A final board dust up

Annie Harala did jump on me at the last and final School Board meeting together. Loren Martell describes the action in his Reader column.

I’m at the water-rolling-off-the duck’s-back stage of my public life and took no particular offense although some seemed intended. After the meeting Annie’s husband, at perhaps his first school board meeting, wished me well and I told him he might very well find himself at the next swearing in of Congressman Richard Nolan. Annie is Nolan’s newly appointed campaign manager. It seemed a good way to leave the Board room …… along with my second name tag, which I seem to have mislaid.

Oh no. I found it…….in the bag that my going away gift (that I’m using as a candy dish) was in.

Yellow Eyes

When I peeked out of my window this morning to check on the Grinch I saw that he had turned a shade of familiar green. It was not of my doing.

I had thought about giving the old coot some color early on but was so satisfied with his looks I decided he could keep the bleeched look. Someone else thought otherwise. Fortunately, they did a fine job of coloring Grinchy poo and Max’s scarf. I don’t encourage others to improve my work at night but I can find little aesthetic fault in this nocturnal change. However, it was not fully sufficient.

When I’d contemplated doing the same myself before abandoning the idea I knew that the Grinch’s yellow eyes would need attention. Well, when I found the frozen spray bottles of coloring agent I knew that since I couldn’t beat or undo the technicolor I would have to join in. Now the old Christmas thief has suitably sinister eyes – fit for the Oval Office if you ask me.

Joyeux Noël

This Christmas Season has had a subtext of World Wars about it for Claudia and me. I just finished reading the fabulous “Last Hope Island” out loud to Claudia and am half way through “Last of the Doughboys.”

We have both been working on French lessons on the app Duolingo . Given six or seven months of serious study perhaps we will be able to navigate through the two war’s French battlefields as something other than clueless “ugly Americans.” On Friday we watched two recent movies on the subject which had been getting good reviews. First, at Zinema, we watched “Darkest Hour” about the month of transition between the Chamberlain Prime ministership and Winston Churchill’s elevation. Its been dinged for historical inaccuracy but it was a pretty gripping film for me. I made a point of looking up the criticisms so as to winnow out some of the unhelpful theatricality. Watching it meant that I was more determined than ever to see Dunkirk and we watched it through live streaming. I’m sorry to say I found the latter movie quiet and disappointing. It was filmed with thousands when nearly half a million were involved and it delivered no sense of scale that honored its importance.

I’ll say this about Churchill and it relates to my earlier post on Character. Churchill was an outcast in his political party. Hell, he kept switching back and forth between political parties which made him suspect everywhere. To say that quality appeals to me is an understatement. Loyalty to party over principal holds no appeal to me. I’m drawn to folks like Winston and Abraham who also threaded his way to a new political landscape by blending political loyalty to a cause greater than party.

What Churchill stood for in his Conservative party that had been determined to stay out of war was the recognition that Hitler was such a great threat to Britain and the World that all the talk of peace was by far a greater danger. Dunkirk, however disappointing the recent movie, gave his early leadership a much needed boost and, perhaps saved us all from a grim authoritarian future.

(I feel much the same way about Donald Trump who has made ignorance rather than Arianism his chief goal with global environmental collapse one of his many likely future achievements)

Claudia and I added one more war movie to our watched list on Christmas Eve. It was the 2006 movie, Joyeux Noël, about the 1914 outbreak of Christmas in the trenches of the four-month old World War 1. (When my grandsons are older I’d like them to watch it.0 Its based on real events and the conclusion is damning. The very same sorts of folks who today are reaching back to a past they felt they could control had to deal severely with the men who accidentally allowed the Christmas spirit to overtake them in the trenches. In the true spirit of “let no good deed go unpunished” the soldiers who crossed no man’s land for a moment of ill considered humanity were sent off to become sausage on the Eastern Front, and Verdun in order to wipe the memory of human decency from the battlefront. That kind of contamination just couldn’t be tolerated. All over the world today there seems to be a rebirth of a similar intolerance today. You have no farther to look than at our own White House.

Character and its absence

I have written before about my Grandfather’s attitude regarding a reputation, “… he told my Mother that a man who has lost his reputation has lost everything.”

