Pardon my French

I was out and about today and ran across one of the smartest and most knowledgeable non-licensed staff in the Central Administration Building back in my old days on the Board. Having been back to look over the tornado in the administration building from a reorganization this person was non plussed. I joked that it represented the recreation of the near defunct Curriculum Dept. That led to a discussion about the divide between East and West and my comment that big classes are helping teach our kids how to get along better in crowds. It was all that kind of mordant humor. I confessed that the way things were going it seemed inevitable that I would only grow daily to be a bigger pain in the butt.

My friend then sprang a colloquialism on me I’d never heard before (let alone from this class of person) prefacing it with “pardon my French” to let me know what was coming. “I’ve always told people that “you have your shit in one sock.”

Never having heard that phrase I correctly deduced what it meant.

“Yeah,” I replied, “But now I’m swinging it around.”

693 visitors yesterday

If that’s not a daily record number of visitors to my blog its close. I haven’t had numbers like that since I was raising money for the $100,000 bond imposed by the Court on Art Johnston and me back in 2009. I’m sorry. You will all just have to come back since I didn’t finish that post on the Mother of all 709 issues until 3 AM this morning. I had to get up and finish it or I wouldn’t have gotten any sleep last night. (BTW. You can find some of those old posts on raising the bond here on this inquiry for 100,000 bond. Just check the entries for 2009)

I couldn’t fall asleep after the 10 pm news because I made the mistake of looking for an old Op Ed of mine about desegregation. I ended up finding it in my school clipping file. I ended up skimming a bunch of news stories for the years 2008 to 2009. They brought back old memories which I will only be able to exorcise by writing a book. That would or should be this winter’s project.

My brother called this morning to ask me what I’ve been doing lately on the School Board. I told him there wasn’t time to tell him a couple weeks ago. So he called again when he and I both had some free time.

After getting an hour’s earful (just a bare summary) he asked why we didn’t just go demand a data inquiry for the School District’s files. Surely this data is public, he asserted, and we have a fiduciary responsibility as school board members to understand why we have so many kids in our classes.

I told him that’s just what my brother-in-law told me this summer after he got his earful. This in Minnesota I told them both. We don’t like transparency here…..from the Minnesota Dept of Ed or State Auditor on down. Not unless you can get a majority of the Duluth School Board to authorize it…….which is why I told the Superintendent in June I expect to be in the majority after next year’s election….the day before he leveled six nonsense allegations against Art Johnston to remove him from the School Board…….to keep me just that much farther from being in a majority after next year’s election. Or so I hypothesize.

I hope 700 people will get to read that last paragraph today!

The Mother of all ISD 709 Issues…

…was handled scrupulously and extensively by the Tribune on Sunday. I’m going to pull out many paragraphs and insert my own thoughts.

In 2009, a secondary-school boundary extending from Sixth Avenue East up to Kenwood Avenue and Howard Gnesen Rd. and Airport roads was approved by the Duluth School Board as part of the district’s $315 million long-range facilities plan, or Red Plan, … It set in motion a plan to better balance low-income and minority populations of middle and high school students. But since then, gaps in some of those populations have widened between the schools.

Critics of the Red Plan pointed out early on that the new layout for our schools would foster different mixes of racial populations. In response Dr. Dixon postponed a boundary plan until the last possible minute. I don’t believe that any changes in our demographics of consequence took place since the 2010 school year. The Red Plan was destined to end up with the racial division of the population as it currently exists. To quote myself from a DNT column published on April 12, 2008:

“There is only one problem with the red plan that the top dogs have conceded. It will, according to a map sent by the district to the Minnesota Department of Education, split Duluth along 14th Ave. East into rich/poor, high minority/low minority halves. There is a great irony in this and Jaros knows it well. His law originally allowed some building without referenda for, among other reasons, to encourage integration. It’s ironic because the red plan kills our integration program and segregates Duluth. It completely violates the spirit of Jaros’ law. Over time the red plan will impoverish Jaros’s western district as its prosperous residents flee to eastern Duluth. Shiny new schools will not stem this exodus.”

The Duluth school district plans to study changes to elementary school boundaries in an attempt to even out enrollment among those schools — many of which are at capacity. Some residents are asking that the district consider redrawing lines for the secondary schools, too.

Nothing has shocked me as much at this. The Dixon crowd crowed about the great demographic work that took place in preparing the Red Plan. And then when I went to the Think Kids meetings last fall I discovered that in less than three years since the elementary school construction ended most of our new elementary schools were or were soon to be over-crowded. Here’s the map that we passed out. So much for the notion that we could fit Edison kids and other refugees from our schools back into our brand new Red elementary schools when they saw how bright and sparkly they were. In fact, the remaining parents are anguished that their new Duluth schools are overcrowded.

