following two policies are listed on the district website. 

ISD709 School Board Policy 8100 and 8090 supports your questioning of the Superintendent, district lawyer, and anyone else you find necessary to need information from in order to justify your need to make an informed vote.  The members who refused to answer your questions are in violation of board policy. Also, adequate notice of the special meeting was not given.

8100 – Adequate Information to Precede Action

In order to expedite business, all pertinent information relative to the items on the agenda shall be made available to the School Board in written form for their study prior to the meeting.  Administrators and other qualified persons may be required by the Superintendent or members of the School Board to present information at the meetings.  It shall be the intent of the School Board to be fully informed before making decisions.

Adopted: 06-09-1970  ISD 709
Revised: 04-12-1977
06-20-1995  ISD 709


8090 – Preparation for Meetings
Notification of meetings shall be made as required by law and as additionally provided in these policies.
Minutes of the previous meeting(s) and pertinent information concerning items on the agenda shall be mailed three (3) days prior to the meeting, for careful study by each member.

Members of the administrative staff, teachers, and other qualified persons may be called upon by the School Board to furnish information necessary for the School Board to reach a decision.

Adopted: 06-09-1970  ISD 709
Revised: 04-12-1977
06-20-1995  ISD 709

Minnesota Legislature Statutes :

123B.02.  Subdivision 1

School Board runs the district, the Superintendent is NOT the boss.

123B.09. Subdivision 6
Chair must notify members of special meetings by mail at least 3 days in advance

123B.09. Subdivision 9
Removal of a board member
What exactly is a “proper cause”? How is that determined?

123B.143 subdivision 1 
Describes the duties of a Superintendent, as including “other duties prescribed by theBoard”. Aka board members are HIS boss, not the other way around. Gronseth has 7 bosses.

Or alternatively, listed in the Role of the Superintendent on the MSBA website, includes “Superintendents are directly accountable to the school board.” 

And from the Minnesota Board of School Administrators – superintendents and principals code of ethics. 

or also found as a legislative statute here

A school administrator shall take reasonable action to provide an atmosphere conducive to learning.
A school administrator shall not misuse professional relationships with students, parents and caregivers, staff, or colleagues to private advantage.
A school administrator shall not knowingly make false or malicious statements about students, students’ families, staff, or colleagues.
A school administrator shall not engage in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, or misrepresentation in the performance of professional duties

Finally, the roles and responsibilities of a school board from the Minnesota School Board Association

Of particular interest found here:

Structure :  holds the Superintendent responsible for following all Board policies.
Advocacy : Uses ongoing, two-way communications to build trust and support among community, board, superintendent, staff, and students; Focuses on community wide concerns and values that best support student achievement rather than being overly influenced by special interests; Utilizes a system of public relations that allows it to formalize the flow of information into and out of the district.
ACCOUNTABILITY : responsible to the community for monitoring the conditions that affect the district as a whole, including the use of monitoring data.  Art, take note!!! There is zero reason to pay for data you ask for, as you are one of the bosses of those district administrators and the data you requested is you just doing your job!!

And lastly, CONDUCT AND ETHICS… not the code of ethics Rosie is always reading, but the ethics determined at the state leveL.
encourages members to express their individual opinions, respect others’ opinions, and vote their conscience.
The board as a whole provides leadership to the community on behalf of the district by conducting its business in a fair, respectful, legal, and responsible manner.


Its clear that this school board does not follow its own required code of ethics with regards to how they treat fellow board members, nor do they encourage and support individual opinions.  And they are definitely not respectful (laughing, whispering, insults) or civil (employing a lawyer to find support for their claims) when a respectful conversation could have solved every issue listed in the 6 “indictments”. 

I’m telling you… The anatomy of a mafia is exactly how the district administration operates. They are taking out those who break the allegiance one by one. It’s a mafia. They protect their own and get rid of those that they don’t like. 