I’ve always found this notion less than satisfying and the sermon I heard yesterday on Christmas Eve finally explained why. The explanation came from a quote by the legendary college basketball coach John Wooden who said:

Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.

Recent months have seen the loss of a good many men’s reputations as their characters have been more fully revealed. I think this has been very healthy even if some of them seem to have been tripped up by anonymous allegations which I find particularly troubling. Still, its long overdue and, ironically, we have President Trump to thank for this phenomenon. His success has been built almost solely on the think veneer of reputation in the absence of any character. The year of his swearing in has made the word “femininism” Merriam Webster’s the word of the year. Not a bad for our Presidential “pussy grabber.” It has also been responsible in Alabama for bringing out a massive African-American vote to defeat Judge Roy Moore despite that state’s bending over backward to keep black voters from the polls.

In these ways Trump is doing what his supporters wanted but not perhaps what they expected. He was elected to be a bull in the china shop and he is busy breaking the china. How well the United States will weather three more tortured years of his Presidency remains to be seen……..if it can be limited to three years!

In the meantime all the broken china comes with a little warning from the shop. “You break it you buy it.” The tax cuts for corporations and the super rich alone will be a trillion plus.

A cold shoulder for the Grinch

A small disappointment. Contrary to any thoughts that I’m all that humble about my snow sculpting I enjoy the attention the sculptures get. My current sculpture is pretty modest in size but the weather was perfect for me to gather up the modest snow in my back yard and sculpt it into the Grinch. It wasn’t quite melty enough so I had to cook it one lovely day that reached 33 degrees.

The process was described in this old DNT story:

The solution is to make his own wet snow. One way is to fill a tub with snow and let it sit in his house. About 7 years ago, he discovered a method he calls “cooking snow.” With this method, he pours water on a pile of snow and then covers this pile with other snow. The insulating properties of snow cause the whole pile take on a wet consistency that is good for creating details.

My Grinch is pretty good as is his trusty reindeer “Max” the dog. But what makes it is the inspiration of Donald Trump’s campaign slogan applied to Whoville. However, I couldn’t tempt the Trib’s photographers to come over and take a picture and KBJR which did mention it didn’t show a picture of it. Even my Facebook post only got 33 views. Pffft! Last year my Jabba was mentioned somewhere and picked up by Reddit picking up about 600 comments.

Jabba may have had one advantage over the Grinch. It was non political and some of the commentors spent by a harsh Presidential election enthused about that quality. That can’t very well be said about this one. At least no one took down my sign and the frigid weather we will be getting will preserve the Grinch nicely. Everyone returning to Duluth this Holiday Season will get a chance to take the Grinch in in his full glory.

To Loren Martell: Je suis vraiment, vraiment désolé

The title is French, my new preoccupation, meaning: I am very, very sorry.

Loren called me to let me know he was very hurt by the beginning of my last post about his column describing our final Business Committee meeting.

He didn’t give me time to apologize and all I could think was that I once again neglected some critical proof reading in my Christmas-time haste. It was true.

I checked and edited the offending implication that I was tired of Loren lecturing me. I was in fact tired of being lectured too by some of my fellow school board members. I know, I know. Its a two way street. I offered a lecture/warning to the new board about the likely inevitability of our District falling into Statutory Operating Debt. This is the video and my lecture comes a little after 2 hours and 40 minutes. I tell the newly elected school board members to begin researching SOD. Annie Harala called my description of this evenings budget cuts “flippant.”

If Loren is in any doubt about my true feelings about his coverage of the Duluth School Board in the Reader they are these:

1. I regret only that Loren never got a chance to be elected to the School Board and display his rich knowledge of our District’s financial situation.
2. I’m grateful for his tenacity, dedication and toil in explaining the long and tedious school board meetings he has attended without fail for a great many years.
3. I will regard him as a friend and ally forever.
4. I pray for his forgiveness of my occasional carelessness……Annie Harala characterized it as flippancy at our last meeting.

I will miss Loren Martell’s reporting on me

Loren is often a week late for his Reader Column because the Reader goes to print Tuesday night when we have our regular Board meeting and the day after our Business Committee meetings.

