Dismantling Art Johnston – Part 2 for real this time.

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Martin Luther King Jr.

I’ve just finished a 3000 plus word tome for this post. Forgive me but I want to proof read it before I upload it tomorrow. In the meantime take a look at a couple typical pages in the redacted document that the Duluth News Tribune’s editors put so much faith in so as to demand that Art Johnston resign.

Dismantling Art Johnston – Part 2

Hang on…….I haven’t finished that editorial abortion yet. I figure I’ll be spending much of this day with my flying fingers rather than my grandsons who are over to play with me today. Blast you Duluth News Tribune. Double blast you.

Oh, and I recommend anyone reading these posts as I crank them out begin reading them at Part 1 in the series.

Its 3:09. You’ve waited long enough. Sorry, but you will have to wait longer. I went to church. Sang in the choir. Talked to half a dozen puzzled church folks one of whom told me he visited my blog for the first time yesterday – Thanks News Tribune. Went to lunch and told my grandsons I couldn’t go swimming with them. I’ve been organizing a ton of paperwork. I still haven’t gotten past the first sentence of that Editorial. Art called and I gave him five minutes. He told me it doesn’t get any better.

For those of you who feel I’ve left you hanging I’ll insert this email I just opened and my reply. Then I’ll get to work again and post when I see the whites of their eyes. That’s a joke. I feel like one of those gnats I used to let crawl on my eyeballs when I was a kid because it tickled. All I see right now is white………..and red.

On Sun, Nov 30, 2014 at 1:00 PM, ********* wrote:

Mr. Welty,

I hope you won’t overlook or refuse to name the actions of the Duluth School District and the Duluth News Tribune as the bullying activities that they are.  Mr. Johnston has many supporters as evidenced by his recent re-election.  That the District as well as the local rag are using their forums to imply or declare otherwise is disgusting.  

Further, by devoting the time and energy of the Board to trying to get rid of Art Johnston they are not devoting that time to the service of the children and parents to whom they were elected to serve.  Perhaps more appropriately discipline should be meted out to those who are not doing what they were elected to do.


My Reply


I absolutely will point out the actions that have lead to this debacle in the making. And Amen to your last conclusion. It remains to be seen if this is the worst school board in Duluth history. Its closing in on the rubber stamp boards who put 35 kids in our secondary classrooms by transferring ten million a year from our local levy from the classroom into Red Plan bond payments. That’s one Central annually for the next twenty years. We need twenty more Centrals to sell to make up for this educational crime.


Dismantling Art Johnston – Part 1

New readers may have read far enough back in my posts to see that I’m preparing to dismantle, Mary Rice, the attorney hired by the School Board over my loud objections to investigate six flimsy accusations hurled at my sometimes ornery colleague Art Johnston. I’ve likened the charges as so much mud thrown against the barn wall to see what sticks. Mud is hardly the right noun for what’s been thrown at Art.

I also recently said that I was tempted to reveal the kind of “protected” private personnel data that could get me in hot water if I haven’t already hinted enough at it to have crossed that line. Oh yes. I already inadvertently released a possible price for Central High School. That was yesterdays’ front page story. I’m not talking about that. Hell the reporter felt it was public and was prepared to file an information request for it. That’s not the kind of data I’m talking about. We will find out in a few days whether I’ve scotched the deal or not. What I’m talking about is one of the issues that some have told me is not relevant – the thuggish treatment of School Board member Johnston’s mate in an effort to punish Art Johnston for his annoying demand for more information about why our schools are short of money, teachers, students and overextended in terms of debt.

After reading the first sentence of today’s gross overreaction to the investigative report I can see I’ll have to spend some time defending Art not just from the gullibility and/or cupidity of Mary Rice but against a long held grudge by the Editorial staff at the Duluth News Tribune who have been almost as irritated by Art as the pro-Red Plan supporters on the Duluth School Board. What is that sentence?

“The thoroughly researched and independent investigation into allegations against Duluth School Board member Art Johnston was damning enough.”

With a lead above that first sentence that reads: “Johnston can do the right thing and step down.” its no mystery where this editorial is headed. They’ve mopped up Mary Rice’s mud and have passed judgement on it and are about to offer it up to their readers as a justification for getting rid of the Board’s conscience and the Tribune’s gad fly.

The first great gadfly was Socrates and his critics condemned him to death by drinking hemlock. They hoped he’d run away because their charges against Socrates were dubious. Socrates’s avid student Plato made mincemeat of the the judges years later in one of his famous treatises. I can’t wait that long.