Hope at least something in this lengthy email is useful.
 At least as a reference to find what I am talking about.  I may bring up the code of ethics in my 3 minute comment on Tuesday.  I definitely will bring up the biased vote by Meirnicki to employ the lawyer.  Thanks for the shout out in your blog. lol

Your friend

WW III – Editorial reaction

The Tribune’s editorial today is well justified. What the Dickens is the School Board and Administration doing by turning a low level spat into WW III? This is what I had in mind when I tried to advise the Superintendent last week, when he was on the verge of persecuting Art’s long time partner, that he was getting terrible political advice. Afterwards the Superintendent switched gears and decided to attack Art instead. Now the Super and his loyal Chair are in the soup with their accursed pain in the neck.

I can only find one fault with the editorial, its call for Art Johnston to examine his conscience and consider stepping down for the good of the schools. I’ll have more to say about Art and the News Tribune in later posts but let me add that I could just as easily ask the News Tribune editors to step down for failing to cover the Duluth Schools with the vigor the Red Plan deserved which has resulted in classes with fifty kids in them. I don’t think the editors would take me any more seriously than Art will take their suggestion that he examine his conscience.

Frankly, I expect to have people point fingers at me soon enough. Why, in my last post I employed a cruel word play by grafting the word fascist onto the first name of the law firm which will may or may not conduct a fair investigation of this most unnecessary summer tempest. On the other hand my school board attorney, Kevin Rupp, who participated in our open hearing last week told me that I was impugning the legal profession by saying I found its methods questionable. I replied (to the best of my recollection ) “Thank you for casting aspersions against me, Mr. Rupp. I may have a few aspersions to cast myself soon enough.” A check of the tapes of the meeting will give me my exact wording. Consider my use of the word “fascist” as my first aspersion.

As for the law it can be abused and often is. My favorite American was a lawyer, Abraham Lincoln. My Dad was a lawyer. I esteem the law at its best and sneer at it at its worst. Like anything else the law is a tool and can be used badly as when one employs a screw driver as a hammer.

I’ll be playing with my grandsons today. Don’t expect any new posts immediately.

WW III – Fools rush in

For the past six months I’ve resisted the urge to blog – much. I came onto the School Board in January with an open mind. The Red Plan was behind us as a construction project but its obvious destructive consequences had to be dealt with. I do not take back a single thing I said during my campaign to be elected including my comments about the gangrene that is spreading throughout the schools – it is being held in check but there will be very little improvement any time soon because the remedy requires money. For the past four years we have taken six million each year out of operations to pay off bonds. Thanks to the $4 million dollars that the legislature has pumped into Duluth and the $1.8 million annual levy increase we no longer need to borrow six million from operations year by year. Still, local taxes going into operations are ten million less than they were in 1997. We will not be adding back the music program of old, we will not be reducing class sizes to the days of old either. In short, the glory days are over but we have very pretty new schools. I guess that’s something.

All this reinforces one other hard comment I made when I campaigned last fall, that our recent school boards were among the most incompetent in Minnesota history. It remains to be seen if the current board I serve on will be any better. I had some hope that we could improve but the events of the last week lead me nearly to despair.

Tonight after giving it much thought I can say that I am condemned to purgatory for the next year and a half until the seating of the next school board after the 2015 election. I’ve worked my butt off for the past six months to make sure this would not happen, that we could make progress despite the vast obstacles before us. Left little other choice I’ve decided to retreat to my campaign slogan, “Honesty is the best policy.” What I will be reporting from hear on out will be honest as all get out. That doesn’t mean it will be true but facts are stubborn things and I will stick to them as I explain what I have deduced on the ground and in the arena for the first six months of my four-year stint on the school board.

I won’t get too far into that story tonight on this blog. Rather I will compose the history leading up to this moment elsewhere and post it bit by bit in roughly chronological order. I will attempt a great deal of analysis of the characters in the story, always a dicey thing to do, their motivations and what I’ve witnessed over time that leads me to my conclusions. What is happening now is very dark indeed and I intend to shed as much light on it as I can at no expense to the public compared to the expensive and secretive travesty that I expect to be produced by Fascistski, Mark and Johnson out of Eden Prairie. I expect them to be as credible as the “scientists” that Phillip Morris used to pay to testify that cigarette smoking was a healthy activity.