There is a terrible contrast between the timidity of the current school administration to investigate difficult problems today and the boldness of the Dixon Administration to forge ahead eight years ago with a breathtaking building program. For instance, today the District is hiding behind some supposed demographic experts to make critical boundary decisions. These all will involve the aforementioned elementary school boundaries but leave until tomorrow the disastrous secondary problems. I’m unimpressed with taskforceitis. I let that slip in the post preceding this one “my unhelpful sarcasm.” Would that this timidity encourage some restraint in spending our woefully diminished budget reserve which has rather grandly been made to sound as though it is rebounding.

I have nothing to add about the stories headed by bolded subsections on Scheduling and Crowded Classrooms except to note I have always felt that the District began the Red Plan with an impossible pitch claiming that it would save five million dollars a year. Classes of forty plus students suggest, if they don’t outright prove, that our savings was nothing more than laying off teachers that were considered necessary previous to the Red Plan. The near drowning of a middle school student two weeks ago in one of our superlative new monster swimming pools testifies to the necessity of smaller classes. Ah, but Duluth can now host knuckle polishing and pride inducing regional swim meets. A fair trade-off it seems.

As to the Transfer Policy subsection, I should know something about that as I was appointed to that unpopular committee.

But some parents allege that families lie about where a student is living to get into East, suggesting the number of students from the Denfeld boundary area attending East is much higher. Addresses of relatives are used, parents said, and it’s been a practice for years.

However, the appeals I was a part of masked any sneakiness on the part of parents who might have been using false addresses of friends and relatives to move their children to more favored schools in ISD 709. Would people do such a thing? Well, I can only testify that when I served on the School Board eleven and more years ago hockey phenoms were apparently moved to within the Duluth East boundary by numerous means so that good prospects for the often state bound Greyhounds could bump out other longer serving but less skilled East Hockey players.

Why the Loss?

Many students left the school district during the Red Plan, choosing surrounding school districts, and that was felt at Denfeld. That school, in particular, also saw many students go to the district’s Area Learning Center, or drop out. The 2013 drop-out rate is 4.3 percent, but the status of another 2 percent of students that year is unknown; those students simply stopped attending. Last year’s senior class was much smaller than those of previous years.

I’ve harped on the Red Plan exodus for years so its no surprise to me. Still, when I went door to door in Gary and found kids returning on Proctor School Buses with Proctor’s green jerseys it unsettled me.

Perpetuating the divide A study has been commissioned by the school district to research birth rates, demographic and real estate trends and where various age groups live. The point is to help change elementary school boundaries for next school year because many schools are over capacity, and therefore are of immediate concern. While district officials have said secondary schools might be part of the conversation, Gronseth said last week any changes to secondary-school boundaries probably will be a few years down the road. It will depend on study results, he said, and decisions will be based on data.

Yes, by all means let’s wait a couple years to respond to angry Denfeld parents…….again seem my previous post.

Denfeld, with its higher number of low-income students, receives more funding than East per student. It can use that money for smaller class sizes or other student support, “and in some ways, that’s the model we have,” Gronseth said.

My inclination is to cater even more drastically to the Denfeld students with Title One funds and whatever other fiscal resources are available to us. There has been a long unfortunate expectation in Duluth ( and it was in force years before I arrived here forty years ago) that the schools were run by and for elite Eastern Duluthians. A year or two before I got elected there was a Tribune story about how suddenly Denfeld graduates ruled the School Board roost having taken over the majority. Even so, as I discovered during the East Hockey coaching scandal these westerns were intimidated by what they considered the potent political power of Eastern parents.

Today, the way to avoid a civil war is to bend over backward to make sure there is no course work discrimination against Denfeld. Maybe it would be wise to give Denfeld special courses that would entice East Students to transfer westward. Certainly, skyping classes would be one way of addressing the discrepancies in course catalogs.

”If you divide students into groups and provide one with a rich experience and the other, which happens to be mostly low-income and students of color with one less robust, you further perpetuate this divide,” said Bergstrom, who studies equity and is also a district parent.

No kidding! It is for this reason that I have begun my experiment in positive color sightedness. Our minority families need to know that at least one (two counting Art Johnston) of the all-white school board members are on their side.

Ness said he doesn’t believe that boundaries should be changed. Schools with low enrollment should be marketed with a selling point to draw people to them, creating equity by choice rather than force. The idea is similar to a magnet school specializing in, say, music or science. Money could be invested in Denfeld to market it as a school with small class sizes, Ness said, and ensure it had the same offerings as East.

“We are almost leading with the negative, saying it’s not equal,” he said. “But not for every parent. Not for every family. Some families would love to be in a smaller high school that hopefully still provides the same type of programming. If you make those changes, it will naturally grow.”

