Bringing back Phil to manage my school board campaign

Alanna Oswald told me yesterday that she might not to vote for me because of all the posts in which I whine about having to campaign instead of writing about my Grandfather. She says my getting off the School Board might be the only way she gets to read that book.

Its a tough choice. I’d love to compare George Robb with his fellow Kansan, oil billionaire fifty times over, Charles Koch. My Grandfather was a rock ribbed Republican but Koch is making it his business to roll back not only Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society AND FDR’s New Deal BUT the trust busting reforms of Teddy Roosevelt. Koch truly wants to take America back 100 years to the Gilded Age and Jim Crow. Perhaps that explains the jarring video I saw the 82-year-old Koch along side our Era’s Stepin Fetchit Snoop Dogg. Koch is a lot more comfortable with a black idiot sidekick than a sober and brilliant Black President taxing his billions and restraining his pollution.

Hell, when I was exploring the Kansas State Historical Museums files on my Grandfather I got a peek at his old College scrapbook which gave a pretty strong hint that my then 21-year old Grandfather liked Teddy Roosevelt. He pasted in a flyer from Park College’s Teddy Roosevelt Club into the book the year the ex-president’s Bull Moose party challenged Wilson and Taft. It was probably Koch who talked right-wing talk show host, Glenn Beck, to denounce Teddy. Beck was regularly invited to attend Koch’s soirees to return America to the days of John C. Calhoun and State’s Rights.

But as tempting as it is for me to try to save America with a boring reminder of a more decent political past, my Grandfather also set another standard before me when he fought in the Great War. As the lyrics to one of his Era’s war songs put it “…and we won’t come back till its over, over there!” I’m afraid that my school board work is not over either.

My Grandfather’s war lasted about one year. Mine began 28 years ago (if not earlier) when I first ran an unsuccessful race for the Duluth School Board in 1989. That was two years after moving to our new home on 21st Ave E and my Daughter Keely’s request that I build a snow dinosaur. I was reminded of this a week ago when visitors asked if they could look at my scrapbook of a 30 year snow sculpting career.

Following my second failed attempt to run for the School Board I decided to make a not so subtle comment about the struggles of the Duluth Schools in 1991 in snow. The DNT’s head photog, Chuck Curtis, snapped a photo which made it to the Front Page if I remember correctly. A passerby with a camera took a photo of me sculpting it and sent it to me afterwards. Until the advent of cell phones Claudia and I got used to flashes coming through our drapes on winter nights from folks dropping by to take a picture of our front lawn to mail to their friends in warm weather states.

Like my Grandfather I conceived of my campaigns for the School Board like his Meuse-Argonne campaign. I ran a third time and lost that election as well. As a consolation Claudia gave me a small black figurine of a disconsolate Gorilla sitting chin on hand like the thinker for my birthday. That became my inspiration for yet another snow sculpture and perhaps an augury for a change in my political fortunes.

This sculpture was the first of a couple which made it to newspapers on the Associated Press circuit.

By now I had a name for my gorilla. Phil. It was prompted by yet another gift from Claudia which came with a card inspired by the cartoonist Gary Larson:

After christening Phil I decided to attach a story line to him. He became my “campaign manager” who couldn’t get me over the finish line. I pinned the blame on him in a letter I penned to the News Tribune. That’s in my scrapbook too and for school board wonks its a most interesting peek back at our school district’s history.

What I wrote is the gospel truth. In the 1987 school year (the year in which, by coincidence, I lost my teaching job) our school district reported that we had 1200 seniors. And yet only 775 seniors graduated. We were paid by the state of Minnesota to educate 425 students who seem to have vanished into thin air. It was school board counselors who told me to check the numbers and they were confirmed by an employee in the Minnesota Department of Education. Sadly, the MDE didn’t lift a finger to call the District on the carpet. It was a preview of how they would handle the preposterous financing proposed for the Red Plan.

Discovering that public school administrators would lie was as shocking to me as it was for Loren Martell to find himself handcuffed for addressing the Duluth School Board during the Red Plan. Its the sort of experience that turns concerned citizens into ever vigilant watchdogs. Its been my Meuse-Argonne ever since.

I thought I had left the School District in pretty good shape when I retired from the Board in 2004. Three years later, after the voters were denied a chance to vote on the half billion dollar Red Plan, I realized that if I could get elected again I could put the issue before the voters. I was prepared to offer a smaller plan should that referendum fail. Instead, the Dixon administration worked hand in hand with my critics to attack my motives and those of Gary Glass. In doing so school administrators passed on one more great lie – that Johnson Controls would earn no more than 4.5 percent of the building program’s cost. Throw in the wildly incorrect promise that the Red Plan would barely increase property taxes and you can see how my vigilance was rekindled.