I’ll make a couple quick points that will be expanded upon when I really take care of next week’s rainy forecast to begin typing in earnest. I’ll do it with bullet points like the indictment brought against Art Johnston:

– This attempt to remove Art is part of a remarkable succession of such attempts by the Dixon cabal to remove school board dissenters. In Faribault Dixon tried to implicate one lone Board critic with forgery and theft and attempted to remove another Board member just as he attempted to remove Gary Glass in 2010. This is the fourth such attempt only this time its being attempted by an acolyte.

– I’m no innocent fan of Art Johnston. For four years I’ve felt little sympathy for the terrible experience he has endured as a dissenting school board member. In fact, before he was elected in 2009 I wrote him a private email in which I told Art that I hoped he would be elected because I knew he would have the worst four years of his life.

– Art Johnston is close to incorruptible.

– Art Johnston has been a new man since I joined the Board. He has rarely behaved in a manner that could have brought him condemnation. For the past month I’ve practically been Art’s Siamese Twin so close that I know with almost total certainty that the charges brought against him are not merely a fraud but clearly intended to blacken his reputation.

– The attempt to remove Art was hastily arranged and has very likely been employed when it became obvious that an earlier attempt to teach him a lesson by punishing his partner of 14 years would come to be regarded as thuggish.

– It probably did not help Art’s cause when I met with the Superintendent last week and told Mr. Gronseth, with all confidence, that I expected to be in a majority after next year’s election. I can’t help but wonder if in the face of being exposed for being bullies the Superintendent and his subordinates didn’t revert to the Dixon playbook in a clumsy attempt to make it just that much harder for my prediction to come true. After all, for it to come true I only needed to elect two new allies on the school board from three candidates. Without Art I’d have make sure that all three of the successful candidates were potential allies of mine a considerably higher hurdle. Perhaps that was all the incentive necessary to jump horses in the middle of the stream although at the moment both Art and Jane Bushey are in the Superintendent’s crosshairs.

This drama/sham will play out all summer insuring a great summertime spectacle. I’m in no hurry to spill all my beans. All the posts I’ve sat on for months can now come out from under cover. Because this blog is not just about the dizzying world of the Duluth Public Schools I’ll keep posting whatever suits my fancy. Look for Harry’s Diary items, Political commentary, Republican bashing and a host of other topics like those you can find on the long list at the right side of this blog.

Don’t be surprised if I don’t always blog post. My long time readers know that I decided before I began running last summer to put my family first. At the moment that means summer projects, gardening and family time. As important as the Duluth Schools are to me after devoting twenty-five plus years on the cause it will always fall second in line on my priority list.

Today I went to the Zinema with Claudia and watched two very warm but obscure movies, Chef and Lunchbox.

Ah, I should explain the posts title now.

I blogged a day ago that I had self appointed myself the treasurer of the Art Johnston Legal Defense Fund. I set up an account, put $150 bucks in it and opened a post office box. Today I got a call from an old colleague, the one who put the legal defense fund idea in my head two days ago telling me this was a mistake. Claudia could hear her through my head from my phone after I parked my car before going to the movies. Claudia heartily agreed. I will surrender my official leadership of this although I will sure as hell help raise money for the cause. I should have known better. Four years ago it was what Gary Glass did that caused Let Duluth Vote’s attorney to be sent to Siberia. The attorney should not have been representing both a school board member and the folks challenging the school board in court. Sue Torgerson, you taught me that lesson very well.

I’m not alone in my impulsiveness. Chair Mike Meirnicki had the smarts to remove himself as the chairman of the pre-Kangaroo court authorizing an investigation because he had leveled one of the indictment’s complaints against Art. But it didn’t occur to Mike (or me for that matter) to recuse himself from voting to proceed with an investigation. I’m not the only fool rushing in.

