That Editorial Part 10 – The Competition

First let me make this very clear. I have never known anyone who ran for the School Board was not a good person or who didn’t want the best for our children or our schools. That includes the most inept school board members in Minnesota history who currently serve on the Duluth School Board. I like them all but there is not a one of them, including me, who hasn’t messed up badly.

Desperation has made me far more candid about all of our human failings than is generally good for any politician to be. Some things are best left unsaid. Even now I am thinking deeply about how far to go.

This post is about someone I have no quarrel with. That Renee VanNett is running for the Duluth School Board is commendable. I do not wish to argue with the Tribune’s editorial endorsement of her for the General Election. However, since the Tribune short circuited their endorsement by jumping directly to the November election I have no confidence that they will follow up their glowing editorial description of Renee with anything approaching hard, factual journalism. I think that leaves the voters in Duluth in the lurch. About all I’ve said about Renee is that her head has been turned by three school board members who don’t want to lose control of the Board. They claimed an assault took place and they are right. The Duluth School District has been violently manhandled for a year and a half. Oh, as for that other “assault” after the Duluth East graduation… I was a witness. I was ten feet away. I heard no shouting. I saw no one on the floor. Art Johnston was pointing at a standing school superintendent who obviously wanted to leave. This was called assault. Not in a million years was it an assault.

I suspect that Renee, who had a hard time of it as a student in the Duluth Schools, will come to her senses if she is elected to the Duluth School Board. She will remember where she came from and vote accordingly.

That said, I have heard some things that might be every bit as concerning as the possibility that Alanna Oswald is out for blood. I think Renee is naieve. I reported one instance of this which was rather humorous. It was when, after a meeting on minority mother’s in the Duluth Schools, Renee expressed anger at the Duluth Federation of Teachers for not endorsing her while she was in a frienly conversaton with Alanna Oswald. Neither candidate got the DFT’s endorsement. It was only after saying this that Renee realized that this was probably the wrong thing to say to her competitor. It was the same as saying I’m mad at the teacher’s union for treating us the same. I deserved their support not you.

This isn’t all that big a deal. Who hasn’t done the same sort of thing. When I was engaged to Claudia I introduced her to a History prof at my college as I was conducting some political work. The professor proceeded to bore us for half an hour although I only planned to pick something up from him and move on. As we stood by his door to leave I got my words completely tangled up and told him the truth accidentaly: Instead of saying “we’ve” and “you” I said: “I think you’ve kept us long enough.”

There is another strike against Renee. Its not the very long and impressive list of organizations she has belonged to. Its her reputation for missing their meetings on a fairly frequent basis.

Everything about that impressive editorial endorsement is suspect. The Editors misinformed their readers through ommision and or ignorance about Alanna Oswald. They puffed her challenger’s abilities without realizing she has such a poor record of attending the organizations she belongs to. Just compare the written and spoken words of both candidates and I think one stands out but not the one who the Trib endorsed.

This editorial was the most blatant example of thumb pressing I’ve seen in the Duluth News Tribune over the past 41 years. Whether it was based on payback to Art and me or sheer ignorance the Trib should be better than that. I’m so disappointed.


The Trib has it all wrong. Alanna took a huge problem and got it fixed. As our Superintendent often says first you go to the person in charge then to their supervisor and up until you get to the Superintendent, or was it Go to the Superintendent and don’t scare the lower level administrators? I think school board members have been directed to do it both ways. The fact is that Alanna went up the chain of command without satisfaction and then kept going all the way to the Commissioner of Education until her problem and ours was solved. Case closed. If that’s the Tribune’s idea of a trouble maker I’m at a loss.

I’ve explained before that Alanna was a student of mine at Morgan Park. That was 1986 my second to last year as a Duluth School teacher but I had lost track of her. When reintroduced I fondly recalled her whole seventh grade class. It was wonderful group of kids and Alanna was the cream of the crop.

If you look at today’s candidate profiles for the school board primary you will see that Alanna has an impressive record of participation in her children’s schools far more than most other members of this year’s crop of candidates. But her credentials are not just recognized in Duluth. Another reason for the MDE’s alacrity was Alanna’s sterling reputation in Roseville where the MDE is headquartered. Com missioner Casselius had only to talk to her MDE staff to learn that they hold her in high regard. At Alanna’s invitation, I drove down with her to one of the MDE statewide committees, Title One that Alanna serves on. She was greeted like an old friend by many of the staff. Although Alanna has been frozen out of a job in Duluth I’m certain that the MDE would snap her up in a heartbeat if she moved to the Twin Cities.

