Red Plan versus Let Duluth Vote?

For those us who are new here, having only lived in Duluth for a decade or less, can any of you proud professional Duluthians add any clarity to this murky and mysterious topic?

I’m sure it goes deep, and emotions run high, and minds are made up, but I can’t seem to find any unbiased sources that describe what has exactly happened here. The available info, that which surfaces when one Googles the keywords seem somewhat scrambled and wishy washy, or Bud Lightish, considering the impact and money involved. So, who are the good guys? Who is right? What’s the deal with Johnson Controls? And did the deal have anything to do with Duluth’s irascible money woes back when taxes spiked when the JCI took control? Also, seeing as how I heard a couple of old timers complaining about this too, is the recent sewage water runoff charge mega increase on city utilities somehow all tied to this, or the casino? Is it starting to read like a Tarantino script? Help the undereducated non-native tax-paying simpletons like myself get up to speed on this complex matter. Thanks.

51 Comments

Ramos

about 7 years ago

Basically, if the student population grows, we need to build new schools. If the student population shrinks, we also need to build new schools. There is a company, named Johnson Controls, that likes to build new schools.  They wave their hands in the air and magical numbers appear, proving that new schools are the way to go. We love Johnson Controls.

TimK

about 7 years ago

As part of the Long Range Facilities Plan, the Duluth School District needed to consolidate buildings and programs to better align with actual enrollment numbers. There's a lot of history to consider as a part of this. For starters, the population and therefore enrollment declined between about 1980 and today (seems to have stabilized for now). A group of school board members back in the 1980s and '90s were fairly anti-public education and did a fair amount of damage to the finances and proper administration of the district. Add to that new distrust of the district was a public that was unwilling to close schools in order to consolidate programs and facilities (the economy was really in the crapper back then -- worse than today in many ways). 

Over 120 public meetings were held as part of the LRFP and those citizens that got off their asses and attended and participated in process, supported the district and its consultant, Johnson Controls. Originally there were 4 or 5 plans that were whittled down to 3 then 2. The plan that these citizen groups supported and that the board eventually selected was called the Red Plan. It was big, expensive and paid for through bonding. After the bonds were issued, a number of blowhards got on local talk radio and blasted the plan and demanded a public vote. Adding fuel to the fire were the new owners of the DNT who were tax-hating, anti-union, anti-public education trolls who chose to also muddy the waters as much as possible. Lawsuits were filed and appeals were filed with the Minnesota Dept. of Education. The haters have lost every legal battle. If they would have gone to some of the initial planning meetings, maybe they would have achieved something better, or at least, different. It's really waaaaay too late to stop the Red Plan, as it is almost completed. It reminds me a bit of those opposed to the Affordable Care Act -- what exactly is the alternative if you get your way?

Ramos

about 7 years ago

Oh, that's right. I forgot to mention that critics of the Red Plan are blowhards, haters and trolls.

There's no question that it's too late to stop the Red Plan. Now that it's nearly complete, though, it's useful to compare the promises and predictions of the past with what has actually transpired. Richard Thomas at the Zenith City Weekly, who has done quite a bit of reporting on the Red Plan over the years, does so in an article he wrote last January.

[email protected]

about 7 years ago

From my perspective, I would add:  failure to convince a wide swath of the community that this was the best plan resulted in a loss of confidence that killed attempts to increase the levy to support the schools.  I was relatively new to Duluth at the time, and even I admit:  normally, an increase for schools is a no-brainer for me.  But the first ballot (after the red plan started) to include a levy increase, I researched like a crazy person, because I couldn't parse how this school district worked in all the haze and bluster.  I imagine others just voted "no."

emmadogs

about 7 years ago

I was not around for the original debates, and had no children in the school district.  So I came sort of late to the initial debate.

To this day, after attempting to research, and to interpret and parse and peel away the bombastic rhetoric, I still don't really know who was right and what was what.  At different times I have agreed with TimK's position, only to be swayed to Ramos's side.  I finally threw in the towel and voted for across the board levy increases, only because I wanted to support local schools, and wanted to err on the side of students.  I know others who support local education, but who voted against additional funding because times were tough and no one seemed to be able to explain, beyond 'support local ed', why the additional money was necessary after all that had been spent before.  The DNT's coverage was useless.  Online venues like PDD will be much more helpful to citizens' educating ourselves on complicated issues.