The travesty of seeing my colleague Art Johnston raked over the coals has done little to restore my faith – especially after it become evident that 30% of Duluth’s eligible ISD 709 resident students have left us. Golly! We’ve got new half-billion dollar schools to fill up and maintain and we are not succeeding at either objective. I’ve got five months to make a case for shoring up our schools even while my Grandfather’s life story begs to be told.

This began as a light-hearted reintroduction of my old campaign manager, Phil. I’m bringing him back.

Phil has given me the idea to raise money for my campaign by selling snow sculpture trading card packs in lieu of political propaganda. Goodness knows I’ve taken lots of pictures of my creations over the years. Here’s the first page of my scrapbook’s Table of Contents:

I’m going to do things a little differently. Rather than ask for donations by mail this year I think I’m going to offer the trading cards in sets of five to help me recoup my expenses incurred to defend Art Johnston. That was because the school board used the excuse of a nonexistent assault to remove him from the Board. My Mother’s death left me with a modest inheritance that allowed me to give Art $20,000 to help defray the $75,000 legal charges Art incurred to defend himself from the vile accusations hurled at him, to wit:

“Racism” (He was a member of Duluth’s NCAAP Board for crying out loud)
“Conflict of Interest,” for sitting in on meetings affecting the employment of his school district employed partner. Nevermind, that a Red Plan supporting Board member sat in on similar meetings when a relative ran a school bus into a child – the relative was given a desk job!
“Violence” Who wouldn’t be mad after serving five years on the School Board while constantly denied public data and then discovering that the School Administrator who recruited your last opponent was now orchestrating a spy network to harass your partner starting on the very day you beat the candidate that said administrator encouraged to run against you?

$20,000 is almost all I “earned” over my first three years on the School Board. I spent just as much trying to get a Red Plan referendum on the ballot. Its been expensive to pay for the honor of serving the public.

So, if I print up trading cards, I’ll treat it as a small business and use the proceeds to pay for my campaign. Maybe I’ll break even on the cards and avoid going any deeper into the financial hole to stay on a school board that has finally calmed down from the insanity of 2014 to 2015. Calmed down yes, but we still need to get out from behind a $3.4 million dollar a year eight ball that costs us 36 teachers.

It may be hard for folks to take Phil seriously as my campaign manager so thank goodness my old rival, Representative Mike Jaros, has agreed to be my campaign chairman. He ran a dozen or more campaigns and never lost. Having only won three of 16 campaigns for public office myself, I am in awe of his record.

I just can’t wash my hands of Phil. He’s been the logo above my old webpage for almost twenty years now. Like me, Phil deserves a little respect.

At My Zenith

I pulled in front of the new Zenith Book Store soon to open on my way to have a mocha and some serious conversation at Beaners with Alanna Oswald. (We just learned that the State is not going to strip away $1.5 million in Achievement and Integration revenue as they had once planned to do) As I got out of my car Bob King the Astronomer Supreme and DNT photo journalist shouted to me from across the street, his Cannon dangling from his neck. He was there take a photo of the new bookstore, no doubt for the upcoming Monday Tribune’s business section. I backed my car out of the way so that all the bibliophiles in Duluth would have an unobstructed view of our newest independent bookstore.

Then I had my mocha.

Then Alanna and I wondered if the store was open yet or if we could get a sneak peak. Voila, the door gave way as the new owner Bob Dobrow rushed up to tell us they weren’t opening for a couple days. Still, he let us come in to smell the freshly, sanded, wood floor and the scent of ten thousand new books. It was heavenly. Then I saw the cool mugs on the shelf and told him I’d love to buy one of them. Bob’s son is a potter. The new owners hadn’t entered SKU numbers for them yet so he couldn’t take my credit card and I was out of cash. Alanna came to my rescue with some good old U.S. legal tender. I seem to have become the Zenith’s first customer. I’m not sure if I beat out the Chamber of Commerce’s customary framed first dollar bill.

Alanna took my pic to record this momentous occasion. They looked to have a good selection of my kind of books.

Correction for the preceding post

I indicated that Jill Lofald was recruited by Annie Harala to run for the School Board. What I now know is that other members of the community actively encouraged Jill to run and it was Jill’s sense that as a newcomer to politics she would be best served by running in a smaller district seat rather than at-large. I’m sure the Superintendent is delighted she will be a candidate but to my knowledge he played no part in her recruitment.