Speaking of the Chairman, I picked up the Reader while at the Zinema Theater and brought it home. I uploaded a thumbnail of its cover earlier today but I couldn’t read it. It was too small. When I got home I finally took a look at the Reader’s cover and burst out laughing. Its the funniest front cover the Reader has ever published.

By the way. I will pay little heed to complaints that I’m being uncivil. Some of the folks I’m facing wanted to hassle an employee to punish her husband. That’s not only uncivil it’s evil.

St. Louis County Schools version of WW III

I have been remiss for the past couple months posting the goings on to our north in the other local District to have been contaminated with Johnson Controlled foolishness. The Timberjay Newspaper has been not only vindicated for conducting a serious review of that District’s JCI building project but lionized by the newspaper association and both political parties in the State legislature. That is quite the trifecta.

Its Editor is asking for the removal or resignation of the Board Chair.

WW III – the Reader Weekly, Issue 792

Bob Boone, publisher of the Reader Weekly, made his first foray into Superintendent’s campaign to find some rationale for removing Art Johnston from the Duluth School Board. (I think I know the real reasons and they have nothing to do with the six bullet points on the list of items to be investigated) Boone’s first foray was a cautious beginning for a fellow who used to be a race car driver. Bob is used to taking risks, however, and I can’t think of anything more heart stopping than publishing some of the stories he has pursued without the protection of big corporation behind him to absorb the costs of a libel suit.

Bob is a good writer but as a publisher he normally shuns that responsibility.Instead he has a stable of columnists of varying talents and enthusiasms. I was one of the columnists for four years and 100 issues and have contributed many other columns especially as they relate to the Red Plan’s development since 2006 to the Reader.

I’m looking forward to Boone’s future stories on the Superintendent’s successful efforts to turn what had promised to be a sleepy summer for ISD 709 into a media circus. Boone’s column “Dysfunctional and Mean-Spirited” got its title from my quote in Jana Hollingsworth’s News Tribune story about the meeting. She asked me after the meeting if I could succinctly (a challenge for me) appraise the meeting. I paused for a moment and slowly thought my way through a summation.

After the meeting, Welty said the allegations were mean-spirited, and highlighted the dysfunction of the board.

“It’s a terrible distraction of the education of our children,” he said.

There may be a bit of a race between Bob and Jana to get details of this “investigation” out into the light of day. I described it at the school board meeting as “tawdry” and the meeting’s temporary chair, Bill Westholm” strongly objected to that description. If and when I get the video of the meeting I’ll post it and you dear readers can see how he preferred to look on the coming Star Chamber proceedings. At least their won’t be any Choke pears or Judas Chairs. The law firm Fafinski, Scratch and Claw may, however, employ a Head crusher. Certainly they will be happy to drain Art Johnston’s savings in the effort to get revenge on him for asking so many annoying questions. It is no longer enough to simply hide behind a predictable and routine Board majority to ignore and or out vote any calls for public data. In fact, last week our CFO, William Hanson, told Art he would have to pay the School District $2,000 for the time a recent data request would take the business office to gather together. I’ve never heard of any other District imposing such a cost on a School Board member before. But, Alas, that method of bankrupting Art must have been determined to be too slow. Lawyers are much more efficient and faster way to bleed a man to death. Not only that but allegations of assault, racism, conflict of interest and the like have the added benefit of a campaign of character assassination. Nothing tawdry in that.

Jana, to my amazement, knows stuff I’m not supposed to talk about from my previous experience on the School Board and Boone has courted me for years to help him cover the School District. I’ve only seen Bob at perhaps one other Duluth School Board meeting. He was there last night with a camera and a quick mind. His was a short but accurate depiction of events. After the meeting he asked if he could interview me. He called me later and I gave him a lot of background that has yet to find itself in any publication. You will be able to read a lot of it here in Lincoln Democrat if you can stand my discursive ways. I’ll be titling posts related to this with the prefix “WW III.”

Boone, asked if he could drop by later and have me dictate my thoughts into his cell phone. (amazing devices aren’t they?)
I told him I was about to watch the FX series Fargo with my wife and wanted to enjoy at least a little of the evening with her without politics. We’d already missed the 9 pm show so I could watch Fox New’s take on the meeting. We would be watching the 10:15 show and that meant Bob would have to show up at my place at 11:30. Bob agreed. He was under deadline and would be working all night to get the Reader to the printers in the morning.