I won’t miss being lectured to by my erstwhile colleagues but it’s certainly been gratifying to read the discussions that Loren’s columns transcribe. I hope he does some reporting on last night’s final meeting. This story about our red ink, which seems only to be online, has this brief interchange between Annie Harala and your’s truly:

The reserve, which was $2,359,436 at the start of last year, tanked to nearly half a million dollars in the red. Besides pointing a finger at special education, the district is also blaming that depletion on a levy adjustment for an elementary reading curriculum and a big loss of money due to enrollment once again dropping lower than projected.

“This year,” member Welty said, questioning this last point, “using ADM figures, I came up with 60 fewer kids.” Multiplying that with “the $12,300 per kid, I calculated that at about $740,000,” which, he added, “doesn’t account for the entire $3 million deficiency in revenues.”
“Member Welty, I think you missed a section of our conversation,” the Superintendent retorted, referring to the fact that member Johnston had just asked a similar question. “That was what member Johnston just asked —” Business Chair Harala chimed in, “and then you re-asked.”
“I think that question was legitimate from Mr. Welty,” member Johnston countered. “Looking at the numbers: they don’t quite jive.”
At one point, as the meeting progressed, Harala snipped under her breath that some Board members “should put their listening ears on.”
Harala also ventured a query of her own: “I have a question, before any other Board members start asking questions again. It’s kind of a–it’s a four-part question in one, that–aaaaaaah —so I keep thinking about–you know, there are some–I’m just gonna ask them: so what can we control, with where we’re at? And what can we do about what we can control? What can’t we control with how this budget happened, and what can we do about that? I just–we need–what–this is not a good state for us to be in. And what’s the plan for moving forward? So I’d just — I’d like to hear from administration on that —”

Expressing what everyone else in the room was thinking, Mr. G. replied: “I’m not sure I followed your four-part question, but I think I know where you’re headed.”
Over the past four years, whenever our current Chair of the Business Committee has asked a finance-related question, I’ve found myself fumbling with my listening ears, wondering how in the hell I can bring myself some relief by taking them OFF.

My gift horse

A couple of days ago someone anonymously left a very nice gift and a suggestion at my door for a public art project. I took it that it came from a fan of my politics and my blog. It ended with the all caps request/plea “DON’T GIVE UP!! NEVER GIVE UP!!” Taped to the conclusion was a tiny pressed four leaf clover.

I very much intend to honor that plea. It was not really necessary but I appreciated the encouragement. I’ve planned to live to be a hundred since elementary school and in my college years I locked on politics and governance as my mission. I’ve been running for public office since 1976, 41 years ago. As a candidate I’m getting close to my sell-by date but I’m not sure being a candidates is my forte – witness my recent electoral defeat. Still, I think I’ve got more than vapors to run on. When I turned sixty, seven years ago, I presumed I still had another twenty years of sentient life left in me to do something useful. Despite the lapsing of seven years I am still keeping that twenty year horizon in view. Maybe when I turn 90 it will have shrunk to ten years.

Actually, its writing more than sculpture that I think will prove to be my métier. My eight loyal blog readers know all too well my yen to write a book. I yammer about it all the time. There’s a little alliteration in that. Or is that consonance? Its been a long time since my poetry unit in pre-college English.

The Public Art project my anonymous friend suggested to me was one about our tribalism. It sketched out for me two monolithic Easter Island like heads and suggested decorating them with different scarves to depict their mutual antithesis. In the gift bag were two huge, gorgeous pieces of fabric for me (or some sewing adept) to craft into scarves with the suggestion of intertwining them perhaps to hint that the tribes weren’t really all that different.

Well, I am too protective of my fingers to operate a sewing machine and I’m pretty resistant to other people’s artistic suggestions. Besides, a short time later an idea popped in my head that I subsequently put on my front yard that pretty takes sides with one tribe over the other.

Its often said we should not look gift horses in the mouth and I wouldn’t subject this gift to that kind of inquisition. I haven’t figured out what to do with the bolts of cloth but there were two other gift items I plan to use. One was a tea towel with “this is my protest dish towel” emblazoned across it. The protesters on it were doves which are famous for their moderation. I liked it. I’ve always considered myself something of oxymoron, in my case a “militant moderate.” I could be a petulant dove.

The other gift was a very loud pair of orange socks with the image of a fellow fighting a lion. Its legend said: “Thou hast balls.”

Why, yes, in fact. I think I do.

Oh, and if anyone would like to have some very beautiful fabric send me an email at: harrywelty@charter.net

My cat Moloch likes it too.