I’ll soon read the rest of the editorial in preparation for heaping more abuse on it but first I’ll note I’ve been a little worried about the reply to the Trib that Art Johnston told me he was going to put in the paper. As always I find that Art’s words are surprisingly cogent. A few nuances aside I agree with everything Art has written. So let me conclude this introduction to the dismantling of Art Johnston, that has been orchestrated by a huge cabal of Johnston haters, by inserting the best commentary on this yellow press lynching that was written in a letter-to-the-editor by George Hovland at the beginning of this sorry saga:

Reader’s view: Johnston pays steep price for democratic dissent
By George Hovland

As a taxpaying Duluthian with a strong prejudice against Bill Gronseth, the worst but among-the-highest-paid schools superintendents in Duluth history, I can only say, the “investigation” of School Board member Art Johnston for as yet largely undefined offenses could not be further off the mark (Our View/Duluth School Board: “Is investigation really necessary?” June 13).

If any charges should be leveled at anyone, they should be directed at the two bringing the accusations against Johnston for their inability to function within the protocols expected and for their failure to realize that dissent is a function of democratic institutions. Gronseth and company may not appreciate the importance of a minority opinion among School Board members, but those of us who are still troubled by the divisive outcomes of the Red Plan certainly appreciate our voice on the board. Johnston has represented those of us who felt the plan was too expensive and that it increased racial and financial disparities in our community rather than being the “fix” it was touted to be.

Knowing Johnston as an honest professional who asks probing questions of the board’s actions, as his oath and obligations mandate, I think we should honor and applaud him. Further, if we consider him as a partner defending his highly qualified significant other, who with love and infinite patience has worked with challenged children at Duluth East High School, his defense of her should be an example for all of us.

As the presumed leader, Gronseth, because of the actions against Johnston and his partner, allowed the wrong message to be sent to the public that pays him and, more importantly, to the students learning life lessons in our schools.

George Hovland

Welcome new readers – Pt 2

I’m listening to National Public Radio as I type now. Its the background of much of my life. I was about to begin this post with a link to the story about the “three fingered salute” from the blockbuster novel/movie trilogy Hunger Games. It seems that the heroine’s salute to her fellow rebels fighting a corrupt regime in a dystopian future has been sweeping the world. As a result police have been arresting students who have flashed the salute to show their distaste for autocratic leaders. If you have read my blog for long enough you can guess where I was going with this.

When I looked for the story on the NPR webpage I noticed a lot of other interesting stories but jumped to this one first. Its about how it might make sense to run schools for older children like good preschools. The day-dreamy, eclectic in me couldn’t agree more with this premise:

the best tack is to hold entire schools accountable for creating atmospheres that instill or support these qualities. This can be done using tools like school climate surveys and sharing the information publicly.

So What?

So, for seven years Duluth has been engaged in an experiment with our children. The theory has been that by building the best school buildings we can improve our children’s education. This blog has to a large extent been hijacked by this program as have our schools.

You can see the long list to the right of issues I’ve devoted blog posts to over the past eight and a half years on Lincolndemocrat. I’m also an eclectic a word I fell in love with back in junior high. I’m interested in everything and that means I’m interested in education whereby everything is dealt with. Sadly, for the past six months of the Art Johnston “investigation” I felt more like offering a three fingered salute to our school board. That certainly helps explain the gratification my fellow board members are feeling to have a reason to tsk over my front page story on the Trib today. I’m just getting a three fingered salute back, one I clearly deserve.

But that doesn’t address our classrooms with 35 and more kids in them. Art Johnston can’t get that off his mind and I believe it led one administrator to exact revenge on him by tormenting his partner of 14 years. That made Art angry and we now are considering what to do about it. Educating our children. Heck, who has time to talk about that?

I like pre schools cuz I’m still a little kid at heart. I am looking forward to next week when I will be the narrator at my youngest grandson’s pre school’s holiday extravaganza. The originally scheduled narrator had a conflict so I got a worried call from the school asking if I could fill in. You betcha I can. I’ll probably get to perform my duties in front of ISD 709’s new breath of fresh air, Dr. Mike Kary. He is having to rebuild the Curriculum Dept which was scrapped to pay for the Red Plan. I bumped into him at Jake’s school when he was picking up his child after work just as I was picking up Jake.

I quote Mark Twain’s idiot story ad nauseum. Long before I heard it, however, I vividly recall his depiction of a one room school with an imperious teacher. Its been fifty years since I read this so forgive me if I’ve got the details wrong. As I recall Tom Sawyer got some measure of revenge when he climbed above the ceiling and looked down at the pedant’s toupee. He lowered a fishing line and managed to hook it and slowly reeled it off the teacher’s head. As with Mary’s little lamb it made the children laugh and play and probably led to a good hiding for Sawyer.

That was one of many three fingered salutes to education from Twain.

I had a lot of other posts lined up in my head to greet my new readers. (Thank you DNT. In my world bad news is better than no news and this is the first time my blog has been mentioned in the Trib since its inception – at least by the Trib’s staff. (The funny thing is that the reporter felt this was a legitimate news piece that she was ready to file an information request to get. Ironically I disagreed with her – for just this once) Having my blog mentioned is a coup even if its name wasn’t written out. That’s OK. My stats page tells me that one of the most common ways my blog is Googled is simply as “Harry Welty blog.”) I just don’t have time for other posts however. I need to spend the day and days ahead reviewing all the nonsense in the Mary Rice report for our meeting Tuesday. It should be fun.