Ness should be on the School Board. But he isn’t so I’ll have to do.

Gronseth said he has created a task force to look into such ideas.

Great, good idea. Taskforce-itis…….Only I haven’t heard about it……then again, as stated in the previous post, “I’m only a school board member.”

One last thought about our priorities. Let’s hurry up and get rid of the Denfeld area’s elected representative, Art Johnston. That’ll make things so much better. We don’t need any more of his finger pointing.


“my unhelpful sarcasm”

Regarding the $30,000 to $40,000 contract to analyse Duluth’s student population:

Dear Ms. Harala, Ms. Loeffler-Kemp, Mr. Welty, and Mr. Miernicki:

We are contacting you today as the at large representatives for
ISD709; Board Chair, and ISD 709 District #1 representative.

Stacey Stark is the Director of the Geospatial Analysis Center (GAC)
and Laure Charleux is the Director of the GIS program at UMD.

We are concerned by what we read in the Duluth News Tribune on September 17, 2014 regarding the hiring of an out-of-state contractor
for the analysis of the ISD 709 school boundaries.

As professionals very familiar with the technical process of the boundary analysis, we know the $10,000 cost of the “address locator” service is extremely high. This process will require that the contractor obtain street data from the City of Duluth with accurate address ranges (the City has already invested in the development of these data). There is publicly available data for the streets outside of the City of Duluth that is quite accurate, and the contractor should not need to purchase any data. The City of Duluth, UMD Geospatial Analysis Center, and at least two GIS firms in Duluth could complete the process of address location (aka “geocoding”) for 9000 addresses at a much, much lower cost.

Furthermore, as members of the public school community we believe that this work should be contracted regionally. GAC has worked in the past for congressional redistricting and ISD 2142 school bus routing. While the demographic analysis for population and enrollment projections can be quite complex, we are concerned that taxpayer money should not need to leave the State in order to conduct this work. How was the bidding process conducted? There are many talented regional consultants, including GAC, that would have welcomed an opportunity to bid on the project or at least to offer consultation on the selection of a contractor, given the technical nature of this project. A good part of the work involves non-controversial data collection and integration. GAC and its services were brought to the attention of our Superintendent in early September.

The information we have regarding this contract consists only of what was published in the DNT on September 9 and 17, and we could find no more information on the District web site. Please reassure us that District policies regarding contract work have been followed, and that the contract has been vetted by professionals familiar with this type of work. In the future, please don’t forget about regional talent and expertise for ISD 709 needs.


Stacey Stark and Laure’ Charleux

To which I replied:

Harry Welty
3:17 PM (14 minutes ago)

Stacey and Laure,

I am sorry that I missed this email when you sent it. Art Johnston and I expressed misgivings about this contract. To my knowledge it was not bid out. I am not surprised that we have local talent which could evaluate our demographics. I did not know that anyone locally suggested that we have local professionals evaluate our demographic inequities. Then again. I’m only a school board member. I’ll be sending this email to all Board members to share my unhelpful sarcasm.


Mike Miernicki and I go back a long way to my brief time as a substitute teacher in the early 1980’s, so I take little pleasure in needling his work as chair of the School Board. I remember Mike fondly as Duluth East’s Activities Director and some friendly chats about what my School Board did in my first incarnation as a school board member. It was an Era of tremendous distrust between teachers and the Board whipped up by the leaders of the DFT. The creation of the Edison charter was a last straw. Mike took the union’s side and though he never rebuked me for Edison’s coming he did let me know that it was one of the things I’d done that he took exception to.

Year’s before in my own forays into teacher’s lounges I had come to realize just how mysterious the School Board’s workings seemed to teachers. Were Superintendents Svengali’s? Did school board members have a clue? Why did they have it out for teachers? These seemed to be the dominant views. I got elected a few years before the Internet and I had always had a yen to explain what elected bodies did up close to take away that mystery. Once I set up my own Website I had a chance to make these mysteries less mysterious. Of course, I was the writer. I had my own agenda and my descriptions of events did not always accord with all other Board members. Some balked at my revealing the sausage making aspect of politics. Superintendent Almanza asked me, for some of my fellow board members, to please desist from writing in my webpage about School Board activities but to no avail. Even now two Board members have told me they would prefer that I stop blogging.