Paul Lundgren

about 7 years ago

Emma, you were "not around for the original debates," so you probably shouldn't say "the DNT's coverage was useless."

As much as I love a good compliment to PDD, the idea that PDD would have been more helpful than the Duluth News Tribune in sorting out that issue is just plain silly. The paper covered the story thoroughly, while PDD probably had three posts in which various people spouted off about it.

At PDD, we go hiking first and fuss over the news later. That's what I'm going to do now, so maybe I'll offer some Red Plan thoughts later.

secretseasons

about 7 years ago

She was talking about the coverage around the levy, which she says she voted for, meaning she was here for that part. Enjoy your hike.

emmadogs

about 7 years ago

Hi Paul...gotta disagree with you, although I should have elaborated:  when the issue of increased levy needs/why the additional money was needed/etc came up, the DNT's coverage was confusing, unclear, and did not adequately specify why the dueling parties thought or did not think the district needed more funds.  I recall conclusory quotes instead of in depth analysis.

You give the debates here on PDD short shrift.  I have learned a lot about city and state issues by reading the comments here.  Your PDD participants are typically well informed and articulate (and accurate, as Claire called yesterday's primaries).  I can tell you that I learn more about local/state issues here than from any other local source besides MPR.  We don't come to PDD just for local band updates, cool old pins, and pithy Van Halen analysis.

Paul Lundgren

about 7 years ago

Sorry Emma. I misread or misinterpreted your comment. The overall subject here is the old Red Plan debate and I narrowed in on that even though you were clearly referring to the three-tier levy vote.

waferdog

about 7 years ago

My main issue with the Red Plan (outside of the fact that Johnson Controls has a history of pushing things on communities beyond what they need or can afford using sometimes questionable numbers) is that a public vote was bypassed using a state law meant to aid desegregation in school districts. That law only applies to Minneapolis, St. Paul and Duluth and allowed those school boards to bypass normal public bonding votes. The Red Plan had nothing to do with desegregation but ultimately that didn't mean much (Johnson Controls also instructed the school board on the misuse of this law).

Joel

about 7 years ago

I was able to get my 6th grader enrolled in the Charter school this year. Why you ask? Class size exactly half of the Duluth public schools! How can the charter school have a relatively new building, have an extended school year and longer school day, maintain class size that is reasonable, and turn a profit? Why can't the Duluth public manage their funds as well as the charter? Now I guess I know why it took two years on the waiting list to get my son in the charter!

spy1

about 7 years ago

I think the main plaint of the Red Plan lies in this: School boards and administrators are not construction managers. Thus, they are fed all of their info through the filter of Johnson Controls. JC takes advantage of this any way it can to make a buck and sometimes, as in the case up in Ely, simply refuses to provide information. Simple stuff like how their rosy projections don't stack up to reality when it comes to heating savings and other predictions that make school boards notice and fall for the ruse. Ask any building trades person about JC and you will get a shudder and then a dose of education on the racket they are pulling on district after district. If there ever was a Minnesota case study for Pro Publica to unleash its investigative fury on, JC should be it. (Someone send them a line.) JC should be run out of this state on its abuse of public disclosure alone, leaving out its shady numbers shell game.

Paul Lundgren

about 7 years ago

Basically, the whole story can be summed up between TimK's comment and Spy1's comment.

The Red Plan is very close to exactly what people asked for in the public meetings. The Superintendent and the School Board at the time were afraid, however, that a vote on the plan might fail, because people would surely fear closing schools and raising taxes. (The story at the time was that the district needed to act fast instead of waiting for election time, but that was an exaggeration and excuse.) The reality was that if a vote had failed, it would have been devastating, because all this planning had already happened. Choosing to not update our schools was simply not an option. This was the best plan on the table, and starting another planning process would have been ludicrous. 

The fact that a vote didn't happen made it easier to rally against the plan -- and it obviously wasn't going to be a perfect plan anyway. Nothing could be perfect. We have nice buildings and equipment now. That problem is solved. We still have to pay for it, but we were going to have to pay for it under any scenario. Schools cost money. Johnson Controls will brag about the money it saved the district. Skeptics will point to how Johnson Controls scammed the district. A little of both will prove true.