School Board filing notice

I find waking up in the middle of the night to mull over problems that can only be dealt with during the day very annoying. I really tried hard not to think about them at 1AM but its 3 AM now and they are still keeping me awake. So here’s the link to my current cause for insomnia.

Its a pdf on the School District’s website and I’m irritated that I can’t simply copy the words and paste them here but I could take a picture from my computer screen so this is it:

If next Tuesday wasn’t July 4th I think it would be the first day of filing but July 5th works for me and it may very well lead up to its own sound and fury as the school board election draws near.

Potential candidates have two weeks file and as it stands now there aren’t enough announced candidates for a primary but only for the general election. At present there are four candidates for the at-large positions currently filled by Annie Harala and your’s truly, and two candidates each for Rosie Loeffler-Kemp’s 1st District and Art Johnston’s 4th District. Some other candidates must add their names to the list if there is to be a primary election in September.

Former Chair Harala has worked hard to recruit challengers for Art and me. She works with two of my challengers professionally and met with Art’s challenger a couple times before Mrs. Lofald announced her candidacy. Our Superintendent used to babysit for Jill, one of his favorite teachers, so there is little doubt that he has a stake in the election’s outcome this November. The four to three vote to extend his contract 3 years last December is still on his mind as it was in the Winter and Spring when he applied for so many other Superintendent vacancies. Now he and his supporters are working overtime to make sure the balance on the Board doesn’t change. He already indicated to me that he took my vote in the minority as a sure sign his days were numbered. I didn’t bother to tell him he was wrong but he was. Now he’s counting on this election to guarantee a full three years.

Frankly, I would be much more favorably disposed towards the Superintendent if he worked half as hard to make sure we were spending compensatory education dollars where our poor kids go to school as he has worked to keep his job.

Mr. Gronseth hovered over the DFL Endorsing convention all the time that I was there trying to be heard over a malfunctioning sound system. He let his true loyalties show when he came up behind retired chair Judy Seliga-Punyko, one of several ex-school board member delegates, and gave her a warm, lingering hug. He did everything he could a couple years ago to change the date of the 2013 election so she could serve an extra unelected fifth year on the Board. Judy was the last of the Board members who fought from the beginning for the Red Plan that chased 30% of ISD 709’s students to other schools but old loyalties run deep in the School District just as partisan ties run deep.

I’d like to think I could have gotten more than ten percent of the vote if the delegates had been able to hear my speech but there were probably far too many friends of the Red Plan and the public employees’ union at the DFL convention for me to have had any hope of endorsement. Fortunately for me, I’ve won three school board elections without any party endorsement. I’m counting on that streak to continue but every day the news coming out of the White House and Congress reminds me that there is much more at stake than what happens in Duluth. I would much rather write a book about the good old days when voters regarded political parties more like bowling leagues than churches. But every day that I put a post in this blog about our schools its time taken away from that book and time away from helping the nation get past the fossilized politics of gridlock.

After the endorsing convention I have little faith in our local DFL to set the Duluth Schools on a sensible course let alone the Nation. They didn’t stand up for equity. They didn’t stand up for transparency. They didn’t even seem to notice that 30% of our school’s children now attend schools other than ISD 709. Instead, they stood pat.

Don’t forget to visit

Where did my Sunday post go?

Ah poop! Or should I say “Professor Poopypants?”

I cranked out a quick post to address a complaint that I was giving short shrift to some school board candidates who had attended some portion of recent school board meetings even if they didn’t stick them out for the full, four “butt wearying” hours the meetings took to conclude.

But evidently as I rushed to wrap it up with a final note to the effect that I was in a hurry to see the movie “Captain Underpants” with my grandsons I must have deleted the post instead. In searching for it on my blog’s “dashboard” just now I discovered 165 previous posts in the “draft” stage that I never returned to finish. They are in effect wadded up pieces of paper that never made it to the wastebasket.

As to the stamina deficient candidates I may return to their Trump-like penchant for golf over policy and polity later but they can consider this fair warning that I will note their lethargy at some point in the future should they not manage to overcome it.

Oh, and as for Underpants? It was pretty good (Rotten Tomato’s audience score 65% – critics 85%) although I’ve must confess to having been a David Pilkey aficionado for a long time. Evidently he has abandoned his old website because its up for the highest bidder. As to his fetish for tighty-whiteys – I’ve been there too.

And don’t forget. Republicans have long considered me a RINO! Little did they know how appropriate that title was:

I never did manage to figure out a good riposte acronym to the Koch Brother propagandists who so savaged moderate republicans.