I think the word that describes what teachers think of the School Board is “Machiavellian.” In the biggest blow up concerning Mike Miernicki, in my last year on the old Board, we hashed over what to do with the East Hockey coach. (BTW, in my estimation the result inadvertently led to the Red Plan.) Mike, was a blade of grass in that titanic struggle between elephants. He just wanted to avoid being trampled. It makes me wonder to what extent he took his sense of the power of rampant School Board members to heart once he joined the herd. As the Chair he has felt free to protect his majority from the depredations of Art Johnston and me. I know he thinks he’s looking out for the interests of the District but Art and I got elected last year with the full knowledge and understanding of the people who voted. I think its only fair to say a lot of people, perhaps a majority, want our Red Plan skepticism to be given voice. Our voters would not appreciate Mike’s Miernikivellian attempts to hush us let alone threaten to remove Art with a fishy set of allegations.

Just how far Mike has been willing to step on the rights of the minority became even clearer at our last school board meeting. It’s not enough to count on five to two votes to defeat our motions, we must be denied the opportunity to place issues of concern to us on the agenda. For those who do not have the stomach to watch the three dreary hours of the September Board meeting on Youtube Loren Martell has provided a fine synopsis in the Duluth Reader. He’s patiently transcribed some of the minority’s plaints on agenda setting in his column. Here’s a rather long excerpt: Continue reading

Me, the fourth black school board member in Duluth History.

The glorious week of mild autumnal weather continues. I put another eight hours on the ladder yesterday painting under my eves. Today I’ll put in three more hours with a final coat of latex paint and then hopefully enjoy the weather the rest of the day. It reminds me of the weather in southern Minnesota when my Dad was laid to rest. It was one of those years when the fall colors popped out like mad. It was so fitting. As a kid he used to put us in the car and drive us to little Hiawatha, Kansas, which had sugar maples planted all over town to take in the Red leaves against the Blue sky.

Next year I’ll have about five weeks worth of work to finish the painting judging by the two weeks I put in this Fall to deal with the worst of the pealing paint.

I’m not counting about an hour of time I spent on the phone when it rang in my pocket and I climbed down to conduct school related conversations. The first was from one of the black folks I accosted earlier and handed my school board business card. This person had been a little skeptical when we spoke but had spoken to other African-Americans since and passed on my phone number. Additionally this person had checked with his/her father in town and had him check me out. We chatted for almost an hour. Later I got a call related to the EEAC committee meeting and had another long cordial conversation.

Nineteen years ago I helped elect Duluth’s second black school board member Mary Cameron. I wouldn’t have had the temerity to take on the task of speaking for Duluth’s black or minority population then with Mary as a more authentic representative. Today I feel like I must wrap the mantle of Bill Clinton around myself. You remember him? The nation’s “first black president.” I need to do it in case Art Johnston is removed from the school board.

After I finish this and another post I’m going to begin jotting down the details I can recall with the five encounters I’ve had with black residents so far. I added a fifth one to the list at 4:30 this morning at a gas and convenience store. I need to start keeping a record of these meetings for future reference. At some point I’ll get beyond the merely anecdotal phase even if I fall short of statistical certainty about the condition of our minorities in Duluth.

Quorum Call

I’ll start with the good news. Yesterday I got far enough in my house painting so that today will be the last day I have to fuss around with oil based primer. If the good weather holds out I’ll be able to finish up tomorrow by covering over the worst of the paint damage from last winter with a nice coat of latex paint. Simple water and soap clean up.

Then I attended the EEAC meeting. My notes from the meeting are in my car along with a bunch of three ring binders that were left in the Administrative Office hallway with a sign saying recycle/re-purpose. The offices are all being changed around because of an administrative reorganization and the Board room is all higgledy-piggledy with old office equipment that will soon be auctioned off.

The key word in EEAC is one of the E’s – “Equity.” That is the new word that the Red Plan unleashed to make sure that East High got its own stadium while Denfeld got the worst testing scores for minorities in its history. The old word, in what amounts to the same committee, was “Deseg,” short for Desegregation. Desegregation is out of favor now which accounts for the name change. Like a rose by any other name it still smells the same but I don’t think I would describe the order as a fragrance.

I’d describe the committee as being a little like Alice Roosevelt Longworth. She was Teddy Roosevelt’s eldest and most ornery child. Years after her Father’s death she made the comment that she would rather vote for Hitler for President than her fifth cousin Franklin. Teddy said of her that he could either run the United States or manage Alice. He chose the government. I think that is how a long line of Superintendents have operated with this committee.

When I was on the Board eighteen years ago I was blessedly unable to attend its meetings except in the Summer when our church choir was on hiatus. That’s because it met on Wednesdays during the year when our choir practice also took place. My recollection of the few Deseg meetings that I did attend is that they were always having trouble getting quorums to make decisions. Its membership, those not discouraged by its disorganization, were culled from various minorities in an arcane process determined by bylaws that made the Committee look a little like the Lebanese Government. Like Lebanon that make up has led to civil war. Different minorities got different numbers of votes on the committee due to whim, apparently. Things hadn’t improved judging by last night.