But remember what we were told by the Tribune’s editors, “Oswald is the mother of two and a former teacher…her involvement can leave voters concerned that she [will exploit] problems rather than solving them.” Well, according to the Tribune this was one big problem and Alanna solved it. In fact, it was more than just making sure we taught all the state mandated subjects. It was making sure we taught subject according to current law something we stopped staying on top of when Dixon gutted the curriculum department ten years ago.

Today as a result of Alanna’s brave insistence that we do things right we are doing things right. All of our course work has been or is being “aligned” to state standards. We have a delightful new Director of Curriculum Dr. Mike Cary who has received many accolades for this skill in bringing Duluth around. Mike humbly says the work has been accomplished by his staff and many Duluth teachers. They all deserve our thanks and so does Alanna Oswald a Mother who would not let her child be short changed.

How could the editors of the Duluth News Tribune have missed all this? Well maybe there is one other explanation for That editorial. Just possibly some District sources trooped into Chuck’s offices, just as they have done so often before, to tell the editors that Alanna Oswald is a trouble maker. If so, we could use a lot more of them.

That Editorial Part 8 – WWKD What Would Kirby Do?

When Judy Seliga-Punyko talked about the issue on March 18th she pointed an accusing finger at the Minnesota Department of Education for frog marching Duluth. She called the Department hypocrites for shaming Duluth and giving us grief. I found out afterwards that officials of the MDE had watched our meeting on youtube afterward. It must have been irritating for them after having given Duluth a million dollars and deemphasizing the missing subject matter. It was if Judy was resentful for MDE having thrown Duluth a life saver.

This is surprising considering Judy’s constant anguish about the loss of our Arts and Music curriculum. This was a case of abandoned science and math but maybe the fact that Laura MacArthur is a western school took the sting out of the loss.

It appears that in this election Judy has an acolyte running to take her place Dr. David Kirby. I’ve mentioned before that I’ve heard Dr. Kirby is a nice guy. But the early indications are that he regards Art and me as toxic elements on our school board. And yet its hard for me to believe Dr. Kirby, who before becoming a family practice physician, would have done anything any differently than Alanna Oswald. I don’t think even Judy would have reacted indifferently had the children of East Duluth’s doctors, lawyers and professionals discovered that their children’s schools had shucked off science and history to make sure the neediest children could pass math and reading tests. So, should he be elected to represent Eastern Duluth it will be interesting to see how Dr. Kirby will treat his western neighbors.
I hope that should he be elected Dr. Kirby will let our Human Resources Department know that he thinks Alanna Oswald ought to be cut a break. That is if the News Tribune gets its way and gets Renee VanNett elected instead.

This 23 minute segment of school board video gives a pretty accurate picture of how things were before the Board decided to pluck Art from their midst. We are reasonable people. Getting rid of the smell isn’t like driving a few blocks past the dead skunk on the road when the damn thing is lying in your back seat but that’s the car Dr. Kirby may find himself driving.

That Editorial Part 7 – No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

Did Alanna get a handshake and thank you for putting the District on the road to rehabilitation? Not exactly. There is an old saying that is apropos. “No good deed goes unpunished.” In grade school Alanna would have been called a tattle tale. As a dissatisfied mother Alanna graduated to “whistle blower.”

Over the next few months she sent me emails every time she was rebuffed by the HR department for job postings she was in fact greatly overqualified to fill. She couldn’t even get the job as a test monitor despite having credentials almost the equal of Superintendent Gronseth, Both have Master’s Degrees.

The Human Resources Department turned its back on her. It was a stark contrast to the school system whose teachers had enfolded Alanna in their arms when her mother committed suicide. As far as the Human Resources Department was concerned it was Alanna Oswald that was dead.

Her pluck and bad luck and sense of humor marked Alanna as a special person. By November of last year I also told her that I’d love to see her on the School Board. She knew so much detail about how things got done far beyond the experience of most board members. Despite my eight years on the Board I was in awe of her.
Had Alanna been an eastern helicopter parent hovering over her child she would have been safer. She’d have had lots of company as other angry Eastern parents raised Cain. But Alanna was a western parent in the land of free and reduced lunches.

That Editorial Part 6 – The School Board takes note

It wasn’t only Brenda Casselius and the Minnesota Dept. of Education that got wind of Duluth’s shortcuts. The story was reported in the Duluth News Tribune in a banner headline “Duluth School District Called Out on Curriculum Standards” on March 14. Although the paper would later report the missing subject matter, which the MDE’s report confirmed, it appeared that the MDE decided to focus attention on a less embarrassing problem than not teaching mandatory subjects. Instead, the MDE focused on its discovery that the District had failed to keep its curriculum current for up to ten years. The eduspeak for this is “alignment.”