Before I leave you I will point once again to something that ties into the NPR story. Reading it reminded me of a story that I think I read in one of the the People’s Almanacs published in the 1970’s. It was about a German noblemen who decided to teach his child as though the boy was a machine from toddler hood on. The child was expected to behave from morning noon and night as though he was a computer being programmed. As you might imagine the result was a very messed up young man. I tried googling for it but came up empty. I just hope that our teachers who are trying to teach with ten extra kids in our classrooms don’t have to resort to such mechanistic methods to get through their days. Can you imagine trying to be an English teacher and having to read 5 times 35 essays in a sitting?

What I found instead was a PDF by some fellow who turns out to be an education guru who leads the New American Academy. Here’s a summary of his thesis. It was about how the American education system was modeled after the rigid Prussian Educational system which was designed to make children good little citizens for labor and industry. Here’s a thoughtful eight-minute video about Horace Mann and the industrial model. Its meant to scare the living daylights out of you. It begins with a great quote by Twain, “I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.”

Amen to that!

Welcome new readers – Pt 1

After making the front page of the Trib today, for putting the sale of ISD 709’s albatross the Central High School property in jeopardy, an old fan wrote me an email to buck me up. You can read that after my reply to the fan which was as follows:

Aw *******,

Thanks for that but I screwed up and I have to take my lumps. Fortunately for me I can do it in pretty good humor. Heck, my blog will get a bunch of new readers. That’s fine with me. Its where folks can see the School Board through my eyes.

I’m chagrined that today’s other side of the Board is enjoying a couple hours of tsk tsk tsking. It comes just before I hope to dismantle Attorney Mary Rice. Then again when life gives you lemons…..or new readers…..I say make lemonade.

About that other side. It always changes. In 1998 a fellow Board member who was furious with me told me that she wished I’d resign from the School Board after [I had] a front page kerfuffle with the Teacher’s Union President. Three years later she thanked me gratefully when I helped her win reelection to the Board in a squeaker of an election.


The email I was responding to:

On Sat, Nov 29, 2014 at 5:11 AM, ********** wrote:

I too thought it was $10 mil. That number has been put out there for so long as what the Board would really accept it just seemed a given.

I worry that the Board has been given an early Christmas gift with this. A reason to remove another member who doesn’t follow the bobble heads.

Perhaps all of them who misrepresented/falsified/overlooked the financial details and socio dynamics of East/West division of the RP [Red Plan] should be held accountable? ******* was one who cocked her head to the side and talked to the public like they didn’t get it saying “sure, there would be one less hockey,baseball,band..but there would be so many intramurals to make up for this, so many more opportunities.”

But who really cares about the price? What is the big deal about the secrecy? Public won’t have any say in this anyway. They pulled a similar move with the oooh, aahh, big secrecy about the developer putting up a skyscraper in Duluth and all it turned out to be was Maurices moving down the street. Bet this will have as much excitement factor!

The terrible awfulness

Five hours sleep came to a screeching end at about 4AM. While everyone else in our full house slumbered I listened to the recording I had made last June 15th of Attorney Mary Rice’s interview with me. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed listening to it. I was even more surprised to see that I laid out most of the critical explanations for what had happened and how carelessly Mary had failed to follow my reasoning. The report she sent us is the terrible awfulness of this post’s title.

I’m awfully tempted to put that recording of Rice’s interview of me on the web even though it will mention some of those verboten (forbidden)actions taken by our personnel. I’ll wait to see how the Tuesday meeting goes. If we can regain our perspective and put everything behind us spilling all those beans would be counterproductive. If we decide that World War III is a viable option…….well, Rice has already accused me of spilling the private data beans. I might as well spill them whole hog if we are going to gird our loins for eleven months of Hell.

It could get expensive. The tiny little St. Louis County schools just gambled $700,000 on legal fees and lost it all. Maybe Duluth with its deeper pockets could improve on that breathtaking record. This news story mentions $450,000 in legal fees but a concerned resident recently told me they’ve subsequently hit $700,000.

I had much to say about this but I’ll probably wait until our meeting at 4:30 this Tuesday in the Board room to consider my options.

Jana gave me a second heart attack by telling me that her notice of our December 2nd. meeting (which I had yet to receive) said that the interview with Rice would be in a closed hearing. I went ballistic. After calling all my fellow board members and the Superintendent and paying a call on Chair Miernicki at work it turned out that Jana had made the mistake of taking the notice literally. The notice which was delivered in the mail to me while I was getting in the car to pay a call on Mike did describe a closed meeting.

After my calls to other board members and my visit with Mike I was assured that we would be able to reconvene in public at Art’s insistence to ask Mary Rice questions after all. When assured of this I told Mike that he might just want to delete the phone message I’d left him rather than listen to it.