Like Deseg, Equity isn’t sure what its rules are; what money it can spend; whose in charge and what’s on second. One of the big discussion points had to do with why it couldn’t spend money on meals for its meetings any more. Its different minorities seem to be in a state of tension with different goals. Predictably it took an hour for its quorum to materialize. I’m not sure it ever did because I might have been counted as part of it despite the fact that I’m not Art Johnston’s alternate and Art was missing. The quorum left after about an hour and a half when three members from one ethnic group looked at each other and left together with apologies. The crux of the meeting, testing results showing how inadequately our district has addressed the needs of minority students, were passed out when the Committee was down to about three of the necessary eight members for a quorum……I think they were counting me.

I can’t do much about the School Board at this point and I’m not a member of Equity which seems to match the Board’s dysfunction. But Equity is not Alice Roosevelt. Its part of our school government. If we want to give our minority students (or free and reduce lunch kids if you want a non-ethnic characterization) a leg up, we will need Equity in the District whether it comes from this committee or not.

Axe me no questions….shame on me

Tuesday was beautiful. I planned on going to Myers-Wilkins Elementary in the late afternoon but I just kept scraping old paint and priming woodwork under my eves until 6:30. I put in an 8 and a half hour day and my shoulder complained loudly. Still is. That’s despite my taking all of the morning and early afternoon off yesterday to chaperon my grandson’s preschool class on a trip to the Woodland Hills Farm. We took DTA buses there with dozens of UMD students. They got a kick out of our crew.

I’ll be outside priming (ugh, oil paint) before noon today and will keep working until about 5 when the District committee that we used to call the Deseg Committee meets. I’ve not been to one of the meetings yet. With all my finger’s yammering about minorities lately I’m overdue to show up.

I’ve got at least three days worth of work outside on the painting project before I can quit knowing that the most desperate work has been completed. I’ve told Art Johnston that once that is done I can finally turn my attention to the Duluth Schools and the muddle our Board is making of things. Since none of the Board members seem willing to meet with me and since the Chair has told me that Art is responsible for the unnecessary legal costs our Board has inflicted upon him and his partner I’ll have to start raising money for Art. Oh the tales I will be able to share. In some ways it will be the unfortunate early stages of next year’s school board election. We’re just a hair behind the Mayoral race now that Howie Hanson’s thrown his hat into the ring and given Don Ness the gallop under his saddle to ride into a new day.

Finishing my painting will free me up to blog more just as the march into the void by our Board is prompting me to blog more vociferously. If it becomes apparent that the Board will be at loggerheads for the next year I intend to write some sort of cathartic book about the dysfunctionality of our schools. Hope to get it done well before the election. Maybe I could hawk it at the next Minnesota School Board Association conference. It would sort of be a how not to book. Others could learn from our mistakes.

I’m also chewing on the latest kick in the pants from my buddy who had this to say about my latest post on the condition of African Americans. The kick went almost all the way up to my dentures:

I suspect that you have answered my question. Your comment was an example of race hustling. Shame on you. America is not “choking” on Obama. Some people voted for him because of the color of his skin, and some people voted against him because of the color of his skin, but he was elected, and he remains president. I suspect that this also is or would be true of McCain, but America hasn’t choked on him, either. Some people might be more critical of Obama because of the color of his skin, but I suspect that some people are more forgiving of his shortcomings because of the color of his skin. I suspect that this was also true of previous presidents, and would be true of McCain if he had become president. Thus, it’s bullshit to say that “America is still choking on its first black president”. As an American who would have preferred Condi Rice for president, instead of Obama or McCain, I resent your race hustling bullshit.

Your words, which I quoted and of which I have been critical, don’t even deserve to be characterized as metaphor. They are simply race hustling bullshit.

Shame on the people who discriminate on the basis of race, and shame on race hustlers.

Shame on you.

As I painted on Tuesday I thought it might be a fun challenge to my buddy to have a long series of debates/dialogues on race. I’m not so certain now. That race hustling accusation was a new but honest low. My buddy’s putting me in the same league as Jesse Jackson who used his operation PUSH in Chicago as a blackmailing operation to squeeze money out of corporations to avoid accusations of racism or Elijah Muhammed who’s Black Muslims got into the White people as the devil mindset, or Al Sharpton who many of us will never forgive for his role in hyping the Tawanna Brawley Hoax.

If I am a race hustler I’m a pretty stupid one. Duluth’s voting population is perhaps 5% African American, if they all vote. I stand to offend a lot more people like my buddy who are older and white and who are still defensive whenever anyone suggests they haven’t quite met Dr. King’s test of racial colorblindness.