This was a project that required much summer work by a great many teachers. The School Board had to pony up a couple hundred thousand dollars to get it started. Like the MDE the School Board was more interested in talking about alignment rather than not teaching science but we started the conversation four days after the headlines when we met on March 18th.

One critic told me that our Clerk, Judy Seliga-Punyko, said at that meeting “So what, that MacArthur had to teach only 2 subjects for a year to catch up?” That’s not what Judy said but it is clear that she didn’t dispute that some subjects had been de-emphasized. We talked about this for 23 minutes between starting at minute 49.43 and continuing on until Hour 1:12:20. You will find it here on youtube.

The discussion was dominated by Art, Judy, Mike and me. We were still functioning as a pretty good school board. It would be another three months before the Board majority decided to oust Art. Art was often accused of being uncivil but what I did not realize until the ouster was that Art’s partner had been harassed from the beginning of the school year. Under the circumstances he was remarkably restrained.

Art complains in this video that he had not been given the information about the MDE’s investigation into this delicate subject. I agreed about our being kept out of the loop although I had been having difficulties getting into our email system at the time. Even the superintendent acknowledges the loop when he says, “I spoke with Board leadership,” meaning Chair Miernicki and Clerk Seliga-Punyko. Perhaps the Supt. felt it was up to “the leadership” to inform the rest of the School Board.

Whoever was responsible for keeping the Board in the loop it was a mighty small one. If Art Johnston and I have become outspoken it is largely for this reason.

Howie Hanson’s blog

One predictable result of sticking up for Alanna Oswald is that her fans are noticing and sending me information that might be of help to her. One of them sent me this screen shot from Howie Hanson’s blog.

This observer noticed that in Howie’s page about candidates for all offices up for election this year Alanna Oswald’s name was conspicuously missing. I know Howie gets a little stipend from the District for publicizing school stuff and, in fact, I beat him up during the Red Plan’s heyday for getting $19,000 to stay on the good side of the Red Planners. However, I know how easy it is for a one person blog to miss some detail. I suspect that this is such a case. I certainly hope so. It would be way too obvious for his website’s visitors to conclude that Howie was handicapping a candidate that some school administrator’s resented.

No. Howie has a Mayoral campaign going and the last thing he needs is to unnecessarily antagonize fans of any candidate for the school board. Howie is not like me. He published Twin Ports People for years with a slogan to the effect that he only published positive news. As a City Councilor he has tested that proposition and I doubt that Fon du Lac’s Karen Diver would think he’s living by that credo today. Still, there’s just no way Howie would intentionally shortchange Alanna.

I was right. I just checked the blog and Alanna’s name is right there on the page. No problem. It only took 55 days to correct but that may just be an indication of how rarely the page is looked at.

That Editorial Part 5 “ The MDE to the rescue


Brenda Casselius acted swiftly. Here is her email reply to Alanna:


Thank you for bringing this to my attention. It is concerning on so many levels. I will meet with my staff first thing in the morning on next steps.

All standards must be taught, however local school districts determine their curriculum to implement the standards. There are many other requirements for art, PE and other subjects.

I will be meeting with asst commissioner Steve Dibb, Beth Aune our Director of Standards and will be in touch by the end of the week.

Again, thank you for bringing this to my attention and for giving me the opportunity to address it.


“Concerning on so many levels.” That just about sums it up.

This problem had its origin in the financial pinch caused by the Red Plan. Then Superintendent Dixon and his Board solved the problem by gutting the District’s Curriculum Department and sacking its Director. By the time Alanna wrote to the Commissioner the School District’s curriculum was a decade out of date and no longer in compliance with state expectations. How much this or the higgledy piggledy of moving kids around played a part in the test scores will never be known but they were brutal for Laura MacArthur. Laura Mac’s student test results were in the bottom 5 percent of state test scores. As a result the MDE brought a million dollarsof state funding to raise students test scores. Everyone was giddy with the resulting improvement in those scores but they came at a cost.

The hoopla was muted when Alanna alerted the state that Laura Mac’s success came at the expense of its curriculum. This discovery threatened to embarrass not only ISD 709 but the MDE as well. I heard education experts on Minnesota Public Radio gush about Laura Mac’s astonishing results in a statewide broadcast. Had word had gotten out that the test scores skyrocketed by by not teaching half the state mandated curriculum the MDE would have been a laughing stock.

This issue surfaced during my campaign in 2013 but it didn’t really reach the School Board until March 2014. My general reaction was patient restraint. I know how much pressure is put on school districts to do the impossible and to do it yesterday. Laura Mac’s intense focus on reading made sense. Without the ability to read there is little point in continued schooling. But while skipping science and social studies may have helped children who had fallen behind it was an injustice for students like Alanna’s daughter. It was worrying enough that I asked the Superintendent to meet me at Dunn Brothers on his free Saturday to explain what had happened.