Speaking of mea culpas

I made a huge mistake with this recent post on the possible sale of the Central High School property. The Trib’s Education reporter Jana Hollingsworth called me up today to tell me that I’d mentioned a sales price in this post on the subject. I was shocked to hear that I’d done this. Jana was shocked to hear me explain that doing this was “inadvertent.” Bone headed would have been a more accurate description.

If the deal falls through you can blame Lincolndemocrat. That’s me, if you were wondering whether I was being evasive.

By this time a thousand readers will have read the price I mentioned so pulling it would be too little, too late. If the deal is scotched I presume I’ll take all the blame as well I should. I promised the School Board that I would not mention the details of the offers and counter offers after our closed meeting to discuss the possible transaction. I badly failed at that promise and am mortified.

I’m flattered that Jana thinks that everything I saw on the blog is strategic. Its sometimes just my fast fingers. I offered a lame excuse that is only an excuse. I said I was impressed with how much Jana had reported after the closed meeting based on District spokesmen passing on details to her. I noted that the potential buyer (which I did keep under wraps) was still unnamed but I concluded wrongly that a sales price had been mentioned. Jana was about to file a data request as it is her contention that the price should be made public. I don’t think I agree with Jana at this stage of the negotiations just shy of signatures.

I would not confirm any sales price to Jana as if that was going to make a difference. Trust me, my listing any price whether right or wrong was definitely inadvertent. At the moment Art Johnston’s future and the sanity of the next eleven months is of far greater concern to me. I would do nothing to intentionally to put myself in a defensive crouch and hand Art’s detractors the higher moral ground. That’s especially true considering that nothing about the possible sale of Central, mitigates the terrible awfulness of the Mary Rice report.

KBJR amends the errors of their text

Rather than dwell on the situation in our schools I’ve been compelled to follow the ins and outs of the ludicrous investigation of Art Johnston. I’m rather sorry I did not print out the text of KBJR’s story on Art Johnston which concluded that every allegation against him had been verified by Attorney Mary Rice. I called the station and made a pointed critique of the story on my blog. That’s because KBJR made significant changes to the brief story perhaps in response to my complaints. I can’t fault it so much as it now reads.

The court of public opinion can be a sewer of misinformation. I’m glad KBJR saw fit to correct its story even though it only notes that the story was “updated.” Mea Culpas aren’t easy for some folks to cough up.

No Pizza for me today, thanks

Happy Thanksgiving.

As promised this is the rough clay model I’d hoped to use to put a sculpture on my lawn – Pilgrim and feast. The snow I was counting on to finish this never materialized and you can see the forlorn beginnings of the sculpture as I can see them from my office window:

The turkey only needed a little padding and some tail feathers. The Pilgrim needed a lot more work to begin to capture Norman Rockwell’s masterpiece. Mine would have looked hungrier.

We brought our grandsons home last night as per our usual Wednesday arrangement and they will be with us until company arrives for a turkey feast this afternoon. The boys wanted to watch the movie “Free bird” this morning but I objected. Its about brave turkeys who go back in time to the Bay Colony to stop the turkey devouring tradition started in Massachusetts in the 1620’s. The movie’s birds succeed and get the and Pilgrims to eat pizza instead. I was alarmed that the boys would demand we go vegan on them today but my older grandson reassured me by demanding to eat our bird’s heart after Claudia cooked the giblets.

I did wake up at 1 AM and had to crawl out of bed to type up a round of questions I’ll have for Attorney Mary Rice. That took a couple hours and crawling back into bed didn’t lead to sleep. At five my younger grandson crawled into our bed and snuggled next to me. It knocked me out of my snarling mood and replaced it with a smile.

It should last through the day.

Conditional Yippee – Take 2

The banner headline in this morning’s Trib was damn good news. It means, if a sale results, that we won’t have to spend a quarter million dollars a year to maintain an empty building. Times three years that’s a lot of moola or has it been four years……who keeps track?

Now let me put this into perspective: Ten million dollars isn’t much for a district with nearly a $140 million dollar annual budget. Over the twenty year life of the typical school building bond its a mere half million dollars. It will probably be gobbled up quickly and if the School Board makes the mistake of putting it to use to cover annual expenses it means that once spent there will be a new hole in the budget.

Still, we won’t be spending a quarter million dollars (three and half teachers) a year on the empty building’s upkeep.

I have one huge concern about this piece of good news. I’m afraid the school board majority that has heedlessly pursued an aggressive legal challenge to Art Johnston will regard this as a vindication and embolden them to rush headlong into ten months of crisis by removing Art from the Board. Art’s been fearful of removal but I’ve kept telling him that the Board majority is just not that stupid. Now even I have my doubts. They may get cocky. It happens.