But now that part is over for Duluth, and left for Hermantown to analyze. In Duluth it's time to focus on what goes on inside our nice classrooms.

Johnson Controls should still be held accountable for promises vs. deliveries, but the Red Plan fixed a lot of broken buildings. Now we need to fix broken spirits.

Ramos

about 7 years ago

It's hard to say that the controversy is "over for Duluth" if the incorrect projections of Johnson Controls directly contributed to the school district's current need for more revenue. There's a reason that, as Richard Thomas reports, the school district's reserve fund "has plummeted from $30 million in 2006 to only $3.6 million by 2012."

These kinds of numbers represent a burden that will be with us for many years to come.

It's just another example of how people can, and will, say anything to get projects built. Then, when the projects are built and the numbers are proven wrong, they cry that it's time to "move on" -- generally to the next project where they will once again say any old thing to get it built. This happens over and over again in Duluth. It's like people have no memory.

Herzog

about 7 years ago

Great responses, appreciate the moderators posting this.  On what Ramos just said,  does seem an all too really really common occurrence of the 'job creators,' the ones with attorney muscle, giving the people who shoulder the 'oops my bad' tax burdens permanent mistrust of these kinds of deals then being called haters and asked to move on and not linger on the past when they call the man to task, especially considering it sounds like they flat out did find a way to sneaky squelch the vote. Like the mining companies, promising they'll put back the mountain just like they found it.  

So what about the numbers?  Is $437 million a real number to be asking about?  Wasn't there a court settlement last year where the courts ruled against Johnson?  If they're as violating or unfulfilling as Spy 1 indicates, where are our lawyers?  A school board member recently said 'Duluth lawyers are an oxymoron.'  And that essentially, our hands are tied because there isn't any money left to go after JCI.

This is getting Shakespearean. A classic Duluth Catch 22.

Do any of you suspect there were/are kickbacks/hush money to people on the school board?  And as I truly understand the nature of hind sight, must add that hindsight is an extra bitch if what Ramos says is true, that taxpayers will be shouldering this burdon for many years to come, if Johnson came short and cost us all something to the tune of millions, all because there wasn't more thinking before the paper was signed. 

Lastly, that the DNT has sided with JCI up and down the line on this?And there has been no significant press coverage questioning the numbers? People can write volumes and volumes pontificating 'the facts' and not say a damn thing until something like this is a done deal, and the Ramos clause kicks into effect.  Especially when the editor tells them to go back and keep trying until he reads something that sounds the way he wants it to sound.

 Is what Spy1 says true?

Herzog

about 7 years ago

Mind you all, I'm just fact searching, trying to learn as much as the next guy.  Helpless without a law degree to change any of it. My school board source indicated that the investigative reporting at the newspaper in Tower has done a very good job in responding to Johnson, in contrast with his feelings of thorough disappointment by the DNT or other local sources. 

 Is a company with say, half a billion to throw around in Duluth opposed to sending out a few really nice stocking stuffers?  Would that they were? And that there would be no real way for us to have a solid peep at these recipient's bank accounts, would that we were?  Which, even if we did, the 'check' might be from a company with a name like Rainbow Horizons, or Sunny Vistas?  I'm talking about following the money.  Who has the skills to follow the money?

Save the kids.

Terry G.

about 7 years ago

I think a huge part of "the school district's current need for more revenue" is due to the fact that they are having significant problem selling the properties that are no longer being used. I think their initial estimates probably factored in quick and high-priced sales.

Ramos

about 7 years ago

You're right, Terry G. And those "quick and high-priced sales" that never materialized are another example of the Say Anything To Get It Built Syndrome (SATGIBS).

Failure to sell District property, Central in particular, has caused headaches. During opinion polling in 2007, Decision Resources, which was commissioned by Johnson Controls, Inc., implied in its community survey that the property was already sold: "The cost of each proposal would range between 257 million dollars and 271 million dollars. But, due to savings and sales of unused property, almost half of that total is already paid for." Out of the originally projected $23.9 million in property sales, only $400,000 has come through so far.
Zenith City Weekly, Jan. 29, 2013

waferdog

about 7 years ago

The lawsuit against Johnson Controls that was mentioned is by the City of Duluth, not the school district.  It has nothing to do with the Red Plan but I think the results of the lawsuit speak to Johnson Controls way of doing business.