The Fiscal peril for ISD 709

Twenty years ago I regularly expressed concern about the long-term financial security of ISD 709. I used to call myself a “Cassandra.” In 2010 I handed over that honorific to Loren Martell. Never would I have imagined that the Red Plan would plunge us into such a precarious situation that we would lose 30% of our students to neighboring school Districts, suffer a vast increase in our classroom sizes, and commit tens of millions of our general fund to paying off bank loans for new buildings.

When I quit the school board in 2004 I had erroneously concluded that Duluth would never close the extra high school we had so that we could move about $1.5 million annually to classroom spending and new programs. Today, after the last decade of fiscal insanity, we are spending more than double that sum out of our General Fund each year to pay off the Red Plan. In addition we have squandered two or three chances to sell the old schools we are saddled with even though the Red Plan’s financial promises were contingent on such sales. That’s another $20 million lost. Plus, the Dixon Administration spent down our ten percent Fund reserve leaving our district to live on fumes while putting us at risk every time a summer fiscal cold gave us the sniffles.

Last night I went to a meeting our district’s official committee for the minority community to discuss one such unanticipated sniffle – a threat from the Minnesota Dept. of Education to take $1.6 million in “Achievement and Integration” aid away from us next year. Although the DNT’s Jana H. wasn’t at the meeting she covered the story in today’s Trib. In short, Supt. Gronseth thinks the MDE will change its mind. If it doesn’t… will be one more lousy bit of news that our year long budgeting process failed to take note of and which will inflict one more of the “thousands cuts” we continue to endure.

And yesterday Jana covered Art Johnston’s long ignored efforts to refinance our killing Red Plan debt repayments which take that $3.4 million out of our classrooms. At our Tuesday meeting Nora Sandstad helpfully reworked the wording of a resolution that the Board had earlier rebuffed to direct the Administration to explore opportunities that might undo some of this damage.

My hope of finding a solution short of more taxes has dimmed but its great to see our School Board covering all the bases just in case we can bulk up our financial immunity from these summer colds.

By the way, while the DFL Club’s endorsees for the School Board have been largely absent from School District meetings both Kurt Kuehn, and Bogdana Krivogorsky have been near constant presences at them. I much prefer candidates who do the long hard research (like enduring butt-wearying, four-hour-long meetings) to those who want to join in on the blissful ignorance which has so often typified Duluth School Board members over the past decade.

And don’t forget to visit

Say “simple summary sans soliloquys” ten times fast

That happy little alteration comes courtesy of the last post. Its as good a title to introduce my thoughts on yesterday’s very pregnant school board meeting. The forgone conclusions to approve our teacher contract and our budget and our Superintendent’s right to reassign principals were all fraught with anguished explanations and symbolic votes. Here’s my brief take on our deliberations.

Jana said of my symbolic vote against the teacher’s contract I helped negotiate:

Welty, who sat in on negotiations, said he had intended to vote for the contracts, but decided against it considering the teachers union’s stated goals during those negotiations of wanting to work to better meet the mental and emotional needs of kids.

“It is my sense that the finances of our district are such that (the contract increases) will make doing student-centered advocacy more difficult,” he said.

I was the lone vote against a contract that in essence required give and take by both sides. Even so, most board members trembled at the second contract we approved for 3 and 4 years out. A long hard conversation with Loren Martell a day earlier made me reconsider my vote to support the contract. Nora Sandstad was right to be put off by my change of heart because I did not express the same reservations when we were in closed session that I did publicly last night.

At the one hour 50 minute point in the meeting

I read the introductory language offered us by the teachers at the outset of the negotiations. This language emphasized the teacher’s determination that we help the whole student including social and emotional needs. I went on to explain with some passion, if not much eloquence, why my lone symbolic vote against the contract was intended to show Duluth that our schools would continue to come up short in the coming years in meeting those needs. We need more staff and these contracts do not give us room to hire more staff.

By the same token Alanna Oswald cast a lone vote against our budget later during our discussion of the Business Committee meeting.

Art Johnston offered an amendment that demanded that we look at a transition over the coming years to make sure that we spend an ever increasing percentage of Compensatory Education revenue on the schools that generate the funds with their larger “free and reduced” student populations. Still, the resolution deferred that decision till after next year.

By the same token there was a lot of temporizing about bending to the will of parents where the reassignment of principals was concerned. But again the Board did not intrude on the Superintendent’s authority. I did point out that while I was sure “educational” concerns were the primary motivation behind these decisions they might very well have political consequences. While parents in Rosie Loeffler-Kemp’s end of town were placated Laura Mac has a lot of unhappy parents.