I’ve sent Chair Miernicki an email suggesting that it would be important for the two of us to meet together over coffee. I did the same about the time of the now infamous East Graduation before all hell broke loose. Mike chose to go to a golf game instead and ignored my request to reschedule a meeting later. Once the six allegations were thrown into our laps I gave up trying to meet with Mike. In a meeting with the Superintendent a couple weeks ago I found Mike’s best friend and my fellow school board member Bill Westholm there to greet me. I took this as a signal that Bill was standing in for Mike and was frankly glad to have a candid three-way conversation with the Superintendent. Still, Mike is the Chair not Member Westholm.

After last night’s meeting I asked Mike in person and not by email if he was up for coffee. He wasn’t sure he was at least not until Mary Rice makes her appearance. He told me my quoting him in my blog was a problem. I promised to keep our conversation off the blog. He wanted time to think about that. I did not consider that an encouraging response. I’m not sure I blame him. He seems to be looking to December with the eyes of a marathoner looking at the finish line as his chairmanship nears the end of the year and his possible retirement from the leadership position it entails.

There was more that I wanted to write about but I smell the pumpkin bread baking. The three inches of snow that was predicted seems to have fallen through. If I can’t make my Turkey day snow sculpture maybe I’ll take a picture of the crude modeling clay model I threw together and post that tomorrow. How disappointing.

Ah, but the fragrance of the pumpkin bread brings me relief from such petty gripes.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Take a deep breath, Harry

I’ve made the cranberry sauce for tomorrow, whew! At least something’s been done. Yesterday afternoon I was so overcome by adrenaline after seeing that nonsense on KBJR that I was too worked up to begin the slog reading through the Rice Report a second time. That’s really one of the most important things I have to do before Dec 2nd rolls around and losing one of my limited afternoons between now and then to shoddy reporting has done little for my peace of mind. The failure to get all the things done between now and then are the difference between a graceful landing of a goat on a mountainous ledge or a 5,000 foot plunge. The Goat in this case is the Duluth School Board. The 5,000 plunge is ten months of hell that could put the last six months to shame. This my anxiety.

I haven’t entered a thorough Harry’s Diary entry for a while so I’ll do that as my “deep breath.” I’ve got an hour and a half to attend to it then I’ll be picking up my grandsons from their schools for the night. Unless I use the hours after the ten O’clock news for blogging my poor readers will just have to wait for me to get around to chronicling all the silliness I alluded to in the last frenzied post.

But first me.

After putting Tuesday’s lone post on the hounds of hell to bed I went to our school board meeting at 4:30 that was closed due to the content – ongoing contract negotiations and potential property sales. We had a good and illuminating discussion behind the scenes which demonstrated that the seven of us (six – Bill Westholm couldn’t make it) can be rational when not clouded by distemper.

I mentioned that I had to head off right after we reconvened to an ecumenical Thanksgiving worship service because my church choir was one of about eight that would be singing. Judy Seliga-Punyko piped up to say that she was going to and asked which of the churches we were meeting at. Half an hour later we both got up to rehearse a Pete Seager song To My Old Brown Earth I’d never heard it before our own choir rehearsed it last Wednesday. I heard one fellow say he hated the Seager solo but the massed choirs that packed Pilgrim Congregational’s nave to the gills were wonderful. Ours was much more sonorous than this version I found on youtube.

I hadn’t seen Claudia all day because she was down in the Cities at the United Theological Seminary. She had mentioned that if she got back in time she might stop by to listen but I didn’t see her in the pews. But she was there. I found her as I filed out after the service and she said the music had been great including our rather reduced Glen Avon Prez choir which led off the singing. She was however hungry by eight, as was I, so we hurried up to Tavern on the Hill to answer that complaint.

When we got home there was a car in our driveway and I had to maneuver carefully to get past it and park in our garage. A couple of LSC fellows had been driving it till it pooped out by our alley as it chugged up 21st Ave. I was in a pretty God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman mood so I offered to give them a jump with my other car. (The one I parked was a hybrid and they are not meant for jumping) Nada. Their car had nothing so I invited them in to let my big Chevy pour electrons into their battery. I fixed them hot chocolate to bide our time before going out to see if their battery had enough oomph. A hours putzing around proved that the battery was not the problem and they called Triple A. Their ill luck held and the tow truck discovered it was broken when it tried to pick up their car. They had to wait another half hour before a replacement tow truck showed up.

That all led me to today to get some work done but that didn’t work out so well. We had turkey day shopping to do and some other miscellany to attend to. As I said, I got the cranberry sauce made and Claudia is working on the pumpkin bread now. In forty minutes we pick up the grand kids.

One more day to attend to Art’s persecution has just about gone down the drain. Oh well, Now its on to do that last post justice.

Conditional Yippee

The last post was so apt it will cause new challenges. Now I have to explain why the charges against Art are all smoke and mirrors since no one in the news media seems to have tried to figure out the grounds upon which a real school board member can be removed from office by his/her colleagues. Further, I’ve poked a finger in the eye of one of the board members I have the most hope for.

I’m already struggling to find time to reread the whole of both the full Mary Rice report and the redacted report offered the press.