Herzog

about 7 years ago

Well, life goes on I guess.  New roads are going in.  People are driving new trucks, homes are being bought and sold, and taxes are taxed.  But the best things in life are still free.

http://vimeo.com/4799295

awf

about 7 years ago

So the history on this goes way further back than this red plan acrimony, and people don't seem willing to acknowledge that.  I remember being something like 8 years old, so probably 24 years ago or so, and reading a headline in the DNT about the school district being millions in the red.  I remember it distinctly.  School districts in areas with declining populations, and especially with declining tax base, tend to struggle.  That's just how it goes.  There's no easy fix.  Sure, the red plan wasn't great, but at the very least they did something.  Class sizes have gone up across the state.  Increases may be tangential to the red plan, but it isn't the only reason.  Charters, obviously, are a disaster for public schools, and the accountability and fund management comparisons are generally nothing more than red herrings.  Please let's remember that Edison was originally set up as a for-profit educational institution.

Ramos

about 7 years ago

Awf's comment brings up a fundamental point that has always troubled me about the Red Plan. Setting aside the issue of Johnson Controls and their acute case of SATGIBS, I have to ask: When a school district is faced with declining enrollment and declining revenue, is the correct way to solve it really to embark on a $300 million building spree?

To my simple way of looking at the world, such a solution seems bizarre, even insane. If I were in charge, there is no way, in a million years, I would ever come up with that particular way to handle the issue.

I like the new schools. I think Piedmont Elementary, which two of my boys attend, is bright, modern and appealing. But I just can't come to grips with the mindset that solves a problem of restricted resources by borrowing to the moon and expanding all over the place. It seems totally backwards, as if I lost my job and addressed the issue by closing my old house and building three new ones.

emmadogs

about 7 years ago

Ramos, excellent point.  What was the rationale?  Wasn't it that "it would cost more to update the existing buildings, and to keep existing student populations in their current buildings"?  That hasn't made sense to me at all.  Should I buy a new house because I need updated windows, and assume, possibly incorrectly, that I will sell my old-window-house for a whole lot of money to cover the ultimate cost?

I think it is irresponsible to just say "time to move on, it's done."  These are our tax dollars that have been spent.  I always revisit our family budget to see where we are wasting money or making bad decisions.  I expect the government to do this too.

Claire

about 7 years ago

My daughter loves East, but a high school of that size should never have been built in that residential neighborhood. The traffic is god awful. And the entrance into the school -- where you either have to go completely into the parking lot and then turn around or make illegal turns in the entrance way -- is half assed. I'm surprised there isn't an accident every day there.

tamara

about 7 years ago

I really wish I could have sent my kids to the Duluth public schools. I'm pro-public education (went to public schools growing up) and I support the teachers and ancillary staff wholeheartedly.

However, their school day is not conducive for working parents (8am-230pm) *and* there were over 30 kids (30!) slated to be in Hazel's (my 7 year old) kindergarten class.

I probably could have handled the 30 kid issue with Hazel. Walter (five years old with just enough special needs to be difficult but not enough to actually qualify for any type of help) would absolutely be lost in a class of 30 kids.

I could not handle the hours at all. I don't have a strong family support system in town to watch the kids and the after-school care charges at least $3/hour, according to the flyer I received in the roundup packet. Three hours times three dollars times five days times two = $90/week. That's a lot of money.

In addition, the school district has spent a lot of money building new fancy schools and trying to attract students back, *but* have done so at great cost to the educational value. Most of the specialists have been let go or severely cut back.

The charter school's school day goes from 830 until nearly 4. The bus gets to their stop at 5. Generally, Ezra or I can be there to meet the bus. They have Spanish and gym every day, and alternate art and music. They pay their teachers well and offer generous benefit packages.