Shakespeare could have been summing up this meeting when he wrote about “sound and fury signifying nothing.” In five months time we will discover if the voters signify nothing.

Did you catch my simple math error?

A friend texted me this morning pointing out that 18% of 2000 Proctor students is 360. I immediately knew what she meant.

From the previous post on our sending busses into neighboring School Districts to entice open enrollment students I wrote this:

“A hasty check of Wikipedia shows that Proctor has about 2000 students and Jana’s story reports that 18% of them come from Duluth. That would be another 180 lost Duluth students to add to the chart above.” As I lamely replied sometimes my brain doesn’t work but that doesnt stop my busy fingers.

The additional 180 students brings the number of our students lost to neighboring districts (not counting charter, parochial or private schools) to close to 1000 students. More of the Red Plan’s legacy not counting the ongoing $3.4 million annual transfer out of our general fund to pay off the damned Red Plan bonds that costs us 36 teachers each year.

Yesterday’s four hour school board meeting was full and Jana did a nice simple summary sans soliloquys by anguished Board members like me. More on mine in the next post.

Moving principals

The most recent hot topic in ISD 709 has been a proposed move of principals. This is the Superintendent’s decision to make but four moves he has planned have caused several grass fires. He backed off of a couple changes at Homecroft and Lakewood out east but is proceeding with two changes at Stowe and Laura MacArthur out west. This has made the western parents feel they have been treated as second class parents.

Among them will be a number of parents from Laura Mac tonight which, I was informed by email, has gathered 355 parents names on a petition to ask the superintendent to reconsider the change.

We may have a very long period of public comment tonight.

Annie’s riposte to busses from Proctor et al

Alanna Oswald posted on Facebook that she has been trying to get these figures for ages. They come from Jana Hollingsworth’s story about how ISD 709 is trying to claw back its outward bound open enrollment students. What has happened since the Long Range Facilities Plan (Red Plan) has been a great exodus of Duluth students to other schools. I’ve tried to guess at the outflow. I’ve suggested that we have lost 10 to 15%. Jana reports: “30 percent of Duluth district residents were enrolled elsewhere.”

The largest number of those students attend the Edison charter schools and that was true well before the Red Plan which some board members hoped would lure them back. Instead they built a new school too and took even more of our students since we had no agreement for an enrollment cap with them.

When I retired from the school board my recollection is that we had a surplus of about 500 open enrolled students meaning that more kids were coming into Duluth from outlying school districts than leaving.

This chart leaves out the Duluth students enrolled in the Proctor District which has sent busses into Duluth. A hasty check of Wikipedia shows that Proctor has about 2000 students and Jana’s story reports that 18% of them come from Duluth. That would be another 360 lost Duluth students to add to the chart above.

As the title suggests the idea of sending our buses into the neighboring districts to lure the students back was Annie Harala’s and was prompted by parents of western students who thought we should reciprocate. I guess I can’t complain since the costs of sending our busses in search of new students has been described as nominal. Whether they will fill up is another matter.

Martel on Maintenance

I’m not sure how many of Loren’s recent columns I have failed to mention. They seem to have been coming out weekly just as I began digging in to do some serious gardening and yard work. The latest begins by quoting my poor pun at the last meeting about our being between a “Rockridge and a hard place” and then veers into the land of the worst case scenario with regard to twenty plus million in building and maintenance costs we are faced with but for which there are no current resources to address.

Loren is right and he has yet to talk about the two contracts with teachers we are likely to approve tonight and which I finally got a chance to play a small part in helping to negotiate.

If the maintenance costs are driving Loren to despair he will likely be positively apoplectic about the contract settlement. Can’t say as I blame him.

Please note the correction from two posts ago

I unfairly slammed my school board colleague Rosie Loeffler-Kemp two posts ago. Please note the correction. I apologize to my readers. I ought to apologize to Rosie. She reminds me of this at every school board meeting when she reads our prescribed tools of civility which have also been adopted by the Duluth City Council. “Apologies” are called for in “tool” number 7 of 9.

I take no satisfaction from acting like an elementary school child but I’ve never believed that forcing anyone to apologize when they don’t feel like it is honest or useful.

Why don’t I feel like acting the part of a grownup? Rosie is busy organizing the next five months of school board campaigning with an eye to removing those of us who did not support extending a full three-year contract to the Superintendent. She has me in her sights and, truth be told, I have her in my sights.