Ah shucks……I promised Claudia I’d go do some Thanksgiving shopping with her. I just lost the last sentence to a malfunction after promisignt I’d leave the computer in five minutes… I’ve got a snow sculpture to finish if I can find snow. and IO
‘ve to…….

To heck with writing about the potential Cent5ral sale here. I’ll clean up this mess if I can find time during bouts of making cran berry jelly…………Good bye. But I’ll be back Bwahahahahaha!

Cheerleaders for a lynching

I really like KBJR’s weather people. We attend the same church and they are swell folks. I write this as a disclaimer for what follows. I’ve had some challenges dealing with KBJR reporters this last year. They are back with a vengeance but this time they are going after my only ally on the school board.

Last fall when I was running for the School Board and just a few weeks before the election KBJR set two reporters on me like Mr. Burns releasing his hounds of hell. The reporters were about to report that I lied about being a teacher and had a child molester for a campaign manager. They were wrong but this led me to pay about $500 bucks to discuss these allegations in an ad in the Duluth Reader: You can read the ad in full in this post from Oct. 27, 2013. My ad begins:

A TV reporter just called to tell me that an “anonymous source” had told her that I had falsely claimed to be a “retired teacher.” I told her she was in error but she insisted twice that there was no record of me teaching in Proctor or the Duluth Schools. Then she insisted I had obviously violated my quaint campaign slogan, “Honesty is the best policy.”

It would be nice to think that before they attempted another character assassination; this time on board member, Art Johnston, they would stop to consider that the primary eye witness of Art’s “assault” (tapping the Superintendent on the shoulder) is dating one of KBJR’s newscasters.

I just called KJBR’s news department and had a pointed discussion with the reporter of this hideously unnuanced story which declares that investigator Mary Rice had found that Art had committed all six of the offenses leveled at him. Here’s the link to the story on their webpage.

I urged the reporter to talk to her News Director and either pull the story or follow it up with something a little more journalistic-ally sound.

I then told her I hoped they would send a camera to the December 2nd meeting in which Mary Rice will explain her report to the School Board.

A sermon on bullying

This takes 63 minutes to watch in full. This is why all 50 states will likely soon accept gay marriage. Its the argument that evangelicals will succumb to and that will roll on through all other “conservative” Christian churches.

The attitude under girding this sermon could be applied to some of the Duluth School District’s dysfunction.

More on who this gentleman is here.

A discussion between legal types …

…prompted by the DNT story on Attorney Rice’s Investigation of Art Johnston

I can’t complain about the Tribune’s description of the outhouse. Its all journalistically accurate. What does cause me some chagrin is that it fails to zoom out so that the reader can see that the outhouse has been placed in our living room. I’ll offer up my own measured response to this story but perhaps not until I’ve had a chance to read the omissions in the Tribune’s redacted report and compare it to my complete and unredacted copy. Until that time I’ll offer my readers a little email discussion I’ve been made privy to:

From “A”

On Fri, Nov 21, 2014 at 10:37 AM, “A” wrote:

From http://www.duluthnewstribune.com/content/johnston-probe-finds-intimidation-abuse:

An investigator has found that Duluth School Board member Art Johnston’s behavior the night of the East High School graduation in June was “intimidating, threatening and abusive” toward both Superintendent Bill Gronseth and board chairman Mike Miernicki.

The investigator’s report also concludes that several incidents relating to most of the allegations made against Johnston by three fellow board members earlier this year reveal that Johnston has shown a personal conflict of interest in his role as a board member.

But shouldn’t the investigator simply have provided evidence to the Board, of what was done, and left to the Board, conclusions about the evidence?


From “B” to “A”

Cc: Harry Welty;
Subject: Re: Johnston probe finds intimidation, abuse | Duluth News Tribune

Touche, “A”. The conclusion appears to be less than objective. I guess the board bought the answer they wanted.


From “A” to “B”

To: B
Cc: Harry Welty;
Sent: Friday, November 21, 2014 1:37 PM
Subject: Re: Johnston probe finds intimidation, abuse | Duluth News Tribune


I was initially upset by what I quoted from the article. I wondered whether the investigator sensed that most of the Board wanted to be stoked by the opinion that the investigator reportedly provided; and I wondered whether most of the Board wanted such an opinion, for the purpose of covering its butt. However, instead of unloading on the Board; and instead of unduly trying to influence anyone to my thinking; I decided to circulate what I did.

Maybe I am not sufficiently informed about all of this, but for me, the process seems to smell.

I do not mean to suggest that I think that Johnston’s behavior has always been angelic, but neither would I suggest that the behavior of all of the other Board members has always been angelic.


From “C” to “A”

This investigation seems to have been contracted “MAI” , MADE AS INDICATED ! ! ! —Why attorney’s from down south ? ? ? Did they have to go that far to find some firm that would take the case ? ? ? Mern is about 6′ 2′ or 3″ and goes about 230 as I recall–I have a hard time believing that he would be intimidated by a guy with the stature of Johnston.