If our school district gets its cheese on its crackers and starts being able to compete with the charter schools, both in educational value and treatment of its teachers, I'll consider sending the kids there. But until then, I have to do what's best for my kids, not sacrifice them to hold to a principle.

kerc

about 7 years ago

On the News Tribune and coverage and whatnot:

I find it interesting that today's paper included a front page spot + two very large photos of a possible charter high school. And yet we're voting on a levy this fall, no?

Why no stories about how hard it is on the teachers who have 33 kids in their elementary classroom (new), built for more like 28? Or that my fourth grader last year used the same science textbook that I used in the early 80s. Literally I recognized the book's cover, took a peak inside and bam, copyright date appropriate with when I was in fourth grade. Fortunately this kid is the child of a science professor. But clearly we aren't funding the classrooms nearly enough.

Nathaniel

about 7 years ago

I'm late to the conversation, but what some non-natives might not get is the whole regional aspect of the Red Plan that left a lot of people angry. Fair or not, there was a perception among a lot of families who would have been sending their kids to a neighborhood high school (Central) that they got screwed over by the bigger money over on the East side of town and the bigger political clout of the West side of town.

This had happened before when they cut 7th and 8th grade at Central and made those kids go to Woodland. It's a long school bus ride from the Miller Hill Mall area to Woodland. Same story there too about too many students being packed into a facility that didn't have the capacity to serve them.

Paul Lundgren

about 7 years ago

Keep in mind that in 2003 then-superintendent Julio Almanza's proposal was to close Denfeld and East. The idea was to create a mega-school at Central for 2,400 high-school students. This was widely viewed as idiotic.

Once it became clear that Duluth was going to become a two high-school town, Central got the short straw because of simple geography. Denfeld and East were on opposite ends of the city, at the centers of student population.

Keeping all three high schools open wasn't even put on the table because the cost of improving all of those buildings would have been more expensive than the Red Plan.

Ramos

about 7 years ago

I'm sure that building a new middle school on solid bedrock halfway up a mountain with no access roads or utilities was very cost-effective as well.

Herzog

about 7 years ago

You mean that used to be a nice 'empty' mountain forest space before JCI got in there and started blasting bedrock? Ufda.

With as much great information and dialogue as occurred here, as much as I love Ramos' unique way of nailing the final word to a tree, juxtaposed with Paul's special hindsight lens, not sure if I/we got any closer to the meat of the mystery, or of what is to come?  The charters are having an increasingly gravitational pull as those parents whose kids attend really appear to like the scene.   And what of what Kerc said about their child using the same textbook they did 30 years ago?   If Spy and Ramos' comments are somewhere in the fray of 'the truth is still out there,' then where and when are the lawyers Don Ness? 
Mayor?

So to dumb this whole thing down a bit while the mayor's cat has his tongue... Alongside other classically stupid handles, such as Obamacare and Operation Iraqi Freedom, why wouldn't you call it something primarily associated with Blood and Lust, when you planned on robbing the henhouse anyway?   It's the time-honored 'illusion of the obvious.' Perhaps 'The Mud Plan,' for next time...

Herzog

about 7 years ago

The revamping of Haines must somehow be tied into this?

Paul Lundgren

about 7 years ago

The revamping of Haines Road is tied to the Historic Summer Solstice Flood of 2012. 

Regarding Ramos' comment:

I can't defend the decision to build a new $47 million Lincoln Park Middle School instead of spending $26 million to upgrade Morgan Park Middle School and the previous Lincoln building. 

I'm sure Johnson Controls had all sorts of evidence that one new building would save more money in the long haul than two old ones that were larger than necessary for the student population. And since the Lincoln building was partly an elementary maybe it made more sense in the long-range view of the plan to dump it. To what extent all of that would amount to truth or malarkey, I don't know, but it's one part of the plan I didn't agree with. I would have rather those two middle schools stayed open. But the district was never going to find a plan that worked exactly the way Paul Lundgren or John Ramos wanted it to.

I'm a critic, too, but I prefer the Red Plan to all the nothing that happened for decades before it.

Herzog

about 7 years ago

Fair enough... as the Field of Dreams is almost complete. But all that nothing that happened for decades wouldn't seem to be enough of a reason or excuse for what the critics of JCI are saying will continue to happen, or explain why Kerc's textbooks are 30 years old. 