The Superintendent was adamant. He assured me that if Laura Mac’s principal had done such a thing the principal would have been told that he and the District would “have to part ways.” The sober threat Mr. Gronseth laid out left little doubt of the situation’s gravity.

I frankly thought the Superintendent was rather harsh considering that it had been an emergency. I told Art about the Superintendent’s comments afterward and he was surprised as well because the principal was one of the few who seemed to like Art’s company.

And Laura Mac’s example wasn’t exactly failure. Children, though often bored like Alanna’s daughter did achieve stellar results. I would say of what happened that it was a good learning opportunity. I also told Alanna that I wasn’t worried about her daughter being short changed in the long run. At worst it was a one year detour and her home’s emphasis on education would win out in the end.

And because of Alanna not only did the full curriculum return to the schools or at least to Laura Mac but the Duluth schools embarked on an aggressive project to bring the District’s curriculum into compliance with state standards after a ten year wait. Alanna’s good deed was bearing fruit.


There was a thought provoking story in the Sunday Trib about counseling for high school kids. Students at East High, including the very thoughtful Jude Goosens who sits next to me at Board meetings are pressing for more resources for kid’s mental health. This was prompted by the recent suicide of a well liked member of the remarkable East Robotics team.

This is nothing new. In the nineties there was a spate of suicides in Duluth and students called for similar help. Just two years ago an East student who had endured the chaos at Woodland when whole student bodies were moved en mass to accommodate expedited Red Plan construction took his life in his first year at East.

Our Administration never acknowledged that the atmosphere at our schools had anything to do with the death despite the family’s claim to the contrary. When the family’s minister met with the Superintendent he asked if a meeting could be arranged with him and the family. The family was given to understand that this was possible but to wait until after the 2013 election. There was a school finance referendum on the ballot.

Yesterday my Buddy challenged my contention that moving kids around “higgledy piggledy” would harm their education:



Moving children about higgledy piggledy as construction took precedence over teaching and surreptitiously bleeding resources from the classroom to pay for it led to plummeting student achievement.
But did it? Coincidence, per se, is not proof of causation.

Further, what is achievement? Having been taught to perform well on tests? Did the children who were higgledy piggledy moved about, learn nothing from the experience?

I have been moving about, outside of educational institutions, for more than 50 years, but I am disinclined to suppose that my learning has plummeted during that time.

[Your Buddy]

I replied:


That’s a very rational question and the answer is far from an obvious yes or no. It depends on the child. One of my favorite movies was about the glorious childhood of an English kid during the bombing of London and how much fun it was for him to scamper over bombed out buildings. I think it was called Hope and Glory.

That said, there was a lot of chaos in our schools and chaos is just that, chaotic. Add to that the siphoning off of classroom money and you have taken some steps backward. Then, there were the advantaged families who pulled their children out to attend competing school districts – something you would favor- and a growing number of more free and reduced kids in our classes (which is not the fault of ISD 709). It all adds up to more stress. Even larger classes aren’t necessarily bad unless you have kids in them who are not well equipped to be ignored. These are all after effects of the Red Plan and its implementation.

I’ve described this transition in more detail in the past so this time I just described it in shorthand to concentrate on the real gist of the story – the abandonment of science and social studies to teach only math and reading and writing. I can even live with that as an experiment and it helped our test scores shoot up. However, if I had a bright kid who had to suffer all year doing the stuff that all the other poor testers did and miss the enrichment of a varied curriculum I’d be angry too.

The district, as is its want, made life hell for the complaining parent because she worked in the District. I kinda like whistle blowers and I kinda despise control freaks who dissemble about their strong arm tactics.


That Editorial Part 5 “ No good deed goes unpunished

Commissioner Casselius acted swiftly. Here is her email reply to Alanna:

[Having spent most of Saturday honing blog posts today I wanted some grandchild time. I went to church, Made a Zombie Movie with my littlest Grandson at his request and watched a PBS repeat of Sherlock Holmes while my wife and daughter processed five or six gallons of grapes from the back yard for jelly making. I have tomorrow to try to wrap this series up before leaving for Florida’s heat wave. Its supposed to feel somewhere between 102 and 112 with the humidity. Still, it will be cooler than the Duluth School Board.]


On the subject of prohibition of drugs

I admire powerfully argued propositions. My Buddy sent me this and frankly my blog could use a short break from the Duluth Schools. I’ll be busy editing but go ahead and read the whole Slate article if you’d like. I haven’t yet but this passage is potent.

