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Duluth Public Schools: Political, Budget, and Community Issues

Election 2017 is around the corner.

In the last year, the school board has shown much improvement and that we can contribute to furthering education.   We have started addressing budget and academic issues.

  This is a marked improvement over the past where our school board was marred by personal vendettas and a lack of attention to education and sound governance.

 I will continue to work toward:

 1).  Promoting Denfeld High School, and all our western schools, and erasing the east-west education equity gap in Duluth;

 2).   Be a checks and balance to the Superintendent;

 3).  Be a conduit for citizens and parents to communicate with the school;

 4).  Keeping general fund money in the classroom—and stopping the $3.4 million diversion of classroom money to pay for past building debts;

 5). Stopping the declining student enrollment by bringing pride, and our children, back to our schools;

 6).  Opening up school transparency.  Making  financial and educational workings accountable to all parents and taxpayers in Duluth; and

 7). Working to improve the graduation rates and achievement scores for all students, and totally eliminating the achievement gap between white kids and kids of color.

  I am confident that with a new board and my re-election, that Duluth Schools will finally be able to fulfill aspiring dreams of students and parents, and that the Duluth Schools will become an integral part of making Duluth a prosperous and thriving community.

 

 I am a strong voice, knowledgeable in all my decisions, and have proven  to be an effective voice  for our schools and our community.

As usual, I attempted early in the game to get the DFL endorsement.  And as usual I didn't.  No surprise there. I've never got it in the past, and have always won anyway, and expect to again.

The Duluth DFL is very disappointing in that their Loyalty Oath (literally--you must swear that if the DFL doesn't endorse you, you will drop out of the race) Trumps everything that has to do with people and real issues, like our schools and the racism in our town and schools. Literally all you have to do swear loyalty to the DFL and you will be endorsed, if you vary at all off script (like talking about issues of the school or racisim) they will stomp on you.  The look of scorn shown by the DFL stawarts to anyone that talks about issues is sad.

 

Here's what I told the DFL and what upset them so much:  my mistake: I didn't blather on about the DFL royalty.  

A bit about myself. I'm a professional engineer that has spent my life finding, solving, and fixing problems. I worked for many year for the US Forest Service, now I'm an engineering consultant.

 

I have two grown children and two step children with my partner Jane.  We are now foster parents.

 

While working for the government I was also a Union organizer and was the Chief Steward in Wisconsin for many years and our legislative chair person for six years.

 

 It has been said that I voice my opinions. It has been said that I have passion for our schools.  Both of those are correct.  If you don't have passion about our education and you are afraid to occasionally take a contrarian point of view and stand up for what is right, you shouldn't be running for schools board. The function of a school board members is to be a checks and balance to the Superintendent, to be a conduit from the community to the school, and to help parents, students and staff navigate the complexities of a bureaucracy.

 

We listen to the community. 

 

Every thing in our schools is not Rosie.  We have serious issues.  So  the bad news, then I'll follow up with the good news.

 

We have a declining student enrollment problem.  We have the lowest number of students in our Duluth Schools in over 100 years.  This is particularly serious in west Duluth. The number of Denfeld graduates is now the lowest since 1926 when Denfeld was built.   We are now about 900 students--this is as low as any time in Denfeld's history.  

 

We are losing students to neighboring schools of Wrenshall, Proctor, Hermantown and Cloquet and the charter schools.  Why are we losing students?  We have only 6 period days when all the schools around us have 7 period days which allows better flexibility in scheduling. We have large class sizes.  We have distrust from the community

 

We have budget problems.  We've been running budget deficits for eight years, we've spent all our reserve funds. That is causing us to cut staff, counselors, and teachers. 

 

Why? We are the only school in Minnesota that is taking money from our General Fund (the classrooms) to pay for past debts. In the last eight year we have taken $37 million from the classroom.  We are only now learning how crippling this is to our schools.  There is no wonder that we are having financial problems.

 

One more issue:  We have one of the worst achievement gaps in the state of Minnesota and Minnesota has one of the worst in the country.  I'm not the only one saying this, ask any person of color in this community.  This has also been extensively reported on Minnesota Public Radio. We can no longer deny that, we have to fix it.