My memory of teachers is maybe one you and I share Paul.  That of one good teacher, in a sea of so-so, shitty, or flat out nut job teachers.   You probably had one good english teacher who lit some of kind of fire under you, and to hell with the rest of them.  I would've sat in a dilapidated barn for a few good ones who could've held my interest  instead of my throat.

 You hear a lot about buildings, and not so much on teachers.  I guess that's because it's easy to spend money on buildings, but harder to figure out how to lure the right personalities to fill the classrooms with 'good'  teachers, when meanwhile the higher ed system subsidizes sports using parent's hard earned tuition dollars, while removing any natural incentive the student might've had. I guess it works for rich or athletic people. Or people with good grades and the mettle to fill out forms to get grants.     I knew a guy who got his teachers certificate from Hamline, and a day into teaching, decided he couldn't teach, and went back to carpentry 100k in debt.

Back to the old saying, "follow the money."

Herzog

about 7 years ago

Then there's this guy:

howiehanson.com

Why is a strong portion of my inner being resisting having this dude, with his Uncle Fester grin, tell me everything I need to know about Duluth?

Ramos

about 7 years ago

I don't think you have to be any great prophet to figure out what is going to come next. In order to make the bond payments that have been racked up, the school levy will continue to rise for the next couple of decades, and classroom budgets will continue to be cut. 

An influx of new students would help the schools, as more students translates into more state funding. Maybe the school district could start a program to encourage Duluthians to have more kids. 

An exodus of students, perhaps to charter schools, would hurt.

The thing that really astonished me when I moved to Duluth in 1998 was that the school district had the power to levy taxes. Back in my home state of Michigan, school levies were always decided by referendum. Public education campaigns were always being run to convince the public to support new projects. (I knew a lot about them, because my mom was a teacher who worked on a lot of the campaigns.) Seeing the $300-million-plus Red Plan barreling ahead without voter approval stunned me. So did seeing a company that would directly benefit from the plan being hired as the plan's chief consultant. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that if a company makes more money by building more schools, they will recommend that we build more schools.

adam

about 7 years ago

School district will sell central property for $1 in some sort of convoluted development deal.

Herzog

about 7 years ago

From the sounds of it, if I was a student in Duluth, I would be begging them to let me into a charter school right now. Look at my pretty drawings I would plead. There would be slobber all over someone's pant leg. 

Reading Richard Thomas' new article 'Another Red Plan Election,' it's now harder yet to get my mind around the taking-it-in-the-shorts nature of the Megasaurus CF tax payers will continue to endure considering in contrast, what Johnson promised v delivered v only 3% showed up to vote last week. I'm starting to get the spins. 

"Overcrowding is now at historic levels, the bonds are one notch above junk, reserve funds are down to two million, touted energy savings haven't materialized, closed properties haven't sold." That last part, according to Adam, has now been changed as the city recently sold Central, for a dollar?

Does how anybody can be fine with the way the Johnson Red Plan  turned out, sort of boggle the mind?  Which part are you fine with? Muscling your way into a loophole to trick taxpayers into paying for mega construction in an area struggling to retain population, in the rise of an era of charter schools, irregardless of the state of Duluth affairs previous to JCI's arrival? The money's not real son, because it never existed in the first place. 

Not to mention the bungled casino deal, one imagines much pablum wiping at the mouths of any Duluthian who was present when these deals took place, or, as Welty said, there's been much skimming of operations? 

All in all, looks like we're headed into default on the bonds unless we go after JCI or the state for allowing it in the first place.  One would think we'd have some kind of case considering we weren't allowed to vote. And if we don't do that, sounds like we'll be headed back to Governor Dayton for a bailout, then Duluth taxpayers will see firsthand what a real undy twisting party looks like.


And so Mayor Ness, why isn't there serious 'man-talk' about suing them blind in this age of litigation? Because the City. Already. Won. Take the ball and run.  Sweep the legs Donny.

Ramos

about 7 years ago

Adam was making a prediction. Central hasn't been sold, for $1 or otherwise.

Suing anybody over the Red Plan isn't Mayor Ness's call to make (and I'll bet he thanks his lucky stars for that). It's the school district's deal, and any action would have to originate with the school district. If Johnson Controls made its incorrect energy savings predictions in writing, the school district would have a great case. But I wouldn't be surprised if nothing at all is in writing. People suffering from SATGIBS never worry about mundane details like that.