Squeezing some blood (thoughts on education) out of a turnip.

I began deleting old email messages on my District website a few moments ago. One gives me a link to clear out all of my district information on Google without disrupting non District info I had on a separate Google account previously. Having finished my holiday decorating…..including a second “fake” Christmas Tree in the basement with grandchildren produced gingerbread cookies I think its time to wrap up my District connections including turning in that tardy campaign finance form my Board policy book and my District ID’s and parking passes. I just discovered another eight inches worth of old Board books I’d put on some shelving to toss out so I’m really freeing up space. I have three or four bins of paperwork to look through some day and clean out as well.

I left my eight loyal readers hanging a couple days ago with assurances that there were subjects school district I intended to address related to All Day Kindergarten and more thoughts on Charter Schools. Promises, Promises. I’ll turn them into bullet points: Continue reading

Fighting my Blog freeze

I began writing the second fuzzy post on Kindergarten but stopped half way through. I’ll finish it and unlike its predecessor I may even proof read it. Why did I stop? Well, as I’ve confessed before my enthusiasm for writing about the Duluth Schools is significantly blunted at the moment what with Christmas, learning French and preparing to write a book and all. And did I mention I put five hours in starting a snow sculpture yesterday. I have even backtracked on a promise to the Business Office to turn in my post election finance report.

But today Jana Hollingsworth managed to put some special ed cost numbers in the Trib that our District has been unable to scrounge up what with its penchant for picking fights with Edison. I’d like to put that in perspective here and now but I won’t. I have to try to finish a snow sculpture before a noonish Christmas Concert for my grandsons. That’s become another priority over my receding compulsion to write about everything ISD 709.

Its kind of too bad that someone like me has been pushed off the 709 School Board. I am a genuine see-both-sides-of-the-story kind of politician. I want what’s best and fair for both our public school systems in Duluth even though I was elected to serve the larger 709 schools. Now the Superintendent has reinforced his anti-Edison majority which will not bode well for passage of future operational levies. (Why should Edison families vote for 709 operational levies when they feel under assault?)

Edison is quite right to claim that its schools are being scapegoated in the current 709 financial shortfall. But 709 has a legitimate beef. Edison spends twice as much on its special ed students as 709 does and then puts 709 in the position of paying for their more generous special ed spending. That creates a bidding war that 709 can never win with parents determined to get the best education for their special needs children.

But for local taxpayers Edison is something of a godsend. Other than the cross subsidy for special ed almost all of Edison’s financing comes from State taxpayers. To keep the numbers grossly simplified lets say each public school child (not counting special ed kids) costs $10,000 a year to teach. To keep things just as simple lets say that Edison has 1,000 students and ISD 709 has 9,000 for a total of 10,000 students. (In reality Edison has more and 709 less) This would mean that Edison gets $10 million for its kids and ISD 709 $90 million or a total of $100 million.

Normally 709 taxpayers would cover about 20% of the costs of local public school kids while the state would cover about 75% of those costs. Twenty percent of 10,000 students would cost local taxpayers $20 million each year or $2 million for every thousand students. Ah, but the state pays the full freight (not counting the cross subsidy) for Edison’s thousand students. Local taxpayers thus get a $2 million savings. Even when you subtract out the cross subsidy local taxpayers are getting a nice subsidy courtesy of state taxpayers.

That doesn’t mean that 709 doesn’t feel the burn as parents pull their children out of 709 school for Edison’s special education which then bills 709 for its more generous spending. Yes, yes, yes. The state law only lets Edison charge 90% of its special ed costs to 709 but considering they are spending double on each special ed student that’s a very modest break.

I’ll keep things grossly oversimplified again. Assuming that 20% of Edison’s students are special ed students (200 kids) and cost double what 709 spends. And assuming that the costs are $20,000 for Edison SPED students and $10,000 for 709 kids. And then, completely forgetting the 10% reimbursement discount. Edison could demand $4 million from 709 or two million more than 709 would pay to educate Edison’s SPED students if they were all in 709 schools.

The actual numbers can be found in today’s Trib story. To me they strongly suggest that some compromise ought to be sought in state statute. They also suggest another reason for the 709 schools to be resistant to the sale of Central to Edison. Edison would be able to charge special ed costs to 709 for 9th through 12th grade students that currently attend 709. That would be a special ed enrollment jump of about 25% for Edison meaning more costs charged to 709.