When will we ever learn?


As a dealer, you establish your patch against other dealers by force and terror, and you maintain your patch by force and terror. You don’t just hurt other dealers you hurt cops, and any civilians who get caught in the cross-fire. The Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman calculated this dynamic causes an extra 10,000 killings every year in the US. Continue reading

That Editorial Part 4 – How to fix what’s broken

Let’s be clear, Alanna Oswald is her own person. At no time were either Art Johnston or I aware of Alanna while we were trying to get a referendum on the Red Plan, or trying to design a more modest building program, or suing the District for offering a half billion building program without taking bids on it. All that time Alanna was busy being a mother and teaching.

However, like many sorely affected by the Red Plan’s consequences Alanna discovered that her children’s education was suffering as a result. Moving children about higgledy piggledy as construction took precedence over teaching and surreptitiously bleeding resources from the classroom to pay for it led to plummeting student achievement. This crisis was particularly acute in our western schools which always have been a little behind their eastern counterparts.

Alanna’s daughter was in one of these schools, Laura MacArthur. I will let Alanna speak for herself by introducing my readers to the brilliant and clear headed letter she sent to Minnesota’s Education Commissioner, Brenda Casselius. This was two years ago. Alanna also circulated it to every school board member shortly after I took office. This letter had positive and far reaching consequences for every child and teacher in the Duluth schools:


Hello Brenda,

I have been to many meetings where you have talked, and you have given out your cell phone number. I put it in my iPhone for future reference, and now that I would rather be talking to you about this issue, my last update to my phone software deleted all my contacts! Ugh. So, let me preface this by saying it will be a LONG email, and if you prefer to speak about this, feel free to just jump to the bottom and use my cell phone number listed there to call me and we can talk about this. I am available nearly all day (up at 7 am and even up until midnight if you are lol). I will bold key thoughts so you can scan it to see if you would rather call and discuss this.

Here we go: Continue reading

That Editorial Part 3 – Why did “The Thumb” return with such a vengeance?

Why did the Tribune’s editors give the superlative Alanna Oswald such short shrift?

Three answers come readily to mind. 1. To teach me a lesson for getting under Chuck Frederick’s skin. 2. Guilt by association with Art Johnston 3. Fears raised by the school Administration that Alanna could make things worse than our current school board has already made them. (Yes. I find that funny too.)

About number 1, the last post explained why payback was such an obvious possibility. A few weeks back I got an excited email from Chuck Frederick claiming that I had defamed the Tribune when I wondered in my blog whether Anti-Art Johnston letter writers had an easier time getting their letters in the paper than his supporters. When I wrote about our email exchange in my blog Chuck was subjected to the ridicule of one of my readers. I’d hate to think Chuck is thin skinned and believes that, as a journalist, only he has the prerogative to pass judgment on others while being immune from public scrutiny himself.

Even before these testy blog posts Loren Martell predicted this breach between Chuck and me. He speculated that Chuck was bitter because he felt betrayed after having endorsed me for the Board in 2013.

About number 2, Alanna told me after her interview that another candidate, Jane Hoffman, told the editors that she had met Art through Alanna. This was not accurate and Alanna was sure that Hoffman’s comment had ruined her chances of the endorsement. I don’t think so. It might have confirmed guilt by association in Chuck’s eyes but I think the fix was in to snub Alanna even before she was interviewed. After all they told her they were only going to endorse a single candidate before the Interviews took place.

Thirdly, its possible that school board members and/or administrators made a case against Alanna to the Editors. Such lobbying has happened in the past but rarely with happy results. A few years ago after one such visit the editors crowed that the District would soon get to spend $32 million in Red Plan savings. The Trib is still picking egg off its face over that miscall. Then after the Judge stymied the Board’s attempt to remove Art a delegation trooped over to tell the Editors that Art hadn’t been victorious. That’s just what incredulous readers saw in the next day’s editorial. Of course, it’s also possible that Chuck concluded on his own that the best means to a peaceful school board is to make sure that Rosie and Judy Seliga-Punyko’s heirs carry on their battle with us for the next two years.

There is one more plausible explanation for Chuck’s heavy thumbprint. Mr. Frederick really believes what he wrote about Alanna. To wit:

“[Oswald’s involvement] can leave voters concerned about adding another member to the School Board concerned with exploiting problems rather than solving them and with being divisive rather than cooperative.”

This is so ridiculous it leaves me to wonder whether the Editorial Board reads its own paper. Alanna Oswald was the spark behind one of the most important and positive school related stories in the Tribune last year. It demonstrates Alanna’s claim to be a “problem solver.” It was a big problem ten years in the making not that our school Administration ever thanked her for its being solved. Quite the contrary.