As Herzog mentioned, Richard Thomas has another fine Red Plan article in the current issue of the Zenith City Weekly. It paints a very bleak picture indeed. What surprises me is that even though every prediction made by Red Plan critics is now coming to pass, the citizenry still doesn't seem willing to give them more than grudging support. I guess reality is less important than the wonderful shining vision of building new buildings. We saw the same thing happen with the Great Lakes Aquarium, where none of the major boosters were ever held to account when the place tanked.

It's time to move on. Get out your wallets.

[email protected]

about 7 years ago

I'm as irritated as anyone with the Red Plan, not least of which because it makes it hard to be an education advocate or to work in any form of education in this town.

That said, the Great Lakes Aquarium never tanked, unless you want to count the installation of the fish tanks.  As of 2011, "The only public funding we receive is a relatively small portion of the city's tourism tax receipts. This revenue makes up 15% of our budget, compared to an average of 40% to other zoos and aquariums in the United States."

This is not "tanking," by my standards, but instead a subsidy, derived in large though not exclusive part, from tourists, which benefits not only the tourists but the entire region (as the GLAq serves an important education role).

Ramos

about 7 years ago

Oh, Rhetoricguy. You may not be aware that I am the world's greatest expert on the Great Lakes Aquarium. I have attended more aquarium board meetings than any other human, including board members. I have written tens of thousands of words on the aquarium, and combed through hundreds of pages of court documents. I have addressed the city council half a dozen times on the aquarium.

Do you know how much the aquarium cost to build? It cost over $30 million. Do you know how much of that was city money? More than $12 million. How much of that do you think the aquarium was supposed to pay back out of its profits? All of it. How much do you think it actually paid? Zero. Nada. Zilch. The burden of those bonds landed squarely on the city. The city is still making GLA bond payments today, though you wouldn't know it by looking at the budget. The bonds have been refinanced, and when that happens, identifying information disappears.

Do you know how many visitors the GLA was supposed to attract annually? We were told 350,000 to 400,000--by consultants, by the mayor, by city councilors and state senators, by the News Tribune. At one point in the insanity, the estimate reached 456,000. Do you know how many visitors the GLA actually does attract? Just over 100,000.

I could go on (and on and on) but I'll spare you. I realize that you probably weren't around in those days. I encourage you to start your own research on the issue by reading my exhaustive coverage of the GLA in Issues #3 and #6 of The Cheerleader, which I believe are available at the library.

[email protected]

about 7 years ago

I read the Cheerleader when I arrived.  It's one of the reasons I defer to you often on local issues.  You put time in that professional journalists do not.

That said, the argument is that the construction bonds are what constitute the "tanking"?

I guess, if that's the definition of "tanking" you want to stipulate, I won't argue.  

But the GLA (I think) hit 140,000 people not long ago.  While it's far short of projections, it's not in my stipulated definition of tanking.  And to be within 15% of operating budget is solid by my measure of a public resource.  Expecting any public resource (from mass transit to aquariums) to pay for itself, operating and capital expenses, entirely seems entirely naive, to me.  If that was the bill of goods sold for the GLAq, well, I'm glad I wasn't here when that deal was brokered.

Ramos

about 7 years ago

Well, yes. I'm talking about the construction bonds. When a place says that it's going to pay back the city $12 million and then defaults on its very first bond payment, and every payment thereafter, I call that tanking. Don't you?

It's nice that the GLA has sort of stabilized (although even as recently as last year the city had to chip in a little more to cover some of the GLA's unpaid utility bills). Jack LaVoy is a good CEO. But of the original 62 full-time staff positions that the aquarium opened with in 2000, maybe a dozen remain. 

When I recall the venom that was heaped on those who dared to question the insane projections that led to this situation, it makes me sick. It was bad, man. The GLA implanted in me a permanent distrust of the mass hysteria that seems to possess people when they are pursuing some kind of beautiful dream. 

Well, this was a nice trip down memory lane. I don't actually go to board meetings anymore. I sort of burned out on my role as a citizen reporter after a decade or so. It never seemed to get me anywhere. No matter how right I was, nothing ever changed.