Rosie hammered me during our closed teacher contract negotiations, as she regularly does, because she does not like what I blog about. I’m not a team player which means, I guess, that I don’t speak for her majority. I did not speak for the majority when Rosie called my colleague Art Johnston “violent” on television something for which Rosie herself has never apologized. Rosie’s majority was the prime mover behind a two-year attempt to remove Art Johnston from the Board thus reversing the people’s decision in an election. This in turn put the entire school board under the dark cloud of public ridicule from which it is only now slowly reemerging. Should Rosie survive the November election she will, in fact, be the only remaining member of the five-member majority which brought the school board into such ill repute.

I prefer honesty to apologies although I do recognize the decency of the latter even when I can not bring myself to fully embrace it.

Mankato, another Minnesota town with some history

A few weeks ago an old acquaintance from Mankato, where I graduated from high school in 1969, asked me to write up a post on a popular boutique shop that my Mother set up with a collection of “faculty wives” who called themselves the “Harpies” and who’s store they named “Harpies Bazaar.” Unfortunately, he asked me to post it on Facebook, a notoriously upbeat online space where people get depressed because everyone else’s lives are made to look so good. I linked to a blog post about my Mother’s Alzheimers. Downer.

But then Brad asked me to tell a bit about my foreign exchange student, Bedru Beshir, from Ethiopia. Brad was a class ahead of me and within a year of his 50th year anniversary of his graduation. There had been some curiosity after all these years about what had become of “Beds.” Brad and others from Bedru’s class had located Facebook pages of various Bedru’s currently living in Ethiopia. I had to tell him they were not our Bedru. Other graduates of the class of 68 had already discovered my old Reader Column spelling out Bedru’s likely fate. It was not a happy one for the first black student in memory to have attended Mankato High School. Double Downer.

What caught Brad’s attention to me was a response I had left to a series of Mankato History Facebook posts that had been prompted by the news that the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. The garden was in the news for a controversial piece of art depicting the massive scaffold built in Mankato in 1863 to hang 38 Sioux Indians. Downer number three. I wrote about that in the Reader as well.

There were some furious arguments going on in Mankato between descendants of murdered settlers and sympathizers of the Sioux warriors. I waded in to say that not all the hung men were guilty. To another comment pinning the blame on Lincoln and a rebuttal by Lincoln defender who pointed out that Abe had reduced the number to be hung from over 300 to 38 I stuck up for Abe. I pointed out that despite the cries for vengeance during the Civil War when the President needed all the help he could from the North to prosecute the Civil War, his ten-fold reduction of those to be executed was an act of bravery.

To a person who responded to my reply that it was time to forget the hanging and “move on,” I quoted Santayana, “Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it.” I read almost the same argument for ignoring Duluth’s lynching in a letter-to-the Editor in the Trib shortly after Duluth began paying attention to its infamous 1920 lynching. Mankato, like Duluth, has some infamy in its closet.

One of the people who spoke up for Mankato in the face of this third downer was one of the Saiki’s. She came out with a long Chamber of Commerce like list of wonderful things to have been invented in Mankato that changed the world including the Honeymead Corporation’s use of soybeans which has had a huge impact on our oversea’s trade with Asian nations. One of her Japanese forbears happened to bring those soy beans to Mankato from California.

I wrote back in reply explaining that I had graduated in 1969 with one of her family members. I then mentioned that my Mother had told me about her family’s arrival in Mankato. They had been interned (imprisoned) during the Second World War but their mysterious ability to sex chicks to be rid of the useless roosters-to-be was just what the Nation needed to produce eggs for its soldiers overseas. I told her that that the consequence of this fourth downer gave her family and Mankato every reason to be proud of that all but forgotten bit of local history. And that was not a downer.

In the same way, Duluth’s embracing of its notorious past offers more than a little redemption.

Keen on Kuehn

Photo by: Bob King /

I was pleased to see this picture on the anniversary of Duluth’s infamous lynching because one of the new school board candidates is pictured in it, Kurt Kuehn (pronounced KEEN). The caption below had his comments on the grim history, to wit:

“It’s always inspirational,” said Kurt Kuehn of Duluth, about the Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial. “We’ve still got a lot of work to do.” Kuehn attended the memorial event Thursday honoring the three black men who were lynched in 1920 after being falsely accused of rape.

Kurt is running in District One currently represented by Rosie Loeffler-Kemp.

Although I have often written about the Clayton Jackson McGhie lynching I did not attend this particular event. Art Johnston and Alanna Oswald and Rosie Loeffler-Kemp represented the School District.