 

Okay, enough of the bad news.  How about the good news?.

 

We have great buildings, we have great teachers, we have great staff.  I'm running for school board and I'm a strong, knowledgeable and effective board member.  In the last two years, our Board has turned around. Under my urging, we've changed policy to allow any Board member to add agenda items (Yes, only the Chair and the Superintendent could do that in the past). We are now broadcasting all our meeting on YouTube.  We are even addressing the budget and academic issues. We are now responsive to all board members and starting to regain trust of the community

 

As an example, I have been working with the Denfeld staff and parents to address the Denfeld issues.  And on June 5, next Monday, we are having a special board meeting at 4:30 at HOCHS.  Please join us to learn and be part of the solution and to support Denfeld.

 

And please help elect me to continue to be a strong, knowledgeable and effective leader in our schools.

 

 


 

 

May 2015: We won, again!!

In 2015, Superintendent Gronseth and five Duluth School Board members initiated a process to try remove me from the Board.  The Superintendent's actions were based on nothing but nasty lies,  and was the culmination of his intimidation to stop me from talking about failures of management of the School Distict and the many problems we face.  They spent about $200,000 of taxpayer's money (classroom money) in their failed attempt to remove me. 

In our successful defense, we filed a counter lawsuit in Federal Court.  In the first half hour of our hearing, the Federal Judge made it very clear that the school could not remove me from an elected position, and he thoroughly chastised the Superintendent's attorney for their blatant attack on the democratic foundations of America--elected officials and freedom of speech.  The school ran with their tail between their legs and got nothing--but more angst from the community and more loss of student enrollment.  A case history of incompetent school leadership and incompetent school lawyers.

BEST OF ALL, the three nasty board members that went after me, knew that they would never win relection and didn't run again!!!  In two years, the six board members that denied the rights of people in Duluth to have a say in their schools are all gone.   All of Duluth is looking forward to the new school board.  See the menus on Recent Articles and Links for more information on how this worked out and the excellent articles by the Zenith and the Reader Weekly on this fiasco.

After one-and-a-half years of incompetence and waste, this is all over.

It is now time to get back to school governance by looking at the district's questionable financial management, the enormous loss of enrollment, the achievement gap, and our low graduation rates.


 

Welcome to the Truth in Duluth website! This site is maintained by Art Johnston, Duluth School Board member for the 4th District. This is a forum to get information out to Duluth citizens on current political and monetary issues in the Duluth Public Schools (ISD 709). I will occasionally report on education issues, but my emphasis is not on education or school activities, but rather the community involvement in the school board, budget impacts on the classrooms, and tax impacts. 

These views are based on factual information that I’ve learned and researched as a school board member; and based on what I've experienced as a board member.  This is intended to be a dynamic site with frequent updates on current issues and historical and current budget information. Check back after school board meetings for updates.

Despite the public school budget being almost twice as large as the Duluth City’s budget, school issues often fly under the radar screen with little reporting by the Duluth media. Investigative journalism is virtually nonexistent in Duluth. The alternative newspapers like the Zenith and Reader Weekly occasionally do articles that have excellent investigative journalism.  The TV stations are often good, but it is in 5 second sound bites. The Duluth News Tribune is about as bad as they come, and very disappointing when it comes to reporting on the schools, and when they do an "investigative article", it is down right wrong, misleading, or only is a spokesperson for the school administration--rarely do school board members' opinion even get reported on.

Citizen frustration is already high from disregard that the school has shown to citizens by denying them a vote on the Red Plan.  And its getting worse due to the  continued lack of transparency and honesty by the school district, large class sizes, reduced teacher positions, and the inevitable tax increases.   And now people are asking, "Where did all that $314 million go?"  "Why are our class sizes so large?"

This website is designed to inform Duluth citizens, education professionals, parents and students about how we got to this point and who's responsible and what we can do about it. This is meant to give a voice to reasonable decision-making based on knowledge (isn’t that what schools are all about!) and factual discussion of the issues.

If we don’t get the facts right, we’ll get the decisions wrong!



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by Dr. Radut