As I explained in a recent post I’m sixty-three and have seen a lot of history without doing any thing much to live up to the Declaration of Independence, or the Gettysburg Address. That’s a pretty poor track record for a guy who claims to revere Abe Lincoln. So, if race hustling is what I’ve been doing expect to see a lot more of it. And Buddy, I am grateful for your many emails over the past. They have kept my mind in fighting trim. However, I’m pretty busy now, so I think I’ll start skipping a lot more of your emails again for my peace of mind.

Axe me no questions again, again,

I woke up a week ago thinking about the DWB posts (here’s the first) and the learning gap in Duluth Schools and six years worth of posts that I categorize as “civil rights.” I’m 63 years old. I went to an integrated elementary school in Topeka, Kansas embarrassed by the 1954 Supreme Court ruling and now, sixty plus years later, America is still choking on its first black president (half white Kansan by the by) and the rationalization that 300 years of history is not our fault. OK. So, what is a sixty-three year old fart supposed to do about it all?

I was handed a couple hundred business cards when I got on the School Board again. I had to make my own the first time I got elected. I made two versions. The first one grimly quoted the philosopher Santayana “Those who do not know history are condemned to repeat it.” That was a nod to the recent Statutory Operating Debt problem that made the District bankrupt in the early 90’s. Then I made up a new batch with the optimistic lyric of a big band Era song, “You’ve gotta Accentuate the positive.” I would have fit right in with today’s happy talk crowd.

The District’s new business cards are safe. No slogans. They also include my District email address but I prefer to have people contact me on my personal email in case Big Brother is watching. Nonetheless, the cards do have my personal cell number and they were a freebie for me. They do little good wasting away in a drawer.

So I woke up and thought about how we are not the color blind society that sounded so good to a liberal back in the Days of Lyndon Johnson. No, our eyes can pretty quickly discern someone afflicted with too much melanin. So are most Police. Knowing that street drugs come from big cities and are often distributed by the melanin afflicted there is a strong temptation to let the victims of this debilitating social disease know that they are being watched carefully. Its not prejudice really. Look at Carlson the synthetic drug king of Duluth. We took him out too. Ah, but if you are a black parent with a black child learning to drive…….I think galling is the word that fits best.

Well, I’ve got an affliction too. I’m fully sighted :(although with corrective lenses, and not colorblind. Furthermore, I can see African American features at a glance. Additionally when I hear African Americans say AXE instead of ASK I make all sorts of assumptions about their shortcomings.

I wondered as I woke up what I might learn if I acted on my disability and started walking up to African Americans in Duluth to introduce myself, hand out my ISD 709 School Board business card and say something like: “Hi, I’m Harry Welty. I am a member of the Duluth School Board. This will sound a little odd but since we have not been doing a great job giving our minority children the education they deserve I decided to introduce myself to African Americans I saw on the street. Please take my business card in case you or any of your friends have any concerns that you would like to share with me.”

Since I woke up with this idea I’ve actually acted on it four times and will continue doing so. Its pretty awkward but I figure I’ll get better at it, kind of like when I go door to door in a political campaign. Within a few days I always come up with a natural patter after knocking on a couple dozen doors.

The first person I spoke to was a graduate of Central High from about six years ago. He thought we should make school more fun. I agree. We need to give a lot more tests. On the second occasion I talked to two woman who turned out to be medical professionals from Africa working for local hospitals. The third time I talked to a woman from South Dakota who had a white South Dakota boyfriend. She told me that she’s gotten some grief for being a traitor to the race. Finally, I climbed down from my ladder yesterday and unnerved a poor middle school student who I thought might be a college kid waiting for the bus. She gripped my business card with a look that said. “Momma told me never to talk to strange men.” Had I realized I was looking at a sixth or seventh grader I would never have bothered her. I’d forgotten that good old East High is a middle school now.

Maybe you can call what I’m inflicting on Duluth’s black (for now) residents a PWB, “politicked while black.” Its probably scarier than a DWB.

“corn seeds”

I spent the afternoon scraping paint off the windows of my house…….after replacing the pulley on my two stage ladder. Just as well. I already posted a heavy duty blog rumination. I don’t want to post too many of them in any single day or my eight loyal readers won’t be able to keep up.

Here’s something light to finish the day.

Claudia posted this picture to Facebook. Its the farm set that our grandsons have played with forever. Its why when the little one, Jake, met a real farmer he told his grandmother her cousin Kent didn’t look like a farmer. Must have been the hat and bib overalls. The post came with a note from Jake to his grandmother’s cousin:

Farmer Kent Johnson and farmer Marcia thank you for growing food and letting me have fun on the farm. From Jacob.

In a separate note Claudia told her cousin:

Jacob told me the silo was full of corn seeds. He then kept dropping all of his little people into the top so they could roll around in the corn.