That’s coming up next.

Rosie’s ally accuses Loren Martell of being vitriolic

From a letter in today’s Duluth Reader by one of the paid staff that works with Rosie Loeffler-Kemp’s husband in the Public Employees Union, AFSCME:

I respectfully request that Loren Martell recuse himself from editorial or staff positions while he conducts his campaign. While I have always appreciated the sophisticated level of political discourse that the Reader offers, particularly in regards to its endorsements. I have as long despaired of the level of insight Mr. Martell provides in his columns. Recognizing that in the current culture of journalism his brand of is often used to incite inflammatory response and rather than dialogue, I understand the Reader’s need to publish Mr. Martell, less than insightful rhetoric. I do believe that the discourse in our local elections requires far more reflection and complexity than Mr. Martel has provided. I think the integrity of our elections relies on the integrity of our media and that the Reader has by and large bucked the trend that has led to the national trend most recently exhibited on Fox paraded as a Republican Party debate. But in my opinion the Reader is in danger of becoming a part of the circus and indeed negligible in the local discourse on politics if Mr. Martel is allowed to continue to be a regular contributor, particularly while running for office. If Mr. Martel is going to be allowed to continue his regular column while running I respectfully request that the Reader recruit a voice to balance his vitriol.

Theresa O’Halloran-Johnson,
Duluth, Minnesota

The definition of vitriol is harsh, nasty criticism. I defy the author of the following letter to the Reader to provide a sample of any vitriol in Loren’s commentary. The most telling materiel in Loren’s columns comes in context from the mouths of the people he is describing. They are uttered at public meetings and can be verified by watching them on youtube. Loren listens to recordings over and over until he gets the quotes exactly right.

There is no doubt that there is an edge to Loren’s writing but it pales compared to the people he is shining a light on. They put Mr. Martell in handcuffs, literally, and then got the Duluth News Tribune to headline stories for a year calling Art Johnston a racist. Rosie herself went on local television last year to tell Duluth “The investigation was brought forward because of Art Johnston’s violent abusive and harassing and threatening behaviors.” Such bile goes far beyond mere vitriol and vitriol goes too far in describing Loren Martell’s insightful reporting.

Had the author merely complained that a candidate for public office was getting a freebie column after filing I would have been sympathetic.

Note: the poor sentence construction is either the work of the author or the Reader. It is not mine.

That Editorial Part 2 – Why Just One Candidate?

I was astonished when the Tribune’s editorial board put all their eggs in one basket and recommended only one of the two at-large candidates who would pass on from the primary to the General election. They simply skipped the primary and endorsed one of three candidates for November’s General election. This was unprecedented. In forty years of reading their endorsements I don’t recall the Tribune ever ruling out candidates like this. I guess the voters have been told all they need to know about who Duluth should elect ten weeks from now. Only it wasn’t the full Editorial Board that made the selection. There were only two of five citizen members of the Board in on the interviews. This gave the Editorial Page’s editor an inordinate influence on the decision and yet all five names were listed on the editorial as though the three missing members of the Board had gone along with the majority. That’s my kind of decision making.

By contrast the Editorial Board endorsed two candidates for the Second District School Board Race Charles Obije and Dr. David Kirby. Just as in the At-large race only one of these candidates will eventually prevail in the November General election. So why did Chuck Frederick’s merry band deviate from precedent to endorse a single candidate for the At-large position? I have my theories. (That’s the next post in this series)

I wrote in the blog some weeks ago that it was worth pondering whether the Trib’s editors put their thumb on the scales when their readers sent in letters- to-the-editor regarding the Duluth School Board. That post was prompted by a woman who stopped by my house and told me that her letter supporting Art Johnston never saw the light of day after she submitted it to the Tribune. That post prompted an email exchange between me and the Editorial Page editor, Chuck Frederick, who challenged my suggestion with a plausible, and possibly, credible argument. He concluded by asking me not publish his email. I disregarded his request and published it anyway. That led the editor of a local tabloid to satirize him and I published that too. I felt his accusation that I had defamed the Tribune was ridiculous and felt it showed a bunker-like mentality that was worth pointing out to readers of the Editorial page.

Had I been the focus of Chuck’s ire I wouldn’t be writing and posting this. But instead of singling me out in an editorial critique, as the Tribune has done twice in the last year, he dumped on one of the smartest and most able candidates I’ve ever seen who filed for a school board seat.

The Editorial Board’s slight to Alanna Owsald was breath-taking. Her bonafides were so obvious that I had foolishly assured her she was a cinch to get the General election endorsement by the Trib never mind the primary. Heck, only one candidate wouldn’t be recommended and it was obviously going to be Jim Unden who refused to show up to be interviewed by the Tribune.