I could barely stay awake through Fargo the result of a long day that began when Art was told we would be holding a “special” meeting after the Education Committee. (Its always nice to get a good advance warning of an inquisition.) After Fargo was over I brought a pillow to the kitchen midway between our front and back doors and laid down on the hard surface. I wanted to make sure I would wake no matter which door Bob knocked on in case I dozed off while waiting for him to arrive.

I’d already spoken with him for 45 minutes on the phone. After he showed up he was at my place until a quarter to 1. So far he’s only covered the tip of the iceberg. As I told Loren Martell after the special meeting was announced “Fasten your seat belt its going to be a bumpy ride.” Loren made the meeting as well and I’ll be very interested to read what he has to say in the Reader next week.

I met with Superintendent Gronseth a day or two before this imbroglio and told him I thought he was getting very poor political and financial advice. The CFO was in the room at the time as well as the Human Relations Director. The three of them were largely mute during my thirty minutes with them. Afterward, I thought I would be wise to write down what I could recall having told them in case any of it should later become the subject of an inquiry. I would have to charge them $2,000 to set it down on paper, of course. I had expected to talk to Mr. Gronseth alone but he obviously wanted reinforcements. I told him that if his posse stayed I wouldn’t feel free to tell him everything I thought he should know……data private stuff from my earlier experience on the Board….The posse stayed. Now he’s stuck in a tar baby of his own making.

I hope he’s read his Joel Chandler Harris.

I slept well after the start of World War Three…

…but only for four hours. I came home feeling that a bottle of wine might help me settle my nerves from the Pre Kangerooo Court that Dr. Gronseth seems intent on pulling out of thin air to no good purpose. He’s a lay Methodist minister so there may be methodist in his manner.

Always eager to have his picture taken with high school students in their selfies to be tweeted over the Internet he may not appreciate the attention his allegations of assault that he’s leveled against my poor but proud ally Art Johnston. But Art’s not nearly so mad at the Superintendent for his treatment but for the underhanded treatment of his partner of 14 years, Jane Bushey. District Administrators and Board members only discovered to their shock and horror recently that the lowly District nurse was affiliated with their most ferocious gadfly. Apparently they deemed her worthy of a swat but only “for her own good.”

Art’s reaction is rather like that of President Harry Truman after a theater critic ridiculed his daughter Margarets piano playing in a national news paper after she gave a recital. Harry penned a letter telling the man that his gratuitous contempt ought to be repaid with a punch in the nose. That and a few well chosen profanities got Harry attention in the news across the country. Republicans and the cultural elite sniffed at his primitivism but in a few years time Harr would win reelection with the ad hoc motto “Give’m hell Harry!”

The chief distinction between the two men is that Art, unlike Truman, didn’t threaten to punch anyone. I’m not so sure I could have been as controlled under the same circumstances. By the way. Jane Bushey is still under threat of being removed from the medically fragile and multiply handicapped children that she has cared for for six years despite her contractual rights of seniority. I’m sure that with the help of an AFSCME business agent like Board member Rosie Loeffler-Kemps husband Ken this will all be worked out. Certainly Rosie had comforting words for the community near the end of the meeting she helped call. According to the Duluth News Tribune’s even handed story on the outbreak of the war Rosie soothed, “We as a board have a code of ethics for School Board members,” she said. “It was with a lot of thought and consideration that we came to bring this resolution forward, and I hope the public can understand that.”

Yes, well, time will tell. So will this blog.

A phone call

Look for this tomorrow. I’m suddenly bushed.

(How predictable of me. I promised to finish a post the next day and let two days go by. I needed yesterday first to visit Mom and sing to her, then, when I emerged into an unexpected Park Point sun, to cast my cares away by walking the Point collecting agates. I returned home shortly ahead of Claudia who had taken a dear friend on a birthday plant buying expedition. By that time all I wanted to do was sit down amidst new flowers and talk about those damn cares….then I got a call from the State Auditor’s office. More about that in a later post.)