You are right “A”, this doesn’t even come close to passing the smell test. Besides, if there was alleged “assault or battery” shouldn’t the local law enforcement investigated it. $210.00 / hr. does not sound like much until you see the total billable hrs. We already pay for the cops.



First up – on my recent silence.

I’ve got a lot on my mind and this is also one of those periods where I need to compose my thoughts rather than shoot off my fingers. Readers will note that I’ve recently both scolded the School Board (including me I think) as well as offering some hope for the future of intra-Board relations. We’ve endured a nasty six months. Infighting does little for the Board and means that the Board isn’t doing our schools any favors by being a tail wagging the dog.

I missed this story in the DNT yesterday but one of my choir mates mentioned it to me last night at practice. It appears not to have made the newsprint edition but only the online Trib. Its a good description of the transfer policy changes we seem on the verge of approving at our December meeting. They will, even if passed, have very little effect on student numbers in our schools.

The conclusion of the story does hint at the bad blood circulating in the Board room. For now I’ll withhold comment for the same reasons I described in the second paragraph.


I haven’t counted the words in today’s series of All CAPS posts. Its not nearly the 10,000 words I’d imagined a day ago but its been enough to give me the sense that I’m showing the public the sausage making that has gone into the Duluth School Board’s politics. I wouldn’t buy it but that’s sort of the point with sausage. You never eat it raw. The optimist in me believes that something good will come from our School Board if only it cooks enough. I’ve said before that I’ve never met a school board member who didn’t want things to be better for children and schools. I believe that’s true of the members of the Duluth School Board as well.

I had at least one more post planned as this day went on. That had to do with the meeting I had with the Superintendent on Wednesday morning. I thought it would be A one on one meeting, our first in eight months, but that was not to be. The Chairman’s best friend Bill Westholm was present when I arrived. I was not disappointed. It was a good addition to our meeting. I’d originally thought that Mike himself ought to be present but his proxy was a good addition. I think Westholm is looking out for his friend Miernicki’s situation much as Mike has taken a hand in looking out for Westholm who has soldiered on bravely and good-naturedly with the MS that keeps encroaching on him. I was candid. I took in some of what I was told with considerable skepticism meaning I’m not sure my level of candor was reciprocated. Still, I’ve decided that for now I’ve laid out all the sausage making that the public needs to see. There may be a point of diminishing returns at which point my plan to to restore this Board to good function will succumb to resentment.

There was one thing I will mention for now that was said in that meeting. It was suggested that Chair Miernicki and Member Rosie Loeffler-Kemp were given a list of organizations that could guide the board in a session to get past our ill will. It was further suggested that because the Board needs to look to its own devices that the Administration did not more to push a session on getting along better. However the ball dropped I don’t think its too late to attempt some sort of get together where we don’t talk policy we talk trust which would allow us to meet without violating the Open Meeting law.

I campaigned on the promise of “honesty” so I will be candid with my fellow board members if some sort of conclave is organized. In the absence of such meetings thus far I have taken it upon myself over the past seven or eight months to share my thoughts more widely with the public in this blog. Its extraordinarily time consuming to meeting with six other Board members at their convenience one at a time when you have hours worth of conversation that needs to take place. Its even slower when folks you try to meet with play hard to get.

I know that my candor must make a lot of folks uneasy. I’m sixty three and have a lot less time than I had when I was 45 and got elected to the School Board for the first time. Our challenges are also greater than they were eighteen years ago. I’m patiently impatient for our board to begin acting like grown ups. If I have to wait until a new majority takes over so be it but it will mean wheel spinning for another year and a half. I don’t like that prospect.

I took a look at my blog post in the Reader Weekly today. I’d sent it in with some mistakes in it but they seem to have been edited out by the Publisher’s staff. I hadn’t heard back from the Reader about whether they would put it in or not so I was pleasantly surprised to see it today. Even better it made sense to me. I read it three times over in print and every time I had the satisfaction of seeing that I had done a good job relaying my thoughts about Attorney Mary Rice’s report and doing so with some panache and economy.

Art Johnston thinks this school board is about to remove him from office. I keep telling Art that this Board is not that stupid. I’ve also told Art that he’s not a very good reader of people. I hope I’m right. If I am right that will be part one on this Board’s recovery of its good name.

Part two will be some attempt to find a facilitator who can get us all together and talking to each other rather than slinking around with knives hiding behind our backs. The Civility Project has been desperately trying to get someone to OK such a get together. Let’s hope part two comes to pass.

As promised, or threatened, today’s ALL CAPS posts require too much time for proof reading and editing for my taste. They will only have about three thousand readers online over the next thirty days. In contrast my blog post reprinted as the Stinking Fish in the Reader Weekly could be read by as many as 30,000 readers. I’m glad that the fish got a good proof reading.

Armistice Day

No caps here. I need a short break from ISD 709 before I return to the CAPS. This one will be more like Taps.