CORRECTION: When I posted this yesterday I incorrectly said that Board member Rosie Loeffler-Kemp was forty minutes late. That was wrong. Rosie was present shortly after the presentation began. As I said I was not in attendance. It was Jill Lofald, Art Johnston’s 4th District challenger who was late.

Having mis-remembered what I had been told about the order of appearance of Board members at the Lynching memorial I was a little too eager to link to an unflattering anecdote about Rosie that did not put her in a good light. After having served on the Duluth School Board with Rosie for the past three years I am still inclined to link to those unflattering 2015 posts heret and here.

I have to be careful that when I replant the rhubarb today…

…my head doesn’t fall off into the hole with the manure.

I have good reason to worry about this because, as I just told an unhappy ISD 709 parent who reads my blog, “I have so much in my head to blog about that right now its lying on my floor and if I move to fast it will snap off.

On the other hand, I have five months before the November election to get things off my chest on Lincolndemocrat so maybe I don’t have to do five months worth of blog posts in the next five days. I can probably spread them out.

Beau Geste

“Wacky Wednesday” continues. Even though vacation bible school has taken the place of school Claudia and I are still hosting our grandsons on Wednesday night. For the past four months that Claudia has checked the homeless into to the CHUM center on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays I gave up my Wednesday Choir practice to pick the boys up from school and get them to bed. Until this summer that meant gluing ourselves to PBS’s Nature program to watch cameras being inserted into fake animals for closeups, hummingbirds in slow-mo and crocs attacking wildebeests. Last night I was curious to see if the first movie to capture my imagination might entertain them – 1939’s black and white Beau Geste. That movie made Gary Cooper my role model for years to follow. It was an adulation which was only heightened a few years later when I saw the only movie I ever watched with my movie-phobic Grandfather.

Both movies were made in the magical year 1939 but, would the boys, aged 7 and 10, turn up their nose to Geste after Pixar classics too numerous to mention? Not at all. Good story telling wins out every time and Geste had them, like it had me, from the first look at the grim specters lining Fort Zinderneuf’s crenelations.

Even 30 minutes of frustration trying to remember my Amazon Prime password and trying to push the right buttons on the blasted remote followed by the boys pushing each other’s buttons and being sent to their rooms until they apologized didn’t dampen the movie. When they complied with their grumpy Papaw’s demand I gratefully reciprocated with my own apology. Then I told them that the movie would show them brothers who were loyal to each other. (I have to take advantage of every opportunity to give a sermon.)

Beau Geste lasted one hour and 52 minutes and was near its end when Claudia got home a little after 8. She put on her bath robe and joined us to watch as the movie finally answered its lingering mysteries and as the three brothers became one. Sorry, that’s a spoiler.

As Digby Geste sounded his trumpet for the last time Claudia gasped, “that’s the Music Man! You saw that movie with us.” We surely did and they liked that 1962 classic too with a much older Robert Preston playing Professor Harold Hill.

Claudia suggested suggested that I read to them from my Calvin and Hobbs collection because their summer bedtime gave them an extra hour. I also read C and H to their Mother and Uncle Robb with gusto when they were the same age. The boys were enchanted too although the Tan Man wrinkled his eyes and asked how a six year old Calvin could have such an adult vocabulary. I told him that Calvin was P-R-E-C-O-C-I-U-S just like he and his brother were, and besides, if he was going to get picky why didn’t he object to Calvin’s having a talking tiger.


My Mother gave me one of these t-shirts back in the 70’s. Now I’m reading two books out-loud to Claudia that I’ve had for years, in one case two decades, about the man who’s name inspired this pun – Mao Tse Tung.

The older book I found in a used book shop. It was published when I was nine years old in 1959. That was ten years after Mao drove out the Nationalists leading to cries in America of, “who lost China?” and two years before Mao’s agricultural revolution starved twenty to forty million Chinese to death. It was possible then to imagine Mao as a benign nationalist which seems to be the point of author Siao Yu in his reminiscence When Mao an I were Beggars.

The other book was initially lauded as the first authoritative tell-all of Mao’s depredations. Later commentators cautioned that its author, Jung Chang, went overboard blaming every Chinese catastrophe solely on Mao. She’s a great writer. I read her family history Wild Swans to Claudia a couple years ago. She knows China well.

I’m half way through the gentle tale of a month in Mao’s life living as a beggar with the older Siao Yu with whom he had a teacher/student relationship. Written over forty years after their 1917 experiment in poverty, Siao Yu does his best to portray the young Mao as an inquisitive but dogmatic companion on the brusque side. The writing is a little pokey and I’ve taken to alternating a chapter of this book with Jung Chang’s history of Mao.