The phone call came on Thursday. My caller left a message requesting a call back about righting an old wrong. It was vague but somehow urgent, not that the forty or fifty recent emails sent to my School Board email address do not share the same urgency. Sadly, I’ll need to put in a long day soon to reply to them.

It led to a surprisingly poignant conversation. By coincidence, the morning after I started this post NPR’s Morning edition had a StoryCorps interview that covered similar territory about how we treat children. I highly recommend a quick listen before proceeding with the rest of my post.

So, I returned the call.

How can I report a instance of abuse by a teacher that took place some time ago? my caller inquired. “Who do I report it to?” a mature male voice asked. He explained that a story on the news from a few weeks back about a teacher’s cruel behavior had triggered a memory that he felt he needed to pursue.

I explained that the procedure would be to speak first to the teacher’s immediate supervisor which in most cases meant the school principal. After some hemming and hawing it appeared this was not a satisfactory answer. How long ago was this? I asked. A few years ago it seemed. “Well,”I explained, “it may not be something that any disciplinary action can be applied to after years had gone by.”

Its about a child who never really got over it, I was told.

“Just how long ago what this?”

With a little prompting it turned out that the “child” was the caller himself when he was just in second grade. The fellow, a sensitive kid, was five years behind me in school and not quite sixty. The news story had recalled an repressed humiliation that had planted itself deeply into a sensitive kid who never talked about it with anyone until it scabbed over. When dredged up it became a story about some other fictional child, to avoid a new humiliation. As we talked on the fellow surrendered to a little telephone counseling and a sympathetic ear.

The cruelty is one every teacher has faced. A child asks to be excused from the class to go to the bathroom. Some children use this request as a dodge to escape the class and teachers who automatically trust such requests are sometimes misled. In this instance the teacher told my caller to sit down and shortly afterward he “peed his pants” in front of the whole class.

At this point my hardened readers will be tempted to gawfaw. Second grade! Fifty years ago! Peeing in ones pants! Honestly!

It wasn’t the only instance of cruelty, there were others. I explained that it was an earlier era and that while there will always be cruel teachers, professionals today weren’t typically the martinets teachers of old could be.

I offered a personal story to demonstrate that I could sympathize with his humiliation. I explained that as kid I had a recurring nightmare about diving into a public swimming pool and losing my swim trunks and having to escape the pool under the gaze of hundreds of people stark naked. This is absolutely the truth. I added that in my elementary school mind I had convinced myself that should this ever happen I had no other option but to kill myself to evade the stigma and ridicule of such a humiliation. This too is true. Today when I repeat this story about myself I tell it as a humorous story, a joke. But when I was ten or twelve I was in dead earnest.

We talked more about the circumstances of Mrs. Cruel’s actions, how it was likely that she was long dead but our conversation and my sympathy had a remarkably therapeutic affect on my grateful caller as he lingered over the indignity from his youth that had been so long repressed. He was certain that it had somehow knocked him off his trajectory in life by taking the starch out of his collar. He confided, as we were talking, that he was in tears. He told me he was astounded that a school board member would take the time to hear him out.

I replied that I would tell his story to others, as I’m doing here, as a way of reminding people, particularly teachers, of the profound impact their every word can have on children. My caller thanked me for this promise.

It was an exceptional call, the first like it I’d taken since I ran for the legislature in 1976 when another fellow had called to complain about his treatment as a youth. But that was a complaint about the legal system. Life is full of injury and injured people. I’ve been lucky.

I’m sure I told the gentleman one of my favorite stories about Abraham Lincoln, probably when we were talking about the additional abuse kids heaped on him for his accident. I told him how in backwoods of 1820 Indiana kids would would torment turtles by placing burning sticks and grass on their shells. Lincoln was known for rescuing turtles when his friends tormented them so. There’s a model of humanity.

Again, if you have not already done it. Check the link to the StoryCorps anecdote.