This is the same family that asked Claudia about me and my voodoo.

Half an ugly meeting’s impartial observer.

There are some wonderful folks in Duluth and one is Karl Schuettler who I’ve blogged about before. After a short stint back in his hometown Karl is off getting a graduate degree. While he was back he punished himself without pity for the last year by attending school board meetings and blogging about them. Unlike me, Karl is a meticulous and tidy writer. No typos from him. Here’s his email to me and my reply back.

On Sat, Sep 20, 2014 at 7:41 PM, Karl Schuettler wrote:

Hey Harry,

I was feeling a bit under the weather this morning, so I decided to check up on your blog for the first time in a while, and I read your account of the miserable meeting and wondered if it could really have been that bad. So I made the mistake of trying to watch the Youtube video, though I did not finish. Ugh, how brutal. 

A few comments here, after I talk about golf courses for a bit:

Who was the crank in the Annie Harala suit sitting behind the dais? That was ugly, and everything went off the rails after that. I’d mostly liked her before, and I didn’t think your preceding comments were bad at all, especially given what else gets said in that room. At least Marcia Stromgren wasn’t unbearable. All sorts of surprises in the Board Room!

You have my continued sympathy. At least the Board majority’s antics are really upping your odds of finding some allies in the next election.

All the best,

My reply:

Thank you Karl, Your post will be linked to in my blog. As always its fair and insightful.

I’ll cut Annie some slack. She wants to be part of the happy talk and I don’t blame her. If it was justified I’d much prefer it too. I don’t know if you caught it but when Art was ranting about his treatment again Annie said, off microphone, that she witnessed his behavior. I emailed her a reply that said I saw a lot of it too and it was not worth a bullet point on the list of allegations against Art. I also laid out the duplicitous and unseemly side of Art’s accuser. That could get me in trouble since the info is probably protected in some fashion but the more unhappy I get the more I’m willing to spread the filth. What an awful off-puting thing to admit.

Annie is a young idealist and this can’t be easy for her.


Its not the colonscopy I hate

My Buddy is on my case because I’ve posted several title only posts:


There is nothing there.

Your Buddy

Yup, A couple nights ago I tried a new strategy to keep me on track. I’ve done it before for a single post occasionally – just typed in a title which I planned to address in the next day or two. Only this time I typed in four or five of the ideas that have been jangling around in my head. The last week’s posts, a fraction of what has been on my mind, have been showing up randomly. I’m trying to follow that idea from my friend who was an expert on organization. She told me that when you have a big project just break it up into little chunks and work on them. Don’t stop just because there is so much left to do. Just keep doing bite sized pieces and whittle the big job down until its done. (Well, that’s my paraphrase of the advice). Continue reading

What Jefferson said about equal treatment

A recent email correspondent thanked me and asked me how I make it though school board meetings like our last one. On Fri., Sept 19 I explained how:

I get through the meeting because folks like you give me some hope that I may be an exception to Twain’s appraisal of school boards.

My correspondent replied:

Well, you can throw back at Mern with his insistence of kids filling out the same form with Thomas Jefferson’s quote:

There is nothing more unequal than the equal treatment of unequal people.”

Later she emailed one more gem:

In the signature of all of my district emails was another quote by George Evans to remind people our students are not little conforming robots:

Every student can learn, just not on the same day, or the same way.
George Evans

Axe me no questions….again

When I wrote the first post by this title it was after an hour of waking in bed planning a dozen related posts about minorities and their existence in Duluth and our schools. It was too big to deal with at the time and I never got around to explaining that AXE.

I’ll explain the axe and a new project of mine shortly. I need some coffee and to look at the morning paper. I’ve got to get my debris piles in jigsaw order first.

How I solve Jigsaw Puzzles

Every year since my children were little Claudia and I have tried to find a jigsaw puzzle to put together around the Christmas Season. Most of them have been purchased on vacations and show something related to our travels. Last year I bought two while we traveled in the Badlands. One at Mt. Rushmore depicted a map of the US almost obscured by hundreds of bits of info on the 45 presidents of the US their homes and important events and places during their terms of Office. The other was a grand painting of four great Indian Chiefs painted over a background of Mt. Rushmore and representing, for the artist, the Native American equivalent of Rushmore.

That reminds me. We haven’t gotten a puzzle yet for this year. No big vacation just a lot of little excursions. Maybe I’ll go on line and find something. Continue reading

An ugly School Board meeting

I’d hoped that last Tuesday’s meeting (youtubed here) would end by nine so that I could watch the third episode of the Roosevelt’s from the beginning. The Meeting took three hours which clipped off the first half hour of the program. It was a pretty ugly meeting. I began it with a question to the Chair asking upon what Parliamentary authority he prevented non majority board members from placing subjects on the agenda for discussion. After a number of minutes of fruitless discussion we moved on with no explanation.