[email protected]

about 7 years ago

Hey == I liked what you did, and I remember my disappointment when (a) shortly after I moved here and the Cheerleader http://shiningreputation.com/backissues.html was not at B&N (how did you swing that?) and (b) longer after I moved here, the blog http://shiningreputation.com/blog/ stopped.

Did it change anything?  Well, I was already buying what it was selling, I guess.  But it was nice to get here and see it.

PS:  Your blog entry on ARAC is instructive as we try to fix what is broken there, too.

Herzog

about 7 years ago

Dammit I keep forgetting the school board and the city are separate entities! No wonder they keep slapping the shit on the fuck to make a shitfuck. Second my impressed over Ramos' reportage.

'the mass hysteria that seems to possess people when they are pursuing some kind of beautiful dream.'

Iraq

Herzog

about 7 years ago

And although the mayor may or may not have any say in the matter, you'd think using his words to make some kind of stand, or voicing an opinion to the 3% of voters who show up wouldn't be asking too much? Maybe he doesn't want to piss off Howie Hansome, because he's not that kind of mayor.

Herzog

about 7 years ago

In honor of Ramos' artistic and mathematical achievements, being a man of many talents, ahead of his time, I would like to share this spreadsheet he cooked up, only because I feel it truly exhibits his knowledge of our local economy. And why I have to pay an "Idiot Tax" of 10% every time I dine out in Duluth. And because people like the mayor should study his work.

http://shiningreputation.com/blog/?p=214#more-214

Ramos

about 7 years ago

I believe the mayor read my magazine and blog. He may even agree with some of my points in principle, but something he vehemently does not appreciate is my penchant for naming names and calling people out. The mayor is quite cozy with Duluth's movers and shakers. Arend Sandbulte, former CEO of Minnesota Power, was a major fundraiser and booster of the Great Lakes Aquarium and a major force behind many terrible agreements that were shoved through the governmental pipeline in pursuit of the beautiful dream. Has Sandbulte's reputation been tarnished in the slightest by the debacle of the GLA? It has not. Sandbulte serves as the mayor's campaign treasurer.

The thoughts and recommendations of a select group of powerful private individuals have a strong effect on the policies of the city.
As head of the task force appointed to find a way to deal with the city's retiree healthcare issue, Sandbulte made recommendations that have shaped the city's budgetary decisions for at least a decade. In this case, his recommendations seem to be wise. But the point is that, wise or foolish, smart or dumb, it is a handful of private, unelected, usually behind-the-scenes individuals who shape the public debate. And when their ideas flop, they are never, ever, held accountable.

How wonderful would that be--to be in a position where, no matter what you do, you can only be praised? It would be like being king.

Ramos

about 7 years ago

My underlying point being that, unless this situation is recognized and addressed, extravagant projects and SATGIBS will afflict Duluth again and again.

Herzog

about 7 years ago

Stands to reason the mayor won't bite the manicured hand that feeds him. He's a politician. But when that hand has a major boner for big fancy new buildings of an architect's wet dream (as all self-respecting rich people do for the finer things in life like booze, bimbos, and buildings) that the poor pathetic little home owners have to keep paying for over and over again, then you'd think there would be a greater than 5% voter turnout, especially given the sloppy kennel mess left by JCI on September 19, 2013.  

Never really gave a moments thought to any of this until I realized these people whose names you've mentioned have my pants down around my ankles, and I don't even know who they are. 

Don said it himself. When he first left Duluth to go to the big city, his biggest ambition in life was to make a lot of money.

Amazing what small potatoes the NorShor looks like now compared to this.

Ramos

about 6 years ago

From today's News Tribune:

"Piedmont Elementary was expected to be overcrowded this fall, and Congdon Park and Lester Park soon after."

Looks like we'll need another Red Plan soon, to address this problem.

Herzog

about 6 years ago

Tim K, maybe you should call Johnson controls and let them know there's more contracts to be had here.

Leave a Comment

Only registered members can post a comment , Login / Register Here

Read previous post:
Mean Beans Espresso & Creams

I just moved into the Chester Area and have noticed that Mean Beans hasn't been open for the past couple...

Close