That morning Alanna teased me in a text message telling me that I had lied to her. I told her I was mortified because I always claim to be “an apostle of honesty.” Some oracle.

This lone endorsement gets even more suspicious. The Tribune’s editors decided even before the interviews that they would endorse only a single candidate and explained this to Alanna. When Alanna told me this after her interview was concluded I told her she had gotten it wrong. I told her the Trib would do this just like they handled the Second District race with two candidates getting the nod even though only one would eventually prevail in the General Election. It’s painfully obvious that Renee VanNett was going to get their nod all along. The interview was a sham.

In the next post I’ll speculate about why the Editor chose to demean Alanna’s reputation while inflating Renee’s qualifications beyond recognition. I’m sorry, but these posts will not be getting any prettier.

That Editorial Part 1, Other voices

My busy day gave me a chance to research but not to begin the writing this subject deserves. I’ll work on that tomorrow but for this beginning I will share the thoughts of others who read the editorial I so object to.

First up, Andrew Slade, the most reasonable person in the world who gave serious thought to running for the Board himself and who perfectly echoes the concerns of Denfeld parents who see their children’s educational options shrinking compared to those being offered at East High School. Andrew has taken on the role of Alanna’s Treasurer. He quite accurately describes the Trib’s editorial as being a “passive-aggressive hit. From the email buzz I’ve been reading it has prompted a number of Alanna’s supporters to redouble their efforts to campaign vigorously on Alanna’s behalf. That includes me.

Here’s Andrew’s take:

Alanna, you’ve got this. And we’ve got your back. Sign me up for doorknocking, I’ll be honored to walk with you.

The DNT piece was nothing but a passive-aggressive hit job on people who are working on the actual hard problems the district is facing. Anyone can see that you have all the qualifications and experience they touted for Renee, plus so much more.

Everyone on this email needs to go to their typewriters or whatever and write a letter to the editor sharing your support for Alanna. Let the readers of the DNT know the real story, even when the paper won’t acknowledge it themselves.

Three weeks to the primary. All the time in the world.

And from my old eminently fair minded young acquaintance, Karl Schuettler, who doesn’t much care for Art Johnston and who says of me that he takes me with a “grain of salt.” He is mystified by the Editorial’s conclusions based on the video interview of Alanna. His piece has a link to Alanna’s interview.

Karl’s post offers a balanced view that put’s the Editorial Board to shame. Although I’ve not talked to Jana Hollingsworth, the Trib’s education reporter, about the editorial I’d hazard a guess that was astonished and appalled at the Editorial Board’s conclusions. I’ll offer much more evidence of Alanna Oswald’s talents and influence tomorrow. In my view her efforts over the last year, although unheralded, have been so helpful as to almost offset our disastrous school board’s antics. Here’s a sample of Karl’s analysis but I strongly urge you to read the whole thing:

I always read Harry with a grain of salt, so I watched the video of Oswald’s interview with the DNT to see if it was an accurate assessment. If this is the editorial board’s idea of divisiveness, I shudder to think of what would happen if its members were ever to actually meet a divisive person. I wouldn’t say we agree on everything, but she seems like an eminently reasonable west side lifer with admirable commitment to achieving results in education. Her take on Art Johnston, a “guy with an obnoxious tone with whom she sometimes disagrees, yet sometimes has good ideas that the rest of the Board ignores because they come from Art Johnston” couldn’t be more accurate. It’s the least divisive, most balanced view you’ll hear about Johnston from anyone in the world of ISD 709 (in public, anyway).


Today’s story on the pre-college sorting out test called the ACT is mixed and unsurprising for Duluth.

Our average grades are up a fraction on the one hand but the gap between majority and minority students remains grave. This paragraph puzzled me:

Very few of the district’s black and Native American students, for example, took the ACT. Nearly 9 percent of the district’s enrollment is black, so about 70 of those students would be expected to take the test if participation mirrored demographics, Lake said. Only 13 students did with an average score of 18.8. Nearly 7 percent of district enrollment is Native American, meaning 26 of those students might be expected to take the test. Fewer than 10 took it, also meaning results can’t be shared. Another 17 students who identified with two races scored an average of 21.9.

The puzzler is the statistical extrapolation of how many black and native students should have been expected to take the test. If 9% of our students are black and almost 7% Native I can not understand why, according to the middle sentences, 70 black students but only 26 Native Americans would be expected to take the test. Those numbers suggest that there are over twice as many black students as Native students in the Duluth Schools – not a mere 2% difference. One answer may be that more Native kids drop out by their junior year when the ACT tests are taken so that their numbers don’t reflect the average enrollment percentage of “Nearly 7 percent.” If so, that is troubling and good reason to consider electing Renee Van Nett to the School Board since she knows a thing or two about the miserable experience of Native students in the Duluth schools.