At about 1:22 (one hour and 22 minutes) Member Harala told me that she was tired of my grandstanding and explained that she understood I felt like a martyr. I had just “pontificated” about the deplorable testing results for minorities and complained once again that Art and I had no ability to place items on the agenda.

As I type this I’m listening to the meeting on youtube in the background. Its a kind of torture. I already lived it once. So far 46 people have watched some part of this meeting on youtube. One of them listened to the whole shebang and sent me a couple emails which included these comments:

I just had the opportunity to watch the school board meeting on youtube… 

…the meeting has left me yelling at my computer.  This board takes things too literally and too personally.  Facts are misheard, interpreted wrongly, and talking about the achievement gap does not mean that anyone is doing anyone about it.  Stats don’t lie.  We have ignored minority populations in favor of hoping our white kids can carry the district before you break down the data.  

*Linda Puglisi 3… ago missed my son, who was held under the water in the Morgan Park pool against his will by a sneaky student who was evading detection by the teacher on purpose.  And NOW the board is going to do something just because my son was able to come up to the surface before passing out and did not require medics coming to the pool?   Makes me see exactly how sad our education system continually refuses to see the students behind the spreadsheets and budgets. 

*Someone take away Rosie’s pom-poms to her cheerleader outfit, and give her a shovel and pail.  She needs to show how things are changing…. not just brag about how things are being talked about.  And no, we don’t need to filter what the public hears.  That is exactly what is WRONG with the SYSTEM.  

* Mike can say both schools [East and West] have the same registration forms.  

However, the STATISTICS of a population that is almost twice as big as the other school suggests that the OPPORTUNITY TO HAVE A CLASS is GREATER at the school with the bigger population.  
A percentage of students could sign up for the same class at both high schools.  Say 2% want to take Norwegian.  2% of 950 is a lot smaller number than 2% of 1790.  (for those math challenged, that will be 19 students at the smaller high school to 35 students at the bigger school.  The bigger school would get the class because there is enough students to support the cost of a teacher for one period.  The 19 students would lose out because the district cannot afford to have a class with only 19 students.  

It is simple math.  And demonstrates inequities.

I don’t know how you get through a meeting without a maximum amount of Valium.

My trip to Barnes and Noble

School Board work is putting a dent in my book reading this year. At the moment I’m reading a new novel out loud on Claudia’s Kindle to her that was just awarded the Mann Booker prize. Its the equivalent of the Pulitzer for the nations of the British Commonwealth. Its called the Narrow Road to the Deep North. I’ve read several dozen books to Claudia by now. She’s got about twenty books assigned to her this semester for her seminary classes and I’m running around like a chicken with my head cut off so its a challenge to find time to read. Still I’m about twenty percent of the way through it.

Claudia is a much better book reader than I am. A week ago I was reading the list of the 200 “best” American Novels to her after hearing about them on Public Television. As I read them she ticked off 47 that she remembered having read. She loses track of the books she’s read so I’m sure she passed the 25% mark. She told me of how when she was in grade school a teacher asked her class how many books the children thought they should read each summer. The teacher called on her and she told her thirty books. The teacher was a little astonished. If I read three in a year I was doing well. There has been much fear that kids aren’t reading books but that seems not to be the case in this story I read the other day.

As I have gotten closer to devoting this next year to nonstop school board activity I’ve forced myself to stop and smell the roses a couple times. I went out and hunted for agates last week on Park Point for an afternoon. I used to do this all the time. Now its a luxury. Wednesday I went to Barnes and Nobel and shopped for books. I hadn’t meant to buy any but I just wanted to walk the aisles. I found a marked down book on Prez Coolidge and decided to look on the Amazon site to see it reviewers gave it good ratings. They were so I bought it. Then I looked through the History aisle and found one on Lincoln from an interesting point of view, The Presidents’ War. The point of the book intrigued me. It was about the five living former presidents at the time of the Civil War and how they acted as the war went on. Some were Southerners, some Unionists and most played a role of some sort long after their presidencies. I’ve always had trouble remember the presidents between Jackson and Buchanan and I thought this might help me remember them.

The prize purchase of the day, however, was the complete Calvin and Hobbes. I read these cartoons to my children when they were little. Its time I read them to my grandsons. Claudia scolded me because she thinks the cartoons made our son a cynic. I say Tosh to that…….Actually, I was the first of us to suggest that. I guess I say “Tosh” to the possibility I will turn my grandsons into cynics. Hobbes was so lovable. I had to order them by mail from the store. They arrived today. Its like picking up a bar of gold. I can’t wait to read it to them.