We know nothing Editorial, My 3rd response

The twaddle just keeps on coming:

Another fact under fire from critics is that the district did not raid teacher-salary money to help pay for the Red Plan. The claim actually isn’t completely untrue. The district did transfer money from its general fund, the same fund used to pay teachers. But the claim’s suggestion, that teachers were sacrificed in favor of facilities, remains false.

That first sentence is damnable. The editors are claiming that Red Plan critics want to raid money for teachers to pay for the Red Plan. That’s just ass-backards. Red Plan critics have been warning for years that operational expenses are being looted to pay for the Red Plan.

Describing the General Fund as “teacher-salary” money is a gross over simplification. The General Fund is the District’s operational money. It pays for all salaries and expenses to keep the District running day to day. What the Editorial is doing here is simply restating and vouching for the District’s propaganda which is then quoted in the following paragraph.

Here’s how district spokeswoman Katie Kaufman answered the bookkeeping/raiding question when asked by the News Tribune Opinion page:

“From the beginning, we’ve said that operational savings will help pay for the (Long-Range Facilities Plan) to help keep the tax impact lower. But (the savings are) from non-teacher expenses. Here’s a simplified example of how that works; the number is made up. Closing School A saves $100,000 in general fund dollars. Not from cutting teachers but from reducing administration, clerical, maintenance and other non-teacher expenses. The School Board passes a resolution … to transfer the $100,000 non-teacher savings from the general fund to the debt fund to help pay (Long-Range Facilities Plan) costs, as planned.

Some of Katie’s theoretical savings may be possible. It’s true that if you merge two schools into one you will need fewer janitors, secretaries etc. But this savings will only occur once the schools are actually open and the big ones aren’t open for prime time yet. (I’d love to have the Trib track down one rumor that some of the high schools won’t be ready for business next year – after Dixon has departed.) However, it will be a challenge for these future savings to make up for the millions of dollars of lost State aid which departs with every dissatisfied student who enrolls elsewhere or who drops out. And l repeat: the cuts Ms. Kaufman notes are being made to help pay off the bonds which allows us to pay JCI. Telling us that the Red Plan is benefiting taxpayer will be laughable if Red Plan leaves us with ruined, crippled schools.

Four years ago with JCI’s help the District told the State it would cut two million dollars’ worth of operational costs each year for twenty years starting from year one to help pay for the Red Plan. JCI and the District claimed that there would be $5 million in annual savings but the state saw through this and simply concluded that the district would trim its operational budget by two million a year to pay for the building program. I personally question whether the additional two or three million in annual savings can materialize given the District’s enrollment losses. A lot of the additional savings is supposed to come from energy savings but JCI’s new air conditioners will be energy hogs and supposed transportation cost cutting was never analyzed by JCI of the District.

Fortunately, the District’s public relations director has a simple solution which undermines her claim that the Red Plan was intended to be kind to taxpayers: “raise more taxes.”:

“Opponents want to say that because closing a school saves money from the general fund, and general fund dollars are used in part to pay for teachers, that you’re using money from teacher salaries to pay for the (Long-Range Facilities Plan). That’s not accurate,” Kaufman wrote. “The general fund savings from closing a building come from non-teacher positions. If the School Board opts not to transfer those non-teacher savings to the (Long-Range Facilities Plan), the other option is to raise more taxes to pay for the (Long-Range Facilities Plan).

Its funny but all this hand wringing is prompted by teacher cuts. You would never know that from Ms. Kaufman’s claim that: “The general fund savings from closing a building come from non-teacher positions.”

After taking no stand whatsoever on any of this, except to chide the venomous Red Plan critics, our insightful editorial board offers this lame conclusion to its oracle:

Complicated and open to interpretation, for sure. That doesn’t mean any of this is meant to suggest, not even a little, that questions shouldn’t be raised. The Duluth school district is spending our money, after all, and the district has an obligation to carefully consider and answer critics’ charges and claims – just as critics bear the responsibility for thoughtfully listening to and taking to heart the answers.

Wowser! Its OK to ask questions but don’t bother your pretty little head about the answers. Katie Kaufman keeps them all in tin cans in her office next to the Superintendent of Schools.

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