Last week I wanted to remark upon the remarkable display that the British had set up at the Tower of London to commemorate the 800,000 fallen soldiers from World War I. There are cenotaphs (memorials to the war dead) in almost every British, Scottish, Canadian and Australian town of any size such were the losses from the “Great War.” The US with a larger population got off a lot easier having entered the war three years after its commencement.

Red ceramic poppies were cast for every lost Brit in that war and can be seen spilling over the walls of the Tower of London and into the dry moat surrounding it most pounded into the ground. Its a striking sight.

I’ve made much of my Grandfather George S. Robb as any search in the blog for a reference to his name will make clear. The Great War made him in a great many ways. His alma mater Park College, now University has made much of him as well and I’ve blogged about that too. On Veteran’s Day I put up our flag to greet the traffic. The following day I got a long tube parcel in the mail. It was from Park College which was letting my grandfather’s descendents know that they had set up an endowment to honor the Great War at America’s National Memorial to the Great War in neighboring Kansas City

When Park College began rescuing my Grandfather’s history from the attic a few years ago I took a wonderful trip to Park to be a part of their ceremonies. As part of my jaunt we got a guided tour of the World War One Memorial which is a gem of a museum under the great Cenotaph.

Like the British memorial below a drawbridge into the KC memorial there was a field of poppies representing those that bloomed across all the battlefields in the years after the Armistice brought the fighting to an end. Artificial lapel poppies have been sold every year by a diminishing cadre of veterans and their supporters who use them to raise money for veterans.

My Mother insisted that my Grandfather’s name be handed on to me and I did the same for my son although his is a first name whereas my Robb landed in the middle of my name. Now I’ve got a nice scroll to frame indicating that our esteemed predecessor has been suitably acknowledged by the Great American Museum to the War he fought in.


Readers of this blog may recall that I was planning on attending two school board meetings on Monday which were eventually canceled due to the weather. When the Superintendent called (while I was out shoveling sand) to ask me what I thought about postponing them I told him to tell Chair Miernicki to please not hold them on the same day after the Education Committee. I anticipated very long meetings for all three committees which would be unnecessarily exhausting. I’d not counted on Veteran’s Day (The holiday of which constitutes another possible post) to be an impediment but that Tuesday’s Education Committee had been rescheduled for Wednesday in deference to Veterans. The Superintendent even suggested that to accommodate my wishes next week’s school board meeting could be held the week following. I was dismayed to learn that Chair Miernicki chose to cram all three meetings together on Wednesday my church choir Night and the night I get to be with my grandsons.

I had a few other things going on Wednesday. I had a meeting planned with the Superintendent that I had hoped would follow our board meetings and I had to open our house for someone to measure our attic windows for replacement. If I don’t get sued and we don’t take too big a tax hit I plan on turning it into an office next year. But this post is about the trifecta that night so let me proceed. Continue reading


One of the things Claudia the peace maker reminded me of was that our infighting on the School Board detracted from our mission to educate children. I could not deny this. We are a bunch of asses. And yet, as I told Art Johnston a couple days ago I’ve never met anyone on a school board who didn’t want the best for children in the schools no matter how grievously Mark Twain bad mouthed the collective whole of a school board. And yet, I also told Art that our school board has become much less than the sum of its parts.

By the way, that last line is a play on words. One idea in the world of psychology is Gestalt theory. It holds that some things are greater than the sum of its parts. Taken more broadly, one example might be an army. Its parts are frail individual soldiers, Taken together they are mightier than the worth of all those frail individual members added up.

As one fellow from the Bible made his points with parables and my hero made his points with humorous stories much to the annoyance of his Secretary of War who couldn’t abide listening to them I make mine with metaphors. They pop in my head during conversations and I often use them to break up the especially intense ones.

I met with the Superintendent Wednesday ( a post to follow) and he told me that while he often found my metaphors hard to decifer he also found them amusing. During that conversation he told me how powerless he was to control the School Board and I replied that he must feel like a tin can tied to the bumper of a car that said “just married” on it. Yes, he told me he felt just that way.

In like vein I was talking to Art Johnston this week and told him we were just like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid in the movie when they were trying to escape from a posse. They were poised on a cliff with nowhere to run when Butch suggests they jump to safety in the river below them:

Butch Cassidy: Alright. I’ll jump first.
Sundance Kid: No.
Butch Cassidy: Then you jump first.
Sundance Kid: No, I said.
Butch Cassidy: What’s the matter with you?
Sundance Kid: I can’t swim.
Butch Cassidy: Are you crazy? The fall will probably kill you.
Sundance Kid: Oh, shit…

I think my recent description of the reporting of the Superintendent’s assault as being like the story of Chicken Little is particularly apropos. Yesterday before the 10,000 words evaporated I had several more examples to mention.

For my next post I’ll jump from metaphor to story telling mode to describe why I think our school board tiff might finally be buried after a long half year.