It took the News Tribune to ferret out this information and so local 709 junkies can be sorry to see Jana Hollingsworth leave the education beat. There is no trust or cooperation between Edison and 709. The bridge I might have formed has been severed by the voters and that is a loss. My daughter was an Edison SPED teacher for the last couple of years until she left for another Independent School District and, through her eyes, I had an inkling of that took place in Edison. At double the spending of 709 they offer wonderful special ed services but even they have their challenges.

I’ll add one other marvelously oversimplified wrinkle to this story. At present Minnesota taxpayers are able to deduct all of their state and local taxes from their federal tax returns. The Congressional Republicans and President Trump are diminishing that deduction with the soon-to-be approved new tax changes. They don’t want the penurious (cheap) super Republican southern states to look so bad by comparison with Blue states in their public ed spending. I called that the “Deep Southification” of America in a recent post. Its better that northerners are penalized for having better schools. My hero, Lincoln, must be rolling in his Springfield grave over that.

If Minnesotan’s tire of funding the cost of Special Education because they can no longer deduct those costs from their Federal taxes it could be curtains for lots of children. Its too bad that Republicans only care about children when they are in utero instead of after they are born.

Two fuzzies, a referendum and a gift horse (2F,R,Horse) – A prologue


My last post ended as though I was washing my hands of the Duluth Schools thusly: “Not my problem. My last meeting is Tuesday night. I lost. I’m free.”

Then my one remaining success on the Duluth School Board, Alanna Oswald, sent me an email which kindly punctured my balloon. She pointed out that a special Thursday meeting has been added to our schedule to “fix” our belatedly announced budget shortfall of two million plus bucks. We, the school board, have to do something because if we don’t the shortfall is enough to put us into Statutory Operating Debt otherwise known as Financial Hell. Its where the frog is pithed (made brain dead) just before a couple of high school freshman start carving it up for a lesson in anatomy. So, I will be resurrected zombie-like and made to slap some band aids on our budget before a new posse is sworn in to save the day after.

[I say Alanna is my only remaining success because Art Johnston, (who I helped “tame” the way one might attempt to turn a bobcat into a house cat) and I have both been forcibly retired by the voters. I worked my tuchus off to elect Alanna two years ago and she is by far the only person on the school board who understands our school’s workings as well as our top administrators. I fear the rest of the board will ignore her in deference to the Superintendent.]

So……there is no washing my hands of the District just yet…..especially since I’m keeping my campaign checking account open until the 2019 election just in case. And that means I woke up at 2AM with the Duluth Schools on my fevered brain…..sacre bleu. (I told you I’ve been studying French.)

First fuzzy (and not a warm one) Special Education funding: Continue reading

Being willing to lose

For the past week I’ve had a post-it note on my keyboard with the phrase “Being willing to lose” stuck to it. It is one of dozens of posts I’ve not posted as I begin turning my attention to my new postschool board life. I’m in the state of metamorphosis and so are my eight loyal readers. My Anti Trump rants seem to have have cost me two regulars who no longer write to challenge or debate me. They’ve gone to their own silos. But others have discovered my blog. A month after the election with very little being posted I’m still averaging 400 peeks a day. That’s a rough doubling from the pre-election numbers.

By the way, its 3 AM. I’ve been sleeping poorly of late and I think its because I haven’t been posting. Spending an hour or two during the day emptying my head onto the Internet seems to let me sleep through the night. Therefore, not blogging about the School Board or the titanic national political climate has been a poor option for me. I need the sleep if for no other reason than to fend off dementia. Look what the absence of sleep has done for our President!

I recycled a file cabinet’s worth of School Board meeting books yesterday. It felt good if not quite final. I’m keeping that campaign account open for two years from now and have even disclosed that fact to Claudia. “Why would you want to run again?” she asked me. That’s a good question that I’ll answer in a couple years if I still have that burr under my saddle.

I’ve stuck all the remaining School Board related materials in one corner of my office to sort through. I still owe the public and our CFO’s executive secretary one last campaign finance report. She gently warned me I was late with it a couple days ago. It was due December 7th. She also told me that not turning it in put my status as her favorite school board member in jeopardy. I’ve told her before that I suspect she says the same thing to all the other school board members – about my being her favorite. As for the current delay I explained that this date has long been noted as a “Day of Infamy.”

