About those swimming pools – Pt. 2

As the last post pointed out Duluth’s mega school plan was never voted on in a referendum which made it as unique in Minnesota history as its vast scope at $450 million.

Superintendent Dixon and JCI cunningly crafted a finance package which made use of four different funding sources that carefully exempted them from having to face the voters. They expressly avoided the most common legislative authority for such funding that gave them the chance to pay for the Red Plan but which gave voters a chance to petition for a “reverse referendum” to reverse the building if enough no votes were cast. The new legislation they relied on, authored by Rep. Mike Jaros, permitted them to ignore a referendum if it could be justified based on a need to racially integrate the Duluth Schools. Mike raised hell about this use because, ironically, the consequences of the Red Plan would almost certainly concentrate the minority population. Sadly Mike’s DFL colleagues, encouraged by the local unions who wanted public construction, took JCI’s and the School Board’s side as did Governor Tim Pawlenty.

I’ve never attempted to explain once consequence of the Red Plan’s implementation that I’ve always found very intriguing and which Dr. Dixon must have savored. It was the tremendous freedom to alter the Red Plan that he enjoyed because he was not limited by the wording of a referendum which would have listed the projects and the total cost which could not have easily been deviated from had it been basis on which the building proceeded.

Old timers might recall that JCI offered three patriotic plans for consideration in 2006 a Red Plan, a White plan and a Blue plan. The Red Plan was the least expensive at $257 million. When it was chosen its more limited cost was trumpeted as one of the reasons. And yet today the plan is coming in at $315 million.

It didn’t take long for some of the expensive items from the white and the blue plans to find their way into the Red Plan. Some extravagances never contemplated in the Red Plan got added like the new stadium at Ordean/East high school. After swimming enthusiast Judy Seliga-Punyko defeated me in our 2008 campaign two $8 million dollar swimming pools were added to the Red Plan. The result, as folks at Congdon Elementary can attest to is that some of the later school projects got unexpectedly trimmed as the Red Plan began running into the Red.

Dr. Dixon was able for three years to reward his friends with all sorts of new Red, White and Blue goodies although he did have to go to the State once to ask that he be allowed to spend more money boosting the cost to $315 million.

How did we pay for all this? What couldn’t be taxed was instead bled from the school program to the tune of 5 million annually. That’s because promised staffing and energy savings never materialized requiring that we trim operational costs by 5 million annually. That means classrooms in the high schools of nearly 50 students. Its yet one more cost of the Red Plan despite the lies of our School Administrators who are still defending Keith Dixon.

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