The test for Renee is whether she is up to the challenge. I have my doubts.

That Editorial – a Prologue

Rarely have I been so offended by a Duluth News Tribune Editorial as I was this morning when I read, in slack jawed wonder, an offense to journalistic integrity.

Its taken me a long while to process the enormity of its message and the hubris upon which it was constructed. Ostensibly its the product of a collection of leading Duluthians but it is almost certainly the brainchild of a fellow I’ve always liked, Chuck Frederick. Having said that I have a damning thing to say about Chuck right now so, if you are squeamish, please read no further. Here it is: Chuck Frederick is a darned fine feature writer.

Its been a while since I’ve written a part 1, 2, 3 blog post series but this editorial merits such treatment. I will crank out this prologue before midnight and work on the rest of them tomorrow.

Let me begin by explaining why I say the editorial is hubristic (That’s fifty cents for excessive pride and arrogance). The fact is that the Editorial Board, Chuck really, has taken on the lofty goal of bringing peace and amity to our embarrassing school board by guaranteeing the election of new board members who will continue to persecute two stubborn minority members, Art Johnston and Harry Welty. Chuck and the Board are promoting or about to promote one candidate who has made it clear that the Board’s toxicity is all Art’s and my fault; another candidate who is in the early stages of wrapping herself up in an Administration that has colluded with the majority thus bringing disgrace to the entire District and, in today’s editorial, a third guileless candidate whose head has been turned by the slavish praise heaped on her by folks who are counting on her to keep the power of the current School Board in place. In other words, Chuck Frederick is attempting to solve the problem of long standing bitterness over the Red Plan and its unpleasant aftermath by keeping the same sort of stalemate in place that has dogged the School Board for a year and a half.

The unfortunate victim of Chuck’s hubris is one of the most intelligent and thoughtful people I have ever met, Alanna Oswald. I taught her American History at Morgan Park the year before her mother committed suicide. That traumatic event led to Alanna’s discovery of a caring faculty that reached out its arms to nurture her in the suicide’s terrible aftermath. This is a much more hopeful background than the Trib endorsed candidate’s frank belief that our School District failed her.

There is so much more to say but I will end this prologue with the gracious email that Alanna sent Chuck after she was dismissed, in two short paragraphs, as little more than a “mother” who would bring discord to the School Board.

Hi Chuck,

Thank you for the opportunity to interview for endorsement. Although saddened that the DNT chose VanNett over me, and chose to quote me in a light that I do not live by or believe in, I understand we all have different views.

I find it ironic that I have the exact same experiences you chose to highlight with David Kirby, plus a pile more on top of the school PTA member, school PTA board member, District wide PTA seat held (At Large Integration), and attended the State PTA convention TWICE….. yet you are concerned I will exacerbate conflict.

I am a problem solver and work with all to get the issue taken care of. I hope, should the voters choose me, that I can work with the newspaper to highlight the positive changes we will work towards while making our schools the best in the area.


When I resume these posts tomorrow I will not be so gracious. I will be exacting.

How the local DFL rigs endorsements

Jane Hoffman, who lost the 2nd District DFL endorsement last night, wants folks to know how the contest was rigged from the beginning. Here is an email she is sharing with anyone who will listen. It primarily involves the list of delegates to the convention who must be persuaded to vote by the candidates. If you are not given the list you can’t campaign in advance:

On Wednesday, August 26, 2015 7:21 AM, Jane Hoffman wrote:

I started calling people yesterday afternoon off the delegate list. I worked graveyard the night before. Of the 7 people I called, only 1 was attending. When I arrived last night, 60% of the delegates in my district already had Kirby stickers on their shirt. I want to complain that I did not get the delegate list until the morning of the convention. I asked two times since the initial meeting and that was over two weeks ago. We were told the night of the screening we would have a delegate list in our hands that week. I have been a lifelong DFL’er and I am disappointed in your process,not to mention 4 existing board members were there and already backing a predestined horse even before the speeches were made. Now I can see why candidates go rogue or break party line.

Jane Hoffman was reminded of Obama too

I just got an email from one of the also-rans at tonight’s DFL endorsement, Jane Hoffman. I skipped the audio but read her post.

Jane kept track of the school board members who attended. There were four of them. They all wanted Art Johnston removed and spent a quarter of a million dollars attempting to do the deed. They are still stuck with Art but got their candidate endorsed.