The latter book is a 600 page monster and so far I’m only up to the early years of Chinese Communism. Its interesting to see the scheming authoritarian emerge from the truculent young nationalist that Mao started off as. Mao’s begging took place in 1917 the year my Grandfather Robb was fighting in France. Mao, the communist war lord, was gadding about Yunnan Province with an army of 3,000 in 1928 when my Mother was born.

As for me, I was trying to defend the Chinese “Cultural Revolution” to my gymnastics coach in 1966 while waiting for a bus to take me back to North Mankato, Minnesota. That was seven years after the Begging book and about the time that its author Yu, broke with his old begging buddy.

Today Mao’s posters live on. In six weeks I will see his hanging over Tienanmen Square, a tribute from a Party that has otherwise distanced itself from his legacy of keeping China backward and stupid. It seems that its America’s turn to emulate that failed legacy.

Trifecta Schmrifecta

Posts that began in my head over a week before but which become placeholders for me to finish are a pain. Life goes on and so does my attention. I am not only watching the developments in the School District campaign ahead but in China and in the ongoing Trumpaloonia. And the books that I’ve been digging into to provide me context on my grandfather’s life for a book that I would like to write – Well, they are on hold too. I’d love to get the book finished by the time the 100th anniversary of his being awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor takes place. But I’ve got a darned school board race to run and China to study before my summer travels.

So, about the Trifecta. Supt. Gronseth had a very good couple of days. Candidates that he can count on to support him no matter what won all the DFL endorsements. That was his first success – trifecta part one, although it’s no guarantee that these candidates will win in the Fall, five months from now. Not having the endorsement hasn’t stopped me from getting elected to the Board 3 times. However, its always nice to have the entire city leafleted with your propaganda a week or two before the election and I expect the Democrats to be energized after last year’s debacle. I began writing about this as part one of the “Trifecta’s” but I’ve lost interest and my reporting some of the details might make people unnecessarily mad at me. I am a politician and making people mad by being “impolitic” has its costs.

Trifecta Part two was the conclusion of the teacher contract negotiations. Once again it was/is an interesting story with details that might make people unnecessarily wary of me. I had people nervous even hinting at things that took place during the Board’s closed meetings. Perhaps that quality helped us reach a contract that gave the teachers less than two successive years of 2% pay increases which is what the State Legislature embedded into the Education bill. The wiggle room we achieved has just allowed the Superintendent to come up with new spending that will soothe some savage breasts. There has been a simmering anger over moving some principals to new schools. One particular hot bed was in Rosie Loeffler-Kemp’s 1st District. Now those reassignments are kaput which puts out the fire and last night the Superintendent gave all the credit to Rosie for having made the parents happy. No such thing occurred but Rosie is his gal. He has also credited her with being the force behind replacing the rubber playground mulch even though Rosie came a year late to the party. Rosie was one of the two Board members who jumped down my throat in closed meeting to discuss our teacher contract negotiations. Ironically, the agreement we got has allowed the Superintendent to placate her first District voters.

Trifecta Part three was the unexpected news at the beginning of last week that the Edison schools have, at least for the time being, given up on building a new high school. This is a subject that put the Superintendent’s majority at some risk because it entailed turning down $14 million badly needed dollars and left continuing to take $3.3 million out of the general fund for Red Plan bond repayments. I talked with the Superintendent about this briefly a couple days ago and he restated his position, that has some merit. Mr. Gronseth argues that the loss of 400 or more high school students to an Edison High would damage our District in the long run – even close Denfeld. On the other hand, turning our back on “competitors” cost us even more than $14 million. By the time you consider the Many Rivers Montessori offers and the rehabbing of Rockridge you could argue that the District lost twenty million. If that loss damages our credibility with angry voters when we next offer an operational levy referendum that would add millions more to the loss. It dwarfs the teacher contract settlement savings we just negotiated. We let a couple birds in the hand fly off. Now only time will tell whether these building non-sales will haunt us. For once I am inclined to believe in ghosts.

There was much more to these trifecti for me to tell than I’ve shared here. Maybe I’ll dredge some of the gritty details out in the future. But for now that’s it. I’m headed to China for my next post.

Finding good Karma

My neighbor’s sweet little Karma, aged 11 and mostly deaf, escaped the fence for the first time last night and was last seen crossing 21st Avenue East, by my home. If by chance you have spotted Karma note the sign posted on the street lights at my corner and earn a better life to come.