Other than stewing about the world’s, and the school district’s problems at night I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my pending status as a free man. I just started my third holiday jigsaw puzzle. I’ve decorated the house for Christmas. I’ve made more time for my grandsons. I’ve made my lawn ready for Winter. I’ve been reading books and the New York Times. And, I’ve decided to take up French. Now that I’m free from the school board I intend to write about my Grandfather a century after his militarily service in France. Claudia and I have begun looking at trips we might take to Ooh La La land. I’ve found it very easy to get lost in the French language App Duolingo. I’ve got s’il vous plait down, finally, thank you very much.

Tonight our grandsons were over and we watched Home Alone with them. Its the first time I’d seen it in twenty years. Oh that Culkin was cute. Afterward we baked Gingerbread Cookie, Xmas ornaments. Tomorrow we will go to church to rehearse Sunday’s children’s service with a Christmas pageant. School Board! What’s that?

After showers and a very late nine O’clock bedtime I read the boys a small slice of my blog’s “Harry’s Diary” from three years, ten days ago. They were a big part of that post – the day my Mother died. I didn’t write it for children but I did write it for them much as my Mother sat me down and told me family stories. If I write that book about my Grandfather Mom will be my co-author. As I did the day Mom died I sang Good King Wenceslas to the boys after I finished reading them the post. Then I went downstairs to watch Washington Week in Review with Claudia. Hooray for Alabama!

Oh, and about this post’s title. I began my political career 16 election campaigns ago with the idea that I had an obligation to make clear what I stood for and that this obligation took precedence over getting elected. I hate the idea of keeping one’s political agenda to oneself for fear of losing an election. For instance, I’d be embarrassed to let the people of Duluth think I was open minded about selling an empty ten million dollar albatross to a competitor. That’s the modus operandi of our probable next school board chair.

With my retirement the blog will have far fewer revelations about the Duluth Schools which will make our Superintendent happy. He set his wife and the union to work to elect a more compliant school board and succeeded mightily. Now he has a lot more positivity to deal with the two million shortfall he recently revealed to the world.

Here’s one of Jana Hollingsworth’s last stories as the Trib’s Education Reporter on the District’s attempts to solve its financial difficulties.

Not my problem. My last meeting is Tuesday night.

I lost. I’m free.

Doomsayer ignored

I’ve had a month to recover from my most recent election defeat. I was quick to cast a gimlet eye on the satisfied reaction of the News Trib’s editors who viewed my warnings as over the top doomsday talk rather than as a necessary warning.

Well, I can be an I-told-you-so as well as a prophet so I’ll belatedly link to yesterday’s banner headline in the Trib “Duluth school cuts loom.” We have lost a three million dollar reserve which we painfully cobbled together in my four years on the School Board. We have a couple day’s reserve of one tenth of a million dollars. Statutory Operating Debt (SOD) and State intervention is just around the corner.

As for the three fresh new faces who are going to cure our ills with positivity…….only one of them, Josh Gorham, has made a habit of attending school board meetings both before and since his election.

Mom’s tree topper

In the fuzzy foreground you can see one of my Mother’s paper mache, Christmas, tree toppers. Just after my college years she started making very popular Christmas tree ornaments for the little boutique, Harpies Bazaar, she was a part owner of in Mankato. My parents are in a picture on the wall behind the little Christmas scene I just put up in my attic office. Its a little artificial tree full of and surrounded by my Mother’s ornaments, the ones that don’t fit downstairs. Some of my earliest memories of Mom were of her teaching my fourth grade classmates how to make paper mache puppets. The teacher’s husband even made a small puppet theater and I remember getting laughs from my classmates by adlibbing for the puppets while I was behind its curtain.

I bought the faux tree when Mom was in dementia care and decorated it each year until her death. She died just before Christmas 2015 and I got to her room in time to begin singing a family Christmas favorite,”Good King Wenceslas.” She breathed her last breath before the first stanza was finished.

Sorry, gotta go. I have a funeral to attend. Its for one of the fellows at my church who always loved to give razz about my snow sculptures before they were completed.